A New First Minister of Wales – Vaughan Gething’s Priorities for Government


On Saturday 16 March, Vaughan Gething MS was elected leader of Welsh Labour and First Minister of Wales, replacing Mark Drakeford as the fifth leader of the devolved government since its creation in 1999. An experienced Cabinet member, having served in both the health and economy briefs, Gething has made history as the first black leader of a European country.

With the votes counted, Gething received 51.7% of the vote to Jeremy Miles’ 48.3%, a slim margin of victory. It is estimated that a total of 57.8% of Welsh Labour party members took part and 9.4% of affiliates.[1] Further analysis by WalesOnline’s Will Hayward revealed that, when removing affiliate votes from the total, Gething only received 50.7% of the membership vote.[2] Speaking after his election, Gething said:

‘Every time there is a change in leader, there is an opportunity to reset and renew; there is a requirement. Think about where we are within this term, we have two more years before the next Senedd election, and at some point within the next year…there’ll be a UK general election as well. So in the contest, both campaigns set out ideas for the future for that reset, but also an opportunity to look back at where we are and think about how we regain trust in this crucial year ahead, and indeed the year after.’

Regaining trust and renewing Welsh politics is likely to be a significant challenge for Gething’s administration, with a difficult political inheritance to manage and underlying disquiet over a controversial donation received during his leadership campaign from a company linked to a proposed solar farm on the Gwent Levels.

Ultimately, as Gething looks ahead to the next year and beyond, he will be faced with a litany of political challenges, including the backlash to the Sustainable Farming Scheme, the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, the creation of a new planning consent regime for Wales, declining standards in public services, and an imminent general election.

Who is Vaughan Gething?

Born to a Welsh father and a Zambian mother, Gething’s journey into politics began at 17 when he joined the Labour Party and later served as a councillor on Cardiff City Council. He was the youngest president of the Wales Trade Union Congress and served as the president of the Welsh branch of the National Union of Students. Professionally, he trained as a solicitor in Cardiff and later became a partner at the trade union solicitor Thompsons.

Elected as Member of the Senedd for Cardiff South and Penarth in May 2011, Gething served as Minister for Health between 2016 to 2021, and as Minister for the Economy from 2021 to 2024.

Key Manifesto Policies

Gething made five key commitments in his manifesto, ranging from creating additional social housing to championing the creation of green jobs. A summary of these commitments can be seen below:

  • For a healthy Wales: Pledging to safeguard the NHS under public ownership and enhance healthcare services through innovative technology. Strengthening health, social care, and mental health provisions to promote a healthier society.
  • For green prosperity: Promoting the creation of green jobs to support the transition to net zero emissions while enhancing community prosperity. Committing to keeping steel production domestic and introducing a Nature Positive Bill to encourage sustainable farming and self-sufficiency.
  • For a place to call home: Giving priority to the construction of social housing and efforts to reduce homelessness. Regulating bus travel and improving public transport integration through enfranchisement, with a focus on empowering local governments.
  • For ambitious futures: Reinvestment in apprenticeships, reviewing the list of Essential Skills in Wales. Further commitments to exploring expansion of childcare provision and improvements to education.
  • For a stronger Wales: Championing an anti-racist Wales and promoting equality standards in public bodies. Addressing child poverty and supporting further devolution in justice and policing.
Political Challenges Facing a Gething-led Welsh Government

The new First Minister faces a difficult political inheritance – whether it be legislation before the Senedd from the previous administration, continued financial pressures on families, businesses and public services, or a general election looming on the horizon. With the Sixth Senedd over half-way through its session and the next election set for May 2026, Gething’s political priorities will thus be constrained by the mandate and policy program he has inherited. The following sets out the political challenges that Gething will face in his first year, and beyond, as First Minister.

General Election 2024

The first major test of Gething’s leadership will be the general election, expected in the second half of the year, with pollsters and pundits anticipating gains for Labour nationally, including within Wales. The election will be the first to take place with new boundaries in place, following the recommendations made by the Boundary Commission of Wales to reduce the number of Welsh constituencies from 40 to 32.

At the 2019 General Election, Welsh Labour lost six seats to the Conservatives, to finish with a total of 22 – their worst result since 1983. Gething’s challenge will be to undo recent losses and look to regain seats held by the Conservatives for multiple election cycles. Realistically, given current polling, Welsh Labour will look to finish with a minimum of 26 seats, with the potential to go even further, depending on Plaid Cymru’s showing. Anything less will raise questions around Gething’s electoral viability ahead of the 2026 Senedd elections.

Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill

With its inception in the Co-operation Agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru, the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill proposes significant change to the nature of Welsh elections and would make Wales the only nation in the UK to operate a purely proportional electoral system. Currently, the Senedd is elected using the mixed-member Additional Member System, wherein two-thirds of MSs are elected by first-past-the-post in single member constituencies, and one-third are elected proportionally in multi-member regional constituencies. The Bill proposes the expansion of the Senedd from 60 members to 96, and the creation of 16 regional constituencies, each to elect 6 MSs from a closed list, meaning voters would select their preferred party instead of an individual candidate.

The Bill has been praised for its decision to place proportionality at the heart of Welsh politics, whilst criticism has been levelled at the proposition to use a closed-list system, with both the Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Liberal Democrats criticising a perceived lack of transparency. The Welsh Conservatives, in particular, have vociferously opposed the Bill, lambasting the decision to create more politicians and arguing that the money should be allocated to public services instead.

With the support of Plaid Cymru, the Bill is likely to reach the necessary two-thirds majority required for passage, however, discontent has also materialised within the Labour ranks. Mike Hedges MS, a Labour backbencher, has criticised the new system, opining that the new constituencies will be too large and confusing for voters. Though opposition to the new system is at present rather muted, its roll-out in May 2026 will test the competence of Gething’s administration, particularly given the need for prior political education ahead of voting and the potential backlash associated with an expanded Senedd.

The Infrastructure (Wales) Bill

As Wales looks to reach net zero by 2050 with the deployment of offshore and onshore renewables and low carbon technologies, questions have arisen over the efficacy of the planning system, particularly given endemic delays within the Development of National Significance (DNS) regime. Consequently, in June 2023, Climate Change Minister Julie James introduced The Infrastructure (Wales) Bill before the Senedd. The Bill proposes the creation of a unified consenting regime to hasten the decision-making process for offshore and onshore developments and makes provisions for additional transparency and consistency.

If passed, the Significant Infrastructure Project (SIP) regime will, create a new Infrastructure Consent mechanism for developers, raise the threshold at which a development is considered a significant infrastructure project, and expand the statutory basis for community engagement and consultation. The passage of the Bill is likely to be a key priority for Gething’s government as it seeks to fulfil its manifesto pledge pertaining to green prosperity, jobs, and investment.

Nevertheless, the Bill could prove controversial, with the Senedd’s Petitions Committee linking the question of development on the Gwent Levels with the Bill’s passage, further risking politicisation of Gething’s controversial campaign donation.

Sustainable Farming Scheme

Another legacy programme of the Labour-Plaid Co-operation Agreement, the Sustainable Farming Scheme is a product of the UK’s departure from the EU, and sets out a new land management policy to replace the Common Agricultural Policy, including the Basic Payment Scheme, to be phased in between 2025 and 2029.[3] The scheme has proven incredibly controversial among rural communities, with thousands of protestors recently gathering outside the Senedd to oppose the policy.

The proposed scheme seeks to incentive farmers to take actions which boost environmental, animal welfare, and social outcomes, with 17 proposed ‘Universal Actions’ around farmer development, soil health, animal welfare, and landscapes and habitats, to be supplemented by the ‘Universal Baseline Payment’. Scheme rules dictate that at least 10% of each farm must be managed as habitat and a further 10% as tree cover or woodland – the most controversial element of the scheme. Farmers have argued that said rules would result in 20% of agricultural land being taken out of production, and whilst revisions have been made (including that the tree cover rule be assessed on 10% of suitable land, not total as first announced), anger and frustration within the farming sector has not abated.

Welsh Government has estimated that the scheme would create around 26,000ha of new semi-natural habitat and 28,000ha of new woodland, offset by the reduction of total farm income by £199m and farm output by £125m. The modelling also envisages a reduction in livestock units by 122,000 (11%), which NFU Cymru has equated to the loss of 5,500 jobs. These figures have been highlighted by food security campaigners, some of whom have attacked the scheme as a product of net zero legislation, and protests are likely to continue.

As the Sustainable Farming Scheme becomes increasingly controversial, the issue has become increasingly politicised, with Rishi Sunak and the Welsh Conservatives aligning themselves with the protesters in an effort to appeal to rural voters who look set to abandon the party at the next election. Sunak even attended a protest in Llandudno where he sought to portray the UK Government as an ally of farmers and rural communities.

