New Welsh leader ‘honored’ to be Europe’s first Black national leader

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Vaughan Gething won the Welsh Labour Party leadership contest on Saturday, and is set to become the first Black leader of Wales’ semi-autonomous government.

Gething, who is currently Welsh economy minister, narrowly beat Education Minister Jeremy Miles in a race to replace First Minister Mark Drakeford. Drakeford announced late last year he would step down once a replacement was chosen.

Gething, 50, won 51.7% of the votes cast by members of the party and affiliated trade unions, and Miles 48.3%.

Once he is confirmed next week by the Welsh parliament, the Senedd, where Labour is the largest party, Gething will become the fifth first minister since Wales’ national legislature was established in 1999.

Gething, son of a Welsh father and a Zambian mother, will be the first Black leader of a government in the U.K. — and, by some definitions, of any European country.

“Today, we turn a page in the book of our nation’s history. A history we write together,” Gething said in his victory speech. “Not just because I have the honor of becoming the first Black leader in any European country — but because the generational dial has jumped too.”

Once Gething is in post, three of the U.K.’s four governments will have non-white leaders. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has Indian heritage, while Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf’s was born to a Pakistani family in Britain.

Northern Ireland is led jointly by Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly, meaning that for the first time there are no white male heads of government in the U.K.

Wales, which has a population of about 3 million, is one of four countries that make up the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The British government in London is responsible for defense, foreign affairs and other U.K.-wide issues, while administrations in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast control areas such as education and health.

Gething was Wales’ health minister during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as economy minister has had to deal with fallout from Tata Steel’s plan to close both blast furnaces at its plant in Port Talbot, eliminating 2,800 jobs at one of Wales’ biggest employers.

He’ll take over a government that is often at odds with Sunak’s Conservative administration in London. Wales has also seen a wave of protests by farmers, similar to those that have roiled France and other European countries.

Gething was the front-runner to win the contest, though his campaign was rattled by the revelation he’d accepted 200,000 pounds ($255,000) in donations from a recycling company that was found guilty of environmental offenses and breaching health and safety regulations.

Gething said the donations were properly declared under electoral rules.

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