Select Page

Wales has a new First Minister in Vaughan Gething. In many ways, he is the continuation candidate, setting out his five pledges as: 

  • For a Healthy Nation, an NHS is safe in public hands and needs funding. 
  • For a Place Called Home, accelerated house building and more power, closer to communities. 
  • For Green Jobs, quality work is driving our journey to net zero in a just transition. 
  • For Ambitious Futures, there is opportunity for all ages at all stages of education, as well as expanded childcare and apprenticeships. 
  • For a Stronger Wales, more powers for an ambitious Wales with a thriving Cymraeg 

As always, the pledges are light on specific policies. 

Vaughan now faces some significant questions which will dictate politics in Wales for the next couple of years and determine Labour’s fate at the next Senedd elections in May 2026. 

Can the First Minister unite Labour in Wales?  

The leadership contest was close, with Vaughan getting 51.7% of the vote against Jeremy Miles to become First Minster.  

There is a chance Jeremy Miles got the support of the Labour membership while Trade Union votes pushed Vaughan over the line. Jeremy Miles also had greater support amongst Senedd Members. Jeremy Miles has been appointed Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language, the number two position in the Welsh Government. However, the Labour Leadership election was sometimes fractious, with a few accusations flying between the camps. Much will depend on how well Vaughan and Jeremy can work together or how much influence Jeremy has. 

Can Vaughan work closely with Kier Starmer? It’s no secret that under Mark Drakefors, the Welsh Government had almost no interaction with the UK Government (not just Mark’s fault) or Kier Starmer’s office. Assuming an autumn General Election that returns a Labour majority, the second question is whether Vaughan will use the next six months to work closely with Kier Starmer to plan how the Welsh and UK governments need to work together. 

Can Vaughan win for Labour outside the Labour heartlands? The next Senedd elections will increase the number of AMs from 60 to 96. Under the new electoral system, it will be tough, if not impossible, for Labour to win control of the Senedd outright. Labour would need to significantly increase its vote share in areas where Plaid are the main party. Whether Vaughan can appeal to voters outside the Labour heartlands in the south and overcome criticism that the Welsh Government is too Cardiff-centric remains a big question mark. 

Energy Policy in Wales 

At the top of Vaughan and Jeremy’s to-do lists should be energy policy and execution. This month saw the National Energy System Operator publish its long-term plan for energy infrastructure investment in the UK; see if you can spot anything concerning: 

The £58bn plan includes two “low maturity options” for the whole of Wales. I may be missing something; maybe Wales doesn’t need any investment in its energy infrastructure. I would like to know why building new offshore infrastructure across south Wales and connecting the north and south along the west coast isn’t required. Digging around, I can find some sort of commitment to invest £650m between 2024-2028 in Wesh energy infrastructure, but it’s unclear what this is. 

Some basics: 

  • Wales ranks high amongst countries for renewable energy potential, including wind, tidal, and hydro. 
  • Renewable energy installation fell from 900MWH in 2015 to 43MW in 2022. 
  • Wales exports over 50% of its electricity generation but with little economic benefit to Wales. 
  • Industrial automation, increased reliance on technology, the need for computing power and data centres, electric vehicles, and deglobalisation will all significantly increase energy demand. 
  • Some projections forecast electricity usage in Wales could triple by 2050 if you include hydrogen production. 
  • Welsh Government policy has previously leant towards reducing energy consumption. 
  • New grid connections can currently take ten years and are at the top of complaints when it comes to increasing industrial capacity. 
  • Current UK energy market regulations are not fit for purpose and do not allow energy-producing regions to benefit directly or for private investment and long-term fixed-price contracts. 

I could reel off further facts. There are a vast number of reports, consultations, policy statements, reviews and studies covering energy policy and the future of energy generation in Wales. Perhaps somewhere in all these is a coherent executable plan to deliver cheap, abundant, renewable electricity across Wales in a way that directly benefits the wider Welsh economy and attracts industrial investment, but I can’t find it. 

Energy is clearly the most significant economic opportunity for Wales; no one disputes this.  

Whether Vaughan and Jeremy can deliver on this opportunity will be the next few years’ critical economic and political test. 

The fundamental role of Government is to garner public support for collective endeavours that deliver a greater good. 

The timing of the next Senedd elections, 18 months after the next General Election, risks a protest vote against Labour unless the current Labour-led Government can succeed in this fundamental question of communicating and delivering a vision that voters buy into, including setting out and executing an economic plan that Welsh businesses can support. The clock is ticking.