Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, Saturday 2 December 2023

This was the first meeting for eleven weeks, a gap that seems difficult to justify given the substantial accumulation of party business falling within the WEC’s ambit, including matters left over from the previous meeting. Bel was unfortunately unable to attend this meeting, as were a number of our other usual allies, which made the outcomes of certain key votes even more of a foregone conclusion than usual.

The first business concerned the minutes of the meeting of 20 June 2023, in relation to which the amendments that I had proposed at the September meeting to the original widely inaccurate version were finally accepted, without opposition.

The next item was the Leader’s Report. Mark added a few points to the material covered in his written paper, including: the information that had been circulated in relation to coal-tip safety and the measures being taken to address remaining problems; and consultations underway on reforming council tax and changing the pattern of the school year (to reflect changes in the way that people live their lives). Mark reported that Welsh Ministers had been particularly focussed on preparing their budget plans for the next financial year, under the pressure created by the fact that the budget would be worth £1.3 billion less in real terms than at the time that it was set. Difficult decisions would have to be made, which would have an impact on some of the party’s manifesto commitments, but Mark and his colleagues were determined to protect the NHS and local authorities and to ensure that all decisions reflected Labour values.

WEC members asked Mark questions ranging from the pilot of electronic prescriptions in Rhyl to particular areas of concern arising from the expected budget cuts in relation to schools and local services generally. I praised the Welsh Government for continuing to initiate progressive measures even at such a challenging time, and in particular for establishing 20mph as the default speed limit across Wales, a decision that had attracted intense criticism but which I believed would be vindicated in the future. However, I also highlighted the widespread disappointment within the party over Mark’s failure to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, unlike other leading party figures such as the Scottish First Minister, the Mayor of London and the Mayor of Greater Manchester. In response to this last point, Mark said that he wanted to see a ceasefire in Gaza; the only discussion was how to achieve this. He repeated his view that a pause to allow for humanitarian aid could lead in this direction, but that, ultimately, there would need to be wide-ranging peace talks, including a commitment to a two-state solution.

The next item was the General Secretary’s report. In highlighting a couple of the key items in her brief written report, Jo McIntyre confirmed that the 2024 Welsh Labour Conference would be moved back to 5-7 July 2024, and that the Standing Orders Committee would be confirming a new timetable for motions, etc. One of my fellow CLP reps, Chris Hardacre, reminded Jo that she had asked at the June 2023 meeting for sight of the legal advice that the party had received in relation to the confirmation of its parliamentary candidate in Caerphilly. Chris also asked whether the WEC would receive a report from the recent Welsh Labour Women’s Conference, as concerns had been raised over the fact that a motion expressing solidarity with women in Palestine had been allowed onto the agenda by the Standing Orders Committee only to then be ruled out of order on the instructions of UK Labour. I echoed Chris’ concerns about the Women’s Conference and also asked for an explanation as to the deferral of the 2024 Welsh Labour Conference and for any update as to whether this would affect the term of office of the current WEC and the timings of the forthcoming WEC elections. In response to Chris’ questions, Jo confirmed that she and the WEC Chair, Anthony Hunt, had attended a meeting to take legal advice on the Caerphilly issue and would be able to report back, although she did not indicate when this would happen or why they had not already done so. In relation to my question on the 2024 conference, she explained that the delay was due to the Covid-19 inquiry coming to Wales at the time when the party had been scheduled to meet. She said that the WEC term of office was a matter for the Standing Orders Committee; the general advice was that the deadlines would remain the same, despite the change in conference date, although the conference motions deadline might be adjusted. The Deputy General Secretary, Joe Lock, responded to Chris’ question on the Women’s Conference, confirming that there would be a full report to the Women’s Committee; he said that it was not true to say that the UK party had overruled Welsh Labour, but that the Welsh full-time officers had reported to the conference that the motion in question was outside its purview. The Standing Orders Committee, however, had ignored this advice, so the full-time officers had overruled the motion using NEC powers. This explanation seemed to me to be substantially the same as what Chris had described.

There was a brief General Election update, the main points of which were that a campaign team was meeting regularly and that the Welsh party now had a digital team of 4 people. A related item followed, providing an update on Westminster parliamentary selections; this confirmed that, since the previous WEC meeting, selections had taken place in Caerfyrddin, Ceredigion Preseli, Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr and Dwyfor Meirionydd and a selection was about to begin in Brecon Radnor Cŵm Tawe. Anticipating a question that some of us would have asked, the Chair said that he had been made aware of speculation regarding the Swansea West constituency, where Geraint Davies MP had been suspended following his confirmation as the party’s candidate. The Chair said that it was right to let the necessary investigatory processes take their course, but reassured the WEC that he had expressed concerns to the UK party about timescales in relation to this and the other disciplinary case involving a Welsh MP.

The Deputy General Secretary then presented a paper giving an update on the selections for Police and Crime Commissioner candidates. He reminded the WEC that this was a non-devolved matter under the control of the UK party and that we had the benefit of knowing the date of the election. All four candidates were now in place and he thanked the two incumbents (Alun Michael and Jeff Cuthbert) who were stepping down. The paper also asked the WEC to consider introducing a similar rule as we had adopted in relation to Westminster selections, whereby the WEC could require a PCC candidate (in this instance) who already held public office to stand down from the latter post in advance of the PCC elections, to allow for a by-election to fill their current position to be held on the same day. WEC members raised concerns about the implications of this for one of the newly-selected candidates, Jane Mudd, the Leader of Newport Council, who would be standing to become the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent. It was agreed that, while the WEC should have the capacity to ask a candidate to step down under these circumstances in future, it would be wrong to apply this retrospectively now as the candidates had not previously been aware of this rule. I asked whether it was true that one of the new candidates had not met the normal party membership requirement and had had this waived, but Joe Lock said that this was not the case.

There was an item on CLP reorganisation; the General Secretary reported that transitional officers had been appointed to the new CLPs and that the transfer of funds and organisation of AGMs had been proceeding as planned. All but 5 of the new CLPs had either completed the process or were close to doing so. Various questions and concerns were raised about the robustness or otherwise of the new CLP structures, the detailed funding arrangements and the role of affiliated representatives. In relation to funding, the General Secretary said that the normal NEC approach is for the money to follow MPs, but the Welsh party was seeking a more pragmatic approach. Particular concerns were raised about Blaenau Gwent CLP, where the transition had not been easy.

The next item was the issue in relation to Senedd reform, which had been deferred from the previous meeting. A paper was presented, covering the issues of incumbency and equality. In relation to incumbency, it was proposed that, subject to a trigger ballot, sitting Members of the Senedd (MSs) who wished to seek re-election would automatically be placed at the top of the list in each of the new constituencies. On equality, party officers were continuing to discuss with the various equality committees measures that could be taken to ensure the maximum diversity in the selection processes.

I spoke in opposition to the proposals on incumbency, arguing that the forthcoming expansion of the Senedd represented a major opportunity to rejuvenate the party’s representation in the Senedd and that this opportunity would be squandered if all of the most winnable seats were reserved for existing MSs. Although the paper had said that this would be a one-off arrangement for the first election under the new set-up, I felt that, once the precedent had been set, the party might well choose to continue with the same arrangements in future. The argument had been put that the new Senedd would need an assurance of Ministers with experience but I argued that most who wished to continue would probably be selected under any arrangement and that in 1999 the majority of new Ministers had had no experience at an equivalent elected level. My arguments were supported by one of my fellow CLP reps, who pointed out that there is plenty of talent in the party outside of the current Senedd on which we could draw and also expressed scepticism about the need to make this decision now when most other matters were being deferred, suggesting a delay to give CLPs the opportunity for further input. Most other speakers, however, supported the paper’s proposal, with the exception of the Unite representative, who reaffirmed her union’s support for open selection. Mark responded to support the paper’s proposal, pointing out that, in the first election under a new voting system, the presence of familiar names as lead candidates would help the Labour vote, and dismissing my point about comparisons with 1999, saying that the position was completely different now that the Senedd now had full law-making powers. The paper was put to the vote and carried by 16 votes to 5.

The next item concerned the report undertaken by North Wales CLP rep (and former AM), Ann Jones, into the reasons for Labour’s loss of control over Neath Port Talbot Council in the 2022 local government elections. Ann had produced an initial report in September 2022, which reviewed feedback from local party units and affiliates and set out a series of recommendations as to how the party could address the causes of the election defeat and put itself in a stronger position for the next elections. Ann had now produced a follow-up report and found that, in relation to three of her five recommendations, there had been insufficient progress over the past year, causing her to recommend further intervention by Welsh Labour. In the ensuing discussion, the report was praised by all those who contributed, most of whom had direct knowledge of the area, while lamenting the need for such intervention in what had historically been a strong Labour area. It was agreed to accept Ann’s recommendation.

