Even without Vaughan Gething, the job of governing Wales isn’t going to get any easier for Welsh Labour 

The Welsh First Minister’s decision to accept a £200,000 donation from a company whose owner had been convicted of environmental crimes has triggered a series of events in Wales that has put his premiership in peril before it really got going. Perhaps more crucially, it has put in motion events that have changed the parliamentary arithmetic, putting in doubt the ability for Gething or any potential Labour successor to get a budget through the Senedd. 

A crucial point to understand in this saga is that the Senedd is designed to ensure that it is very hard for one party to get a majority. Even in the 2021 election, the then First Minister, Mark Drakeford, riding high on his post-covid popularity won 30 out of the 60 seats. One short of a working majority. 

In order to be able to pass a budget, Drakeford signed a co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price. The agreement ended abruptly last month when new Plaid leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth said he was deeply concerned that Drakeford’s successor Gething had refused to hand back the donation during the leadership campaign. 

Without this support, Vaughan Gething does not have a clear way of passing a budget through the Senedd. 

If the Welsh government can’t pass a budget vote, we enter unchartered and complicated territory. Section 128 of the Government for Wales Act requires a budget motion to be “moved” but not passed, however if it is not passed, then there is no authorisation of the government’s expenditure, we would then expect a motion of no confidence in the Government. If that passes the Senedd then has 28 days to pick a new First Minister, failing that an extraordinary election is called. 

Gething has run out of road 

For now though, Gething continues. His authority has taken a hit following the vote of no confidence, but he’s vowed not to resign. His detractors within Welsh Labour have been quiet. An uneasy truce has broken out within Welsh Labour to avoid creating further distractions during the General Election campaign. 

Labour is polling well in Wales currently, but there is evidence of a widening split between support for Labour in Westminster and Labour in Cardiff, indicating that the public is paying attention to the saga and its damaging Labour in the Senedd. 

After the UK General Election, Gething’s path looks less clear, following the non-binding vote of no confidence, opposition Senedd members could bring forward a binding vote of no confidence in the Government, while this could ultimately trigger MSs replacing him or fresh elections, it is unlikely that even Gething’s detractors in his own party would vote to bring down a Labour government. 

Assuming his government survives a vote of no confidence, and he resists pressure from within his own party to resign, he still needs to pass a budget by the end of the year, he can’t do that without the support of another party. 

The Conservatives wouldn’t vote for Gething’s budget, Plaid Cymru would look preposterous if they left a co-operation agreement early, said they had no confidence in him and then backed his budget.  

That only leaves Jane Dodds, the sole Liberal Democrat in the chamber, given she had no confidence in him either, it also seems unlikely she’d suddenly turn around to prop up his government. While this article was being written, Dodds confirmed that she would not back a Gething budget.

Vaughan Gething’s government now has all the certainty of a house perched upon a cliff, we know it will collapse this year, we just don’t whether it will fall slowly or all at once. 

New leader, same minority government 

Given the inevitability of the First Minister’s demise, the task of passing the 2025-26 budget may be in the hands of the next Welsh First Minister, the arithmetic will be the same, but the opposition may find it slightly easier to vote for the government’s budget.  

While the Conservatives would still be incredibly unlikely to vote for a Labour budget, no matter who is leader, for Plaid, it is also unclear what they would get from supporting a Labour budget.  

With the new government in Westminster, the dynamics between the Welsh parties will now change. Over the last 14 years Welsh Labour have adopted the role of ‘defending’ Wales against ‘the worst of the Conservatives’ in Westminster, failures have been blamed on Westminster and successes have been framed as in spite of the Conservative government.  

With a Labour government waiting in the wings in Westminster, Welsh Labour can no longer play this card so easily. They tried this under Rhodri Morgan in the Blair/Brown years, but with funding under much more pressure than it was in the noughties, the ability for Welsh Labour to keep their famous “clear red water” will be much harder.  

This presents an opportunity for Plaid to mop up potentially disillusioned voters and make gains in south Wales, a position that would be trickier to take if they endorse Labour’s plans. 

That again leaves Jane Dodds, potentially now the most powerful politician in Wales, what would she want in return for passing the budget? She may ask for concessions on Health or Rural Affairs briefs given the Lib Dems focus on social care and water quality, potentially via a confidence and supply arrangement.  

Any ambitious Welsh Labour MS looking to replace Gething should dust off a copy of the 2021 Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto, its moment is yet to come. 

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