Extraordinary WEC meeting, Thursday 16 December 2021 (Joint report with Sophie Williams)

This was the follow-up to the meeting held on 20 November; that meeting had run out of time to discuss the procedural guidelines for the reselection of sitting MPs, so that was the only item on the agenda this time. One of our fellow CLP reps asked, with our support, for another item, concerning WEC nominations, to be added to the agenda; the Chair ruled this out of order but said that it could be discussed informally once the meeting had closed. 

This meeting therefore focussed on the reselection procedures, as presented by Acting General Secretary David Costa. The purpose of these procedures was to give effect to the new trigger ballot rules agreed at last year’s UK party conference, which have disempowered members by increasing the threshold required for an open selection. The new rules apply in Wales, England and Scotland alike and the WEC was only able to make small variations to the detailed procedures. David said that the procedures had been drafted in close conformity with those agreed by the NEC for place for England, with only small adjustments made to reflect the Welsh context. The meeting was first asked to agree to prioritise the selection of a parliamentary candidate for the Delyn constituency, due to the prospect of a potential by-election. A question was raised about whether it would be better to select before or after the local government elections in May 2022, but it was explained that this decision would simply give officers the power to call a full selection if and when they felt it appropriate and the proposal was ultimately agreed with broad support. 

The procedural guidelines for the reselection of sitting parliamentarians were then put to the committee for views, amendments and agreement. Darren proposed two amendments to the guidelines; the first (that a WEC representative should not be able to unilaterally decide whether a reselection meeting should be held online or in person, but that this should be decided in consultation with the CLP) was considered uncontroversial and was agreed. 

The second related to the sitting MP’s ability to make use of their access to a constituency’s membership list to contact members as often and by whatever means they prefer ahead of the reselection meeting (on top of being able to present that meeting with a written address). Darren argued that this gave the sitting MP undue influence over a process that is already weighted towards their reselection. A compromise position, whereby a sitting MP would be limited to one additional piece of correspondence (on top of the written address to the meeting) was proposed by David Costa and agreed by the meeting. 

Another CLP rep queried the process by which members of the WEC are chosen by the General Secretary to act as WEC representatives at reselection meetings, as it seemed that some had been chosen more regularly than others; he suggested that such representatives could be elected by the whole WEC. There was a substantial discussion on this, with David Costa outlining the criteria by which he has used to choose such members in the past; he pointed out that he had recently circulated a list of which WEC member had represented the WEC in each selection and undertook to do this again in future. He also accepted the suggestion that WEC members willing and able to volunteer should declare their interest in doing do. It was agreed that it would be useful to revisit this topic in the future.

The procedural guidelines were then agreed and the meeting was closed. This was the final meeting of 2021; the next meeting is scheduled for Saturday 22 January. 

Extraordinary WEC Meeting, Saturday 20 November (Joint report with Sophie Williams)

This was an ‘extraordinary’ meeting, called at short notice to consider two issues: the draft agreement struck by the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru; and the procedural guidelines to be applied to the reselection process for sitting Labour MPs. In the event, however, there was time only to deal with the first of these.
Mark Drakeford presented the ‘Co-operation Agreement’, which had emerged from several weeks of negotiations, and urged the WEC to support it. He explained that the choice was not between having an agreement of this kind or doing without an agreement altogether; it was between a long-term agreement like this, which could provide political stability for the duration of the Senedd term and enable Labour to get its programme through, or ad hoc agreements with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis. He said that the content of the agreement was entirely in keeping with Labour’s principles, whatever claims might be made to suggest that they were principally Plaid policies.
The agreement included moves to establish rent controls; the extension of free school meals to all primary school pupils; childcare for all two-year-olds; creation of a National Care Service; limits on second home ownership; a replacement for council tax; the creation of a publicly-owned construction company and an energy company; changes to the Senedd’s size and electoral system, including a statutory guarantee of gender balance; and measures to promote the Welsh language.  
There was a wide-ranging discussion of the merits of the agreement, with most WEC members accepting that it was necessary to provide political stability for Wales but several voicing specific reservations. Some members were concerned about the absence of any reference to key principles like women’s rights and partnership with trade unions but Mark pointed out that Welsh Labour remained committed to everything included in its original Programme for Government and that he had sought to limit the present agreement to matters that had arisen from the talks with Plaid. He also said that, as the party of government, Labour would have no difficulty claiming its rightful share of credit for the policies in the agreement. 
Darren praised the progressive policies in the agreement like rent controls, free school meals and the public energy company but said that some of the commitments were rather vague and further detail on things like the proposal to replace council tax would be welcome. He also said that a commitment to reform the Senedd’s electoral system seemed to predetermine the outcome of Labour’s current consultation on this issue. Mark replied that the replacement of council tax would be a very complex and time-consuming initiative and that the wording on potential reform of Senedd elections was consistent with the scope of Labour’s consultation, although the preference was for a move towards greater proportionality.   
Ultimately, the WEC overwhelmingly endorsed the agreement and the meeting was then closed, as Mark and a couple of others had to leave for another event; we were told that a second extraordinary meeting would have to be arranged to deal with the reselections issue.

WEC Report 30 October 2021 (Joint report with Sophie Williams)

This was a well-attended and broadly consensual meeting, with three central agenda items on planning for parliamentary selections and reselections; Senedd electoral reform; and promoting the use of Welsh within the party. The meeting noted that, following the disaffiliation of his union, the BFAWU from the Labour Party, Gary Johnston had ceased to be a WEC member. Under his Acting General Secretary’s report, when queried by Darren, David Costa noted that there was no rule provision for by-elections and that discussions would be had as to whether one could be held to fill this vacancy or whether the seat should remain vacant until the new WEC is elected in early 2022. 