The regular reports from the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Deputy Leader, WLGA Leader and PCC rep followed. All had circulated written reports beforehand and, in view of the time, refrained from adding much, if anything, verbally; there were no questions.

The Minutes of the 16 September meeting were then presented for agreement. While they were certainly far more accurate than the original minutes of the June meeting, I pointed out that, in dealing with Beth Winter’s request for an independent review of the Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon selection process, they omitted any reference to the decision to defer the decision pending the provision of answers to her questions by Welsh Labour officers and return to the matter at the next meeting. I asked that the minutes be amended to insert this point; this was seconded and put to the vote but defeated by 12 votes to 8, and the unamended minutes adopted by 13 votes to 7. I was very clear that this action point had been agreed at the September meeting and am highly sceptical that those who voted against the amendment had a different recollection.

Following on from the above point, I raised, under Correspondence, the email that Beth Winter had sent to all WEC members a few days before the meeting. In this, Beth had commented that the provision of answers to her original questions by the Welsh Labour officers who had overseen the original selection process provided no reassurance and repeated her call for an independent review, pointing out that the selection process in Croydon East – where there had been similar concerns over the issue of electronic voting – had recently been suspended. I supported her request and asked for this to be put to the vote. The Chair opposed my proposal, saying that the WEC should put its faith in the party officers, but put the matter to the vote, whereupon it was lost by 14 votes to 7. The Deputy General Secretary said that he would be happy to offer reassurance about the Anonyvoter electronic system outside the meeting. The meeting was then closed.   

As an addendum to the above, I would note that a special WEC meeting was held on Wednesday 13 December, following Mark Drakeford’s announcement of his intention to step down as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister early in 2024. This meeting was called at a few hours’ notice and neither Bel nor I was able to attend. We understand, however, that it lasted less than a quarter of an hour and the only outcome was to decide the membership of the procedures committee for the leadership election; in keeping with previous practice, this will be made up of the Standing Orders Committee, plus Mark as outgoing leader and the Deputy Leader.

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC), 16 September 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

This was the first meeting in three months, having been postponed from a scheduled date two weeks earlier. The main item was supposed to have been a paper on the selection of Senedd candidates for the first elections under a new electoral system in 2026 but, in the event, this was deferred to another meeting, following representations from at least one affiliated union, on the basis that they hadn’t had the paper long enough to consult their lay committee. Darren raised the late receipt of papers by all WEC members – in breach of the Committee’s standing orders – as well as the postponement of the scheduled date at short notice, at the start of the meeting. He pointed out that the WEC is supposed to be the leading body of the party in Wales between conferences and it can’t do its job properly if it isn’t kept properly informed. The Chair acknowledged this as a fair point and undertook to ensure more consistent and timely arrangements in future.

The first substantive item was the Leader’s Report. As usual, Mark had circulated a detailed written report, covering a range of issues, including the ongoing efforts by Welsh ministers to refocus public spending in the face of a very challenging financial situation, the introduction of a default 20mph speed limit on restricted roads across Wales and efforts to monitor and address the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in school buildings. Mark supplemented this by highlighting a couple of matters in his verbal presentation. The first of these was the general point that the present Senedd term was now halfway through and there would be a temptation for the Welsh Government to ‘rest on its oars’, partly to avoid the inevitable criticism from its political opponents, but ministers were determined to continue to deliver the radical policies set out in their manifesto, to support those who rely upon a Labour government to defend them. The second point was more specifically about the announcement relating to the future of Tata Steel at Port Talbot. Welsh ministers had been trying to engage with the UK government for some time and had been frustrated by its response and specifically their exclusion from the site visit that had taken place the previous day. The £1.2 billion investment that had been announced was expected to protect 5000 jobs but another 3000 were at risk and the unions would need to use the formal consultation period to try and reduce this latter figure. Questions and contributions to Mark focused on the Tata issue and in his response he drew attention also to the Tory government’s failure to act to support floating offshore wind energy. 

The next item was the General Secretary’s report. A brief written report provided a Welsh party membership figure of approximately 18,000 (some 2,000 lower than the previous estimate given) and updated the WEC on campaigning activity. The General Secretary, Jo McIntyre also provided a verbal update on an issue that some of us had raised by email – namely, progress on the decision by Welsh party conference in March to conduct a consultation on further devolution of the rulebook. At the June WEC meeting, Jo had indicated that work would soon get underway on this but, on this occasion, she reported that very little had so far been done, because Welsh Labour needed clarification from the UK party as to what could ‘legally’ be devolved. Darren and Bel, along with the representative of Unite the Union, raised concerns about the lack of progress. Darren asked whether the 2024 conference could at least be given a more detailed update, setting out the precise basis on which the agreed consultation could proceed, and Bel asked whether (as previously indicated) the work could be taken forward by one of the newly-re-established WEC sub-committees and also highlighted the importance of the full WEC being kept informed on this issue. The Chair said that he was personally in discussion about this matter with Jack Sargeant MS, who is a strong advocate of devolution within the party, and would ensure that the issue would become a standing item on the agenda of the Party Development Board (the WEC’s ‘exec’). Otherwise, however, no clear commitment was given to take this matter forward on any definite timescale, which is somewhat worrying, given that the motion in question was carried unanimously at Welsh conference.

Following a brief General Election Update, which mainly reported that the campaign committee is continuing to meet regularly, there was an item on Westminster Parliamentary Selections. One of the Mid and West Wales CLP reps, Chris Hardacre, raised concerns about the selection process for the new Carmarthen constituency, particularly the fact that one of the shortlisted candidates had been excluded from the ballot at a late stage, following a complaint, when members had already begun to cast postal votes. Chris had written to request that the process be halted while the matter was reviewed but had had no response and the selection meeting had gone ahead, only to be abandoned after some strong expressions of unhappiness about the process, a motion not to proceed with the selection and several members leaving the meeting. A rescheduled meeting had now taken place, this time online, but in the meantime, a number of members had been suspended by the party. Chris asked that the party abandon any disciplinary action, in the interests of unity, and review the process that had been followed. Darren, who had seen first-hand testimony from Carmarthen members that tended to bear out Chris’ approach, supported her comments and suggestions, but the other rep for the Mid and West Wales region, who had been at the initial selection meeting, defended the actions taken by officers and claimed that a small number of members had behaved badly and disrupted the meeting. The Chair and the Deputy General Secretary also argued that the actions taken by the party had been fair and appropriate and said that the situation had been misrepresented in media reports.  The Chair suggested that the party could review what had happened to learn lessons, albeit without specifying when or how, but otherwise no action was agreed.

There was a brief information item on Police & Crime Commissioner (PCCs) selections, which is not devolved and where we were told that joint NEC/WEC panels would oversee the process, and that Andy Dunbobbin has already been re-selected for the North Wales position. A Conference Update revealed that the 2024 Welsh Labour conference would take place between 8 and 10 March 2024 in Llandudno. A CLP Reorganisation Update reported on progress towards the establishment of new CLPs covering the constituencies arising from the Westminster boundary review; concerns were reported from some CLPs where the Welsh Labour officers had appointed transitional officers without necessarily consulting or even informing the outgoing officers of the existing CLPs.   

The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Deputy Leader, WLGA leader and PCC rep had all circulated written reports, to which they added only a few brief comments, if anything.  

Under the Minutes of the meeting held on 10 June, Darren raised concerns about accuracy that he, Bel and five other WEC members had already highlighted in an email to officers. There were two particularly serious errors. The first of these involved a claim that an indicative vote had been taken to establish the WEC’s view as to the weight to be given to incumbency when carrying out Senedd candidate selections for 2026. In fact, there had simply been an opportunity to give initial thoughts on the issue, which a handful of WEC members had taken up, and no vote of any kind had taken place. Conversely, under the following item on Westminster Parliamentary Selections, the minutes had not acknowledged the lengthy and contentious discussion that had taken place over the imposition of candidates, in controversial circumstances, on Caerphilly and on Neath and Swansea East, which had ended in a vote; nor was there any mention of the request to see the party’s legal advice in respect of Caerphilly, which the officers had suggested should be possible. The officers conceded that the minutes were incorrect and should be changed, but, before a vote could be taken to confirm this, one WEC member said that she wanted to see the proposed amendments in writing before she could agree to them, and so the decision was deferred to the next meeting.

Under Correspondence, there was a discussion of a detailed report that had been sent to all WEC members by Beth Winter MP on the Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon parliamentary selection, raising a series of concerns about the process and asking for an independent review to be carried out. Darren proposed that we agree to Beth’s request, supported by Bel and by Unison, but the officers reported that they had prepared responses to the various questions she had asked, which were being checked, and said that a decision should be deferred until these had been shared with the WEC. The chair ruled that this approach should be adopted; Darren challenged this, on the basis that the issue called for prompt resolution, but the subsequent vote upheld the chair’s position, by a narrow margin. There being no other business, the meeting was then adjourned.

