Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, held on Saturday 5th October 2019 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

This was a very well-attended meeting with a very full agenda, reflecting the rapidly moving political developments affecting the party. Mark Drakeford had as usual circulated a detailed written report on both Welsh Government and party business, but chose in his verbal presentation to focus on two issues: Brexit and the re-selections process for the MPs in Wales.

On Brexit, he noted that UK conference had agreed that a UK Labour government would offer voters a referendum with a choice between remaining in the EU and a viable ‘leave’ option, and that the Welsh Government would campaign in such a referendum for ‘remain’. The party wouldn’t, however, get the opportunity to do that unless we won the election and it was therefore important to stress that only Labour would offer voters this choice. 

On re-selections, Mark expressed his deep disappointment that the NEC had rejected the rule change proposed by Mick Antoniw, which would have given Welsh Labour devolved responsibility for re-selections in Wales. Mark said that this had perpetuated an anomaly whereby the Welsh party had control over selections and re-selections for Assembly candidates, but only for selections and not re-selections for parliamentary candidates. He would seek to persuade the NEC to reconsider its decision at some point in the future, but this was probably best done alongside any other requests for devolved responsibilities arising out of the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review. 

Wales now had to proceed with trigger ballots on the same basis as in England, but Mark felt that time needed to be taken to do this properly, partly due to a duty of care to staff who were dealing with a number of other issues, including the selections in Ynys Môn and Cynon Valley, but also to ensure that the procedures followed were robust and not open to challenge. Certainly, it would not be possible to re-select in all constituencies simultaneously. 

There was a lengthy discussion arising from Mark’s report, in which several WEC members echoed his disappointment over the NEC decision. One trade union representative criticised Darren for not having supported Mick’s rule change at the NEC. Darren responded that he was not on the NEC as a WEC representative but as a voice for ordinary party members throughout the UK, and that he had sought to reflect what he believed to be the consensus among members on this and other issues. He did not believe that most members in Wales felt it necessary for there to be separate Welsh selection or re-selection procedures for candidates for a UK-wide legislature. Darren also welcomed Mark’s positive comments on Brexit, highlighting the fact that only Labour, of the main parties, offered voters a final say, but expressed concern that any election material in Wales should acknowledge that a democratic decision had been made at UK conference on the party’s Brexit position, and that, while the Welsh Government was free to express a view, this had not been subject to consultation within the Welsh party. Unite also indicated their support for the UK party position. 

Christina Rees. Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, reported on the ongoing saga in Westminster, where it appeared that parliament was now about to be prorogued again. There were concerns about the intricacies of the legislation relating to Brexit, but legal documents following the Scottish court decision suggested that the Prime Minister would comply with the law and request an extension to the 31st October Brexit deadline if no deal was agreed within the next few weeks. There were fears, however, that he might be seeking the assistance of other right-wing governments in Europe to veto any such extension. 

In the following discussion, several WEC members condemned the irresponsible behaviour of UK government ministers, including in relation to the delay in providing funding for Wales, as well as the inappropriate, misogynistic language used by several Tory MPs. 

In her Deputy Leader’s report, Carolyn Harris MP reflected on a successful UK party conference and the positive role played by Welsh Labour MPs at Westminster, including Diane Abbott’s historic role in leading for Labour at Prime Minister’s Questions. She talked about the continuing scourge of poverty, which underlined the vital need for a Labour government at UK level and reported that election preparations were well underway. 

Christine commented on the issue of bursaries for nurses, pointing out that Wales already pays these, and said that Wales’ experience was not always adequately reflected in some of the debates at Westminster. She commended the party’s commitment to end the elitism represented by public schools and asked what Wales could do on this issue. Mark Drakeford said that the Welsh Government was seeking the agreement of the Assembly to remove charitable status from private schools and hospitals in Wales. 

The next item was a set of draft standing orders for Welsh Labour’s BAME Committee, which had been drawn up by the Deputy General Secretary in liaison with the committee’s officers and which reflected the standing orders of the Women’s Committee. The Committee’s Chair and BAME representative, Ramesh Patel, thanked the party and Jane Hutt for their efforts. He asked whether it would be possible for the Vice Chair to attend WEC meetings in a non-voting capacity if the Chair were ever unavailable, but was told that this would not be consistent with practice in other areas where substitutes were never allowed. The only issue of detail that needed to be decided on the document was whether the committee should elect its officers annually or biennially; Ramesh said that the preference of the existing officers was for biennial elections, which would give them the same term of office as the WEC itself, and this was agreed by the WEC. Some members raised the question of how more BAME candidates could be selected and suggested the possibility of all-BAME shortlists, but it was pointed out that this would be illegal under the current legislation. 

The next item was a document setting out procedures for the selection of Assembly regional list candidates and for the re-selection for the two sitting Labour regional list AMs. David Costa explained that the procedures from the last two elections had not been entirely applicable to the changed circumstances this year but he had taken those elements that still applied and updated them in a way that was consistent with procedures adopted in other areas. There were some minor questions of detail but this document was largely uncontentious. On the re-selection aspect, the trigger ballot threshold was set at 50%, but there was general agreement that this should not be changed for the next election as the same threshold had applied to all of the constituency Assembly re-selections. This was purely for CLPs, however, as trade unions and other bodies do not affiliate at the Assembly regional level. The paper was therefore adopted. 

We then discussed draft procedures for parliamentary trigger ballots in Wales following the decision discussed above. David Costa explained that the paper was not concerned with the fundamentals of the mechanism but with the detailed implementation of the rules and therefore closely followed the NEC guidelines already drawn up for England, substituting references to the NEC for the WEC where appropriate. Darren expressed concern about the potential delay to the process that Mark’s opening remarks had seemed to imply. Darren said that it was important to get on with the process now as quickly as possible to give the members their democratic say in who their candidate should be and added that the seven-week model timetable seemed longer than strictly necessary and that we should look to shorten this somewhat. Most other contributors to the discussion, however, stressed that they considered seven weeks a tight timescale and that they were concerned about the workload for party staff. David Costa pointed out that the seven weeks was simply a model that could be adjusted to fit local needs. 

The paper stated that, where a male MP faced an open selection as the result of a trigger ballot, party rules dictated that he should automatically be on the shortlist, but in keeping with Welsh Labour’s commitment to promote gender balance, the other places on the shortlist would be reserved for women candidates. Some of the union reps sought to challenge this and questioned its legality, but David Costa reassured them that the party was confident that its proposals were legally sound and the paper was eventually carried unamended. 

There was a brief item simply confirming that the current Welsh Policy Forum representatives would continue to serve until replaced by the new WEC. 

There then followed the General Secretary’s report, which gave a general overview of recent and ongoing party activity, including the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Louise paid tribute to Rhiannon Evans during her tenure as Acting GS. It was confirmed that Alice Hughes had been appointed as Policy and Campaigns Officer and Alvin Shum as Regional Organiser. WEC members raised questions about the parliamentary selection in Monmouth, which had prompted some concerns, and about the by-election campaign in Brecon and Radnorshire- these were to be pursued further via correspondence with the General Secretary. 

By this point, the meeting was over-running and the EPLP and WLGA written reports were noted without further discussion. Jeff Cuthbert added some brief comments to his PCC report in relation to the continuing pressure caused by cuts in police numbers. 

Under the minutes, an item from the June meeting was picked up where members had requested CLP membership figures, but the response was that these were the property of the Governance and Legal Unit at HQ and that it was not appropriate to share them. Under Any Other Business, Jackie Thomas from Community highlighted a multi-union march in Newport the following Saturday to save the Orb steelworks. 

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, held on Monday 9th September (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

This meeting was called at a point when it looked as though there might be an imminent General Election. By the time that it took place, this seemed less likely due to the opposition parties in Westminster uniting to defy Boris Johnson’s push towards a snap election. Nevertheless, it was felt useful to put in place selection procedures for any parliamentary vacancies that might needed to be filled quickly. At the time of the meeting, only one of these was known about, which was Ynys Môn, where Albert Owen had announced that he would be retiring after 18 years as MP. 

A paper had been prepared by party officers, which reviewed the situation in Wales and made proposals for urgent selections. Of the non-Labour held seats in Wales, only two still needed to select candidates, namely Montgomeryshire and Ceredigion. Both of these were due to complete their respective selection within a fortnight of the meeting. The paper made a commitment to ensure that there was as much democratic involvement by party members as possible while also completing selections without delay to ensure that the party would be ready for the election when it came. 

The constituency party in Ynys Môn had been consulted and agreed a timetable which would skip the normal branch nominations process but would allow members to participate in a hustings meeting, where they would decide between candidates shortlisted by a selections committee. The hustings meeting was expected to take place on 5th or 6th October. Similar arrangements would be put in place for any other vacancies that might occur before a General Election was actually called. 