First Minister and Welsh Labour Leader, Mark Drakeford, supplemented his written report, highlighting the serious position with regard to increased Covid-19 cases, his forthcoming participation in COP 26 events and the progress of the constitutional convention, which would be jointly chaired by Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister. Mark took questions on the reasoning behind the rise in Covid-19 cases, engaging industries such as steel in discussions on progress towards reducing carbon emissions and on youth employment guarantees. 

Mark noted that, at UK Labour Conference, he had undertaken initial discussions with UK Labour General Secretary, David Evans, around the principle of devolving more powers to Welsh Labour. Mark sought agreement from the WEC to write to David Evans to ask him to reiterate his support for this principle. While there was broad support for this initiative, some reservations were expressed in relation to the potential public perception of differences between the Welsh and UK parties and the detail of what might or might not be devolved. It was agreed that Mark should send such a letter, on the basis that it would be collaborative in tone and that the detail would be left to later discussions. 

There were then three substantial papers presented to the meeting for agreement. The first paper related to proposals to begin the selection and reselection process for parliamentary candidates as soon as possible; this was proposed in the face of a potential General Election on the basis of the current boundaries in 2023. It was noted that the UK rules in this area continue to apply to Wales and even if there was agreement to devolve these to the Welsh party, this could not be achieved until UK Conference 2022, which would be very late in terms of a potential 2023 election. It was proposed that the detailed procedural guidance be written and agreed by the Party Development Board (the executive of the WEC); Darren proposed instead a special WEC meeting to discuss and agree the proposals, which was agreed. 

The second related to the report compiled by the working group considering electoral reform of the Senedd. The paper is a consultation document that seeks views from party members and affiliates on two key questions: the first is the potential expansion of the Senedd to 80-90 members and the second is the consideration of an alternative electoral system, on the understanding that any new system would need to be at least as proportional as the current system. It was agreed that this report be circulated to CLPs and affiliates for discussion and response. 

The third paper related to further plans to strengthen and promote the use of the Welsh language in the party; David Costa commented on efforts made by staff to improve their Welsh, provision for translation, support for bilingual materials for candidates and for developments to social media and website support. There was a substantial discussion around how best to further promote the use of the language in the party, including potential for an informal Welsh speakers network. 

David Costa had also provided a general written update in his capacity as Acting General Secretary in advance of the meeting. Darren queried the party’s response to its diminishing membership (there had been a fairly substantial reduction in members during 2021); David responded that the UK party was no longer directly approaching members who had lapsed to encourage them to resume their contributions, as this had not proven particularly effective but that contact from local parties and elected representatives had tended to be more successful in this regard. 

There was then the customary series of written reports from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the Welsh Labour Deputy Leader, the Leader of the WLGA and the PCC representative. On the last of these, Darren asked Jeff Cuthbert about the reports of police attempts to coerce a Swansea Black Lives Matter activist to become a police informant, but Jeff was reluctant to comment on this directly as it had not taken place in the police force for which he is the PCC. 

Finally, Darren noted that the minutes of the WEC meetings had increasingly become a note of decisions taken and contained diminishing detail regarding the discussion behind those decisions, and queried whether CLP secretaries were still receiving notice of the WEC agenda in advance of WEC meetings and given access to the most recent WEC papers. David Costa said that they would ensure that the portal where the papers were housed was up to date but said that they felt that it was more appropriate for the minutes to accurately record decisions as opposed to seeking to fully reflect different opinions shared. 

There are now no more WEC meetings scheduled for 2021; the next WEC meeting is currently scheduled for Saturday 22 January 2022. 

WEC Report 18 September 2021- Joint report with Sophie Williams

This meeting did not include any particularly controversial agenda items and ran largely to time. The first item, as always, was a report from Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour Leader. Mark spoke about his forthcoming appearance at UK Labour Conference, where he would speak on ‘Labour in Power’ alongside other elected representatives such as elected mayors. He discussed the worsening Covid situation, where the numbers contracting the disease and being admitted to hospital were rising, putting pressure on the NHS, alongside the more positive announcement of a booster vaccine campaign. He also outlined the progress, as reported in the press, in discussions with Plaid Cymru to agree common positions on a limited number of proposals, to ensure sufficient support to get the relevant legislation passed in the Senedd. Mark then responded to a number of questions and contributions, particularly in relation to social care and partnership working. 

We then received a lengthy presentation from a member of the UK party’s data unit, who ran through the recent boundary proposals to take effect from the next Westminster elections, with a specific focus on the changes proposed to the Welsh parliamentary boundaries, which would see the number of constituencies reduced from 40 to 32. The party staffer further outlined the proposed timetable and consultation periods; an initial discussion had been held with Welsh CLP secretaries earlier in the week and a report would be prepared to enable individual CLPs to respond directly to the Boundary Commission for Wales. Party members were encouraged to contact the party with their views, which could be sent to this email address: boundaryreview@labour.org.uk

The WEC then agreed its meeting schedule to March 2022 and agreed to continue holding meetings via Zoom. It also agreed a report prepared by the Senedd electoral reform working group, which would potentially present options around this topic to the October WEC meeting, for agreement at the March conference 

The most significant discussion took place around the planned November Welsh Labour Conference; we were told by Mark and by the Acting General Secretary, David Costa that the Covid situation coupled with an unavoidable lack of preparation for an online alternative meant that the WEC were being asked to agree to cancel the planned November conference. The 2022 conference would still take place on schedule in March and Welsh Labour would plan for both an in-person and an online version of that event. It was suggested that Welsh Government ministers would instead be available for small in-person gatherings on a regional basis across Wales with those members who had been elected as delegates to the conference, where informal policy discussions could take place, potentially framed by the motions submitted to the conference. 