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC), 10 June 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

The Chair began the meeting by paying tribute to Lord Morris, formerly John Morris, MP for Aberavon from 1959 to 2001, who had recently passed away, and welcomed two new members: Maxine Butler (GMB) and Mike Walker (USDAW). 

The first substantive item was the Leader’s Report; Mark began by echoing the Chair’s comments about John Morris, who had been one of the last links with the Labour generation active during the period of the Attlee government and who had maintained an active interest in Welsh politics up to his death. Mark then criticised the UK Government’s disregard for the Barnett rules, which had exacerbated the impact of austerity; for example, Westminster ministers had recently offered the civil service unions some extra money to settle their pay dispute, but the Welsh Government had been told that there was no extra money for them to do likewise. 

On a more positive note, Mark talked about the enormous opportunities for Wales in the energy field, particularly in marine energy, specifically marine offshore wind, where plans for a new project were moving forward, for which the UK Government were claiming credit even though the Welsh Government was already actively supporting the work. Mark had also been to Edinburgh recently, where he met with Gordon Brown to launch a campaign for a different relationship between the UK nations and where there had also been discussions about the need to restore the trade flows that had been disrupted by Brexit, particularly with Ireland. 

It now seemed certain that Plaid Cymru’s new leader would be Rhun ap Iorwerth, who had been somewhat more sceptical than most of his party colleagues about the agreement with Welsh Labour and who seemed to represent a more traditional brand of Plaid politics than that of his immediate predecessors, with less obvious electoral appeal to Welsh Labour voters. Finally, Mark said that Welsh ministers and officials had been spending a lot of time providing information for the UK Covid inquiry and had made a virtue of disclosing all relevant documents, in contrast to the approach taken by their counterparts in Westminster and Whitehall. 

The next item was the General Secretary’s report; Jo thanked those party members and officers who had been to help in the recent English local elections. She was pleased to report that Welsh Labour had recently taken on four new trainee organisers and an administrator. She said that CLP organisation was to begin in earnest in the coming months; officers of the new CLPs were to be appointed by Welsh Labour, albeit taking into account the current CLP officers covering the areas in question. Advice for CLPs was to be made available; the party was waiting for further information from UK Labour on various matters of detail, including financial arrangements for the new CLPs. 

Jo was asked a number of questions on this latter point, covering areas like the arrangements for CLP organisation at Senedd level under the new boundaries, provision for trade union affiliation and also how the new financial arrangements would affect ward branches. Bel suggested a Q&A/FAQs document for new CLPs; Darren and other CLP reps also raised concerns about the planned appointment of CLP officers by Welsh Labour officials and expressed the view that these posts should be filled in as democratic a way as possible by local members. A question was also raised about the internal consultation on further devolution of the rulebook, to which the party had committed itself at Welsh Labour Conference six months before. On this last point, Jo said that Welsh Labour was working on it and, once the WEC sub committees were re-established, they could pick up the detailed work. On UK parliamentary selections, she said that the intention was to complete them all by UK Labour Conference in October. 

The next item was a general election update; Jo reported that the Campaign Committee was meeting on the last Friday on every month, led by Jessica Morden MP and Nia Griffith MP, and this was feeding into the work of the UK committee, led by Shabana Mahmood MP. The party was seeking to learn the lessons of the English local elections, for example the importance of postal vote sign-up. 

The WEC next turned to the Senedd reform update, where the Deputy General Secretary, Joe Lock, reported that work was underway on two specific items on which a decision was not yet needed but early thoughts were welcome. One of these was the question of how incumbents should be considered as part of the party’s selection procedures; there were four options, ranging from incumbents being given the top positions on candidate lists in the new constituencies (subject to a trigger ballot) to them having no incumbency advantage and having to apply for selection in the same way as all other applicants. 

The other issue was the question of measures to promote equality on candidate lists, both under the law as it currently stood and in a scenario where gender quota legislation had been put in place. Under the current situation, the options were between ‘zipping’ (i.e. alternating male and female candidates, with female candidates at the top of the lists, in half of the constituencies) or no zipping, with candidates listed purely on basis of party ballot. The options under potential new legislation were obviously more speculative and might also facilitate measures to promote BAME, LGBTQ+ and disabled candidates. Darren spoke in favour of a selection option that would maximise democratic choice for party members, whilst recognising the contribution of sitting MSs, and also in favour of zipping to promote greater representation of women. Bel made the point that equality would only be secured if the party did everything that it could from the outset to promote women and candidates from minorities, for example by providing training and mentoring. Joe said that the BAME Committee had recently been reconstituted and could assist in this area. 

The next item, the Westminster parliamentary selections update, was the most significant and politically contentious of the meeting. A paper was presented reporting that all sitting Welsh Labour MPs who wished to seek re-election had been allocated to the new constituencies arising from the boundary review for which they had expressed a preference. In most cases, this was uncontentious, as there was only one sitting MP seeking selection for a new seat, but in two cases, the outcomes reported were far more problematic. 

The first of these was Caerphilly, where Wayne David had announced his retirement and the current MP for Islwyn, Chris Evans, was declared to have been selected, even though only a small proportion of his current constituency had transferred to the new, enlarged Caerphilly seat. This matter had been discussed at previous WEC meetings and it was well-known that the CLP officers were very unhappy at the prospect of having a candidate imposed on them without any opportunity to make a choice. The procedures adopted by the WEC in December 2022 included a clause whereby if there were only one sitting MP making a claim on a seat, they would automatically be selected; the wording had not been clear in its implications at the time and there had been some hope that the matter could be revisited. Darren had submitted a couple of proposed alternative procedures to the WEC officers that would have allowed the CLP a choice, but we were told that the party’s legal advice was that these options were not available because Chris Evans would have the basis of a legal challenge. 

The other contentious situation was in respect of Neath and Swansea East, where there would have been two sitting MPs with a claim on the new constituency, but one of these, Christina Rees, had been under party suspension for more than a year pending the outcome of an unresolved disciplinary matter and therefore unable to submit a claim. As a consequence, Carolyn Harris had been declared selected. 

In presenting the paper, the Deputy General Secretary, Joe Lock, said that the WEC was being asked simply to note the paper, as the officers felt that there was no alternative to the information given, but that the Party Development Board would be asked to look at the matter in more detail and take the views of the CLPs involved into account, although there was no suggestion that this would result in any definite change. 

There was a lengthy and impassioned debate on this issue, in which several WEC members, including Darren and Bel, along with other CLP reps and the representatives of Unite and UNISON, expressed concern about what we were being told and proposed that the paper not be accepted, but that officers be asked to take it away and come back with an alternative solution allowing a meaningful choice for members in Caerphilly and in Neath and Swansea East. Others, however, insisted that the legal advice prevented us from making any other choice and also said that there was the possibility of an early general election, meaning that all candidates needed to be in place as soon as possible. 

The paper was put to a vote, which, at the request of the GMB, was conducted in secret by email and the result, very disappointingly, was 17 votes to 10 in favour of accepting the paper as presented. 

The final substantive item was nomination of WEC members to sub committees. There were complaints that details of these committees had not been circulated in advance and therefore there had not been time for members to consider what contribution they might like to make to the various committees. The Organisation and Local Government committees are largely open to all volunteers; Bel volunteered for the former and Darren for the latter. The Party Development Board, which functions as the executive of the WEC, is however limited to three seats for party units and three for affiliates, in addition to the three WEC officers and others in an ex officio capacity. Darren had been serving on this for some time and put himself forward for re-election and was successful in an email ballot following the meeting. 

The standard reports from elected representatives had been received in written form in all cases; these were noted without further questions and the meeting was closed.

Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) Report May 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

A special WEC meeting was held to consider just two items. The first was a report on the Parliamentary Selection process to be undertaken in Wales following the Westminster Boundary Review. This report incorporated a draft Code of Conduct for that process alongside draft proposals on how the process would be undertaken. The second item was a report setting out the options for Senedd term lengths when the new electoral system is introduced in 2026. 

No other formal reports were submitted or considered but Mark Drakeford opened the meeting by making a statement on recent issues within Plaid Cymru and the news that Adam Price was to step down with immediate effect. Mark made clear that the appropriate reaction from Welsh Labour should not be to comment on Plaid’s difficulties but to look at ourselves, ensuring that our own house is in order and giving our constituents a clear commitment that we will live up to the standards that they have a right to expect. He outlined that there will be mandatory training to deal with the issues highlighted by Nerys Evans in her report so that anyone with a concern can raise it knowing that they will be heard and attended to. He explained that later that day he would be sending an open letter to every member of the party to set out Senedd group plans and the wider party including access to materials, training and above all else the ability to feel supported so that members of our party know that we will deal with any breach of standards firmly and fairly. This approach was warmly applauded by several WEC members. 

