This special meeting was called within hours of Theresa May’s announcement of a snap general election on 8 June and was intended primarily to agree procedures for the party’s selection of candidates. The NEC, meeting the day before, had agreed the broad principles governing candidate selection and a detailed procedure for England but Wales and Scotland had the scope to adopt a slightly different approach, following the devolution of responsibility in this area last year.
Opening Remarks – Mike Payne, who took over as Welsh Labour Chair at Welsh conference in February, welcomed members and the new General Secretary, Louise Magee, to the meeting. He explained the background to the meeting and the fact that, following the devolution of sections of the Labour Party Rule Book to Wales, the WEC is responsible for administering the selection process of MPs, which was now a matter of some urgency. Of the 40 Welsh parliamentary seats, 25 were held by Labour and all of our sitting MPs had agreed to stand again. The NEC had agreed that all of these would automatically be endorsed, so Welsh Labour now needed to quickly select a further 15 candidates. The NEC had adopted an exceptional selections procedure, dispensing with the normal provisions for involvement by local members and branches, and Welsh Labour’s Party Development Board (the ‘executive’ of the Executive!) had provisionally approved a similar approach. Mike was at pains to emphasise that this was a response to the urgency of the situation and was not intended set any precedent for future elections.
General Election Update – the new General Secretary, Louise Magee had had to respond to the general election announcement on her first day in the job. She outlined the progress she and the Welsh Labour staff had made since then. Staffing numbers had been increased to help meet the increased workload, with a new regional organiser and eight local organisers to be appointed. A fundraising appeal had also gone out to members. ‘Flying start’ leaflets and posters were ready for use. The 25 sitting Labour MPs had been contacted and the Welsh members of the PLP had meet with members of WEC. A ‘Snap General Election Guide’ produced by the party centrally, was tabled and outlined deadlines, advice and procedures were to be followed. Members were reminded that a series of visits with Jeremy Corbyn were being planned, the first of which would be on Whitchurch Common in the marginal seat of Cardiff North the next day – Friday 21 April.
Stephen Doughty reported that the Welsh PLP had met and had been unanimous about the need for a clear Welsh dimension to the campaign and for Welsh branding for the Labour manifesto. One of the councillors on the WEC raised concerns that the general election announcement would mean a loss of focus on the council elections but Louise reassured her that this would not be the case. One of the senior elected representatives on the WEC expressed concern about initial messages from the UK party leadership, targeting the rich for tax increases, which he thought was divisive and electorally unhelpful. Another CLP rep strongly took issue with this (rightly, in our view) but the Chair then moved on with the agenda.
The Shadow Welsh Secretary, Christina Rees described the local election campaign so far, including major events held in North Wales, in Flint, Bangor and Wrexham and then in South Wales, in Newport and Cardiff. She had witnessed enthusiasm for a Labour Victory in the local elections and little sign of any real UKIP activity. While this call for a snap election had been a shock, our duty was to keep on campaigning for another Labour Victory.
The Welsh Labour Leader, Carwyn Jones felt that we had a mountain to climb in the general election. It was not yet clear what the manifesto would look like but it would be important to ensure that it was ‘devolution-proof’. Prior to the general election announcement, we’d seemed to be holding our own, although there had been some criticism of the UK leadership. This time last year, Labour had been predicted to lose 6 or 7 Assembly seats and Carwyn had been asked if he was going to resign but the party had obviously fought its way back from that position. It was fighting a defensive campaign, which had worked well last year. It was important to try and move the debate away from Brexit and focus instead on the Tory Cuts and a general anti-austerity message.
Minutes of Party Development Board held on 19/4/19 – this included the selection procedure being presented to the WEC. For the 15 vacant seats, adverts would be placed on the LP and Welsh Labour websites. The closing date would be on Monday 24th April at 5pm and standard CV and monitoring forms would be used. It was proposed that all candidates be selected via a WEC panel consisting of the chair Mike Payne, vice chair Pam Baldwin and treasurer, Jen Smith. This panel will appoint candidates on the basis of their CV’s and local knowledge without an interview. Candidates who had stood in the 2015 general and 2016 Assembly elections would be considered in the first instance and then ‘new’ candidates. All selections would take place by Tuesday 2nd May subject to NEC endorsement.
Darren moved, and Chris seconded, an amendment to this process, because of concerns about the lack of any input to the selection process by local members, which could result in a degree of disenchantment and demoralisation. While recognising that the very short timescale precluded a full selection process in the 15 vacant seats, we argued that concentrating the decisions in the hands of the three officers was too ‘top-down’ a procedure and proposed that the panel for each seat should consist of one of the WEC officers, plus a WEC CLP rep for the region in question and one of the officers of the CLP in question. There was some support for this position, mainly from other CLP reps, but several other members spoke against, mainly on the grounds that our proposal would introduce unnecessary and time-consuming complications when time was of the essence and that we should trust our three officers to conduct the process. We were told that the latter would seek local knowledge about each constituency to inform their decision. Unfortunately, at least one person made the familiar, tiresome and rather insulting suggestion that our concern about democracy and accountability meant that we were less concerned than we should be about actually winning the election.
In the event, most people accepted the argument that the urgency of the situation precluded our proposal, for which there were only seven votes (compared to twenty against) and the original procedure was adopted. With the crucial decision having been made, the meeting then concluded.