This was all uncontentious and the meeting agree the paper. However, Darren also took this opportunity to ask about progress on trigger ballots for the re-selection of candidates in Labour-held seats. This process had been underway in England for a couple of weeks, with constituencies undertaking the process in stages, but this had not yet begun in Wales. The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, explained that, since the WEC had agreed at its last meeting that Mark Drakeford should write to the UK Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby to ask for a rule change to give Welsh Labour devolved control over re-selections of parliamentary candidates in Wales, he had been advised that Mick Antoniw, as Mark’s representative on the NEC, should put a rule change motion to the NEC, which was due to meet the following week. 

Any progress on trigger ballots in Wales would therefore have to wait on the outcome of this meeting. If the NEC agreed to support Mick’s rule change, then it would go to UK party conference. If carried, it would mean that the WEC would have to decide on re-selection rules for Wales at its next meeting on 5th October. If the NEC or conference rejected the rule change proposal, then the WEC meeting on 5th October would have to draw up detailed procedures for implementing the same mechanism as was already underway in England. 

Darren asked whether, in the event that the NEC rejected the rule change, the process of implementing trigger ballots in Wales could be brought forward, rather than wait for 5th October, because of the limited time available, given the continuing possibility of an early election. He pointed out that most members in Wales hadn’t had an opportunity to choose their parliamentary candidate since around 2013 or 2014. He also noted that, in the event of the rule change being agreed, the actual mechanism applied in Wales would be determined by the 30-odd voting members of the WEC, whereas the procedures in England had been agreed by UK party conference. It was explained, however, that it would not be possible to bring the meeting forward due to party conference and Mark’s expected absence the following week. 

The final item was a report from the General Secretary on election preparations. Louise said that Welsh Labour leaflet template text was available as both bilingual and monolingual versions via Labour Connect. The party would be conducting interviews in the next few days for both the Policy Officer and vacant Regional Organiser positions and would be seeking an increase in staffing if and when a general election was called. There would also be campaign training in South West and North Wales and IT training on Contact Creator and Labour Connect. It wasn’t intended to cancel scheduled events such as Welsh Women’s Conference or the Welsh Policy Forum unless a snap election were to be called. Darren asked whether there would be more engagement between the WEC and the Welsh manifesto process on this occasion, noting that in 2017 WEC members had been told nothing about the process until the manifesto was actually published. David Costa responded that the Welsh manifesto process was a subsidiary of the UK process and that the specifically Welsh elements would reflect documents already agreed by the WEC or the Welsh Policy Forum and there was also a need for the text to be written quickly by a small number of people. Mark Drakeford added that, although there were real time constraints, he would want the party to look at how we could engage people in the process as far as possible. He explained that SpAds do most of the actual writing of the manifesto but that there could be an opportunity to WEC members to meet them to discuss particular policy areas. Chris also commented on the manifesto, saying that the Welsh version had been rather bland in 2017 and that this time it needed to be more dynamic with positive reference to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Welsh Executive Committee Meeting, June 2019 (Report by Christine Newman)

This meeting was very lengthy with 21 items on the agenda so edited highlights only have been provided. 

Report of the Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister

Mark presented a written report to the committee. He thanked the staff of the Welsh Labour office for their hard work and loyalty over the recent very busy period.

On Brexit, Mark expressed concern that, due to the current Tory Leadership Election, the unity of the U.K. was seriously under threat. Their talk of “a no deal Brexit,” was putting undue strain on relations between Scotland, Wales and Ireland with England. However, our links with the Irish Government were strengthening, an example of this was the reopening of their Consulate Office in Cardiff. Negotiating with the Tories for a satisfactory deal for Wales seemed futile in Mark’s opinion. With this situation in mind and having discussed the matter with J.C. he felt that he had no option but to support and call for a public confirmational vote. A move, much appreciated by members of the WEC including myself. Although I did remind the meeting that we have a huge task ahead of us persuading the Brexit supporters in Wales to support our remain position. Mark confirmed that the Welsh Government (WG) hope to publish a new policy document” soon, making the case for remaining in the E.U. as strong as possible.

On Ford, the WEC were reminded that the Bridgend Engine Plant by September 2020 will have lost 1,700 jobs. Both Mark and the Economy Minister, Ken Skates AM had visited the plant and engaged in talks with management and the unions over the last few weeks. Mark gave assurances that the WG had pressed the Ford Management to reverse their decision and if that is not possible not to leave the plant/country without giving significant compensation to their staff. Concern was expressed for those worst affected, those with mortgages and young families to support. That is why a 24 hour, 7 day a week helpline has been set up for the work force, by the WG. In addition, funding is available for those affected, to attend appropriate re-training courses. As for the Ford supply chain, which had developed over the years, the WG is also offering to help them. I added that this situation illustrates how there is no loyalty among capitalist firms such as Ford, considering all the financial assistance they have received from the WG.

On the M4 Relief Road, Mark reported that a Public Inspector’s Report and a detailed account of why the WG decided to scrap this project can be found on the following website: https://gov.wales/m4-corridor-around-newport. Mark added that the two main reasons for this decision, were that the WG would be unable to meet the rising cost of the project and the serious environmental impact on the Gwent Levels. On hearing that a new expert commission, chaired by Lord Terry Burns, had been set up to make recommendations as soon as possible on how the congestion on the M4 in Newport and SE Wales can be tackled, no further comments or questions were raised on this matter at the meeting.

On Budget Preparations, Mark admitted that the situation was very serious, as the WG cannot plan its 2020-21 budget. This is because:

  1. We are entering the 10th year of austerity – which is a political choice by the Conservative Government.
  2. This same government promised a Comprehensive Spending Review, which has not taken place yet, making it incredibly difficult for the WG to make any financial planning arrangement with Local Government, Welsh NHS, etc.
  3. The complete lack of clarity by the U.K. Government on its Shared Prosperity Fund which is supposed to replace the E.U.’s £370million a year funding for Wales.
  4. The WG Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans AM has written to the U.K. Government demanding a permanent adjustment to Wales’s block grant, over and above Barnett that should then be administered by the WG and not as threatened, by the UK Government.

On Local Government, following recent talks between the WG and Local Government (LG), the following proposals were announced:

  1. The development of a LG Bill,
  2. To enshrine the social partnership model in law.

During the questioning of Mark, I raised two concerns and received assurances on one, that the WG were seriously considering re-regulating the public bus services in Wales, and secondly, the WG and LG were looking into bringing back in house, privately-run public services. Social Care was mentioned as an example. The Unison Delegate Dan Beard, raised the question of staff cuts at St David’s University in Lampeter and the reluctance of the Liberal Democrat Education Minister Kirsty Williams AM to negotiate with the unions. Dan was advised to contact Jane Hutt AM as she has been given the job of overseeing Higher Education labour matters.

A Report from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales was noted by the WEC. It is clear that Christina and her team are keeping up the pressure on the Tories especially Alun Cairns. He is difficult to pin down and seems ineffectual in representing the interests of the ordinary people in Wales. This is partly due to the fact that the UK Government is so preoccupied with Brexit matters, as a result of which other issues are being neglected. Yet Christina and her team have been busy questioning the Tories on such matters as the European Elections, the status of the Stronger Towns Fund, the Ford Closure, the Policing Budget, the U.K. Shared Prosperity Fund, the Brexit impact on Wales, the Wales Steel Industry and the British Steel Pension.

Christina was asked what disciplinary action has been taken over the eight Labour MPs who voted with the Tories at a recent Brexit debate. She was not aware that any action had been taken.

Welsh Labour Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris gave a verbal report on the work she had been involved in recently. Perhaps her proudest achievement is that the UK Government have agreed to give financial help to those parents who have difficulty in paying for the funeral expenses of their dead child. In addition, Carolyn has also been involved in calling for women prisoners, especially pregnant ones, not to be sent to prison in England, as at present, but to be placed in Women’s centres. She also expressed concern about the unfair treatment of Virgin staff by the Swansea management.

A paper on Transitional Rules for the Women’s Committee, was accepted by the WEC. It was agreed that a transitional period for regular discussions between the Women’s Committee and the WEC, would be necessary, in order to fully implement the rule changes.

Welsh Labour Democracy Review: an Interim Report on Stage 2 of the Democracy Review was presented to the WEC and accepted. It was agreed that the less contentious issues would be dealt with first and presented for approval to next year’s Welsh Labour Conference. It was also confirmed that a series of meetings on this matter would be chaired by Lord Paul Murphy, plus a timetable was being arranged for these ongoing consultations.