The Deputy General Secretary, Joe Lock then introduced the first report around the Senedd term length and the options to be considered within the paper, that the Senedd term length either remain at five years, or be reduced to four (as it was when the Assembly was first established). Because the issue had been discussed before, a full debate was considered unnecessary at this point but Vicky Howells, representing the Senedd Labour group stated that after a number of discussions the Group had been slightly in favour of a five-year term; and Cllr. Andrew Morgan, speaking on behalf of the WLGA Labour Group, also stated that they supported a five-year term. A vote was then taken, first on a four-year term. We both supported this option, both because of the general feeling that, other things being equal, shorter terms mean greater accountability, and also because of the specific concern that a longer term allows greater opportunity for MSs to change their party affiliation – as several of those elected for UKIP in 2016 had done. This was defeated by 12 votes to 10, however. The five-year option was then put to the vote; this was tied at 12 votes all, so the Chair used his casting vote in favour.  

The next item, around the Parliamentary Selection process, gave rise to a lengthy debate that highlighted a number of concerns from various members including ourselves. The main paper presented by officers set out the process that would be followed in every type of situation resulting from the boundary review. We were told, however, that, since much of the content had been agreed at previous meetings, the only part of the paper that needed to be discussed was the section relating to new constituencies where there were two sitting, and re-selected, Labour MPs, each with a substantial territorial claim on the new seat (meaning that at least 40% of the electorate of their current seat would transfer to the new one). There were only two places in Wales where this was the case and in one of these (Neath and Swansea East) the process was currently on hold because one of the two sitting MPs was currently under suspension.

Consequently, our discussion would relate specifically to the new constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon and we were told that the party was ready to begin the selection, subject to agreement on the proposed process, which officers believed was the best fit for this circumstance. 

As CLP reps we felt unable to support the proposal due to the rigid timelines set, the significant variation from how we have undertaken selection processes in the past and the isolation and removal of member engagement in this critical process, not least due to the online-only approach.

There were a number of contentious aspects of the process, as set out in the paper. These included the unusually short duration of the contest: 7-14 days (although in the course of the discussion, the Deputy General Secretary said this could be increased to 16 days) and the fact that both the hustings meeting and the voting would be conducted entirely online (with a vaguely defined and conditional facility for ‘proxy’ voting for those unable to vote online). There would be no capacity to allow affiliated organisations to hold meetings to discuss nominations, nor for party branches to do the same. The Procedures Secretary would not be someone from the CLP but a Welsh Labour staff member and a member of the WEC would be appointed to oversee the procedures. With the selection preceding the establishment of the new CLP, the role of elected CLP officers had effectively been removed, which for us as CLP reps set an undemocratic precedent. No firm evidence was presented to justify the haste with which the contest was to be conducted, given that there was no  realistic prospect of a General Election on the horizon. 

A number of other WEC members made raised similar concerns, mostly around disenfranchising members. 

UNISON put forward an amendment, which we supported, seeking an extension of the process to 28 days, an in-person hustings meeting and voting at the hustings meeting, with a postal vote for anyone unable to attend.

The GMB successfully requested that voting on this item be undertaken in secret, which is within the rules but very unusual. 

  • Extending the process to 28 days: lost by 14 votes to 12.
  • In-person hustings meeting: the vote was tied at 13 votes all and, as the Chair did not wish to use his casting vote, the proposal fell.
  • The third element of the Unison amendment – voting in person at the hustings or by postal vote – therefore also fell, by default.

Voting on the Unison amendment then proceeded as follows:

The unamended paper was then carried by 15 votes to 11.

Although, in the course of the discussion, officers made a couple of concessions in response to the concerns raised – the slight extension of the timescale and, most importantly, a commitment that all members would be given the right to apply for a postal vote – the process as a whole gives us serious concerns about the democratic deficit involved.

Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) report, February/March 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

WEC meeting held on 4 February 

This was the first and, to date, the only full meeting of the WEC held this year. It took place less than a week after the sudden, tragic death of Mark Drakeford’s wife, Clare. Mark was therefore absent and the meeting began with expressions of condolences from WEC members. 

The most significant item on the agenda was a paper on selection procedures for the Westminster Parliament. It was reported that all sitting Welsh Labour MPs had now gone through the trigger ballot procedure and declared to have been reselected, with the exception of Wayne David, who had announced that he would be stepping down, and Christina Rees, who is currently under suspension. Of the constituencies without a sitting Labour MP, selections had now taken place in four (the Vale of Glamorgan, Wrexham, Monmouth and Ynys Môn). Based on the experience in these constituencies, some proposals were presented as to how the procedures could be improved in a practical sense; most of these were sensible and uncontentious. 

A decision now needed to be made about the remaining seats without a Labour candidate; all of these would be significantly affected by the proposals for redrawing boundaries that had come out of the recent review. The WEC was asked to consider three options: either to continue selecting candidates on the existing boundaries until the new boundaries came into effect in summer 2023; or to pause selections until the UK party began selecting on the new boundaries after the English local elections; or, lastly, to move immediately to the selection of candidates on the new boundaries. The first option was considered the most problematic because of the unlikelihood of being able to complete all selections before the new boundaries came into effect and the uneven and messy situation that could result from this. 

On that basis, it was agreed to halt all such selections and it was felt that it would be better to proceed to selecting for the new seats as soon as possible rather than wait for the UK party to begin its work in England. Welsh party officers had suggested some principles by which the selections could take place; some of these were more controversial than others and it was agreed that a detailed paper should be prepared, rather than agree the details immediately. One change to the proposed procedures that was agreed following a suggestion from Darren was that unions and other organisations affiliated to any predecessor constituency to a new seat would be able to make nominations, rather than organisations affiliated at an all-Wales level, as had been the original suggestion. 

There was some discussion about the position of Caerphilly, where there was no move to begin a selection, despite Wayne David having announced his retirement some time before. The CLP officers were known to be unhappy about this. It transpired that no selection could take place until the intentions of all sitting MPs with a territorial claim on the new constituency had been ascertained. Chris Evans, MP for Islwyn, was the only MP in this position, as a small part of his current constituency would become part of the new, enlarged Caerphilly. WEC members had not previously appreciated that, under procedures agreed the previous year, any sitting MP with even a small claim on a new constituency could be declared selected unopposed. There was a lot of unhappiness about this situation but it was not immediately clear what could be done about it. 

There was also a report from a meeting of the Party Development Board (PDB), which had taken place the week before, to consider some matters relating to the ongoing Senedd reform agenda. The most pressing of these was about the guidelines on which any future work to redraw Senedd constituency boundaries would be based; the 2026 election would be based on pairing the new Westminster parliamentary boundaries and it had been agreed that there should be limited change to these in future. An average number of constituents per seat had to be set, along with a permissible variance from that size. For the current UK Parliament review, this variance was +/- 5% but the PDB agreed to allow flexibility of up to 10% compared to current boundaries, to allow greater flexibility to potentially correct some of the anomalies arising from the UK Parliament review. A couple of other issues had also been discussed at the PDB where no decision was necessary; one was whether the length of the Senedd term should be four or five years, while the other was whether parties could join together to present a joint list of candidates. The WEC noted the report.

The only other substantive item was the General Secretary’s report; concerns were raised about the quality of membership reports, which had been affected by the data issues that the party had experienced. The commitment to place WEC papers on the party website was also raised and the General Secretary agreed to work on this. Finally, meeting dates for future WEC meetings were requested. 

The reports from the various elected representatives had been circulated in writing and there were few, if any, questions or comments on these. 

Darren also raised correspondence he had received from Pontypridd CLP, seeking discussion of a motion it had passed calling for Welsh representation on the union flag. The CLP chair, Graham Colk, was also present as CWU rep and added his own representations but officers advised that the motion could not be discussed at the WEC. 

WEC meeting held on 4 March

This was a special meeting to consider business for Welsh Labour Conference, which was due to take place the following weekend. Mark was absent once again but had submitted a written report covering a number of issues, including the Welsh Government’s efforts to resolve the various public sector pay disputes and its ongoing support for refugees from the war in Ukraine.

The General Secretary, Jo McIntyre reported that preparations for conference were going well and around 600 people were expected to attend in some capacity. The party was trying out a new approach with panel discussions and feedback would be welcomed at the next WEC meeting. 

The meeting then turned to the main business, which was a paper setting out the motions from CLPs and affiliates that had been successful in the priorities ballot; there were 18 of these, grouped under 9 headings. Mark had given advice on each motion from the perspective of the Welsh Government, which was passed on by the chair.

Motions on the climate emergency, education funding, the creative industries, the economy, health and workers’ rights were all uncontentious and the WEC agreed to recommend support to Conference for these motions. Slightly more surprisingly, given the public statements made by certain MPs, there was also no opposition to motions from Monmouth and Pontypridd CLPs calling for devolution of control over the justice system to Wales; this was broadly in line with the report recently produced by Gordon Brown, to which one of the motions referred. 

