NO-ONE should be taken in by Mick Antoniw’s velvety words.

Confronted by a health service creaking at the seams, schools threatened with closure, local government in financial crisis and universities on the ropes, the Senedd has chosen this precise moment to plough £20m a year extra into a major expansion of its membership - from 60 to 96. In addition, the same two-thirds-plus majority has decided that, from 2026, Wales will have a new voting system. 

Mr Antoniw, the Labour member for Pontypridd and, as counsel general, the government’s chief lawyer, is perhaps the main architect of this small revolution, which is backed by 43 Labour, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat members and opposed by 16 Conservatives.

  In the debate leading up to the vote on the Senedd reform bill, Antoniw enthused about its merits. Yet it was a weary rhetoric he employed, so hackneyed it seemed likely to deflect, not concentrate, members’ attention. Which indeed may have been the aim.

The twin project, he said, was a chance to “strengthen the very foundations of our parliamentary democracy”, a “once in a generation opportunity to invest in our democracy”. It would ensure a “more effective Senedd, with greater ability and capacity to hold the Welsh government to account, a more representative Senedd to better serve the people of Wales”. So stirring, patriotic even. But he wasn’t giving us the full story.

The plea in favour is that 36 more members are needed to better scrutinise ministers and law-making in a more muscular Senedd than the first administration launched 25 years ago.

Central to the concerns of those not bowled over by the Antoniw line are partly financial - it’s most certainly the case that this is not the moment to put £20m the way of what can be seen as empire-building when so many public services are in a state of extreme distress.

But overall objections accurately point to deep suspicions about the political motivations of strategists who have cooked up the new arrangements, which will see a complete end to first-past-the-post voting and total imposition of an electoral system under which people will have no choice but to vote for a party, and therefore no longer for a specific named candidate who will have opened themselves up to all-important public debate at pre-election hustings.

In future, candidates will be selected, and ranked, behind closed doors by party officials. You want to get elected to the Senedd? Fine, but the only way to get there, my friend, will be by currying favour with party apparatchiks.

For an overall critique of this brave new world, take on board the conclusions of voting researcher Dave Bradney, who looked in depth at the reform bill before it was voted through.

Mourning the disappearance, from 2026, of all “local links” in elections to the Welsh parliament,  he points to their successors - “16 huge electoral districts electing six anonymous representatives each. 

“In the 2026 Senedd election, the minimum vote share needed to win a seat would be around 14 per cent, as against 7 per cent in the existing system. 

“A political party polling 10 per cent across each of the new constituencies – cumulatively over 100,000 votes across the whole of Wales – would win no seats at all.”

Just a little something Mr Antoniw failed to mention.

Are Gething’s days numbered?

THERE IS no good reason why Vaughan Gething should remain first minister. And several why he shouldn’t.

 He heads a country with public services struggling to keep their heads above water, and a government now increasingly inward-looking because of a forced preoccupation with the fallout from Gething’s highly controversial acceptance of donations totalling £200,000 from a company whose owner was twice convicted of environmental offences.

 Understandably, there has been unease too because the company, Dauson Environmental Group Ltd, is repaying a loan to the Development Bank for Wales, which is wholly owned by the Welsh government. The first minister says no ministers are involved with the bank’s decisions.

Disquiet too that donations from all sources to Gething’s leadership campaign totalled £250,000 - more than four times the spending cap set by the Labour Party. I asked Welsh Labour why it did not disallow acceptance of the higher figure. Two days later, I get an email back. Its message: “We will not be responding at this time.” Or - and why couldn’t they say so? - at any time.

Stonewalling like this encapsulates the tone and directioning of Gething’s leadership. The emphasis is on tight control, and rigidity of mind.

He repeats time and again that his campaign donations were checked and filed properly with the Electoral Commission and declared to the Senedd. He shows no sign of understanding that sticking to the rule-book isn’t enough, that confidence in his leadership stands or falls by his demonstrating good judgment and a sensitivity to the need for openness, generally perceived propriety and unrestricted communication. Vaughan Gething is turning his back on all these things. 

The last straw for his leadership may now revolve around recent developments. One is the likelihood of a Conservative-threatened no-confidence motion to force his resignation.

Damagingly, it now emerges - not openly, as it should have been, by a Labour announcement, but through a source - that the first minister, having spent most of his vast campaign funds, will be giving a left over £31,000 to the Labour party. So will the party accept this tainted money?

Adding to the black marks is Gething’s sacking of minister for social partnership Hannah Blythyn over his claim she leaked text messages to the media which revealed he was deleting messages from a pandemic-era group-chat. She vigorously denies his allegation. However, if she had leaked, she would have been performing a public service.

The first minister’s chances of survival are sinking fast, and it’s right that they should be.

What contorted reasoning is this?

Foreign secretary David Cameron tells the BBC that banning UK arms exports to Israel would strengthen Hamas, and insists the focus should instead be on getting humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Cameron must obviously see, but doesn’t want to acknowledge, that there would be no need for humanitarian aid if it wasn’t for the death and destruction in Gaza enabled substantially by weaponry exports, pre-eminently from America but also from Britain, Germany and Italy. 

An arms ban would strengthen Hamas? Ultimately, impossible to deny. 

But the foreign secretary, and everyone else, knows full well that the overwhelming effect of stopping, or reducing, the flow of lethal weaponry would be to lessen the deaths, injuries and general outrageous devastation being inflicted on countless long-suffering Palestinian civilians.

This is the elephant in the room Cameron chooses to sidestep. Yes, the strong likelihood is that he was being lent on by the prime minister. But that just devalues his words still further.