By any standards Vaughan Gething is facing a monumental challenge. He takes over as First Minister of Wales with an unenviable list of challenges. The continued fall out from the unpopular 20mph limit, Senedd expansion, and an ongoing dispute with farmers about changes to subsides on their own look tough.

Add to that the huge challenges across the Welsh NHS, the specific issues at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, and underperforming schools and things look even harder. That's especially true given the fact that no First Minister has really gotten to grips with these issues.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for Mr Gething will be the fact he is approaching this with anything but a united party behind him. The contest against Jeremy Miles to be Welsh Labour leader was mired in controversy after Mr Gething took a £200,000 donation from a known criminal who on the same day submitted an application for a large development that would need Welsh Government approval.

Will Hayward regularly holds Welsh politicians to account. You can sign up to his newsletter here.

In the end Mr Gething did win the race but it was incredibly close as he secured just 51.7% of the votes. Several senior Labour figures have raised concerns about the donation and there is plenty off ill feeling toward Mr Gething among the Labour group of MSs (most of whom backed Mr Miles).

The challenge for Mr Gething will be getting these people back onside and all pulling in the same direction. A key part of doing this will be demonstrating that he can accept criticism and is open to reasonable scrutiny. This has long been a real weak spot for him. During the leadership race it was his refusal to answer questions about the donation, as much as the donation itself, that caused this story to spiral into such an open wound for Mr Gething.

As First Minister he is going to come in for far more scrutiny and criticism than in his previous roles. He has to be able to show he can introspect and stop being prickly when challenged otherwise he will continue to alienate the people he is trying to build bridges with. But history suggests this will be hard for him. Here are some examples.

Occasions where Vaughan Gething has responded badly to scrutiny

Serious journalists

The day after Mr Gething was named Welsh Labour leader he was asked about his donations on Politics Wales by BBC journalist Teleri Glyn Jones. He dismissed even the idea that there was a question to answer saying that all "serious journalists" would know there wasn't a story here.

Walking out of an interview

Back in 2017 Mr Gething walked out of an interview with ITV Wales reporter James Crichton-Smith after being pressed about the need for an inquiry into a Welsh health board.

'What the f*** is the matter with her?'

Mr Gething has also been known to respond angrily to scrutiny from those within his own party. During the early days of the pandemic he forgot to turn his microphone off and was caught swearing about Labour MS Jenny Rathbone.

Video Loading

She had told him that "some of my constituents who are care workers have had huge difficulty getting tested". He is heard to say: " I tell you what, I know Jenny is regularly [inaudible] but... what the f*** is the matter with her?"

The presiding officer could then be heard trying to speak over him which makes the rest of what he says inaudible except for a few words. The session was then delayed while the "technical problems" were sorted out.

'Ridiculous question'

The year after this he dismissed another Labour colleague's question as "ridiculous" during a Welsh Parliament committee meeting. Mr Gething muttered the comment after fellow Welsh Labour MS David Rees asked him about care home visitors during the virtual meeting.

Video Loading

Mr Rees asked: "How many care homes across Wales are you aware of that are allowing visits and how many are not? Do you have those numbers?" Mr Gething was seen raising his eyebrows before muttering: "Ridiculous question."

Care home testing

Mr Gething was responsible for health throughout Covid and came in for a great deal of criticism for not testing asymptomatic discharges from hospital into care settings for two weeks after England did. When WalesOnline approached him at the time asked if this was because of a lack of testing capacity he replied that even if he'd had "treble the testing capacity" he would still not have tested them. The fact the virus was able to get into care homes led to catastrophic loss of life.

Covid Inqury

The new First Minister recently enraged the families at his recent appearance at the UK Covid Inquiry where he laid most of the issues with the Covid response in Wales at the feet of Westminster. Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees from the bereaved families group said: "If it wasn't so tragic it would be like something out of The Thick of It. You couldn't make what we've heard up. It dispels all the things the Welsh Government peddled about it being Westminster's fault.” She described Mr Gething's responses as a "word salad of nonsense".

If Mr Gething is going to win over his colleagues and the Welsh public he is going to need to be direct and upfront in his communication. He can't fall into "word salad" when justifying big decisions that affect the lives of people in Wales or it will simply the people he is going to need to support him. You can read a full breakdown of his Covid performance here.


Remember the early days of the pandemic when we were told to "stay home, protect the NHS, save lives"? One thing we were not allowed to do was have a picnic. So when Mr Gething was pictured eating with his family people expected an apology but Mr Gething outright denied that sitting down to eat at a picnic table was breaking the rules in his case because he hadn't gone out for a picnic. Sitting down at the picnic table to eat was instead part of “exercise that the food was incidental to,” he said.

At the time many read this Welsh Government statement from the rules in place in May 2020 to read something different. It said: "The purpose of leaving home is to exercise. Going for a walk and then having a picnic or spending a prolonged period on a park bench, for example, is not considered to be exercise." This instinct that he has to argue up is down contrary to all the evidence could run him into serious issues as First Minister.

Vaughan Gething risks coming across as unlikeable

Mr Gething has the ability to present himself as composed and in control. He can appear slick and polished in a way Mark Drakeford never did. However in doing so he risks not being seen as genuine. When this is combined with prickliness when he is challenged it gives the perception of a man who is, for want of a better word, unlikeable. Being liked is a vital trait in a politician – especially when you are going to be tackling some unpopular issues and dealing with underperforming services.

The thing people warm to most is when politicians seem genuine and nothing is more genuine than being a bit contrite occasionally – while nothing makes you more unlikeable than appearing to dodge legitimate scrutiny. If Mr Gething can learn to take criticism on the chin he has a chance of playing the really tough hand he has been dealt.