There was more controversy over four motions, which were almost identical, from Ceredigion, Clwyd South, Montgomeryshire and Ynys Môn CLPs. These noted that the Senedd and Welsh Government had continued to accrue responsibility over additional areas of public policy and that support for further devolution was strong and called for the WEC to explore proposals for devolution of the party rulebook to reflect decentralisation of decision-making at governmental level. Some WEC members raised concerns about the lack of detail as to which responsibilities might be devolved and made reference to the sensitivities surrounding the party rules in the light of criticism from the EHRC. It was pointed out, however, that the motions called only for the start of a process of discussion, which would, in any case, need the agreement of the UK party to deliver any change. On that basis, a majority agreed to call for support for these motions. 

The remaining motion that was contentious was the only one where Mark Drakeford’s advice had been to call for remission; this had come from Cardiff North CLP and dealt with housing policy, seeking a number of changes to make housing more affordable and better maintained and to give tenants greater security, including a system of rent controls and the strengthening of inspection, licensing and regulatory powers. The advice from Mark suggested that, while the intention of the motion was commendable, there were some practical difficulties in respect of the cost of the measures proposed and a potential clash with ongoing consultation. Darren argued for the motion to be supported but a majority of the WEC agreed to follow Mark’s advice and seek remission. 

There was also a discussion paper on the question of Senedd term lengths, setting out the arguments for and against, respectively, four and five year terms. No immediate decision was required and the paper was noted. 

Finally, Pontypridd CLP had written to draw attention to a motion it had passed calling, in light of recent developments, for CLPs to be able to choose their own parliamentary candidates, but officers advised that it was not proper business for the WEC.  

Report from Welsh Labour Conference, March 2023

Conference was held in Llandudno on 11 and 12 March. All of the motions considered by the WEC were debated and Conference voted along the lines recommended by the WEC. Cardiff North CLP declined to remit their motion, which was then defeated. There was a long debate on the devolution of justice and this was ultimately carried unanimously. There was also a lengthy and impassioned debate on devolving the rulebook; this was also carried with only very limited opposition and no speeches against. 

The other Conference business included the usual speeches from leading figures in the party, including the UK and Welsh leaders, the deputy leader and the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Mark’s speech was widely considered particularly impressive in its scope and political depth, passionately articulating the fundamental commitment to solidarity on which he and the Welsh Labour Government have based their policies. There were also a number of panel discussions involving Westminster MPs, MSs, parliamentary candidates and others considering different issues and questions of interest for the party. 

A WEC meeting was held on the Sunday morning of Conference; as it normally the case, this was very short and focussed and served mainly to elect the officers for the following year. Anthony Hunt (Leader of Torfaen Council) was elected as Chair (having already acted as Chair for the previous couple of meetings, after Philippa Marsden stood down); the former Assembly Member, Ann Jones was elected as Vice Chair and Jackie Thomas from the Community union was elected as Treasurer. There was also an informal discussion about how Conference had been going; while most of the feedback was positive, WEC members, including Darren, expressed concern about the amount of time devoted to the panels, which was felt to have unduly limited the time available to debate the motions. Darren also expressed concern about the fact that two requests to move reference back of the Standing Orders report, including one that he had presented in respect of a CLP motion that had been ruled out of order, were rejected by the Chair; although the rulebook is silent on the matter, this was not in keeping with previous custom and practice and the Deputy General Secretary agreed to seek further advice 

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, Saturday 3 December 2022 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

This meeting began with the announcement that two of the officers were stepping down. The Chair, Unite’s Philippa Marsden, began the meeting but then explained that she was resigning with immediate effect and handed over to the Vice-Chair, Cllr. Anthony Hunt. We were then told that the Treasurer, Jen Smith of the GMB, had also decided to call it a day and it was agreed that an election to fill the position would take place at the next meeting, giving time for members to submit nominations, and allowing the new Treasurer to be in place in time for Welsh Labour conference. Jen had served as Treasurer, and as a member of the WEC, for many years and Bel proposed that we write to her to express our appreciation and present her with a small gift; the General Secretary reported that this was already in hand.   

Mark Drakeford then gave his Leader’s Report. He had already circulated a written version, covering a wide range of topics including the continuing efforts to accommodate Ukrainian refugees and the latest initiatives by the Welsh Government, but wanted to highlight a few particularly recent or noteworthy developments. Mark had met Keir Starmer the previous week; they had discussed efforts to maximise Labour’s success in the next general election, as well as Gordon Brown’s long-awaited report on the constitutional future of the UK, which was due to appear within a few days. Mark had then addressed the PLP, where there had been much interest in developments in Wales. Gordon Brown had also given a memorable speech at the gala dinner which had concluded the Llafur 100 celebrations and Mark remarked that this had underlined the intellectual, political and moral contribution the party had lost since he ceased to be leader. The Llafur 100 events had gone well generally and Mark paid tribute to the efforts of Eluned Morgan and all those involved. The Welsh Government had published its first annual report on the progress of the three-year co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. This had been hard work at times but the relationship had been sustained in a way that had enabled the Welsh Government to make progress on its manifesto commitments without having to fight for every vote. The next test would arise with the presentation of the Welsh budget the following week. This had been the main preoccupation of ministers in the preceding weeks and had been extremely challenging; the extra investment announced in the autumn statement was in reality far less than the Tories had suggested and the impact of inflation meant that Wales’ finances would be £1 billion worse off by next year.

Mark was asked about his and Vaughan’s trip to Qatar for the World Cup, which had caused upset in the LGBT+ community because of the Qatari government’s record in this area, and several members, including the WLGA leader, Andrew Morgan, highlighted the enormous financial challenges facing local government.  On Qatar, Mark said it had been a difficult decision to attend the event but he had felt that Wales should be represented by its own government, rather than Westminster ministers. He acknowledged that, while he and Vaughan had raised LGBT+ rights at every meeting, there was little sign of immediate progress in this area, whereas there was greater cause for optimism regarding women’s and workers’ rights. On the public finances, Mark said that the draft budget would allocate every available penny for public services and essential items. 

The next discussion concerned the Update on Senedd Reform, which is now a standing agenda item. Mark said that he is meeting on a weekly basis with Mick Antoniw, the minister responsible for taking forward the legislation, and his team. The latest issues on which decisions had been made were: to require anyone standing for election to the Senedd to be living in Wales; to require independent candidates to disclose their membership of any political parties over the previous twelve months; and to allow MSs who resign from their original party to sit as independents but not to join another party group. There was general support in the meeting for these proposals, although Mark was asked whether the Welsh residency requirement might put off talented potential candidates living elsewhere in the UK who would be reluctant to risk moving to Wales if they could not be sure of being elected. Mark acknowledged that this point had been considered but it had not been seen as a sufficient concern to justify abandoning the proposal, especially as there were no obvious cases historically where these circumstances would have applied. It was also suggested that, to counter the Tory argument that Senedd reform would be a massive waste of public money at a time of economic hardship, there should be an information campaign within the party, highlighting the achievements of democratic devolution. Mark responded that the actual costs were negligible at this point and that the figure of £100 million cited by the Tories had no basis in fact.

The next item was a paper on Resolving MP Candidate Claims. This set out a procedure, for selecting parliamentary candidates under the proposed new boundaries, whereby Labour MPs for current constituencies would have certain rights to be considered for selection for those new seats for which they wished to stand, depending on the percentage of their current constituency’s population that would be incorporated in the new constituency. The General Secretary pointed out that, while the party’s response to the boundary review was not devolved to Wales, selection procedures are devolved and there are several points in the proposed process where the WEC would have a degree of discretion in the application of the rules. 

Darren asked whether the party had incorporated in its official submission the views of those CLPs, such as Cynon Valley, which had objected to aspects of the latest boundary proposals. He also queried a statement in the paper to the effect that the WEC would endeavour to allocate all MPs selected under the current boundaries to a new constituency; this appeared unnecessary, given that a procedure had been drawn up to allow such MPs fair consideration and seemed to take power away from the members. The General Secretary said that all CLPs’ views had been taken into consideration but it had not always been possible to endorse alternative proposals, given that these often had a knock-on effect on other constituencies. With regard to the point about finding seats for reselected MPs, she explained that this was intended to indicate that sitting MPs would be given priority over new candidates. She was also asked about the omission of Caerphilly – where the incumbent is stepping down – from the list of new selections for current seats, with the implication that this would be resolved under the procedure for allocating MPs to the new boundaries; the CLP wanted an open selection a.s.a.p. and it had been agreed at the previous meeting that Welsh Labour officers would discuss this with the CLP officers, which hadn’t yet happened. The General Secretary apologised for this and said that a meeting with the CLP would take place as soon as possible. 