While the WEC accepted the need to cancel the planned in-person conference on public health grounds, several members expressed concern about where this had left us. Sophie made the point that it seemed inconsistent that UK conference should be going ahead the following week, at which, as described above, Mark Drakeford would be speaking, and queried whether the relevant rules concerns that had prevented an online conference from being a valid proposal for 2020 had now been overcome. Darren suggested that informal policy discussions with ministers would be in no way an adequate substitute for a decision-making conference. Unison delegates were also concerned, questioning whether this event would be cancelled in isolation or whether Welsh Government guidance would change for non-party events of a similar size and level of risk.

In response to Sophie’s point on rules specifically, David Costa said that there were outstanding rules concerns but that lessons would be learned from the successful online UK women’s conference that had taken place in the summer. We were told that an online conference would come at huge expense for the party. 

Notwithstanding these concerns, the WEC agreed to cancel the conference, and also approved a report on progress in developing the use of the Welsh language by Welsh Labour, which was widely supported. 

In response to the report from Acting General Secretary David Costa, Darren asked for figures on the number of party members in Wales who had recently been subject to, or threatened with, auto-exclusion, as well as enquiring about the impact on Welsh Labour staff of the prospect of some ninety redundancies across the UK, causing Unite and GMB members to vote for strike action in an indicative ballot. David was not aware of any recent auto-exclusions in Wales and believed that the party’s restructuring would not have too severe an additional impact on Welsh staff, who were already carrying one vacancy.  As is now required, each elected representative had produced a written report in advance of the meeting, so those of the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales (Nia Griffith MP), Welsh Labour Deputy Leader (Carolyn Harris MP), WLGA Leader (Cllr Andrew Morgan) and PCC (Jeff Cuthbert) were presented to the WEC. There were no questions on these reports (Jeff Cuthbert was, in any case, absent for health reasons). The Deputy Leader commented, however – apparently in response to comments on previous agenda items relating to concerns around the number of party members under disciplinary investigation or suspension and the associated reduction in overall membership – that the party exists primarily to ensure the election of MPs and MSs and that greater attention should be paid to that than to concerns about its membership. This is not an opinion that we share, as representatives of the members; of course the party is a vehicle for achieving power through successful electioneering, but we believe that the party should be a proponent of genuine societal change and that, as such, it should be led by its ordinary members, who volunteer their time to campaign but whose views on policy and whose voices in internal party democracy are too often ignored.

WEC Meeting 5 June 2021

This was the first meeting following Welsh Labour’s successful result in May’s Senedd and PCC elections and the re-election of Mark Drakeford as First Minister. It wasn’t particularly well-attended, with approximately a third of WEC members absent. 

The meeting began with Mark’s report, where he focussed on a recent meeting with the UK Prime Minister, the move into Alert Level One of pandemic-related restrictions (depending on the spread of the Delta variant); the success of the coronavirus vaccination programme; and the forthcoming publication of the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government, where Mark wanted to make progress on key manifesto commitments within the first two years of the government’s term. There were no questions to Mark following this; the Chair thanked him for his leadership and a successful election campaign. 

We then moved onto an election debrief, with contributions from Mark as Welsh Labour Leader, Julie James MS who chaired the campaign and Louise Magee as General Secretary. Mark said that there were six key factors contributing to the campaign’s success: the incumbency factor (particularly the gratitude of the Welsh public for the handling of the pandemic); the high level of campaign activity, including social media; the unity element, with support from all levels of the party; a strong sense of Welsh identity; authenticity of Labour values and policies, as reflected in the manifesto; and the credibility of Labour’s policy pledges. Julie James echoed this and highlighted the personal support for Mark amongst the Welsh public. Louise reflected on the extent of the party’s electoral success, with 30 out of 60 seats and an increased vote-share, as well as 3 out of the 4 PCCs for the first time. She also reiterated the importance of digital campaigning and personal contact with voters, thanking the many staff members and volunteers for their help. There were positive contributions from other WEC members; Darren reflected on Mark’s role and the large share of credit due to him for the campaign’s success, because of his handling of the pandemic but also the policy record of the Welsh Government. He compared these results with those in England, which were generally pretty dismal, suggesting that Mark now had enhanced political and moral authority which could be used to tell Starmer that Labour inspires voters when we present a clear alternative to the Tories with progressive policies that make a difference to their lives, but also that we do better when we respect and empower our members, and that Starmer should address the intolerant atmosphere within the party and its dysfunctional disciplinary system. 

The next item was a paper with options regarding a 2021 Welsh Labour conference; it was proposed that a conference could take place in Llandudno between 5th and 7th November 2021, depending on the situation with the pandemic at that point. It may also be possible for that conference or a version of it to take place online, depending on the success of the UK Labour Women’s Conference, due to take place in July. We supported this approach- members last had a chance to participate in a democratic conference at the beginning of 2019, UK Labour Conference is due to take place physically in Brighton in September and to cancel a 2021 conference and hold a conference only in March 2022 seemed a risk given that we don’t know what could happen to affect that 2022 event, which, if that were cancelled, would mean there would have been no conference for three years. It was overwhelmingly agreed that a conference should be held in November, with further details to be assessed at the September WEC meeting. 

The General Secretary, Louise Magee had produced a comprehensive written report- this had not included up to date membership figures, so she agreed to recirculate her report with the membership breakdown to WEC members as soon as possible. She cited a current Welsh membership figure a little over 22,000, representing a net reduction of around 2,000 from the figure given at the previous meeting. She also highlighted progress being made in local government panels and selections, with the need to increase gender balance a central priority across Wales. 

