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Gething becomes Europe’s first black leader

VAUGHAN GETHING became Wales’s First Minister on Wednesday, March 20.

The Cardiff South and Penarth MS became Labour Party’s leader in Wales the preceding Saturday.

He is the first black leader of a European country.

Mr Gething’s election as First Minister was little more than a formality.

Labour holds thirty of the Senedd’s sixty seats, and Rhys ab Owen, the former Plaid MS, has been suspended from the Senedd.

As usual, whatever their misgivings about Mr Gething’s character and leadership, Labour MSs unanimously backed their man.

Plaid leader Rhun ap Iorwerth received his group’s backing, and Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies got votes of those Conservative MSs present.

Mr Gething, whose integrity has been questioned over donations to his leadership campaign, said: “Delivering on the needs of the people of Wales requires a collective commitment to listening.

“In the face of new forces of division, restoring trust and recovering dignity in speaking to one another is more important than ever.

“Those who seek to amplify nasty populism are hungry for a disunited Wales.

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“Our task, I believe, is to prevent the victory of division and hate by building bridges, listening, and recreating a bond of trust between people and power.”

Mr Gething concluded his speech by speaking about his status as a black leader of a European country: “It is a matter of pride, I believe, for a modern Wales, but also a daunting responsibility for me, and one that I do not take lightly.

“But today, we can also expect a depressingly familiar pattern to emerge, with abuse on social media, racist tropes disguised with polite language, people questioning my motives, and, yes, they will still question or deny my nationality, whilst others will question why I am playing the race card.

“To those people, I say once more: it is very easy not to care about identity when your own has never once been questioned or held you back.”

Mr Gething is fifty years old.

After his family moved from Abergavenny, he grew up in Dorset, went to Aberystwyth University, became Student Union President and President of NUS Wales, graduated in law, joined a major law firm working for trade unions in 2001, became a partner there in 2007,  President of the Welsh TUC in 2008 aged 34, and an MS in 2011.

In 2016, Mr Gething became Deputy Minister for Health in Carwyn Jones’s government. He campaigned to succeed Carwyn Jones but became Health Minister under Mark Drakeford before moving to the Economy portfolio.

His most notable political achievement before entering the then-Welsh Assembly was unseating (by two votes) the legendary black community activist Betty Campbell in an election for the Butetown Ward on Cardiff City Council.

Responding to Vaughan Gething’s election, Andrew RT Davies said: “I congratulate Vaughan Gething on receiving the endorsement of the Senedd to become the next First Minister of Wales.

“Vaughan now has an opportunity for a fresh start, to scrap Labour’s vanity projects and deliver for our NHS, schools, and families up and down Wales.

“Our message to Vaughan is clear: If you are prepared to scrap plans for more politicians, to scrap the 20mph speed limit, and scrap the Sustainable Farming Scheme as it stands in its current form, we will work with you to deliver the people’s priorities.”

Plaid leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “I congratulate Vaughan Gething on becoming the First Minister of Wales and wish him well.

“He inherits significant challenges due to Labour’s record in government in Wales, coupled with Tory austerity.

“A faltering economy, longer NHS waiting lists and falling educational standards is a legacy of collective government in which the incoming First Minister has played a central role for over a decade.

“We know the Labour leadership campaign was divisive, but we also saw a lack of new ideas. The people of Wales will rightly think that what lies ahead will likely be more of the same.

“Ongoing questions around donations to Vaughan Gething’s campaign are now a serious cloud over the office of the First Minister. Holders of high office must be able to secure the electorate’s confidence, and in the absence of that money being repaid, public perceptions will persist.

“At a time when the Conservative UK Government has run out of road. With Labour failing to fight for Wales, it’s more important than ever to have a strong Plaid Cymru voice putting Wales’ interests first and making the most of its influence to bring about positive change in Wales.

“We will leave no stone unturned in holding the new First Minister and his Labour Welsh Government to account.”

Mr Gething has plenty to do. Changing the Welsh public’s perception of Labour’s record in government is a significant challenge in a General Election year.