The WEC then moved on to a closely-related item: a Parliamentary Selections & Code of Conduct Update. The paper gave a progress report on trigger ballots for sitting Welsh MPs, most of which had now concluded, with the MPs confirmed in all cases as candidates for the next general election. The four new selections agreed at the previous meeting – Vale of Glamorgan, Wrexham, Monmouth and Ynys Mon – were all now well underway and it was agreed to commence selections in four further seats: Aberconwy, Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, Vale of Clwyd and Preseli Pembrokeshire. The second part of this item – a Code of Conduct for Elected Representatives in relation to parliamentary selections – had been discussed at the previous meeting but a decision had been deferred due to concerns over a requirement that anyone holding elected public office at another level of government would be required by the WEC to step down from that position if selected as a candidate for the Westminster Parliament. The General Secretary explained that no-one could legally hold office as a Westminster MP while they were still an MS or PCC and the party wanted to avoid the cost and disruption of a by-election being held subsequent to the general election. She acknowledged, however, that there were particular concerns about councillors being required to resign their seats under these circumstances and said that the WEC would merely have the power to instruct councillors to step down but would take local circumstances into account when deciding whether to apply that power. Darren suggested that the document be re-worded to make the distinction between the rules for MSs and PCCs on one hand and councillors on the other; he was asked to propose an amendment to this effect, which was unanimously adopted. Darren also asked for clarification about a clause in the Code of Conduct prohibiting Welsh ministers or deputy ministers from campaigning for aspiring parliamentary candidates; it was explained that this ruled out any public expression of support.

The General Secretary’s Update was next. Jo McIntyre had circulated a written report covering party membership (currently around 20,000 in Wales); campaigning; fundraising and events; and staffing; and confirming that work was in hand on actions agreed by the previous meeting. She added that the 2023 Welsh Labour conference would be taking place in Llandudno on 12/13 March. Darren asked for future WEC meeting dates to be circulated as soon as possible, as agreed by the previous meeting, and also raised the issue of the UK party’s ban on hybrid meetings. This had been discussed at the previous meeting and Welsh Labour officers had been asked to make representations to the UK party for the ban to be reversed or relaxed. He asked for an update on this and cited further feedback to this effect, including from Rhondda CLP and from Cardiff West CLP’s Disability Officer, which had been particularly telling, given that one of the reasons previously advanced in defence of the ban had been that CLPs were supposedly not hiring accessible venues for physical meetings, on the basis that disabled members could participate online. Jo confirmed that she had made representations to the NEC and had cited the comments that Darren had passed on from Rhondda CLP, but the response had not changed, with UK party officials saying they were reluctant to impose on volunteer officers the responsibility for organising hybrid meetings where appropriate IT facilities could not be guaranteed and where it was difficult to organise secure voting on a secret basis. These explanations remain unconvincing to us and we will continue to push for the matter to be revisited.

The remaining items were the reports from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Labour Deputy Leader’s Report, Leader of the WLGA and Police & Crime Commissioners representative. These had all been circulated in writing and were presented with only a few additional comments, such as Jo Stevens’ acknowledgement of Labour’s positive result in the Chester by-election and Jeff Cuthbert voicing his disagreement with Adam Price’s advocacy of a single Welsh police force. In his written report, Jeff had mentioned the offensive WhatsApp messages by officers of Gwent Police, which had been exposed by the media, but explained that he couldn’t comment further while an investigation was underway. Darren made the point that this incident seemed representative of similarly troubling developments in a number of police forces across the UK and suggested that, in the event of policing being devolved to Wales, there should be a concerted effort to promote culture change.

Under Any Other Business, it was suggested that there would be merit in a comprehensive review of the Welsh Labour Women’s Conference, which had taken place in Aberystwyth on 19 November and had been briefly touched on in the General Secretary’s update. It was agreed that a report should be scheduled for the next meeting, perhaps to be presented by Michelle Perfect, who was praised for her role in organising the conference. 

Welsh Executive Committee meeting, 22 October 2022 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

This was the first WEC meeting for four months; it had originally been scheduled for 10 September but was then cancelled, along with all other political meetings, due to the Queen’s death. 

The first item was an update from the General Secretary, Jo McIntyre, who talked about the campaigning work that Welsh Labour has been doing and reported that the party has recently taken on two new organisers. In answer to questions from WEC members, she gave some details about the Welsh Labour Women’s Conference taking place on 19 November, agreed to provide membership figures at future meetings and also to circulate a schedule of dates for future WEC meetings leading up to next year’s conference and also to reinstate the practice of making WEC papers available to the wider membership after every meeting. 

Jo was also asked about the NEC’s refusal to allow hybrid party meetings to be held and there was a discussion about this in which several members, including Mark Drakeford, expressed concern that this restriction was unnecessarily limiting participation in party meetings at a time when most organisations were recognising the value of a more flexible approach. The General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary explained the reasons given for the NEC’s decision, which included concerns about local parties not bothering to book accessible venues under hybrid arrangements, on the basis that disabled members would join online, and about the difficulty of ensuring anonymity in any voting. It was generally felt, however, that these problems could be resolved and it was therefore agreed to make representations to the NEC that the restrictions be relaxed.   

We then heard Mark Drakeford’s own report as Leader, which covered the general political situation at UK level and its implications for Wales; the Welsh presence at Labour conference in Liverpool; and details of a series of recent policy initiatives by the Welsh Government, ranging from financial support to those hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis and accommodation of Ukrainian refugees to moves to improve voter participation and legislation to ban single-use plastics and promote sustainable agriculture. Mark commented on the latest opinion polls, which suggested that an imminent general election would see Labour take 70% of the vote in Wales, but cautioned that we could not afford to be complacent and needed to maintain our efforts to secure a Labour government at UK level. 

In the questions that followed, Darren commented that Mark’s outrage at Andrew RT Davies’ criticisms of the Welsh NHS had won widespread sympathy and support and asked about the status of Gordon Brown’s report on the constitutional future of the UK and suggested that the WEC could take a discussion of the report when it appeared, perhaps led by Carwyn Jones, as one of the Welsh contributors. Mark welcomed this latter suggestion and also responded positively to a suggestion from another WEC member that one of the Scottish contributors to the report could usefully be invited. 

The reports of the other lead elected representatives then followed; all had circulated written reports but most added a few verbal comments. The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Jo Stevens, echoed Mark’s comments about Labour’s current position in the polls and said that we needed to behave like we were lagging behind the Tories in order to consolidate our position. The Deputy Leader was absent. The Leader of the WLGA, Andrew Morgan, highlighted the worsening financial position facing councils, with the Tories’ budget statement threatening further spending cuts and thousands of public sector job losses. The Police and Crime Commissioners’ representative, Jeff Cuthbert, argued that recent developments in crime and policing had further strengthened the case for devolution in this area.

The next item was an update on Senedd Reform, which summarised the progress made in this area since the special party conference in July – particularly, the agreement of the proposals by the Senedd and the beginning of work on the necessary legislation – and sought agreement that, as Welsh Labour begins to consider its own arrangements for candidate selection and related organisational matters, the WEC should maintain this as a standing item on its agenda. The WEC was asked for its view on two specific matters. First, while the constituencies on which the 2026 election would be fought would be arrived at by pairing Westminster seats, there would be a full boundary review before the 2031 election; did the WEC agree that there should be as little change as possible to boundaries at this point? Second, in relation to the proposed legal requirement to introduce gender quotas, should these impose a strict 50:50 ratio between female and male MSs, or require simply that at least half of MSs should be women? The first point was agreed, on the second, most of those who commented felt that we should aim for at least 50% women in the Senedd, subject to taking advice as to whether this would be legally permissible. The discussion also touched on wider aspects of Senedd reform, including the way in which constituencies would be paired – which was a matter for the Senedd’s boundary commission – and the need for action to promote diversity in other areas, including ensuring improved representation for members of the BAME and LGBT communities and Welsh speakers. While there was general support for this latter objective, it was acknowledged that it was harder to achieve under the law than gender balance.    

We were then presented with a paper on Parliamentary Selections, which proposed to supplement the procedures agreed at the previous meeting in two respects. First of all, in relation to the longlisting by the WEC of aspiring candidates for parliamentary constituencies, it was proposed that, where there were two or more WEC candidates interested in a particular seat, an NEC member should be co-opted on to the WEC panel. It was not immediately clear why this was considered necessary but officers clarified that it was to avoid any suggestion of the WEC favouring its own members and to ensure that there were sufficient BAME members to meet the requirement in the procedures that they be represented on each panel. Several members, including Darren, challenged the need for this proposal and expressed concern at the prospect of the WEC relinquishing its own autonomy over the process. Some of those who spoke argued that, if additional panel members were needed, they could be recruited without going to the NEC – for example, by co-opting members of the Welsh Labour BAME Committee. While we both voted against the proposal, it was adopted, by 13 votes to 10.