The Reselection of MPs was included in the Democracy Review paper, as there was an issue to be resolved in relation to the way this is applied in Wales. Cllr Debbie Wilcox reminded the WEC that councillors have to go through a full reselection process before they can stand in each election. I added that, in the interests of fairness, such a practice should also apply to AMs and MPs but this was opposed by one of the AMs present on the grounds of inconvenience and workload. Mark Drakeford asked the WEC to agree that he should write to the UK General Secretary, asking for a rule change to allow Welsh Labour to have control over reselections in Wales. He said that there were two key principles here, firstly the matter of devolution and secondly the question of parity with the English party. He noted that there had been a significant transfer of responsibilities to Wales at the 2016 LP conference but, following the change at last year’s conference in the way that reselections are conducted, there was now an inconsistency and not everything was devolved. It was agreed that the letter should be written.

There was a paper updating us on Candidate Selections that still had to be conducted, namely: PCCs for South Wales, Dyfed-Powys and North Wales; the remaining Parliamentary Selections, Assembly Selections for constituencies not currently held by Labour; and Assembly Regional List Reselections and Selections.

On Local Government, Cllr Sarah Merry presented a paper, concerning approved procedures that were felt necessary following the recent development on the Vale of Glamorgan Council, where the ruling Tory Party have split and now Labour councillors and Independents (i.e. ex-Tories) are running the Council, hence the need for a code of conduct on power sharing. The other paper which was formally agreed, was entitled NEC Local Government Committee Review of the Party’s Local Government Organisations and Groups, it was about adopting rules, guidelines and procedures appropriate for Welsh Labour.

Vacancies on the WEC: Two Trade Union places had become vacant and, since there were no runners-up from the original election, David Costa had drafted a proposed procedure for filling the vacancies, which involved inviting those unions eligible to nominate to do so and then conducting a ballot if necessary; this was agreed.

CLP Rules & Standing Orders: this item set out what CLPs needed to do in order to implement the rule changes agreed at UK conference in a number of areas, including: 

  1. All CLP Secretaries should follow the national model of Rules and S.O.s and any deviations must be agreed by Welsh Labour.
  2. On Quorums, the new rules state that the minimum should be 25 for a CLP GC and 6 for a branch meeting.
  3. Formal Notice of all meetings and the business intended should be sent out by the secretary to all those entitled to attended at least seven days prior to the meeting. Those members not on e-mail should be contacted by post.
  4. A GC executive should include 6 officers including a Policy Officer, a new post with an important role. There was a request for a yearly breakdown of membership levels per CLP, with the numbers who had lapsed, joined, left, etc. It was agreed to request this information from the NEC.

The Code of conduct/disciplinary procedures for National Assembly LP members. The paper was introduced by Vikki Howells, setting out the revised rules for the Assembly group, which had now been completed, and was accepted by the WEC.

Dates for WEC meetings up to the following year’s Welsh conference were also agreed.

Acting General Secretary’s Report. This covered:

  1. The work done for the European Elections.
  2. Staffing – Grace Ashworth became the third trainee organiser, who will be based in Aberconwy. There are two staff vacancies since Alex Bevan and Victoria Solomon had left. Welsh Labour was awaiting approval from the UK Labour HR team to appoint replacements.
  3. The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election would be held over the summer.
  4. There would be a Labour Stall at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst.
  5. The Welsh Policy Forum had met on Saturday 22/6/2019, the first of a two-year term in the current cycle.
  6. A Stage 2 policy document was being prepared over the summer for launch in November’s Welsh Policy Forum.

Jackie Jones was warmly welcomed at the beginning of the meeting, as the newly elected and only Labour MEP in Wales. She and the other Labour candidates had submitted a report outlining where Labour could have improved its performance in the recent European Election.

WLGA re-elected leader’s report.

Debbie Wilcox confirmed what the First Minister had stated – that the Public Sector Finance was in disarray due to the Tory Government’s position over Brexit. On Local Government Reform, constructive talks were taking place between the First Minister and the Housing and Local Government Minister and progress was being made.

A PCC report from Jeff Cuthbert was accepted by the WEC. Finance was a very serious concern.

Minutes of the previous WEC were accepted. 

Under the final item Correspondence:

  1. The North Wales Consultative Committee report was accepted by the WEC.
  2. Stephen Doughty MP asked whether Welsh Labour had received any reply to a complaint about Darren Williams (who was not present at the meeting) for circulating a supportive message about Chris Williamson MP on behalf of Welsh Labour Grassroots. This request was seconded by Tonia Antoniazzi. What an uncomradely way to end a meeting!

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, 6th April 2019 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

This meeting was a special one, dedicated entirely to preparations for the Welsh Labour Conference, due to take place the following weekend, and therefore the agenda was much shorter than usual. 

The first item was to resolve the one issue left over from the report on the Democracy Review discussed at the previous meeting, namely the question of electing the Welsh seat on the National Executive Committee. In response to concerns raised by the unions at the previous meeting, it had been established that we could allow members of affiliates to vote alongside full party members, but only on the same basis as they can vote in UK Labour leadership elections (i.e. they must first be registered as affiliated supporters) and the ballot would be conducted online. Although one or two of the union reps were not entirely happy with this proposal and suggested that a decision be deferred while other options were explored, but Chris argued that there had already been a full discussion and a solution had been arrived at that addressed most of the concerns; we should therefore go ahead and vote on it. The OMOV ballot arrangements proposed by officers were duly put to the vote, alongside an alternative proposal (put by one of the union reps) that the election be conducted via an electoral college at conference, and the OMOV option was accepted. 

The main item was to decide the WEC’s position on the various motions submitted by CLPs and affiliates. 26 motions had been accepted as valid and 4 ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee. For the first time, the text of motions deemed invalid by the SOC was published – as long requested by Chris – along with the reason for their rejection. Of those accepted, there were 5 almost identical motions on ending no-fault evictions, two very similar motions on child poverty and two broadly similar motions on women’s refuges. In each of these cases, the officers were seeking agreement from the bodies in question that the motions could be composited. In relation to the policy motions, Mark Drakeford said that Welsh ministers and special advisers were keen to see motions supported by conference wherever possible, even with qualifications, but outlined some practical difficulties with three motions and, in each case, the WEC accepted Mark’s arguments and agreed either to ask the moving body to remit the motion in question or to recommend that conference vote against. 

There were three motions on internal party issues, and the Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, gave a view on these, suggesting that, in two cases the WEC seek remittance but that the third be supported. These recommendations were adopted by the WEC. 

The only other item was notice of the draft timetable for conference, which was circulated for information, and the meeting therefore concluded much more promptly than usual. 

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, 16 March 2019 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

The meeting began with an update from the Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, on the Newport West by-election, which had been triggered by the sad death of the great Paul Flynn a month before. The election was obviously hugely important, as, although the party had an excellent candidate in Ruth Jones, we could not take for granted that the strong personal vote built up by Paul over many years would simply fall into our laps. In addition, it was clearly going to be a significant test of the leadership, both of Jeremy Corbyn and of Mark Drakeford, and at a time when the political atmosphere was particularly febrile because of the Brexit saga. Rhiannon offered reassurance about the degree of organisation and input from staff and volunteers into the election campaign. The TULO organisation of Labour union affiliates was to organise a big push on 23rdMarch. Darren suggested trying to get as many people to the constituency as possible on the final Saturday before the election; it appeared that the party was already thinking along similar lines. 

The next item was a report from the Welsh Labour leader and First Minister, Mark Drakeford. Mark once again provided a detailed written report of his activities over the previous month, which had included speaking at the Scottish Labour Conference the week before, seeking to protect Wales’ interests as the prospect of Brexit loomed ever closer, and acting on his campaign pledge to develop a social partnership bill in collaboration with the trade unions. His action on this last point won praise from trade union reps present. Darren commended Mark and Julie Morgan for the work that they had done in addressing the concerns of campaigners, who had sought to protect the Welsh Independent Living Grant; the additional funding and provision of an independent social work assessment, which had been agreed, had assuaged many of these concerns. Mark also commented on the terrible events that had taken place in Christchurch, New Zealand; he had written to the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to offer condolences on behalf of the Welsh Government, and had tried to provide solidarity and reassurance to Muslim communities in Wales, including by attending Friday prayers in a Cardiff mosque and also the vigil organised by the Muslim Council for Wales. 

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Christina Rees, echoed Mark’s comments about the tragedy in Christchurch and the need to protect the harmonious relations that we had sought to promote in our multicultural societies. She also reported on efforts that she had made to hold Welsh Secretary of State, Alun Cairns, to account over issues including mineworkers’ pensions and the questionable plans for the Felindre Parkway station. 

Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris, reported on a number of successful campaign days that had been held with materials tailored to the needs of Wales, and the development of Labour’s community organising strategy, highlighted by the recent event with Ian Lavery MP in the Vale of Glamorgan. She also referred to the importance not only of the Newport West by-election but also the council by-election in Merthyr, which could potentially enable Labour to regain control of the local authority. 

The next item was progress on the Welsh Labour Democracy Review. Officers had prepared a detailed report on the progress that had been made on Stage 2 of the review, which, subject to WEC approval, was to be presented to Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno. Mark Drakeford and Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, presented this report to the meeting. As indicated at the previous meeting, less of the work encompassed by the review had been accomplished that we would have liked, and there had been a focus on agreeing some changes where there was general consensus. A table of responses included in the paper indicated that there had been a sharp increase in submissions, especially from CLPs, close to the deadline, although no indication was given as to common themes and priorities from those submissions. Despite the somewhat disappointing absence of major reform proposals, overall there were some important and positive steps forward in a number of key areas. These included a relaxation of the restrictions relating to motions submitted to Welsh Labour Conference, removing the “contemporary” criterion and the two-year rule, although not, unfortunately, the requirement that motions must relate to devolved matters only. In addition, there was agreement in principle that Welsh Labour Women’s Conference should become a motion-based event with voting delegates; the Women’s Committee had been asked to draw up appropriate arrangements. 

There were three items in the Democracy Review report that were more contentious. The first of these was a proposal to provide for the election by an OMOV ballot of the position representing Wales on the National Executive Committee. This post has been in the gift of the Welsh Labour leader since it was created in 2016, but there had been widespread support for it to be elected in submissions to the UK Democracy Review and Mark Drakeford had also made this one of his leadership campaign pledges. The proposal as presented would have allowed affiliates as well as CLPs to make nominations, but only party members to vote. The trade unions raised concerns about this and it was agreed that, although there were some practical difficulties (because the election had to be conducted by the UK party) an attempt would be made to accommodate their wishes for their members to vote and the matter would be brought back to the next meeting. 

A second controversial matter related to the rules for reselecting parliamentary candidates. The trigger ballot mechanism was reformed at the UK Labour Conference in 2018, reducing the threshold of votes needed to trigger an open selection, but it was widely assumed that this would apply only in England. There had since been clarification that it would apply to Wales and Scotland as well. The document acknowledged this, but said that Welsh Labour might wish to ask the NEC for a further rule change to allow Wales to have the option to determine its own rules. Some WEC members expressed support for this idea, with two even questioning whether the interpretation of the rules that we had been given was correct. Darren, however, argued that, while he supported devolution where it made practical sense, there was no obvious reason why selection of Labour candidates for a UK-wide Parliament should be different in each of the constituent countries and that we should therefore accept the status quo. It was agreed that the paper could stand as written as it simply acknowledged the current position and that we come back to it at a later date 

The final issue that provoked some controversy was in relation to the commitment to make WEC papers more widely available for members to see. This again was in line with one of Mark Drakeford’s pledges to promote greater openness and accountability within the Welsh party. It was agreed that Welsh Labour should seek to establish a password-protected section of the UK Labour website in which these papers could be published, subject to some exclusions for sensitive or confidential material, but there was a debate as to whether the obligation to publish the papers should be written into the standing orders or whether there should simply be a general instruction to officers that this should be done. At Mark’s suggestion, we adopted the latter approach on an initial basis with the aim of moving towards a more formal commitment once the new approach had been introduced. 

There was then a paper on electoral reform, which summarised responses to the consultation that Welsh Labour had undertaken on this subject. It was reported that, although there had been general consensus that the number of Assembly Members should be increased, there was no consensus about moving towards a more proportional electoral system and it was therefore agreed that we should conduct further discussions on this through the policy process with any resulting proposals to be incorporated in Labour’s manifesto for the next Assembly elections in 2021. 

The Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, reported that, since the last meeting, the Assembly Member and Police and Crime Commissioner trigger ballot processes had begun, that parliamentary candidates had been selected in Clwyd West and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, with Brecon and Radnorshire due to conclude on 30thMarch. In addition, an expedited selection timetable had been agreed for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and this was also under consideration for Ceredigion. In response to questions, Rhiannon said that the Assembly selections in Bridgend and the Rhondda would begin after conference and that it had not yet been decided which would begin first. 

Neither Derek Vaughan MEP nor Cllr Debbie Wilcox were present at the meeting, but both had circulated written reports. Jeff Cuthbert had also produced a written report on the work of the Police and Crime Commissioners and added some comments about the need for greater resources and a more coherent strategy to deal with violent crime, as well as criticising Theresa May’s denial of the link between cuts in police numbers and the increase in recorded crime. 

In response to the minutes, Darren sought a further update on the question of whether new rules on quorums, agreed at UK Conference, would apply in Wales, and was told that the party had confirmed that these would apply. There was one piece of correspondence from Dwyfor Meirionnydd CLP, which incorporated a motion seeking discussion of open selections at Welsh Labour Conference, and it was agreed that this could not be taken up in the way that the CLP wanted because the Assembly selections had largely concluded and we now knew that the parliamentary selections were bound by the same rules as the UK party, but CLP reps asked that the CLP be given a detailed response that fully acknowledged their concerns and clarified the position.  

WEC Meeting, 26th January 2019 (Joint Report with Chris Newman)

This was the first meeting since the election as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister of Mark Drakeford (whom both of us strongly supported).  The tone was very positive and upbeat, with WEC members offering Mark their warm congratulations, regardless of whether or not they had supported him in the election itself.

In his Leader’s report, Mark acknowledged the challenges faced by Wales in relation to Brexit and reflected on the leadership election and the selection of his first cabinet. He also gave a welcome reaffirmation of his commitment to promote greater democracy, accountability and transparency within the party. He said that, even without rule changes, there is a lot that we can do to increase transparency and empower members and was pleased to report that WEC members are now listed on the Welsh Labour website for the first time. He said that he had asked party staff to find ways to make as many WEC papers as possible available online for party members to read. He reiterated his support for an OMOV election for the Welsh seat on the NEC and said that he wanted Welsh conference to spend more of its time debating policy. 

In response to questions, Mark echoed concerns about the impact of Brexit, which he said had already been felt within the Welsh economy for some time. He pointed out, however, that attitudes to the issue varied, even among Labour voters, with some frustrated that the party appeared to be trying to resist the people’s will. His own view was that we needed to be able to show that we had done everything possible in Parliament to mitigate the harm that Brexit could do, and at that point, we might legitimately be able to go back to the people and ask them to express a view once again. The overriding priority was that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal. Mark also talked about the importance of having a Cabinet minister with specific responsibility for North Wales, about his commitment to the cooperative economy and about the need for difficult issues in relation to crime and policing to be subject to oversight from the First Minister’s office.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Christina Rees, had circulated a written report but also gave a verbal update on the efforts that she and her parliamentary colleagues had been undertaking in Westminster to steer the Brexit process in a more positive direction, by putting amendments to the Government’s legislation. 

In questions to Christina, Chris highlighted media reports that a number of prominent industrialists had stopped funding the Tory party because of its Brexit policy and also queried whether the growing list of energy and infrastructure projects in Wales that had effectively been blocked by the UK government – Swansea tidal lagoon, rail electrification, Wylfa ‘B’ – reflected Tory vindictiveness. Christina echoed Chris’ concerns on this latter point and also highlighted the lack of agreement as to who would control the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, intended to replace EU structural funding.  

The Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris, said that, while Mark would be focussing on policy, she would continue to devote her energies to campaigning, and highlighted a number of dates over the coming months that had been designated as campaign days. She also talked about campaigning around Holocaust Memorial Day, gambling and alleviation of poverty. 

Darren asked for some clarification on Assembly selections. Welsh Labour want all the trigger ballots for seats with sitting Labour AMs (other than any who may have signalled an intention to step down) to be completed by 29 March. With regard to the Labour-held regional list seats, it was explained that there are no ongoing selection procedures in rule and that we therefore have to agree the procedures anew every time this comes up (while this may seem an odd position to be in after twenty years of devolution, it does at least give us the opportunity to improve on the procedures used in the past). This won’t be done at the same time as the trigger ballot for constituency AMs, however, not least because the only region with Labour list AMs (Mid and West Wales) currently has several parliamentary selections to take care of.  

The WEC agreed that, in future, aspiring election candidates should receive a local party membership list free of charge as soon as they’ve submitted their application for selection, rather than having to pay £30, as in the past, or waiting till they’ve been shortlisted, as in England. This will remove a barrier to candidates on low incomes. We also agreed that, where a CLP, particularly in a rural area, wanted to organise an expedited parliamentary selection process, where not many applications were expected, the General Secretary should be empowered to authorise this. What this would mean in practice is that, in the event of there being up to six self-nominations in total, all applicants would be automatically shortlisted (subject to probity checks) and be considered by an all-member selection meeting. 