Louise responded to a series of questions, particularly on the need to increase BAME representation at elected representative level (along with making diversity among elected representatives a key priority more generally). She was asked whether there was anything that she could do to help expedite the disciplinary case relating to Mid and West Wales CLPs representative Ivan Monckton, who remains suspended from the party after six months, with no progress update on his case; she responded that this was not something over which Welsh Labour had any influence but she would endeavour to speak to the person responsible. Sophie asked for an update on a Welsh Labour Women’s Conference (this had been due to take place for the first time in late 2019 but was cancelled due to the snap General Election and has not been reconvened) and on the need for both the Welsh Labour Women’s and BAME committees to meet online, as these bodies had not met for a considerable period of time. Louise reported that it was the party’s intention to enable the Women’s Committee and BAME Committee to meet virtually in July and that the Women’s Committee could consider a Women’s Conference, although this may be difficult to organise in conjunction with Welsh Labour conferences in November and March. 

Louise also reported that she would be undertaking a six-month secondment to the UK party, so Deputy General Secretary David Costa would become Acting General Secretary in her absence. The WEC wished her well on her secondment. 

We received a long presentation a member of UK party staff regarding a proposed ‘future candidates’ programme, which would involve 360 party members being chosen for this course, which in theory would better prepare them to become parliamentary candidates, although it was suggested that it might also work for other levels of representation. There was some suggestion that the programme would seek to encourage members from different backgrounds to put themselves forward, although there were no particular targets mentioned. We didn’t raise concerns about this in the meeting, but reflecting on it, we have serious doubts as to the potential effectiveness of such a programme and have concerns about the idea that party staff would effectively select who they think would be good parliamentary candidates and suggest to course attendees that could expect to be selected by local constituencies, bypassing member-led democracy. The sort of training proposed also seemed overly ‘professional’ in nature; there was no mention made of political values or beliefs in any of the training suggestions. 

We had received written reports from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Nia Griffith; Welsh Labour Deputy Labour, Carolyn Harris; and the Leader of the WLGA, Cllr. Andrew Morgan; there were no questions raised on these reports. We had also received a written report from Jeff Cuthbert on behalf of the PCCs; Darren asked Jeff for his views on the Tory Government’s Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and concerns about its impact on civil liberties, and on widespread concerns about apparent institutional racism in the police force and criminal justice system in Wales, in light of a number of high-profile cases. Jeff responded that he shared some of the concerns around the Tory bill in question and, while he did not feel he could comment in detail on the individual cases cited by Darren, he was clear that there was no room for racial bias within the police force. 

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed and there was no correspondence or any other business. The WEC is next due to meet in September.

WEC Report 20 February 2021

This was the first meeting of 2021 and the last meeting to be held before the planned Senedd elections on 6 May. The meeting was calmer in tone than the last one; the Chair began the meeting by acknowledging that he had received concerns regarding the tone of previous meetings and asked members to remain comradely at all times. The chat function was also disabled. 

One of the other CLP reps – our good friend and comrade, Ivan Monckton – was unable to attend this meeting because he has been administratively suspended since December, apparently over an incident that is alleged to have taken place at the previous WEC meeting, although he has not been officially told that this is the case. It is a matter of serious concern that he is still in this situation and is unable to perform his duties in representing members.

At the start of the meeting, there were some procedural clarifications regarding the youth seats on the committee and it was agreed to invite Carwyn Jones to attend WEC meetings as an observer, given his role on the NEC. 

The first main item was the Leader’s Report, where Mark focussed on the continuing response to the pandemic, particularly the progress of the vaccination programme and the cautious lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks. Mark took questions relating to local government and the vaccine rollout for different groups. Darren asked a question regarding the current situation in the party, with numerous suspensions and suppression of debate, and the resulting demoralisation; the Chair sought to rule the question out of order, but Mark did respond that he felt that, as a general principle, members should be able to debate matters freely but that members should adopt a patient approach to change in the party and that the current priority should be the Senedd election campaign. 

Louise Magee, Welsh Labour General Secretary, provided another full report on election planning, including the challenges presented and mitigation of those challenges, the role of phone canvassing and online campaigning in targeting different voter groups and encouraging the public to take up postal votes. 

A paper was then presented with a list of the candidates selected for the Senedd seats, with the candidates for the remaining two seats to be announced imminently. Questions were raised regarding individual candidates’ support for Welsh independence; it was clarified that the party does not have a codified position on this topic but that all Senedd candidates would be required to stand on the manifesto document. 

The development of this manifesto document was then discussed, with agreement reached on a committee to oversee the drawing up of the shorter, public-facing version of the final policy document that had been through the party’s policy process and in which there had been unprecedented engagement and suggested amendments. It was confirmed that Ministers and Special Advisors would make themselves available to cohorts of WEC members for further discussion on the proposed manifesto. 

The General Secretary had provided a written report in advance of the meeting, supplementing this with membership figures for Wales, following a request from Darren at the previous meeting; the membership currently remained above 24,000, although there had been more resignations than new joiners in the previous quarter and a large additional number going through the lapsing process 

There followed the usual series of reports from different elected representatives, all of whom had provided written reports in advance of the meeting but supplemented these with relevant updates. Nia Griffith as Shadow Secretary of State for Wales highlighted discussions with Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds on coal tip remediation; WLGA Leader Andrew Morgan discussed mental health and social care challenges following the pandemic and Deputy Leader Carolyn Harris proposed that the WEC write a letter to the family of former MP Hywel Francis following his sad death, which was agreed. 

