Vaughan Gething supporters fear racism in some attacks on embattled First Minister

The difficult week ended with an unusual Friday evening meeting of the Senedd Labour group. Credit: PA Images

Supporters of Vaughan Gething have suggested that some of the attacks on the First Minister have “crossed a line” into “racially influenced attitudes and judgements.”

Welsh Labour’s BAME committee have said that some of the criticism “has gone well beyond what one can reasonably call fair scrutiny.”

Political opponents have denied any racism in their approach to the various controversies, insisting that their criticism is only about scrutiny of the First Minister’s judgement and actions.

It’s been another turbulent week for Vaughan Gething who has been facing criticism over donations received by his leadership campaign from the owner of a company convicted of breaches of environmental law.

Questions have been raised repeatedly over controversial donations given to Vaughan Gething's leadership campaign. Credit: Good Morning Britain

There was further controversy over leaked text messages from a group of Labour ministers which opponents claimed showed that Mr Gething had deleted covid-related conversations. He denied that the conversation was about Welsh Government decision-making.

However, in an apparently-related move he sacked the Social Partnership minister Hannah Blythyn and said in a statement that, “Having reviewed the evidence available to me regarding the recent disclosure of communication to the media, I have regrettably reached the conclusion I have no alternative but to ask Hannah Blythyn to leave the government."

He told ITV Cymru Wales that “Ministers need to be able to trust each other to share information fully and frankly and I hope that in the future there will be route back for Hannah to be able to come back to government at some point.”

However she posted a statement on social media saying that “I am deeply shocked and saddened by what has happened today. I am clear and have been clear that I did not, nor have I ever leaked anything. Integrity is all in politics and I retain mine.”

Then on Friday Plaid Cymru pulled out of its co-operation agreement with the Welsh Government seven months before the arrangement was due to end.

The party’s leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth said that, “I remain deeply concerned that the First Minister has failed to pay back the £200,000 donation to his leadership campaign from a company convicted of environmental offences, and believe it demonstrates a significant lack of judgement.”

He added that, "I am worried by the circumstances around the decision to sack a member of the Government this week relating to matters that should be in the public domain already.”

The difficult week ended with an unusual Friday evening meeting of the Senedd Labour group to discuss the sacking and Plaid Cymru’s decision.

There’s been no official report of the meeting but one MS insisted that the First Minister received support for asking Ms Blythyn to leave the government and that the cabinet was united behind him.

Over the weekend, Welsh Labour’s BAME committee posted a statement saying that “For so many BAME people in Wales the last few weeks will have been disturbing, unsettling and yet very familiar. In the Welsh media the treatment of Vaughan Gething has gone well beyond what one can reasonably call fair scrutiny.”

The statement by the committee’s Chair and Vice Chair, Mahaboob Basha and Ruba Sivagnanam, singles out an article in a London-based newspaper which they claim “used racially charged language of the sort we may have thought was a thing of the past.”

They go on to say that “We fully endorse thorough political scrutiny from a free press and from an active political community. However, we feel that this scrutiny in recent weeks has crossed a line between fair examination and racially influenced attitudes and judgements, with a Black person being held to a higher standard.

“This issue also has consequences which reach far beyond the current political debate. We have always believed that Wales needs more people from the BAME community coming forward into our political institutions. The treatment of the First Minister over recent weeks will mean more BAME people thinking Welsh politics, and public life in general, is not for them.”

Mr Gething was elected First Minister in March Credit: PA

The statement continues to say that “There have been many moments of reflection over the last few years in which people and institutions have accepted how subconscious racial prejudice can creep into the things they do and say. We believe we are seeing this play out before us, and we must act to stop it.

“That is why we are speaking out, standing firmly behind Vaughan Gething, and calling on all in our movement to be allies, not bystanders.”

Political opponents denied any racism in their approaches and insisted that they will continue to challenge the First Minister.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies told BBC Wales’ Politics Wales programme that “It's about judgement on the donations. It's about transparency on the WhatsApp messages, and its truthfulness when it comes to the dismissal of the deputy minister last week. That's nothing to do with race.”

He went on to say that, “I do think it's a pretty low blow for the Labour Party to deploy that line, when there are genuine cases of racism out there that need to be tackled, and they should be tackled head-on, for labour to deploy that line.

“This is about the confidence people have in the First Minister and his judgement. It's not about the Welsh Labour government. It's about the First Minister and confidence and that's the question that needs to be answered.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth told the same programme that “I think it would be very useful if Labour was to clear up that they don't for a second think that the very firm scrutiny by myself and colleagues of the First Minister has been anything other than scrutiny of his actions and his judgement and precisely nothing to do with the skin colour of anybody.

“But we are serious about our roles as parliamentarians and that is what this is about and the use of language is very, very important.”

Vaughan Gething is likely to face further challenges from his political opponents in the Senedd this week but he won’t face a confidence vote despite the Conservatives saying that they’ll look to hold one.

Senedd procedures mean a confidence motion can’t be brought this week and the following week is a recess week. The earliest opportunity for such a vote is therefore Wednesday 5th June.

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