We confirmed that both of the ‘new’ Assembly selections being treated as priorities, Bridgend and Rhondda, should be all-women shortlists. This had been our expectation at the previous meeting, but in response to a request from Bridgend CLP, we had agreed to defer a final decision until such time as the CLPs had had an opportunity to discuss the matter. Bridgend had, in the end, opted to have an all-women shortlist but Rhondda CLP had stated a preference for an open shortlist. In discussing the submissions, however, WEC members recalled that we had a clear policy of prioritising all-women shortlists for any winnable seats that might become newly vacant and had agreed that it would take a very strong argument to persuade us to make an exception. The WEC was unanimously of the view that we had not been presented with such an argument and that we should uphold our established position, a view that both of us spoke to support. Chris said that it had taken a long series of battles to win Welsh Labour to its current commitment to meaningful action in support of gender balance and the WEC had a political responsibility to take a strong lead in ensuring that this policy was adhered to.

We then moved on to the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review, and agreed, at Mark’s suggestion, that, in view of the vast number of issues left to be addressed by the Welsh Democracy Review and the relatively low engagement so far from party units and affiliates, decisions on any resulting changes would have to be split between this year’s and next year’s conferences. It was also agreed to extend the deadline to allow more CLPs to respond to the party democracy review consultation document. 

We next considered a paper giving a technical debrief on the recent leadership election. Among other things, this reported that more than 750 members had attended hustings meetings; the total electorate had been around 175,000 members and affiliated supporters; and the turnout had been 53.1% for members and 5.7% for affiliates. Darren asked whether further information could be provided, such as a breakout of support for each candidate between the two categories of voter; a similar request was made by Unison, who said that it would be particularly useful to have a breakdown of voting between affiliates, to assist in efforts to drive up turnout in future elections. The Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, said that it would not be possible to provide a breakdown of further voting between each candidate, because this had been a single section OMOV ballot, but she was aware that some affiliates had approached the balloting agency, ERS, about individual union turnout and she understood that it might be possible to provide this. 

Rhiannon had also circulated a written report covering the leadership election, campaigning and visits by leading party figures to various parts of Wales, the Future Candidates programme and staffing changes. There were also written reports from our MEP, Derek Vaughan, Debbie Wilcox (leader of the WLGA) and Jeff Cuthbert (representing the Police and Crime Commissioners). 

Lastly, Darren asked once again for an update on the position regarding the applicability (or otherwise) to Wales of rule changes relating to CLP management agreed at the Liverpool conference in September (most notably on quorums for CLP meetings). We had previously been told that discussions were underway between Welsh Labour and party HQ to establish an agreed position on the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions. Welsh Labour have apparently continued to pursue this but are still awaiting a definitive response. In the meantime, Welsh CLPs have been told that their pre-existing arrangements still stand.  

WEC Meeting 10th November 2018 (Joint Report with Chris Newman)

This was Carwyn’s last meeting, as the election to choose his successor would have taken place by the time that the WEC next met. He said that he had done 330 sessions of First Minister’s Questions over the last nine years and he felt that his proudest achievement was that he had been able to fulfil Welsh Labour’s manifesto commitments in a time of austerity. If Wales’ block grant from Westminster had continued to increase after 2010 at the same rate as before, Wales would have had an extra £4 billion to spend on public services. The final budget for 2019-20 would be put before the Assembly in January; the extra money from the UK Government only amounted to £6 million in revenue and £2.6million in capital spending. The Welsh Government had decided to use the extra resources to provide more of a cushion to local government. Carwyn added that the Welsh Government was going to place bus transport under far greater control than before now that it had the power to do so, as with the railways, and was working towards a better integrated transport system. Carwyn finished by saying that, despite different views on the WEC, the committee had always worked together well and had avoided public argument, as everyone was united in working towards electing a UK Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn.

WEC members then paid tribute to Carwyn for having provided robust and dignified leadership and having defended the interests of Wales through some difficult times.

The first item of business requiring a decision was a draft questionnaire for CLPs and party units on the second stage of the party’s consultation on electoral reform, in response to the proposals in this area that had been put forward by the National Assembly. The document had been produced by a working group made up of WEC members and was largely factual in nature, avoiding taking any position in favour or against any one system but pointing out some of the implications of possible decisions that could be made. It was therefore approved with some minor tweaks and a closing date of 13 February was agreed for responses.

There were then a number of short papers relating to selection procedures for parliamentary and Assembly seats. Firstly, it was agreed that the parliamentary selection in Clwyd West (the last of the six priority target seats in Wales) would recommence as soon as possible following the breakdown of the previous process, and would then be followed in the New Year by selections in the remaining six parliamentary constituencies, three of which would be All Women Shortlists. A last-minute addition to these plans following Paul Flynn’s announcement that he would be stepping down, was that the parliamentary selection in Newport West should also be prioritised early in the New Year and should be an All Women Shortlist. Paul’s departure, while understandable in light of his worsening health, is sad news given his long and impressive contribution to Welsh politics as one of the most principled and independent-minded MPs of recent times. 

Turning to Assembly selections, it was agreed that re-selections in Labour-held seats should begin as soon as possible and that any open selections resulting from trigger ballots in seats with sitting women AMs should be All Women Shortlists. Selections for seats not currently held by Labour, or with retiring Labour incumbents, should proceed later in 2019 on the basis that initially 50% would be All Women Shortlists. It was agreed that Bridgend, where Carwyn would be stepping down in 2019, and the Rhondda, which we hoped to win back from Leanne Wood, would be prioritised, and the Gender Equality Working Group and the Party Development Board had both recommended that these seats should be selected using an All Women Shortlist. Bridgend CLP had written, however, to request that a decision on its own selection be deferred to give local members the opportunity to discuss the matter. It was agreed to accede to this request, albeit pointing out that there would be a presumption in favour of an All Women Shortlist. We also signed off arrangements for the All-Wales Panel for Assembly and Parliamentary selections, which had been agreed at the previous meeting, and noted that any of the arrangements that we had agreed would need to be changed if there were an early General Election or if Parliament agreed any boundary changes. 

The next item was a revised set of standing orders for the National Assembly Labour Group, which had been updated recently, after not having previously been reviewed since 2001. Under the party rules, the WEC had to approve the changes. Although a fairly thorough job had been done by the Group, with the assistance of party officers, Darren raised concerns over a couple of points; for example, there was no clear commitment to bring any proposal to form a coalition government back to the WEC for agreement, let alone convene a Special Conference (as happened when we went into coalition with Plaid Cymru in 2007). We were told, however, that it was not possible for the WEC to make any amendments, only to agree the document as it stood or refer it back to the Group for further changes. As the new standing orders were largely acceptable, it was agreed to approve them but to highlight to the Group those areas that had prompted questions and ask that they be revisited at the earliest opportunity. 

Next, we had a report from the new Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, covering the major areas of Welsh Labour’s work over the period since the WEC had last met. Darren highlighted a few significant developments that did not appear to be covered, such as the recent Welsh Policy Forum meeting in Newport, the outcomes of the recent Welsh Women’s Conference and any information about the then-forthcoming Welsh Young Labour Conference, as well as asking for a progress update on Stage Two of the Democracy Review. Rhiannon agreed to provide this information in writing. 

Finally, under any other business, Darren queried the outcome of the discussions that had apparently been taking place between Welsh Labour and the UK party over the extent to which new rules for CLPs agreed at the Liverpool conference would apply in Wales, particularly with regard to quorums for CLP meetings. The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, stated that these discussions were still underway and that, for the time being, any previously agreed arrangements would remain in place. 

Welsh Executive Committee meeting, 8 September 2018 (joint report with Christine Newman)

This meeting was a special one, dedicated solely to receiving and discussing Lord (Paul) Murphy’s report on Phase One of the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review. The consultation period ended on 31st July, shortly after the WEC’s last meeting, but we did not receive the report until late on Friday 7th September, the day before our meeting; we were told that the delay was due to Lord Murphy undertaking on-going meetings with different interested groups up to the week before the WEC meeting.

The report itself was quite concise, detailing the background to the review and its scope: to deal exclusively with the electoral system to be used to elect our leader and deputy leader. The controversy at the end of 2017 is still fresh in people’s minds, when the WEC took the decision to retain an electoral college system, despite the majority of consultation responses favouring One Member One Vote (OMOV). Although Lord Murphy did not provide a precise breakdown of the responses, it was made clear that, this time around, CLPs and individual members (the latter via an online survey) favoured OMOV, as did Unite the Union, some smaller affiliate bodies and the majority of the members of the Assembly Labour Group. Other trade unions (including UNISON and the GMB) favoured a reformed electoral college system.