The WEC noted correspondence from the Chief Whip regarding Senedd Member Alun Davies, who had been disciplined by the Senedd Labour Group following the well-publicised incident also involving 3 Tory MSs at Christmas in apparent breach of the Covid regulations. 

The WEC will not now meet until after the Senedd elections, provided these do go ahead in May. 

WEC Meeting 26 November 2020 (Joint Report with Sophie Williams)

There was a very packed agenda for this meeting, which eventually ran for three hours. The first item was the report from Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour Leader; he focussed on current Covid restrictions and the plans for the Christmas period, highlighting the arrival at a four-nation response around Christmas. He also discussed the Chancellor’s announcement on the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which had been bad news for public sector workers and those dependent on Universal Credit and which had made virtually no mention of Wales. Mark then answered questions on different aspects of the Covid response (including more detail around the Christmas restrictions and the plans in place for pregnant women) as well as our response as a party to the burgeoning Yes Cymru movement. 

The report from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Nia Griffith, was formally accepted without discussion, as she needed to leave the meeting early. 

The next item was a substantial presentation from Louise Magee, Welsh Labour General Secretary, on the party’s plans ahead of the 2021 Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections. This focussed particularly on digital campaigning alongside leafleting, as well as media exposure and fundraising. Louise highlighted particular data analysis focussed on key target groups and encouraged members to make use of the Dialogue online phone bank and to encourage CLPs and branches to take part. She reported that 5 new regional organisers and 1 community organiser had been employed to help with the campaigning. She then took various questions on different aspects on the digital campaign, as well as one from Ivan Monckton, CLP representative for Mid and West Wales, who asked about member engagement at a time when there is widespread demoralisation because CLPs and branches are having their freedom of discussion on key topics restricted (although this point wasn’t directly answered). 

We were then asked to agree a proposal that had not been communicated to us in advance, and for which there was no accompanying paper clearly outlining the plan. Louise stated that the WEC officers had discussed what procedure should be put in place if a complaint is made against any selected candidate standing for either the constituency or the list seats for the Senedd (and presumably any of the 4 PCC candidates, although this was not made clear). It was stated that there was no agreed procedure currently in place, and therefore the officers were recommending that they would consider any complaint first to decide if it had merit, then if it had merit they would interview the candidate, and then would make a recommendation to the Party Development Board (the executive of the WEC). Several CLP representatives, along with colleagues from Unison, challenged this suggested procedure, highlighting the lack of natural justice involved in such a process and arguing that it should have been presented as a written paper to the WEC in advance of the meeting. A vote was then taken on whether to accept this proposal in principle, with the proviso that officers would write a paper explaining the proposed process and circulate this to WEC members, and that WEC members would be able to feed in their comments; the vote was tied, so the Chair used his casting vote to agree that it should go forward.  

The next paper was on the implications of the local government boundary review proposals, which could potentially come into force in time for the 2022 elections. David Costa, Deputy General Secretary, outlined the current status of Local Campaign Fora across Wales and the progress made towards training events and panel selections ahead of the ward selections of their candidates (likely to start in summer 2021 in some areas). He then outlined the respective impacts of the latest Boundary Commission proposals on different local government areas, and reiterated that we don’t currently know when or if these proposals will definitely be implemented, nor do we know exactly when the decision will take place (the proposals are currently with Welsh Government for consideration, but the constraints on Senedd time due to the pandemic may affect this). The main proposal of the paper was to agree that the definition of a sitting councillor should match that used for MPs when they’re affected by boundary changes, which states that a sitting councillor should be considered as such if the new proposals encompass 40% of the old ward area. This proposal was agreed, although there was some discussion around the politics of the boundary review proposals in some local government areas. 

The most substantial agenda item focussed on reports (one prepared by David Costa and the other by Christine Hardacre and Ivan Monckton, the two CLP representatives for Mid and West Wales) on the process involved in the trigger ballots for the sitting MSs in the Mid and West Wales region over the summer; this was not to question the outcome but rather to discuss any issues in the process identified by the eight CLPs in the region. Dave introduced his paper, highlighting that it focussed on lessons learned during the process; Christine then introduced her and Ivan’s paper and was in the process of covering the points raised thoroughly when several WEC members (not CLP representatives) said that she was taking up too much speaking time and that the next speaker should be called. A vote was taken on this and was narrowly won, so Christine was unable to finish her contribution, while further contributions were taken from other members. At the end of the discussion both papers were noted rather than voted on, so any recommendations presented by either paper were not specifically adopted for future processes (should the need arise to run such a largely online process again). 

We were then presented with another item for which no paper had been circulated in advance. Louise stated that it was impossible to run a physical conference in February 2021 due the pandemic and therefore asked the WEC to agree to postpone the conference until the following autumn. Several CLP reps, supported by Unison and the Co-operative Party, asked what this would mean for the policy-making process ahead of the manifesto for the May 2021 Senedd elections. A previous paper had been agreed by the WEC that said that, in the event of conference not taking place, CLPs and affiliates would be asked to suggest amendments to the final version of the draft policy document and that the Welsh Joint Policy Committee (the executive of the wider Welsh Policy Forum) would consider those amendments. Several WEC members argued that this earlier decision should be revisited – it had been taken at a time when we did not know for sure how things would pan out – and that an online policy-making event should be convened to allow as much member and affiliate input as possible into the manifesto. The Chair was advised by officers that the WEC had the power only to change the date of conference and not to comment on its format; furthermore, the rules only permitted a conference of the format used by physical conference, so an online version would need to replicate this exactly and that the technology did not exist to permit us to do so (elements such as hand or card votes were specifically highlighted). The Chair therefore ruled the proposal for an online policy-making event out of order. The WEC was then asked to vote on whether it wished to postpone conference to autumn 2021, and this was carried. 