The second proposal was to adopt a Code of Conduct for Parliamentary Selections, which was a version of a paper developed at NEC level. While much of this was uncontentious – for example, prohibiting elected representatives from campaigning for or against candidates in selections and from disparaging any candidate – concerns were expressed about a provision that an elected representative at another level (such as a councillor) seeking to become an MP should stand down if selected as a parliamentary candidate. Several of us argued that this was unnecessarily restrictive and could involve giving up a council or Senedd seat unnecessarily if the candidate failed to win the parliamentary seat. It was also pointed out that Wales has recently allowed council staff to stand for election as councillors and be required to resign their posts only if elected, so this proposal was in conflict with that approach. The officers explained that the intention was to avoid a costly by-election after the parliamentary election but it would be up to the WEC whether it enforced the obligation on the elected representative to resign pre-emptively in any given case. One of the Senedd Labour Group representatives pointed out that the Group had not yet had an opportunity to discuss this proposal and suggested that a decision be deferred, and this was eventually agreed.   

The final substantial item was a paper on CLP reorganisation. This is an area that remains under the control of the UK party, rather than being devolved to Wales. Nevertheless, Welsh conference in March had asked the NEC to temporarily exclude Welsh CLPs from the reorganisation being undertaken in response to the creation of new parliamentary boundaries, pending a decision on Senedd reform. Now that that decision had been made, the WEC was asked to agree that Welsh CLPs should be included in the reorganisation and a provisional timetable was presented, which saw new CLPs begin to be established in January 2023 and fully take effect in July. While the principle was accepted, concerns were expressed that this process would be moving forward too quickly and could detract from the party’s campaigning efforts if a snap general election were called during the first half of the next year. Some reassurance was offered, to the effect that the new CLPs would operate only on a shadow basis until the new boundaries came into existence, and also that their officers would be elected by local members in the usual way. 

WEC Meeting 19 June 2022 (Joint report with Bel Loveluck-Edwards)

This was a special meeting convened to discuss the business to be put before the Welsh Labour recall conference on 2 July – i.e. the Senedd reform proposals and the culmination of the Welsh Labour Democracy Review. In each case, a paper had been circulated by officers, presenting the view of Mark Drakeford and the Welsh leadership. 

Senedd Reform

In the case of Senedd reform, the paper asked that the WEC agree that the proposals negotiated with Plaid Cymru be put to the conference on 2 July. Mark kicked off the discussion by reminding the WEC that Senedd reform had been an election manifesto commitment last year and that a lot of detailed work on the options had been conducted by a WEC working group, followed by a consultation with the party, leading up to the main Welsh conference in March. The requirement for a two-thirds majority in the Senedd for any change to its size and election mechanism meant that Labour had to secure the agreement of another party. Welsh conference had therefore authorised Mark to negotiate with Plaid Cymru on the basis of certain broad criteria – on overall numbers, on maintaining or increasing proportionality, on promoting equality and on ensuring equal-sized constituencies – which had been met by the agreement with Plaid announced on 10 May. This would increase numbers in the Senedd from 60 to 96 by establishing 16 constituencies, each electing six members. These constituencies would be created by pairing the 32 Westminster seats arising from the current boundary review. The d’Hondt method of proportional representation – currently used for the Senedd’s twenty regional seats – would be used and parties, rather than voters, would choose the ranking of their candidates in each constituency but gender balance would be guaranteed.

There was a lengthy debate, in which everyone accepted the need for the Senedd to be expanded but there were concerns from some quarters about the proposed electoral system, particularly to do with the larger, multi-member constituencies, the closed list system and the belief that the proposed change would mean Labour winning proportionately fewer seats and being less certain of leading the Welsh Government. These concerns came particularly from the MPs and from some of the unions, three of which – the GMB, Community and USDAW – had written to CLPs a few days before, setting out their concerns and calling for motions to be submitted to the WEC, seeking a delay in the conference decision. One CLP, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, had duly carried such a motion and this was on the agenda. 

Along with most of the other CLP reps present, we supported the proposals on the basis that, while there may be legitimate concerns about particular details, they represent the only realistic chance of reform at this point. Such reform is essential in order to provide the Senedd with sufficient members to function as a real parliament and make its electoral system more consistently proportional, and therefore more democratic. Mark has made it clear that, if the recall conference were to throw out the current proposals – which have already been approved in outline by the Senedd – there wouldn’t be time to negotiate a fresh deal with Plaid and restart the process in order to get the legislation agreed ready for the next elections in 2026. The opportunity might not arise again for a generation; this was a very real threat that had to be considered by everyone. 

At the end of the debate, one of the CLP reps, who covers South Wales East, proposed the Merthyr & Rhymney motion, seeking a delay in the process. Darren raised a point of order, pointing out that the motion (which had been received the previous day) hadn’t been submitted in accordance with the notice period stipulated by standing orders and this couldn’t be considered an emergency because the proposals had been published on 10 May and had already been discussed by a previous WEC meeting; the Chair ruled, however, that normal standing orders don’t apply to special meetings. In any case, the motion was heavily defeated and the original paper was then carried by a clear margin, allowing the proposals to go to the special conference.

Welsh Labour Democracy Review

The other item of business relating to the special conference was a paper concluding the Democracy Review, launched in 2018 with a view to making the structures and processes of the Welsh party more open and accountable. The first stage of the Review had concluded after a few months, with the decision to adopt OMOV for leadership and deputy leadership elections, but the remainder of the process had been less productive, partly as a result of delays caused by the snap general election in 2019 and then by the Covid pandemic. Only a very small number of changes, most of them largely uncontentious, had been agreed. This was the WEC’s opportunity to wrap up the unfinished business.

 A large number of proposals, most of which we supported, had been submitted by CLPs and affiliates in an attempt to give members greater influence over decision-making and a bigger say over who represents them on the party’s leadership bodies. Many of these proposals were strongly opposed by more conservative forces within the party, however, and Mark had sought to identify areas where there was sufficient consensus to facilitate reform. On this basis, the WEC had agreed two broad principles earlier in the year: that more WEC members should be subject to direct election; and that the nominations process for leadership and deputy leadership elections should be broadened out to include CLPs and affiliates, as well as MPs and MSs. The conference in March had supported this position and charged the WEC with producing some definite proposals for consideration by the recall conference.

On the question of direct elections to the WEC, the paper made two proposals: that the BAME rep, who is currently elected by the BAME Committee, should in future be chosen by an electoral college comprising 50% self-identified BAME members and 50% trade unions; and that the position of Disabled Members’ rep be created, similarly elected by 50% self-identified Disabled members and 50% unions. Darren proposed an amendment, whereby the elections would be conducted on an OMOV basis (i.e. with no weighting between members and affiliates) and that the second component of each ballot should involve direct votes by, respectively, BAME and Disabled members of affiliated unions, rather than the leaderships of those unions. This amendment was heavily defeated. The original proposal, which we were willing to support as a fallback, was also then voted down, albeit by a narrower margin. The only reason given in the debate was that it would weaken the influence of the BAME Committee to deprive it of the ability to choose the WEC BAME rep. No explanation was given for the decision to kill off the chance to give Disabled members representation on the WEC.       

The second element of the paper proposed a formula to give CLPs and affiliates a role in nominating Welsh leadership and deputy leadership candidates. For Leader, it proposed two routes for candidates to get on the ballot-paper: either by the current mechanism of securing nominations from 20% of the Senedd Labour Group (which proved to be somewhat of a tall order in 2018); or by winning a combination of nominations from 10% of Labour MSs and either 20% of CLPs or three affiliates, two of which being unions collectively representing 5% of the total affiliated membership in Wales. The proposal for Deputy Leader was the same, except that the percentages for nominations from elected representatives applied to MSs and MPs combined, and a five-year term limit was also proposed, although this would only come into being when the present incumbent stepped down. 

Although this was an improvement over the current arrangements, which make elected politicians the only gatekeepers, we felt that the suggested quotas were still too high and Darren thereby proposed an amendment that would reduce the percentage of nominations required under the first method to 15% of MSs and, under the second method, 5% of MSs and 10% of CLPs, with affiliate figures unchanged. This amendment was heavily defeated. The original proposals were then put to the vote; again, we voted in favour. Strangely, the proposal for Leadership elections was carried but the very similar proposal was defeated.

Only one, very modest, proposal from Stage Two of the Democracy Review will therefore be put to the recall conference. This is deeply disappointing, given the evident appetite for greater accountability among ordinary members, supported by a series of detailed submissions by CLPs and affiliates. An important opportunity to make the party more inclusive has, in effect, been killed off by those who apparently distrust the notion of membership empowerment. 

Parliamentary Selections

A third substantive item appeared on the agenda of this meeting: the WEC was asked to approve a lengthy document setting out procedures for selecting new candidates for parliamentary seats without a sitting Labour MP. Although Welsh Labour has devolved control over this area, the paper had clearly been cut-and-paste from the equivalent document produced by the NEC for selections in England, with only a few superficial changes. Among other problems, the paper ignored the decision made by the WEC in 2018 to establish a combined panel of candidates for parliamentary and Senedd elections; and it proposed that the WEC itself draw up an individual ‘longlist’ of candidates for every seat needing a candidate. Another concern was the criteria to be relied upon in determining whether a candidate was ‘good’ enough, as per the proposed job description, considering most candidates were unlikely to have had experience in office, but might have a depth of wider experience, such as campaigning within their communities. In light of these contentious matters, the fact that most people hadn’t read the paper and there was limited time left, Darren proposed that discussion be deferred to the next WEC meeting, to allow party unit and affiliates to be informed and consulted about the draft procedures and to decide whether they should be accepted in their current form. 

