A special WEC meeting was held to consider just two items. The first was a report on the Parliamentary Selection process to be undertaken in Wales following the Westminster Boundary Review. This report incorporated a draft Code of Conduct for that process alongside draft proposals on how the process would be undertaken. The second item was a report setting out the options for Senedd term lengths when the new electoral system is introduced in 2026.
No other formal reports were submitted or considered but Mark Drakeford opened the meeting by making a statement on recent issues within Plaid Cymru and the news that Adam Price was to step down with immediate effect. Mark made clear that the appropriate reaction from Welsh Labour should not be to comment on Plaid’s difficulties but to look at ourselves, ensuring that our own house is in order and giving our constituents a clear commitment that we will live up to the standards that they have a right to expect. He outlined that there will be mandatory training to deal with the issues highlighted by Nerys Evans in her report so that anyone with a concern can raise it knowing that they will be heard and attended to. He explained that later that day he would be sending an open letter to every member of the party to set out Senedd group plans and the wider party including access to materials, training and above all else the ability to feel supported so that members of our party know that we will deal with any breach of standards firmly and fairly. This approach was warmly applauded by several WEC members.
The Deputy General Secretary, Joe Lock then introduced the first report around the Senedd term length and the options to be considered within the paper, that the Senedd term length either remain at five years, or be reduced to four (as it was when the Assembly was first established). Because the issue had been discussed before, a full debate was considered unnecessary at this point but Vicky Howells, representing the Senedd Labour group stated that after a number of discussions the Group had been slightly in favour of a five-year term; and Cllr. Andrew Morgan, speaking on behalf of the WLGA Labour Group, also stated that they supported a five-year term. A vote was then taken, first on a four-year term. We both supported this option, both because of the general feeling that, other things being equal, shorter terms mean greater accountability, and also because of the specific concern that a longer term allows greater opportunity for MSs to change their party affiliation – as several of those elected for UKIP in 2016 had done. This was defeated by 12 votes to 10, however. The five-year option was then put to the vote; this was tied at 12 votes all, so the Chair used his casting vote in favour.
The next item, around the Parliamentary Selection process, gave rise to a lengthy debate that highlighted a number of concerns from various members including ourselves. The main paper presented by officers set out the process that would be followed in every type of situation resulting from the boundary review. We were told, however, that, since much of the content had been agreed at previous meetings, the only part of the paper that needed to be discussed was the section relating to new constituencies where there were two sitting, and re-selected, Labour MPs, each with a substantial territorial claim on the new seat (meaning that at least 40% of the electorate of their current seat would transfer to the new one). There were only two places in Wales where this was the case and in one of these (Neath and Swansea East) the process was currently on hold because one of the two sitting MPs was currently under suspension.
Consequently, our discussion would relate specifically to the new constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon and we were told that the party was ready to begin the selection, subject to agreement on the proposed process, which officers believed was the best fit for this circumstance.
As CLP reps we felt unable to support the proposal due to the rigid timelines set, the significant variation from how we have undertaken selection processes in the past and the isolation and removal of member engagement in this critical process, not least due to the online-only approach.
There were a number of contentious aspects of the process, as set out in the paper. These included the unusually short duration of the contest: 7-14 days (although in the course of the discussion, the Deputy General Secretary said this could be increased to 16 days) and the fact that both the hustings meeting and the voting would be conducted entirely online (with a vaguely defined and conditional facility for ‘proxy’ voting for those unable to vote online). There would be no capacity to allow affiliated organisations to hold meetings to discuss nominations, nor for party branches to do the same. The Procedures Secretary would not be someone from the CLP but a Welsh Labour staff member and a member of the WEC would be appointed to oversee the procedures. With the selection preceding the establishment of the new CLP, the role of elected CLP officers had effectively been removed, which for us as CLP reps set an undemocratic precedent. No firm evidence was presented to justify the haste with which the contest was to be conducted, given that there was no realistic prospect of a General Election on the horizon.
A number of other WEC members made raised similar concerns, mostly around disenfranchising members.
UNISON put forward an amendment, which we supported, seeking an extension of the process to 28 days, an in-person hustings meeting and voting at the hustings meeting, with a postal vote for anyone unable to attend.
The GMB successfully requested that voting on this item be undertaken in secret, which is within the rules but very unusual.
- Extending the process to 28 days: lost by 14 votes to 12.
- In-person hustings meeting: the vote was tied at 13 votes all and, as the Chair did not wish to use his casting vote, the proposal fell.
- The third element of the Unison amendment – voting in person at the hustings or by postal vote – therefore also fell, by default.
Voting on the Unison amendment then proceeded as follows:
The unamended paper was then carried by 15 votes to 11.
Although, in the course of the discussion, officers made a couple of concessions in response to the concerns raised – the slight extension of the timescale and, most importantly, a commitment that all members would be given the right to apply for a postal vote – the process as a whole gives us serious concerns about the democratic deficit involved.