The final substantial agenda item was an update on the Welsh Labour Democracy Review. Had conference gone ahead, the WEC would have been asked to agree a document to go to conference, containing a progress report on the work that had been done on the Review before the snap general election and the Coronavirus intervened, along with a small number of proposals for relatively uncontroversial rule changes. Instead, in view of the postponement of conference, we were asked to agree that an updated version of the document would be circulated to CLPs and affiliates for further consultation. There were elements of the document that CLP reps would have wished to question, but did not do so as it would go out for further consultation and the WEC would discuss these points at a later meeting. 

There were then a series of written reports from the General Secretary, the Deputy Leader, the Leader of the WLGA and the PCCs’ rep. Sophie asked for an updated overall membership figure for Wales and was told that the WEC was not permitted to have this information as it is the property of the NEC. Darren pointed out that NEC members had regularly been given membership figures for the party as a whole, which they had been allowed to report, and that the WEC’s role in relation to organisation, campaigning and engaging members meant that it needed to be kept abreast of trends in Welsh party membership levels; he therefore asked Louise to request permission to pass on such information, which she agreed to do.

Under correspondence, an email from Sophie, with the support of other CLP representatives, was read out setting out the role of a CLP rep on the WEC for the information of other WEC members, particularly highlighting the fact that CLP reps do not have direct access to members’ details and can only communicate with CLP secretaries, which the WEC officers had discussed and agreed (this had been sent in response to a comment at the previous meeting that CLP reps were not making sufficiently sure that they were speaking for the membership as a whole). 

Overall, this was a very long and at times fractious meeting, not helped by the use made by certain WEC members of the Zoom chat function to post critical comments of other WEC members. 

WEC Report 17 September 2020 (Joint report with Sophie Williams)

This was the third Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) meeting to take place via Zoom; the General Secretary reported that she had met with the WEC officers to agree dates for forthcoming WEC meetings, with one to take place virtually on 26 November and one potentially to take place physically on 16 January, subject to the situation at that point. The Chair welcomed new member Ashley Lister, who had joined the WEC representing the socialist societies. 

The first item was the Leader’s report; Mark gave a long and detailed report, focussing on the current situation re Covid-19 and local lockdowns in South East Wales, unemployment and the Welsh Government’s attempts to put pressure on the UK Government to further extend the furlough scheme (potentially in targeted sectors) and the UK Government’s proposed Internal Market Bill, which was a direct attack on devolution and which the Labour Party at a UK level would fight in the House of Lords. Mark took questions on the communications around the Internal Market Bill; Covid testing capacity; job retention schemes; and the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill, currently going through the Senedd, which is seeking to extend the notice period for no-fault evictions from two months to six. 

The WEC then appointed members to its various sub-committees, with all those who had applied being added to the Local Government and Organisation sub-committees and all WEC members added to the Appeals Panel. There were then contested elections to the body’s Party Development Board, to which Darren was one of 3 CLP reps elected (along with Alyson Pugh from South Wales West and Kate Thomas from South Wales East). 

The main item meriting detailed discussion was a paper on Senedd selections; the WEC was asked to agree a series of measures associated with conducting selections for the remaining Senedd seats that Labour does not currently hold (the selections for Bridgend and Rhondda having now been completed). The WEC agreed that selections should be conducted via an online hustings meeting, with postal ballots available for those genuinely unable to attend. The WEC also agreed to continue to uphold the principle of All Women Shortlists (AWS), with several members underlining the need not to concede the principle on this issue, therefore one of the remaining seats to be selected would be an AWS. 

In her report as General Secretary, Louise Magee highlighted the need to focus on Senedd campaigning and that, while it was hoped that we would be able to physically hold a conference in Llandudno in February, this would be kept under review. Several members commented on the need for the party to develop a robust fundraising strategy. Louise stated that the Welsh Labour Women’s and BAME committees would be able to meet and hold AGMs only once AGMs for branches and CLPs were able to take place. She also agreed to report back to a future WEC on the progress regarding the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review, which had stalled due to Covid-19. She was also asked about the progress towards development of a manifesto and reported that the Welsh Joint Policy Committee would meet on 26 September to finalise the most recent policy papers and begin preparations for presentation and discussion at Welsh Labour Conference.

The two CLP WEC representatives from Mid and West Wales, Ivan Monckton and Christine Hardacre, asked that an item be added to the agenda for the November WEC meeting to allow the CLPs in the region to detail their experiences of the recent trigger ballot process for the list candidates in that region; the General Secretary agreed to add this to the agenda. 

The WEC then received a series of written reports from the Deputy Leader; the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales; the Welsh Local Government Association representative, Cllr Andrew Morgan; and the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner representative, Jeff Cuthbert. 

Two final points were made towards the end of the meeting. Firstly, Ivan Monckton, one of the CLP reps for Mid and West Wales, expressed concerns that the majority of the WEC papers had been received late in the evening before the meeting, and one (from the Deputy Leader) only a few hours before the meeting began. The General Secretary stated that they were dealing with some vacancies and staff illness but would endeavour to ensure that the papers were circulated well in advance of the meetings in future. The Deputy Leader stated that she had not had time to compile her report earlier, partly because she does not have paid staff to support her Deputy Leader position. 