Party officials suggested, however, that the procedures needed to be adopted urgently, in case of a snap general election and it would be difficult to hold another WEC meeting before September; Darren’s proposal was defeated and the procedures adopted, with minimal discussion.  

WEC Report 14 May 2022- Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards

This was the first meeting of the WEC elected in February/March, apart from a very brief meeting at Welsh Labour conference to elect the Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer for the year ahead. 

The first substantive item, as ever, was Mark Drakeford’s report as Leader and First Minister. Mark began by highlighting the dangers of thinking and acting as though the Covid pandemic were over. He emphasised that, while the situation was improving, there was ongoing pressure on the NHS and a need to prepare for a possible further upturn in cases and the risk of a new variant, which the Welsh Government was doing, unlike the Tories in Westminster. He also talked about the cost of living crisis, the impact of which had been evident in doorstep conversations during the local elections. Welsh ministers were pressing the UK government to introduce a windfall tax – something supported even by the head of Tesco – but the Tories claimed this would be a deterrent to business; meanwhile, companies were making £745 extra profits every second, while many people were struggling to afford to feed themselves and to heat their homes. 

The Welsh Government had also created its own platform to enable Ukrainian refugees to be matched with those offering accommodation, whereas the UK government was encouraging people to make such connections themselves via the internet, which was leaving some prey to exploitation. There had been an encouragingly high uptake of the Welsh Government’s invitation to Welsh households to host Ukrainian families but the UK Government’s visa system continued to present obstacles. 

Mark also highlighted the recent joint announcement with Plaid Cymru on Senedd reform, which had delivered on the mandate provided by the unanimous vote at Welsh Labour conference, with plans to move towards a 96-member Senedd with equal-sized constituencies, each electing an equal number of members, and measures to guarantee gender balance. The electoral system would be based on multi-member constituencies elected from closed party lists via the d’Hondt method. Finally, Mark celebrated the results of the local results, which had generally been very food for Welsh Labour, notwithstanding a few setbacks like Caerphilly Council Leader (and current WEC Chair) Philippa Marsden’s loss of her seat and the loss of the party’s majority in Neath Port Talbot. Labour had won back control of both Blaenau Gwent and Bridgend and there were more women councillors than ever. Outside London, the party’s net gains amounted to eleven seats, which was less than the net gain in Monmouthshire alone. Mark suggested that the big issue that the party needed to tackle was the threat presented by Independent candidates, who continued to be able to make gains with a largely negative agenda and no coherent or consistent vision of their own.

In questions and discussion, several members echoed Mark’s comments about the role Independents in local authority elections, citing the experience of their own areas, and agreed that the WEC should do some work on this. Members also made points about the party’s progress in North Wales, the importance of town and community councils and the need for efforts to improve the ethnic diversity of candidates at both municipal and Senedd level; in respect of the latter, Mark felt that the Senedd reform proposals could provide opportunities for progress.

The reports of the other key elected officials, mostly circulated in writing before the meeting, focused largely on the local elections. The General Secretary’s report also highlighted the recruitment by Welsh Labour of a new Digital Officer and plans to recruit a trainee organiser. Jeff Cuthbert’s report on behalf of the Labour Police and Crime Commissioners reaffirmed his support for devolution of Justice and Policing. 

The WEC then turned to the question of the Recall Conference, which had been agreed as the means by which the party would give its verdict on the outcome of the negotiations with Plaid Cymru on Senedd reform. Mark suggested a date of 19 June for this event but concerns were raised about clashes with other events and particularly about the limited time available for party units and affiliates to scrutinise the detailed proposals and mandate their delegates. Mark explained that the legislative timetable was very tight if the proposals were going to become law in time for the 2026 elections, and that even a small delay could prove problematic, but it was eventually agreed to schedule the conference for the first weekend in July. It was confirmed that this event would also agree the outstanding outcomes of the Welsh Labour Democracy Review and the General Secretary said that detailed proposals would be put before the next WEC meeting.

There was then a further item on the local elections, in which the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary provided detailed results for each local authority and also gave a progress report on discussions with other parties in those councils where there was no overall majority.Finally, there were elections to the WEC’s various sub-committees, most of which were uncontested. Bel was elected to the Local Government Sub-Committee and Darren was elected to the Organisation Sub-Committee and the Party Development Board. 

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) 5 March 2022 (Joint report with Sophie Williams)

This meeting took place the week before the 2022 Welsh Labour Conference and dealt exclusively with Conference-related business. There were no reports from the various elected representatives or other items; instead, the meeting received an update on Conference arrangements, agreed its positions on the motions presented to Conference and agreed the papers relating to Senedd electoral reform and the Welsh Labour Democracy Review, which would be presented to Conference.

On the first of these four items, it was reported that approximately 500 people were expected to attend Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno between 11 and 13 March, the first properly-constituted Conference since 2019 due to the pandemic. Various Covid-related measures would be in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of attendees. 

The second item related to the series of motions submitted by party units and affiliates for debate at Conference. 32 motions had been submitted, of which three had been ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee. The remainder had been grouped into subject categories and a Priorities Ballot had been conducted to choose the eight subjects that would go forward for debate – the top four chosen by party units and the top four chosen by affiliates – with the remainder going into the Welsh Policy Forum process. The WEC then had to determine its attitude on each motion grouped under the eight agreed areas – i.e. whether to advise conference to support, oppose or ask the mover to remit. It was agreed to support the vast majority of motions but to oppose two motions (from Cardiff North and Swansea West CLPs on the topic of housing and rent controls) on the grounds that they pre-empted a forthcoming white paper and consultation; and to ask and that Cardiff West CLP and the Socialist Educational Association remit their motions (on the climate emergency and supply teachers, respectively) on the grounds, in the case of the former, that the targets proposed were too restrictive and, in the case of the latter, that it asked for action outside the competence of the Senedd. We opposed these proposals in all four cases; in the case of Cardiff North and Swansea West CLPs, we argued that the motions should be remitted and that Cardiff West CLP and the SEA’s motions should be supported with qualifications, given the broad premise of the topics, but we were defeated on all these votes. 

The third item consisted of two papers: a report summarising the conclusions of a WEC working group looking at expansion of the Senedd and a possible change to its electoral system, and a WEC statement to go to conference, arising from this work. The working group, of which Darren had been a member, had held a number of detailed meetings with the aim of preparing for negotiations to begin with other parties on this topic. The statement itself had been drafted in order to allow for flexibility in these negotiations. In the discussion, a couple of WEC members expressed reservations about the inclusion of Single Transferable Vote (STV) as a voting system option but Darren noted both that STV had been widely supported in the party’s consultation and that projected outcomes for Welsh Labour vary under this system depending on the data used, so it should be included as an option. After some discussion, both the consultation paper and statement were agreed without amendment. 

The final item concerned the WEC’s report on the Welsh Labour Democracy Review and the recommended rule changes to be agreed by this Conference, as reported in our report of the last meeting: 

  • To delay any decision around the reselection of MPs and MSs until such time as the relevant rules are or are not devolved to the Welsh party (in the case of the former) and until the outcome of Senedd electoral reform is known (in the case of the latter);
  • To retain the current structure of CLP organisation until such time as the outcome of Senedd electoral reform and UK parliamentary boundary reviews are known;
  • To allow Welsh Labour Conference to consider motions on non-devolved matters where they relate to Wales;
  • To remove references to MEPs in the rulebook and update any references to the Assembly and AMs to reflect their change of name.

This paper also committed the WEC to consider detailed proposals on two issues discussed at its previous meeting – widening the nominations process for Welsh Leader and Deputy Leader and introducing direct elections for more of the positions on the WEC – with the aim of presenting its conclusions to the proposed June recall conference. The paper accurately reflected what the WEC had agreed at its previous meeting and so was agreed without further amendment. 

This was Sophie’s last meeting of the WEC, as her term of office as a constituency representative for South Wales Central has come to an end and she has not sought re-election. While she continues to believe that these roles are hugely important, as it is vital that the voice of ordinary party members is heard and respected on this body, the WEC meetings that she has attended during her two-year term have at many times been hugely uncomradely in tone and manner (not least the unacceptable suspension of fellow CLP representative Ivan Monckton on the basis of spurious allegations) and have contributed to her disillusionment with the party more generally. She would like to thank CLPs and members in the region and encourages members to support Darren and Belinda Loveluck-Edwards in the WEC elections currently underway