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.