Secondly, Tonia Antoniazzi MP raised concerns regarding the representativeness of the views expressed by CLP representatives on the WEC. 9 of the 10 CLP representatives (led by Sophie) have written to the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary to respond to this issue raised. CLP WEC representatives are elected through an OMOV ballot of all eligible voters in their region. Once on the WEC, we, as good practice rather than a written rule, produce reports for members, which are for the most part distributed to members through CLP secretaries (although this is inconsistent in places). We would also attend CLPs or branches where asked to do so. However, CLP reps do not have access to membership lists or any other means of directly communicating with members; we imagine that this is due to GDPR concerns. We would be delighted to have our reports shared more widely and would very much relish the opportunity to speak to members directly to seek their views so that we can better represent their interests on the WEC, in whatever ways this can be facilitated. 

WEC Meeting 6 July 2020 (Joint report with Sophie Williams)

This was a fairly short meeting; there had apparently been complaints that the previous meeting had lasted too long and so the officers had decided to only allow for a couple of hours for the meeting itself and the AGM. 

This meant that we did not receive the usual reports; instead, the only report on the agenda was that of Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour Leader. We then received written reports from others and were asked to email them directly with any questions. 

Mark had also produced a written report, focussed on the Welsh Government’s response to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. He had recently attended the first meeting a Wales-wide Health and Safety forum involving trade union members and detailed the current plans to lift some of the lockdown restrictions, including extended households, reopening some tourist facilities and allowing cafes, bars and pubs to open in outside areas. The Chair thanked Mark for the Welsh Government’s continued cautious and careful approach to the crisis.

Mark took questions on antibody testing, the UK Government’s announcement on funding for theatres, the airline industry and plans for recovery post-Covid. 

The meeting then moved to the substantive item of debate: the regional list candidate re-selection process for Mid and West Wales. This item had been raised and discussed at the previous meeting but a decision delayed until this meeting. 

We were presented with two options: the first would have meant that the two sitting MSs would be automatically reselected as the top two candidates on the list of four places. This would have meant that members in the 8 CLPs in the region would have had no say in whether they wanted those two candidates to continue to represent them and would only have been able to vote on places three and four on the list, which we are unlikely to win. 

The second option was to allow a trigger ballot; this means that the members in the 8 CLPs would have been able to vote on whether they wanted one, both or neither of the incumbents to continue to represent them. We, along with the majority of CLP representatives, the two youth representatives and the representatives from Unite, Unison and BFAWU, were in favour of this option; to do otherwise would have disenfranchised and disillusioned members in those areas, as we believe that they should be allowed the basic democratic right to have a say in who represents them. 

This option would be facilitated through the use of online meetings and voting; the NEC had agreed, the week before, that all CLPs would be given access to Microsoft Teams and an online voting platform to make nominations for the forthcoming NEC elections, and the Welsh party would be able to make use of this to carry out the regional list trigger ballots. The timeframe proposed in the officers’ paper for Option 2 was also conservative; CLP rep Christine Hardacre pointed out several areas where it could be shortened to allow for a faster process, including allowing CLPs to meet in August, which under normal custom and practice doesn’t happen, because members would be enjoying their summer holidays, but would clearly be less of an issue under the current unusual circumstances. 

We listened carefully to the opposing arguments, some of which seemed more credible than others. Arguments included that to take the time to do this was an indulgence (‘internal party wrangling’ and ‘messing around’ were phrases used) because we should be focussing on the return of a Labour Government rather than facilitating internal democracy. We were told that allowing August meetings was in itself exclusionary and that to hold meetings online would disenfranchise members (despite the fact that the NEC had agreed to allow both of these things on a UK-wide scale for NEC nominations). We were also told that the MSs in question were hard-working and popular with voters; we did not disagree with this, but that argument would mean that any sitting elected representative, once originally chosen, should never again need to face their fellow members and ask for their continued support, a stance with which we fundamentally disagree. It is also the case that the record of the incumbents should hold them in good stead with members when they face the trigger ballots; members will be able to judge for themselves whether their representatives are hard-working and continue to represent their interests. 

There were a series of initial votes before the main vote. These initial votes shortened the timeframe originally proposed (to allow for selection of constituency candidates in the seats that Labour does not hold to be completed sooner than proposed and to allow CLPs to meet in August) and to allow for postal ballots for members unable to attend online meetings. 

The vote was then taken and Option 2 (to allow trigger ballots to go ahead) was agreed by 16 votes to 11. 

Louise Magee gave a short report as General Secretary. She thanked those WEC members who had been participating in the shortlisting process for the regional list candidates, which was nearly completed. She stated that the party would re-run the ballot to fill the vacant WEC seat representing the socialist societies. She then thanked Bridie Sedgebeer, who was stepping down as Chair, for her hard work. 

The 3 WEC officer places at the AGM were uncontested: Nick Ireland (USDAW), who was previously Vice-Chair, became Chair; Philippa Marsden (Unite) became Vice-Chair and Jennifer Smith (GMB) continued as Treasurer. While we were pleased to see Philippa become an officer, this does now mean that all three officer positions are held by trade union delegates and it is to be hoped that the officer group will become more diverse next year. 

NEC Meeting Tuesday 19 May 2020

After a couple of special meetings called to discuss the party’s response to the leaked report, we finally held the first full NEC meeting under Keir Starmer’s leadership. Although this meeting was not due to discuss the appointment of a new General Secretary, following the sad departure of Jennie Formby, the long-listing for this post by NEC officers had taken place that morning and the Chair, Andi Fox, began by expressing her disappointment that the names of the 9 candidates who had been successful at this first stage had immediately been leaked to the media. 

