Starmer backs scandal-hit Gething on campaign trip to Wales

Sir Keir Starmer stood by embattled Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething as Labour’s General Election campaign arrived in Wales on Thursday.

At a campaign rally in Abergavenny, Sir Keir thanked Mr Gething for his “leadership” and said he was “looking forward to a new partnership” with the First Minister if Labour took over in Westminster.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Sir Keir said he was “proud” of Labour’s record in Wales, where the party has been in power since devolution in 1999, and said Mr Gething was doing “a very good job”.

General Election campaign 2024
Vaughan Gething has endured a tricky first two months as Welsh First Minister (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Gething’s brief tenure as First Minister has already been beset by scandal, with questions raised about a £200,000 donation to his leadership campaign from a man convicted of environmental crimes and his decision to sack cabinet member Hannah Blythyn for allegedly leaking to the press.

His woes have culminated in the collapse of Labour’s co-operation deal with Plaid Cymru, leaving the party governing with a minority in the Senedd, and the tabling of a no confidence motion by the Welsh Conservatives on Wednesday.

Both Mr Gething and Sir Keir accused the Welsh Conservatives of playing political games with their no confidence motion, which will be debated on June 5.

General Election 2024 Monmouthshire constituency profile showing 2019 results and swing need by Labour to win the seat
(PA Graphics)

During his speech to activists in Abergavenny’s Priory Centre, Mr Gething made no direct reference to his problems but said the Conservatives had a record of “treating politics as a game” rather than “a route to opportunity hope and security”.

Sir Keir told reporters after the event: “That’s the oldest trick in the book, and it’s game-playing, it’s diversionary tactics.

“What Vaughan Gething is absolutely focused on is delivering for Wales.”

He also insisted it was “absolutely clear” that Mr Gething had broken no rules regarding his £200,000 donation and had “answered all the questions that are put to him”.

General Election campaign 2024
Sir Keir Starmer set out his ‘six first steps for Wales’ at a campaign event in Abergavenny (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Keir was in Monmouthshire to launch his party’s “first steps for Wales”, arguing that a Labour government in London would work more effectively with a Labour government in Cardiff Bay and “turbo-boost the work that we can do delivering for Wales”.

Those first steps replicated the six Labour already set out for the wider UK, including ensuring economic stability, hiring more teachers, cutting NHS waiting lists, creating a Border Security Command, setting up Great British Energy and cracking down on anti-social behaviour.

Education and the health service are devolved matters, controlled by the Labour government in Wales rather than the Conservative government in Westminster, but providing more money for services in England would automatically mean providing more money for devolved services in Wales as well.

Sir Keir also promised to “fight for the future of steel in Wales”, after previously calling for a jobs guarantee for workers at the Port Talbot steelworks, where Tata is planning to close blast furnaces.

On Wednesday, Welsh Conservative leader and Senedd member Andrew RT Davies said Sir Keir’s decision to campaign with Mr Gething was “a reflection of their equally poor judgment” and “should worry us all”.

Tory chairman Richard Holden described Sir Keir’s speech as “yet another vacuous ramble”.

He said: “Starmer calls Labour-run Wales a ‘blueprint’ for a UK Labour government.

“Yet after 25 years of Labour, Welsh NHS patients wait an average seven weeks longer for treatment than in England, they have imposed blanket 20mph speed limits, and they’re wasting millions of taxpayers’ money on a ridiculous plan to have more Senedd politicians.

“The choice is clear in this election: stick with the bold action and clear plan with Rishi Sunak or go back to square one with Sir Keir who doesn’t have the conviction, courage or plan to deliver for British people, and would fail, like Labour have failed the people of Wales.”