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Vaughan Gething to be Wales' next first minister

Vaughan Gething is set to be Wales' next first minister after narrowly winning the Welsh Labour leadership election with 51.7% of the vote.

Mr Gething, who will become the first black man to lead Wales, beat his only rival Jeremy Miles, who took 48.3%.

He was congratulated by UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

But Plaid Cymru expressed "deep concerns" over donations from a controversial waste company in Cardiff.

Mr Gething's campaign was marred by headlines about £200,000 of cash from Dauson Environmental Group, owned by a man that had twice prosecuted for environmental offences

A Welsh government minister and Miles supporter, Julie James called for a review of how leadership campaigns would be run in the future.

Mark Drakeford is expected to resign on Tuesday after his final First Minister's Questions in the Senedd. Mr Gething will replace him the following day.

Born to a Welsh father and a Zambian mother, Mr Gething pursued a legal career before being elected to the Welsh Parliament in 2011.

The Cardiff South and Penarth Member of the Senedd (MS) is currently economy minister in Mr Drakeford's cabinet, and celebrated his 50th birthday on Friday.

Mr Starmer said Mr Gething "will lead a hopeful, ambitious Welsh Labour government, in the face of a tired and failed Tory government in Westminster".

The prime minister said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Mr Gething's election was "a chance for a new Welsh administration to focus on what matters to people in Wales".

As soon as the announcement had been made, Mr Gething received a huge hug from his young son.

Mr Miles left the Cardiff University building where the result was announced without speaking to the media.

He later issued a written statement congratulating Mr Gething but, in what might be an allusion to the row over donations, said Welsh Labour leaders must continuously earn the trust of the public.

In his acceptance speech Mr Gething praised his predecessor, describing Mr Drakeford as the "right leader at the right time in the pandemic".

He also praised his rival, Mr Miles, who would have been Wales' first gay leader if he had been the victor.

Mr Gething said the education minister had given a "new hope" to Welsh boys and girls "who might have otherwise have thought very differently about public life here".

Turning to his victory, he said: "Today, we turn a page in the book of our nation's history.

"Not just because I have the honour of becoming the first black leader in any European country - but because the generational dial has jumped too."

Vaughan Gething giving his victory speech
Vaughan Gething said a page was being turned "in the book of our nation's history"

He also emphasised his commitment to devolution, calling it "not something I have had to get used to or adapt to or apologise for".

"Devolution - Welsh solutions to Welsh problems - that's in my blood. It's what I've always known."

'Trust that must be continually earned'

In his statement, Mr Miles said: "I congratulate Vaughan on his election. I wish him every success for Wales' future."

He said he was proud he secured support "from a clear majority of Welsh Labour Senedd members, council leaders and deputies, CLPs [Constituency Labour Parties], and across our trades unions, MPs, peers and the all member vote of the Co-operative Party".

In what might be a reference to the controversy over donations to the new Welsh Labour leader's campaign, Mr Miles said serving the people of Wales was "an honour and responsibility underpinned by trust that must be continually earned".

Jeremy Miles
Jeremy Miles said he was "incredibly proud" of his campaign

Mr Gething accepted £200,000 for his campaign from a company, Dauson Environmental Group, owned by a man twice convicted for environmental offences.

David John Neal was given a suspended prison sentence in 2013 for illegally dumping waste on a conservation site.

Four years later he was given another suspended sentence for not removing it.

It emerged earlier this week that Mr Gething had, in 2016 and in 2018, lobbied an environmental regulator on behalf of one of Mr Neal's companies.

Mr Neal's businesses, who also donated to Mr Gething's 2018 leadership campaign, is currently embroiled in a row in Pembrokeshire where residents have complained about the smell of a landfill site.

Atlantic Recycling - part of Mr Neal's group Dauson Environmental - also admitted a fresh waste offence in January, and was fined £300,000 over the death of a worker.

The £200,000 donation is thought to be at least one of the largest seen in modern Welsh politics.

'Doing my job'

Mr Gething defended the donations in an interview with BBC Radio Wales, and said he "scrupulously" followed the rules.

Letters sent to Natural Resources Wales, who he lobbied on behalf of Atlantic Recycling, showed him "doing my job as a constituency member", he argued.

"This is a significant employer within the constituency [with] dozens of jobs there," he said.

"I'm really clear that nothing changes my commitment to having a firmer environmental regulation."

But Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth called on him to return the cash.

Vaughan with his son
Vaughan Gething won 51.7% of the vote

Mr ap Iorwerth said it was a "matter of deep concern that we now have an incoming first minister who, before even taking up the highest public office, is facing serious allegations and questions about his judgement".

"At the very least, Vaughan Gething should surely return the £200,000 campaign donation which has rightly drawn so much criticism from within his own party and beyond."

Plaid is in the final year of a three-year agreement with Labour Welsh ministers on a series of policies, including increasing the number of Senedd members.

There is no indication that the co-operation deal will end, and Mr ap Iorwerth told BBC Radio Wales that politicians in the Senedd have to "cooperate".

Julie James, who is currently climate change minister, told BBC Wales there needs to be a "full-scale" review of the rules for running elections, in light of the Dauson money.

Asked if Mr Gething had made a mistake in accepting the money, she said: "I'm not going to comment on that, but what I will say is that it's quite clear that with the rules the way they are we will continue to have this kind of problem until they are sorted out."

The leader of the biggest opposition party in the Welsh Parliament, Conservative Andrew RT Davies, congratulated him on his win but warned "Wales can expect more of the same with Vaughan Gething as first minister".

"Gething has been part of a Labour Welsh government that has presided over record NHS waiting lists, the steepest decline in educational standards in the UK, the highest business rates in Britain, and is committed to the 20mph speed limit."


Analysis by Gareth Lewis

BBC Wales political editor

It's been a long three months for those involved in the campaign.

As Mr Gething's staff left into the Cardiff drizzle to celebrate, they will be aware that the hard work for their boss is really only just beginning.

There are plenty of external challenges, from doctors on strike to farmers protesting over subsidies.

There are internal challenges too from disquiet within Labour over the donations to an eye on life after the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, whenever that comes to an end.

At least Plaid don't seem about to abandon it, despite questioning Mr Gething's integrity.

Even people who've taken a dim view of the donations have been pretty clear with me that they would be hugely surprised if offers of cabinet posts were turned down in some kind of protest.

Perhaps with a general election looming Labour minds will focus and this will blow over - the last thing either Welsh or UK Labour need is any kind of split.

And as one MS put to me last week: If Vaughan can sort out waiting lists, farmers and strikes in the next 18 months then he'll be a "saviour".