The Chair also informed us that Carol Sewell, the NEC BAME rep, who had been scheduled to join the NEC officers in conducting the shortlisting for the General Secretary post, was now unable to take part and the Chair therefore proposed that one of the CLP reps, Huda Elmi, take Carol’s place. This opened up a lengthy discussion where various NEC members sought not only to propose alternative candidates to Huda but also to reopen the question on the number and composition of the shortlisting panel. When the Chair quite rightly ruled that such proposals of the latter kind were out of order, she had to contend with some disgraceful barracking and general rudeness from certain NEC members. Following a vote, it was eventually decided that Shabana Mahmood MP should take Carol’s place. 

Keir then gave his first report as leader, concentrating mainly on how he had been holding the Tory government to account on its failures in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, particularly in relation to testing and PPE, as well as the disturbingly high death toll within care homes. Keir also voiced the widespread concerns about Boris Johnson’s speech in which he had begun to relax the lockdown restrictions in England without apparently having given this adequate thought beforehand. The Immigration Bill was another cause for concern, given the government’s appalling treatment of NHS and care workers from other countries. Finally, Keir talked about the outreach work that the party was doing in communities where people had turned away from Labour in 2019 and cited in particular online public meetings held with people in the north of England and in Wales. 

In questions on the leader’s report, concerns were raised over a number of issues, including the membership of the panel investigating the leaked report, the apparent shift in the party’s position in relation to Kashmir, the rather cautious stance taken over rent relief for tenants in the private rental sector and the hostility voiced towards the teaching unions by certain Labour figures. Mick Antoniw MS also highlighted the different approaches being taken by the four national governments within the UK over Covid-19 and the need for Labour to factor this experience into its thinking on constitutional reform. Keir responded that the inquiry panel had been agreed by the whole NEC (although it was subsequently pointed out that we hadn’t had the opportunity to research the proposed members beforehand). He also said that his letter on Kashmir followed closely the line taken in a similar letter from Ian Lavery MP under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and reassured the NEC that the party would take a strong line on any human rights abuses; NEC members highlighted the alarming deterioration of the situation in recent months and the importance of the party clearly condemning the actions of the Indian government. On rent, Keir said that the taxpayer would have to pick up the bill if tenants were relieved of the responsibility to pay. He offered support for the position of the teaching unions and said that schools should only be reopening when it was safe to do so. Keir also acknowledged Mick Antoniw’s point about devolution and said that he was in constant contact with the Welsh and Scottish Labour leaderships. 

Angela Rayner then gave her first report as Deputy Leader and began by paying tribute to the work of Jennie Formby. She said that she was working with the trade unions in their efforts to boost membership, a campaign that had been inadvertently boosted by Boris Johnson’s flagrant disregard for the interests of workers. Angela made a few comments about the enquiry into the leaked report, saying in particular that the standards expected of staff needed to be absolutely clear in the future and that she hoped and expected that the issue of the misuse of finances in relation to parliamentary seats was properly examined, along with the other matters that had come to light. She acknowledged that there had been some differences recently on a number of issues such as those about which Keir had been asked, but she hoped that consensus could be reached on these matters without any return to factionalism. She also highlighted the importance of the party investing sufficient resources in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections in particular, given the high stakes involved. 

We then moved on to consider a number of papers on pressing matters arising from the Covid-19 crisis and the need for the party to adjust our plans accordingly. There was a wide-ranging paper entitled ‘Local and Regional Democracy in Lockdown.’ The first part of this looked forward to the council, mayoral and devolved parliamentary elections due to take place in 2021 and set out a timetable and revised arrangements for the selection of candidates. Much of what was proposed was sensible and pragmatic, but there were concerns about the potential implications for democracy of one or two of the proposals. A couple of amendments were agreed that improved on the original proposal; the first of these allowed for party branches to continue to conduct local government selection shortlisting in England (rather than this being taken over by the LCF assessment team and branch officers) and a second amendment deleted a proposal that the transition from LCFs to Local Government Committees should be ‘paused’. 

The second part of the paper dealt with internal party elections for various sections of the NEC along with auditors, the CAC, NCC and the Young Labour National Committee. A choice was presented, whereby either CLPs could be allowed to make nominations using an electronic platform; or CLP Executive Committees would make nominations; or, finally, all internal elections would be deferred, pending a further decision on appropriate timescales. In the end, the third of these options was overwhelmingly agreed, but it was agreed to hold a further NEC meeting in June, which would consider a new paper with further detailed options as to the timetabling of the elections. It was also agreed that English regional party conferences (scheduled for autumn 2020) would be postponed until the following year and that, in the absence of the normal workings of the National Policy Forum, the party’s policy and research unit would produce guidelines to support CLPs in engaging with the NPF process via electronic platforms. Mick Antoniw proposed that this be done with due regard to devolution, given that around half of the policy content of NPF papers now relates to matters that are devolved, and this was agreed. 

We then turned to a separate paper on annual conference and women’s conference; the options were either to plan for a full conference to go ahead, which would have required the procedures to be varied to allow CLPs to elect delegates using an online voting platform; or for conference to be postponed and replaced with an online policy event in the summer, which would not fulfil the constitutional function of the normal conference. Given the practical difficulties of organising a physical conference involving social distancing measures, even if it were possible for a mass meeting of this kind to go ahead at all, it was unanimously agreed to postpone conference. 

The only other substantial business was to fill some gaps in the party’s policy commissions and to take a report on local government from Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of the LGA, who highlighted the close working between the Shadow Cabinet and Labour’s leadership within the LGA and the growing financial pressure on councils and the need for this to be addressed. 

Under AOB, there was an attempt to reopen the agreed procedures for conducting the remainder of the General Secretary appointment, which unfortunately saw some of the same bad behaviour from certain NEC members as had been witnessed at the start of the meeting. I understand that strong representations have been made since the meeting about this and hope that we will see a more comradely and respectful attitude towards the Chair, in particular, in future meetings.