Vaughan Gething of Wales Is Europe’s First Black Head of Government

Vaughan Gething on Thursday became the first Black person to lead a national government in Europe, a day after he was elected the first minister of Wales.

In a speech to the Welsh Senedd, or Parliament, Mr. Gething, who was born in Zambia, noted the historic nature of his election in a place where nearly 94 percent of the population of about three million is white, according to government data.

“It is a matter of pride, I believe, for a modern Wales, but also a daunting responsibility for me and one that I do not take lightly,” he said. “But today, we can also expect a depressingly familiar pattern to emerge with abuse on social media, racist tropes disguised with polite language, people questioning my motives. And yes, they will still question or deny my nationality, whilst others will question why I am playing the race card.”

To those critics, Mr. Gething said: “It is very easy not to care about identity when your own has never once been questioned or held you back. I believe the Wales of today and the future will be owned by all those decent people who recognize that our Parliament and our government should look like our country.”

Mr. Gething, 50, was narrowly elected leader of Wales’s governing Labour Party this week, and then was elected first minister by the Senedd. He also received approval from King Charles III, a ceremonial administrative step.

Mr. Gething’s elevation as first minister of Wales means that, for the first time, none of the four governments in the United Kingdom will be led by a white man. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain is of Indian descent, and Humza Yousaf, the first minister of Scotland, is of Pakistani descent. Michelle O’Neill became first minister of Northern Ireland last month, the first Catholic to hold that position.

Mr. Sunak’s government oversees the operation of the civil service and government agencies and makes decisions for England, but some responsibilities are left to elected officials in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — the result of a decades-long process called devolution.

Mr. Gething has spent much of his life in politics. He became active in the Welsh Labour Party at 17, campaigning unsuccessfully in the 1992 general election. He become a trade union lawyer and eventually a partner at the trade union firm Thompsons. He was also the first Black person — and the youngest — to serve as president of the Wales Trades Union Congress, a consortium of dozens of unions.

In 2011, he became the first Black minister to serve in any of the devolved United Kingdom countries and has since served in several roles in the Welsh Parliament, including as minister of economy and as health minister during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Gething faced criticism for accepting 200,000 pounds (about $253,000) in donations to his leadership campaign from a recycling company run by a man who had been found guilty of illegally dumping waste on protected land in South Wales. Asked about the donations in a BBC debate, he said that they had been “checked and filed properly with the Electoral Commission and declared to the Senedd,” The Guardian reported.

In his speech on Thursday, Mr. Gething said he wanted Wales “to thrive in the sunshine that hope and social justice can offer all of us, no matter what our background, what we look like or who we love.”

He added, “We can embrace fresh optimism and new ambition for a fairer Wales built by all of us.”

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