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.