OPINION - Vaughan Gething's scandals would have him on the rack if he was a Tory like me

 (UK Parliament)
(UK Parliament)

Imagine there’s been a leadership election…(not hard, I know).

The winner has been declared and it’s a close run thing after securing 52 per cent of the vote. During the contest, a few rum facts surfaced. For example, it emerged that our winner had taken £200k from a company owned by a man previously convicted of illegally dumping waste. Or there’s the fact that he had lobbied regulators to look more favourably on the firm. Or that a government department gave the same company a £400k loan from the state-run Development Bank when Gething was a minister.

This is the type of juicy scandal Westminster thrives on. But this is all happening 150 miles away down the M4 in Wales. This is the real-life account of how new First Minister Vaughan Gething grasped the leadership of the Welsh Labour Party just a few weeks ago – and I bet you didn’t know about it.

Gething’s premiership is on shaky ground after only just four weeks. He has been unable to shrug off questions about his judgement in accepting the donation from a company owned by a man previously convicted of illegally dumping waste. Nor has he been able to explain why he lobbied environmental regulators for a softer approach to the firm which is based in his constituency. And the media won’t let it go.

In one media appearance after another, he has dodged questions as Welsh based journalists do their level best to get to the bottom of the mire. There is a crashing silence of defence for him. None of his backbenchers are willing to go out and defend him on the airwaves so it is down to him to grip onto his “nothing to see here” line.

It seems Mr Gething shares one thing with his predecessor Mark Drakeford: a visceral loathing of scrutiny. Whenever challenged by journalists, he fixes questioners with a firm glare and lowers his voice. He told one female reporter that “any serious journalist” would know he had done nothing wrong. So convinced is he of his own proper conduct, that is only concession to the media firestorm is to ask one of his predecessors – a former Labour First Minister – to look into the matter.

Wales is simply the land that the mainstream media forgot

For years, where the SNP in Scotland has led, Wales has meekly followed, especially under former leader Drakeford. And this is no different. Mr Gething’s perilous position more than matches that of his counterpart Humza Yousaf who finds himself fielding daily questions of alleged SNP financial impropriety. There are other similarities between the two men — they also come to office weighed down with the baggage of their previous records. Both former Health ministers, Mr Gething holds the dubious honour of presiding over record waiting lists in Wales. In England, 227 people have been waiting longer than two years for treatment. In Wales that figure is almost 23,000. Some NHS targets have never been met and every health board across the country is in some form of special measures.

It is not a political statement to say that Wales is going backwards under Labour. Every metric bears that out — whether health, education or economic growth. After 25 years of Labour control, Wales is the sick man of the United Kingdom. And yet, Sir Keir Starmer’s assertion that Welsh Labour was his “blueprint” for running the United Kingdom goes without challenge. Wales is simply the land that the mainstream media forgot.

Welsh politics only ever makes the news when something goes wrong — the eye-catching story of the bungled blanket 20mph zone for example. But while the papers are chock full of Angela Rayner’s struggle for political survival amid murky finances, this story is being given a wide berth by London’s media.

Just imagine if Vaughan Gething was a Tory.

Fay Jones is the Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire