Five takeaways from the Wales election debate

Vaughan Gething, Oliver Lewis, Rhun ap Iorwerth, Jane Dodds and David TC Davies
Vaughan Gething, Oliver Lewis, Rhun ap Iorwerth, Jane Dodds and David TC Davies [BBC]

Representatives from Wales' five most prominent political parties went head-to-head in a heated BBC debate on Friday night.

Welsh Labour leader and Wales' first minister Vaughan Gething, Conservative David TC Davies, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, Jane Dodds for the Lib Dems and Oliver Lewis for Reform UK traded blows and took questions from a live studio audience.

With less than two weeks to go until polling day, here is what we learnt.

1. Cost of living

The amount of money in everyone's pockets was hot on the agenda, after a member of the audience asked what each politician would do to help with the cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Davies blamed the crisis on the war in Ukraine and said the UK government had taken "difficult decisions" to bring inflation down to 2%.

But Mr Gething argued the country was still "paying the price" of Liz Truss' mini budget.

Ms Dodds challenged both Labour and the Conservatives to abolish the two-child benefit cap which she said was "making families poorer", while Mr ap Iorwerth said his party would increase child benefit by £20 a week.

Mr Lewis accused the other parties of "whataboutery" and said his party would bring utility companies back into public ownership.

2. 'Fury' about betting allegations

Mr Davies drew criticism from Ms Dodds and Mr Lewis for allegations about Tory insiders betting on the election.

Mr Davies said he was "furious" and "disappointed" by the allegations.

"There is a full investigation going on into all of the people you mentioned," he said.

"And before you ask me I have not made any bets," he added.

Ms Dodds asked him if he would support the suspension of the two candidates involved, but he did not directly respond to the question.

In total, four people linked to the prime minister - including Welsh Tory candidate Craig Williams - are being looked into over allegations of election betting.

Bethan Rhys Roberts
The debate was chaired by BBC Wales presenter Bethan Rhys Roberts [BBC]

3. Blows over Gething's donation scandal

Labour's opponents see the donation scandal, which has dogged Mr Gething's first few months as first minister, as a potential line of attack.

During his campaign to become first minister, Mr Gething took £200,000 from a company owned by a man twice convicted of environmental offences.

Asked if he wished to apologise for what had happened, Mr Gething replied: "I followed all the rules but I recognise there's real concern."

Prompting laughter from the audience, Mr Lewis said to Mr Gething: "But you've lost the support of the Senedd," referencing the recent no-confidence vote, which Mr Gething lost.

Forcefully, Mr Gething said he had "never ever made a decision" as a minister for his own personal gain.

Mr ap Iorwerth said it was "not acceptable" that Mr Gething had previously expressed "regret" over the way the scandal had been "covered and reported".

The line of attack, and Mr Gething's defence, is not new - but it's clear that his political opponents feel that questions about his judgement gain traction with voters.

4. 'Fight for NHS survival'

It's no surprise that the audience wanted to know what the Welsh political representatives would do about the NHS - even though health is a devolved issue.

Asked by an audience member how they would "fight for the survival" of the NHS in Wales, all of the party representatives expressed concern about waiting lists.

Mr Gething said that "people are waiting too long" for treatment "in real discomfort" in Wales.

Mr Lewis said the culture of waiting lists was "shameful", adding that Reform UK would remove caps on numbers who could be trained in the UK.

Mr ap Iorwerth said the Welsh NHS had suffered a "double whammy" of austerity from the Conservatives and mismanagement by Welsh Labour.

Ms Dodds said the NHS in Wales "feels like it’s broken", adding that a higher carer allowance would allow people to stay "in their homes in dignity".

But Mr Davies said "funding is not an excuse" for 20,000 people "waiting more than two years" for Welsh NHS treatment.

5. Immigration

All five politicians came to blows over the subject of immigration, after the issue was raised by an audience member.

Mr Lewis said the UK government had "failed to control our borders properly" adding that the crisis was "so serious".

Mr ap Iorwerth said his party would have more immigration "into some sectors". He added: "I don’t like the tone of the debate on immigration."

He appeared to suggest Reform wanted to exploit people's fears and anxieties on immigration.

"Don’t be ridiculous," replied Mr Lewis.

Mr Lewis said the UK government had "failed to control our borders properly".

Mr Davies said the UK would "always need and welcome" migration of people with specialist skills but, when asked if his party would ditch the Rwanda plan, he said no.

Mr Gething said immigration had been covered in a way which was "more divisive" than it needed to be, adding that Labour would stop the Rwanda plan and instead deal with the criminal gangs responsible for small boats crossing the channel.

Ms Dodd said it was necessary to "take the heat" out of the debate on immigration, adding that Mr Lewis' stance on the matter was "divisive and poisonous".

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