It was clear from Lord Murphy’s report that there is consensus against the continuation of the status quo, whereby the elected representatives (AMs, MPs and the one MEP) retain a third of the college (which, in the deputy leadership election, led to their votes being worth more than 400 times those of ordinary party members). There is also overwhelming support for the continued involvement of levy-paying members of affiliated unions and other organisations. However, there was no consensus over the electoral method that should be used and Lord Murphy therefore asked the WEC to consider two options:

  • OMOV (which he calls “OMOV Plus”, to emphasise that it would not just involve party members – the ‘M’ in OMOV – but also affiliated supporters); and
  • a reformed electoral college (wherein 50% of the college would be for party members and 50% for affiliated supporters).

The report contained draft wording of the relevant additions to the rule book to be added depending on which option was chosen, and contained a section on the workstream arrangements in place for Phase Two of the review, which is to consider all other aspects of party democracy devolved to the Welsh party.

The WEC therefore had to decide, on the basis of Lord Murphy’s report, what to put to the Special Conference (to be held on Saturday 15th September), where delegates from party units and affiliates will make the final decision.

The first discussion was therefore around whether or not both options should be presented to conference – as Chris and Darren, among several others, argued – or whether only one option should be presented. The latter view was put by most of the union reps who spoke (other than those from Unite), who wanted just the reformed electoral college option to go forward. Those of us who argued for the conference to be given a genuine choice argued that the confidence of members in the party’s process had already been damaged by developments over the last year and that this would be exacerbated if only one option were presented to delegates. Carwyn Jones made a significant intervention in the discussion, arguing that, although he personally favoured a reformed electoral college, both options should be put to conference; he added that this would not preclude the WEC from making a recommendation. When the vote was taken, it was duly agreed (by a margin of 21 to eight) to put both options to conference, which was a considerable relief and means that we will not simply be back in the same position in which we found ourselves last November.

It was then unanimously agreed that the WEC should make a recommendation to conference. Unfortunately, it was then narrowly agreed (by only one vote) that the recommendation should be for the electoral college. Conference will not, of course, be obliged to follow this recommendation – and, indeed, a WEC recommendation was rejected on more than one several occasion at the main Welsh conference in April. The main thing is that delegates from every CLP, affiliated union and socialist society will be able to participate in the crucial decision as to how we elect our leader and deputy leader in future.

The detailed arrangements for the Special Conference were not discussed at this meeting because they fall under the purview of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC), which will decide on such matters as speaking slots and voting arrangements.  A couple of significant points were made, however. It was confirmed that the decision will be taken by a card vote, with delegates casting a vote roughly proportional to the membership of the bodies they represent. It was also suggested in the discussion that, since a rule change was involved, the decision would have to carry a two-thirds majority to be valid; party officers were able to state definitively that this is not required by the rules. The unions that support a reformed electoral college also made clear that they wanted to restrict anyone taking part in future elections to a maximum of two votes: one as a party member (if applicable) and one as a member of an affiliated organisation (if applicable) – whereas some people (especially elected politicians) had as many as six or seven votes in the recent deputy leadership election, depending on how many organisations they belonged to. This had not been specified in Lord Murphy’s report, so the relevant draft rule change was amended to reflect the unions’ position.

One other point needs to be mentioned in relation to this discussion. One of our fellow CLP reps proposed that there be a recorded vote on the decisions of this meeting, meaning that the names of the WEC members voting each way would be recorded in the minutes. This is something that was incorporated in the new standing orders that we agreed back in February, which say that there will be a recorded vote if at least two members request it. The chair (wrongly, in our view) opened this request up to discussion and then put it to the vote, and, as only eight of us supported it, she declined the request. In the course of this brief discussion, some WEC members suggested, rather questionably, that to reveal how members voted might expose them to abuse and intimidation. In our view, however, this is a question of accountability: most of us on the WEC are there not as individuals but as representatives of particular sections of the party, which have a right to know how we acted in their name. We would add that we rarely mention other WEC members by name in our reports and never in connection with anything controversial.

The only other item at the meeting was a brief update on the position of the Welsh Labour General Secretary. Louise Magee will soon be going on maternity leave and it was announced the Head of Communications, Rhiannon Evans would undertake Louise’s duties during her absence.

Welsh Executive Committee Report, 21st July 2018 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

This meeting had a particularly heavy agenda and it was a struggle to deal with all 16 items even after extending the finishing time to 1.30pm.

Report of the Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister

Carwyn Jones gave a verbal report, where he described in not very flattering terms the current state of the Tory negotiations over Brexit. While the Welsh Government had produced a White Paper on the matter and was working with big employers, the Tories’ failure to produce a detailed and comprehensive trade deal between the EU and the UK would have very serious consequences for Wales. He also warned that public finances under the Tories’ austerity programme would be very tough next year. Carwyn expressed concern over funding for the public sector pay deal and the detrimental effect on such schemes as student finance and the free school meals project. He warned that, however tempting it may seem to raise taxes, they should not be used to plug the gaps created by central Government. Instead any such increases should go to additional needs, in order to secure a fair settlement for Wales. Concern was also expressed over the uncertainty as to whether Wales would remain part of an all EU defence, security and anti -crime force. Cllr. Debbie Wilcox rightly accused the Tory Government of ‘killing off public services’ and raised the need for us to demonstrate our opposition to what is happening under this government using the slogan, ‘Tell the Truth about the Tories’, which Chris strongly endorsed, arguing that the labour movement had been too quiet and should take our campaigning out on the streets. Carwyn finally advised the meeting that as a party we must get ready for an election, as he wondered how much more people could take of the UK government’s austerity measures.

Report of the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

A written report had been circulated, covering Christina’s campaign work plus what was happening in parliament over Brexit, the Tories refusal to fund the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and Wales Questions. The Welsh MPs had raised a series of matters such as post Brexit farming funding, the impact of Universal Credit, Leaving the EU and international trade opportunities, the state of cross border rail services, matters in North Wales, to name but a few. It would appear that Alun Cairns replies were ‘less than inspirational’.

Report of Welsh Labour Deputy Leader

Carolyn Harris’ written report described the campaigning work she has been engaged in, since taking office. She offered to visit any CLPs over the summer. She was also involved in the current WASI Women and the Period Poverty Campaigns and said that she would be working with the Welsh Government to provide children attending summer holiday play groups with sandwiches for lunch.

Discussion of Welsh Labour Democracy Review with Lord Murphy

The first part of this item was an opportunity to raise questions and concerns with Lord (Paul) Murphy about Stage 1 of the Democracy Review, which is looking specifically at the electoral system for Welsh Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections. Chris asked Paul about comments he had previously made about his approach to considering submissions, whereby he said he will “give a flavour” of responses in his report, and asked how he would weight the respective strength of feeling for and against different options. In response, he defended this approach and said that he aimed to “ensure that all views are heard”, rather than conducting a “mathematical exercise” to weigh responses.

Darren highlighted the importance of a choice of options would being put before the special conference on 15 September but Paul failed to give any assurances in this regard and seemed to suggest that he would prefer to avoid this, hoping instead that some degree of consensus would emerge; he did acknowledge, however, that a choice might be necessary if opinion seemed very evenly divided. The Chair, Margaret Thomas, also asserted that it will ultimately be the WEC itself that decides what is put before conference.

In response to a suggestion from one of the local government reps that the leadership nominations procedure be reformed to allow for greater diversity and specifically to ensure that a woman candidate on the ballot-paper (a proposal that has been promoted by supporters of Eluned Morgan), Paul Murphy said that that would be a matter for Stage 2 of the Review. The next WEC meeting on 8 September will be dedicated to agreeing what will be put to the special conference the following weekend.

There was also a presentation on Stage 2 of the Review, which is being divided into a number of ‘workstreams’, each of which will be taken forward by a sub-committee of the WEC or an ad hoc working group. The Welsh Policy Forum meeting scheduled to take place in Newport on 27 October will also be feeding into the workstream on our future policy-making arrangements. The work on Stage 2 will get underway after the special conference concludes Stage 1 but initial meetings of the various sub-committees and working groups are to be arranged sooner than later.