There are likewise signs of concern from other parties, with Plaid Cymru now calling for the Welsh Government to pause the policy. For their part, on the eve of the Senedd protest, a joint statement was released by Mark Drakeford and Lesley Griffiths confirming that the economic resilience of farms and alternative proposals for carbon sequestration would be considered. The ministers also pointed to the election of a new First Minister and indicated that it would be their responsibility to ‘carefully review the results of the consultation and consider in detail the pace of implementation’.[4]

With all major parties now expressing concern, Gething faces a difficult choice – he can ignore the protestors and push ahead with the January 2025 roll-out at the risk of stoking further discontent, or postpone the scheme whilst the Senedd considers various alternatives, thereby handing his political opponents a PR victory. Gething will likely try to use his election as an opportunity to reset relations with rural Wales, possibly by diluting or abandoning regulations around habitat and woodland creation on agricultural land. Whether this will be enough to placate rural voters remains to be seen.

Public services

Finally, the state of Wales’ public services will remain a key issue for Welsh Government, with both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru attacking Welsh Labour’s record, and voters ranking public services as a key determining factor in how they will cast their ballot. In recognition of this, two of Gething’s five manifesto priorities have focused on healthcare and education.

In recent months, international league tables have revealed a sharp decline in literacy, numeracy, and science attainment for Welsh schoolchildren, reversing reported progress in 2019. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD)’s Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, found in its 2023 report that Wales had once again fallen behind the rest of the UK and Ireland, with regression in maths and reading almost equivalent to a whole lost year of learning.[5]

Criticism has likewise been levelled at the performance of NHS Wales, though recent months have witnessed a fall in the number of patients on a hospital waiting list, albeit from an unprecedented height. Similarly, whilst waiting times at Welsh A&Es are now improving, the number of patients waiting over two years for treatment has grown to over 24,000, compared to just under 300 in England.[6] This disparity has been wielded as an attack line by the Conservatives nationally, and Gething will want to be seen as making progress – especially given his previous experience and handling of the Welsh NHS during his time as Health Minister.


In his election as First Minister of Wales, Vaughan Gething has already made history as the first black leader of any European nation, with party leaders from across the political spectrum marking the moment as welcome progress. Such displays of bipartisanship are unlikely to extend much further.

Gething inherits a series of difficult political challenges, some initiated by his predecessor, such as planning reform and the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill, and others a product of circumstance, such as the upcoming general election. With the next Senedd election scheduled for May 2026, Gething has two years to unite his party, amend and pass already controversial legislation, and convince Welsh voters that he has the character, experience, and skillset to lead Wales into the 2030s.

Gething’s receipt of a controversial donation has cast doubt on his political judgement, whilst the final breakdown of the Welsh Labour membership vote reveals a party near-evenly divided over its future. A bumpy start to his premiership, no doubt, albeit one unlikely to make a long-term impact. But an unhelpful start? Most certainly.

Gething’s pledge to reset and renew Welsh politics is therefore likely to take on renewed urgency in the coming weeks and months. And with a UK Labour victory in the autumn still looking like a strong possibility based on national polls, Gething might well find that a good showing at the election evaporates any residual discontent within Welsh Labour and strengthens his position as leader going into the next Senedd election.

Politics, as Gething’s slim margin of victory attests, is a numbers game, after all.

[1] BBC News, Welsh Labour leadership: Vaughan Gething set to become Wales’ first minister, 16 March 2024. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-wales-68569230

[2] Will Hayward, Twitter post, 18 March 2024, https://twitter.com/WillHayCardiff/status/1769669583500152878

[3] Senedd Cymru, Senedd Research, Sustainable Farming Scheme: your questions answered, 12 March 2024, https://research.senedd.wales/research-articles/sustainable-farming-scheme-your-questions-answered/

[4] Welsh Government, Written Statement: Farming in Wales, 27 February 2024. https://www.gov.wales/written-statement-farming-wales

[5] WalesOnline, Pisa results in 2023 show school standards in Wales drop so far it’s like losing whole YEAR of learning, 5 December 2023, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education/school-standards-wales-drop-again-28216255?_ga=2.165879742.1413648951.1710861883-386908012.1650459889

[6] BBC News, NHS Wales: Hospital waiting times improve for second month, 22 February 2024, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-68368545