Selection and Reselections

This section of the agenda covered a series of connected items on parliamentary and Assembly selections and turned out to be the most controversial aspect of the meeting. The first sub-item followed on from the paper discussed at the June meeting, which had suggested delaying selections for Westminster candidates in the six less winnable non-Labour-held Welsh constituencies, rather than proceeding with them as soon as the six more winnable seats had been dealt with, as agreed in September 2017. As agreed at the previous meeting, the Deputy General Secretary, David Costa had written to the six CLPs in question, pointing out the various concerns that had been raised and asking them their views. All but one of these CLPs had responded by stating emphatically, but in a carefully considered manner, that they wanted to select candidates as soon as possible. A consistent theme in their responses was the conviction that, if Labour is to have any chance of capturing the seat in question, it must have a candidate to act as a public spokesperson for the party. Five of the six ‘challenge’ seats are in the Mid and West Wales and Catherine Thomas, one of the CLP reps for the region, spoke passionately about the need to respect the CLPs’ wishes, supported by Darren and other CLP reps. Other WEC members raised objections, however, based mainly on the workloads of staff and officers recommended that the selections be delayed until the New Year. When it came to the vote, only eight of us (all CLP reps) voted in favour of respecting the constituencies’ views; the fifteen other voting members of the Committee present voted to delay the selections. Catherine asked that a senior officer visit each constituency to explain the decision. The Chair said, however, that this would be unnecessary: a letter should suffice but she would be willing to meet a delegation consisting of one or two officers from each CLP.

The next item was a paper on whether we should allow selected parliamentary candidates could stand in an Assembly election if the latter came first, and on what basis. The General Secretary pointed out that the current rules don’t allow someone to be a candidate for both Assembly and parliamentary elections at the same some; we would have to give special dispensation. Darren spoke in favour of allowing CLPs to decide on this, highlighting the current strength of the party’s grassroots organisation and the need to trust our members and activists. Chris spoke in support of this and also said that candidates should always be members of the relevant trade union. Other members disagreed, however, saying that we shouldn’t allow candidates to “chop and change” and Carwyn said that the comments made in support of flexibility didn’t cover the situation where a candidate jumped ship in order to stand in a safer seat; the ‘home’ CLP would have no control of this. When it came to the vote, only three of us voted in favour of allowing leeway on this and the various specific options then fell by default.

Next, we had a short paper relating to initial preparations for selecting candidates for the 2021 Assembly elections. The first point for consideration was wherever selections should be conducted on the basis of the current procedure and the Chair asked whether anyone would have any objections to this. No-one did, in principle, but Darren pointed out that the Welsh Democracy Review would cover selections and might result in a change of procedure. Carwyn said it seemed strange to argue for immediate selections earlier on but then to argue for a delay. Darren clarified that he wasn’t advocating delay, just that any changes needed to be implemented once they were agreed. Carwyn replied that we couldn’t have some candidates for the next Assembly election selected under one system and others under a different system. Others seemed to agree with this comment and, when it was put to the vote, it was overwhelmingly agreed that the current arrangements should continue. In response to a second question under this item, everyone agreed that AMs should be contacted to establish whether they plan to stand again.

The final paper in this section of the agenda raised the possibility of re-establishing an all-Wales panel to carry out initial vetting of aspiring candidates in relation to probity and general quality. David Costa set out three options, from which the WEC could choose if it liked the idea in principle. The first of these would involve the panel conducting a basic probity check – interviewing candidates and scanning their social media accounts. The second would add a compulsory training session, while the third would also test candidates’ skills, experience and knowledge. David said that, in the view or the officers, Options 1 and 2 could be helpful to CLPs but Option 3 would be step too far.

We CLP reps were sceptical about the value of any Wales-wide panel, which we saw as involving more work for staff, which had been highlighted as a potential problem earlier. Louise replied that it would be WEC members, rather than staff, who would make up the panel but staff support would undoubtedly be required. It was also suggested in the discussion that there could be Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (previously known as CRB checks) for all candidates; most, if not all of us supported this, but it would be carried out by civil servants and would not require Welsh Labour input. Some senior members of the committee suggested that many candidates have little knowledge of the political world in which they are seeking to get involved, including the differences between the Assembly and Parliament. It was eventually agreed in principle that we should have a Wales-wide panel, with only 8 CLP reps voting against and it was then specifically agreed to go for Option 2, with 3 abstentions.

Conference Debrief

The WEC was presented with a document giving a thorough review of the April 2018 conference and highlighting issues that had arisen, which could be taken into account in future. Perhaps the most significant aspect related to the decision by the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) not to accept delegates or motions for the April conference from CLPs or Women’s Fora that had not paid their affiliation fees before 31 December 2017. This had caused understandable outrage and the news that the SOC had agreed to relax this rule in future, provided that fees are paid before delegates are elected, was welcomed by the WEC. It was confirmed that the 2019 Welsh Labour Conference will be held in Llandudno once again, as Venue Cymru is an ideal size, disability access, etc. It was hoped that in future, the conference should be rotated around Wales but agreed that it should held in the North more frequently than the South, to help address concerns that Welsh Labour events are too South Wales orientated.

A grid was also circulated, showing motions carried by the Welsh Labour conference in April and the body responsible for acting on each of them. This was something Darren had specifically requested at the previous meeting, both in order to have a clear record of what had been agreed and to get a statement as to what the party and/or the Welsh Government proposed to do about each motion – especially in the case of more contentious issues like the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) where conference had overwhelmingly rejected the Welsh Government’s position. The grid merely gave the title of each motion, however, rather than summarising its intent, and said only which body was responsible for each motion, not what was being done about it. We had been told that we would be given a verbal report at the meeting but Darren requested something in writing and Carwyn said that he would circulate something after the meeting

General Secretary’s Report

Louise Magee’s written report included an update on parliamentary selections. Belinda Loveluck-Edwards had been selected in the Vale of Glamorgan, Marc Tierney in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Philippa Thompson in Preseli Pembrokeshire, Emily Owen in Aberconwy and Mary Griffiths Clarke in Arfon. Clwyd West would start again in the autumn. Both Louise herself and the Welsh Labour finance manager would be going on maternity leave very soon, which would also need to be factored into staff workloads over the coming months. Louise’s report also gave an overview of past and future campaigns, training, staffing and forthcoming events.

General Data Protection Regulation

A useful briefing on the party’s responsibilities under the new regulations was given by an officer from HQ.

MEP Report

Derek Vaughan submitted a written report which really expressed his contempt for the UK Government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, the high cost of leaving the EU and the fraudulent behaviour of the Vote Leave Campaigners.

Welsh Local Government Association Leader’s Report

Cllr Debbie Wilcox’s written report included: Local Government Reform, in relation to which she said that the decision not to proceed with the forced merger Option 3 of the “Strengthening Local Government Green Paper” had been warmly welcomed by councils; the establishment of a joint working group with the WLGA and the relevant trade unions chaired by Derek Vaughan MEP, tasked with examining key areas such as financial sustainability, structures, the respect agenda, active citizenship, powers and flexibilities over a twelve-month period, in preparation for the 2022 local elections. Debbie also reiterated that eight years of Tory austerity is causing great suffering.

Police & Crime Commissioners Report

The WEC also noted a written report from Jeff Cuthbert, PCC for Gwent, who was pleased to report the Welsh Government’s support for the setting up of a Policing Board for Wales and the continuation of the Schools Liaison Programme.

Welsh Executive Committee Meeting, 9th June 2018 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

This was the first full meeting of the newly-elected WEC, following the Welsh Labour conference in April. The main item was discussion of the Welsh Labour Democracy Review, which had been agreed at conference. The Chair, Margaret Thomas, began the meeting by expressing her disappointment at the leaking of the papers on this item to the Welsh media.

Report of Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister

Carwyn reiterated his intention to resign by the end of September 2018, allowing his successor to be elected in time to take office on the 12th December 2018, in the last week before Christmas recess. He said that he had been in government for 18 years and now needed to give someone else the chance to do the job. It had not been the easiest time because of austerity, but his government had delivered Welsh Labour’s manifesto commitments despite the reduction in resources by Westminster.

On Brexit, there seemed to be an endless public fight between UK Cabinet Ministers who should have been sacked. Carwyn welcomed the amendment put down by the Labour front bench in Westminster. Businesses that already operate in Wales were, however, considering transferring elsewhere and there was still no solution to the Irish border question. Labour needed to keep pushing the Tories and try to ensure that the public understood the issues. The Welsh Government had recently announced the shape of the new rail franchise; Carwyn said that it was not Welsh ministers’ first preference, as they would have preferred a not-for-profit model, but this had been prevented by the Wales Act. However, there would be a far better service at a far lower price than under the current franchise. Carwyn also talked about the problems caused by the US Government’s introduction of steel tariffs, and about the failure of the UK Government to guarantee the future of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which cast doubt on the future of all such projects.

Tributes were paid to Carwyn in the course of members’ contributions, and questions were raised about a number of the points that he had touched on; most significantly, he was given the opportunity to elaborate on the deal done with the UK Government on the repatriation of powers from Europe. Carwyn emphasised the progress that had been made; the Tories had wanted to take powers in 64 areas and legislate where they saw fit, but it had now been agreed to put a minority of powers in ‘the freezer’ so that they could not be used unless there was mutual agreement, and for the remainder to return directly to Cardiff.

Report of the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Christina thanked Carwyn for all of his help and friendship and talked about the parliamentary discussions over Europe. There would now be two days to debate the EU Withdrawal Bill. Confirmation of the UK Government’s position on the Tidal Lagoon was still awaited and Labour was working with the steel unions on the tariffs issue.

Elections

There were now a series of elections for the various WEC sub-committees and working groups. Nominations had been sought in advance of the meeting, but the Chair said that she would take additional nominations from the floor.

Several of these bodies have no maximum membership limit and are open to all WEC members who wished to volunteer – namely: the Organisation sub-committee (on which Chris and Darren will both sit during the present WEC term; the Local Government Sub-Committee; the Appeals Panel; the Behaviour and Culture Working Group; and the Gender Equality Working Group. Four other bodies were subject to contested elections, however. The first of these was the Party Development Board (PDB), which acts as, in effect, the ‘executive’ of the Welsh Executive Committee. This body has 3 representatives of affiliated organisations and 3 from party units, as well as the Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer, Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Darren was elected to one of these seats, along with Catherine Thomas from Mid and West Wales and Deborah Davies from South Wales East. Unlike the PDB, however, the remaining three elections – for WEC observers at SOC meetings; representatives on the Electoral Reform Working Party; and the Welsh Policy Forum – reserved no places for CLP reps and none of the CLP reps who stood for positions were elected, a worrying state of affairs that suggests a lack of commitment on the part of some of our WEC colleagues to these bodies being as representative as possible.

Submission to UK Democracy Review

It had been agreed at the previous full meeting of the WEC that, although the UK party’s Democracy Review dealt mainly with issues that were not specific to Wales, there were one or two matters on which the WEC should make a submission. The agreed points, which had been set out in a brief paper, mainly acknowledged that we were now embarking on our own Welsh Democracy Review, but also reaffirmed the importance of the devolution to the WEC of certain key aspects of the Welsh party’s business. The response also included a declaration of support for the continuation of a seat for the Welsh Labour Leader on the UK party’s NEC. We and other CLP reps had previously expressed reservations about this seat being in the gift of the Welsh Leader, rather than elected by Welsh members, but the majority of the WEC favours the current arrangements, and so we suggested that a second seat could be added, which would be elected by the whole Welsh party, and it was agreed to include this in the submission. The final point in the paper was to reaffirm that, since the NEC meetings usually clash with Assembly plenary business, Carwyn needed to appoint a representative to participate on his behalf. Darren pointed out that, under the NEC’s rules, Carwyn could either take the seat himself or delegate someone else, but not switch between the two. However, Carwyn did not seem to take this on board, and the only additional point agreed was to ask that the NEC meetings be switched to a different day, a request that seems unlikely to be accommodated.

Welsh Labour Democracy Review

We then moved in to the most significant business of the meeting, which had been trailed in the media beforehand. Carwyn had circulated a paper to the WEC, proposing that the Welsh Democracy Review agreed at the April conference be split into two stages, the first of which would deal solely with the question of how the Welsh Leader and Deputy Leader would be elected in future, tacitly acknowledging the continuing controversy over this issue since the declaration at conference of the Deputy Leadership election result, whereby Julie Morgan had won two-thirds of members’ votes but lost out overall. Carwyn proposed that this part of the review be concluded at a special conference on 15 September, before the election to choose his successor. Stage 2 of the Review would then cover all other areas of organisation and activity devolved to the Welsh party and Carwyn had suggested a list of topics, including increasing the recruitment of new members and the engagement of existing members, especially women; raising the representation and involvement of people from BAME communities and from the LGBT+ community, as well as making it easier for people with disabilities to get involved; strengthening the links with affiliated unions and reviewing the party’s relationship with socialist societies and friends’ groups. Carwyn proposed that Lord (Paul) Murphy, the former Torfaen MP and UK cabinet minister, oversee the Review.

In the ensuing discussion, Darren welcomed Carwyn’s initiative but asked a number of questions of detail: would all members be able to give their views in both stages of the consultation; would the WEC make a recommendation to the special conference on Stage 1, with the latter making the final decision; would all CLPs be able to participate in the special conference, including those barred from the April conference due to late payment of affiliation fees; would the list of areas covered by Stage 2 be expanded to include items omitted from Carwyn’s list, such as the make-up and functioning of the WEC itself; and, given, the formidable range of issues covered by the Review as a whole, would Lord Murphy have a team of people to assist him? The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa responded to these questions and answered most in the affirmative, although he said that the inclusion of late-paying CLPs would be a matter for the Standing Orders Committee.

Another CLP rep said that the Review should be looking at how we could retain, as well as recruit, members and pointed out that, in this time of austerity, some members were finding it difficult to keep up their subs payments. It was pointed out, however, that membership fees are non-devolved and this should therefore be covered by the UK review. Our BAME rep, Ramesh Patel, said that the party needs to do more engage BAME members and pointed out that, for example, Cardiff’s Labour-led Council does not have a single BAME member in its cabinet, despite its highly diverse population and a number of BAME councillors. An MP said that it was important that any submissions from CLPs should be the result of genuinely representative meetings, so that the views expressed could be weighted appropriately, and a trade union rep said that ‘official’ responses from CLPs and affiliates must carry more weight than those from individual members of such bodies. David Costa said that Paul Murphy will produce a report that reflects the issues and concerns that will have been fed in, rather than the numbers for and against each option. He confirmed that the WEC would make a democratic decision about what to put to the special conference.

It was agreed to adopt the proposals contained in Carwyn’s paper, with a special WEC meeting on 8 September and a special conference a week later, on the 15th.

Consultation on Leadership & Deputy Leadership elections

We then moved on to the draft consultation document for Stage 1 of the Democracy Review, containing a series of questions relating to preferences between OMOV and an electoral college, and particular variants of each. Darren suggested a series of amendments: first, that the questionnaire should take the form of a ‘decision tree’, so that anyone expressing an initial preference for OMOV or the electoral college should then answer subsidiary questions on their preferred system, not on the alternative; second that the option for OMOV to be limited to party members should be removed, as no-one actually wants to exclude affiliated supporters; and that there should be a question on whether multiple voting should be permitted. Chris and other CLP reps supported these points, and one also said that the explanatory preamble should make clear that the current system gives full-time politicians a vote worth more than 400 times that of an ordinary member. Other members opposed these suggestions, however, and some suggested that anything not covered by the set questions could be added as ‘further comments’ under Question 5.

When it came to voting, the Chair refused to take amendments to the paper first, which is the normal procedure in Labour party (and other) meetings, and instead asked the WEC to vote on the paper as originally presented. It was agreed to accept it unamended by 18 votes to 9, with Chris, Darren and all other CLPs present among the nine.

Preparation for Leadership Election, including Appointment of Procedures Committee

This was a routine procedural item, the main outcome of which was agreement that the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) would be the Procedures Committee for the Leadership election in the autumn. This marked a change from the Deputy Leadership election, when the Party Development Board (PDB) was the Procedures Committee. PDB members had also been prominent supporters of one or other of the two candidates, however, whereas the SOC members are expected to remain publicly impartial in relation to internal elections and other contentious matters within the party.

Selections Update

A paper was presented to the WEC that had not been circulated beforehand, which raised a number of concerns relating to the ongoing selection of parliamentary candidates in non-Labour-held seats. In particular, we were relatively few members were putting themselves forward for selection as candidates in these seats. Questions were posed as to the desirability of relaxing the rules on nominations and minimum shortlist sizes, as well as the potential introduction of a Wales-wide panel to undertake ‘quality control’ in relation to aspiring candidates. Most controversially, it was suggested that, in view of the relative paucity of candidates and the renewed possibility of boundary changes, selections in the six least-winnable Welsh seats (known as ‘challenge’ seats) – which the WEC had previously agreed should proceed a.s.a.p. – could be postponed. CLP reps argued against any delay, pointing out that the CLPs in question were all committed to securing a candidate a.s.a.p. and also proposed (successfully) that considerations of natural justice should apply to any vetting of candidates. It was eventually agreed to defer a final decision on the issues raised in the paper until the next WEC meeting and, in the meantime, to solicit the views of the CLPs in the ‘challenge’ seats about deferring their selections.

The discussion of selections was the last substantial item, the remainder of the agenda being made of uncontentious reports, which had been circulated in writing; minutes; and correspondence.