This was Carwyn’s last meeting, as the election to choose his successor would have taken place by the time that the WEC next met. He said that he had done 330 sessions of First Minister’s Questions over the last nine years and he felt that his proudest achievement was that he had been able to fulfil Welsh Labour’s manifesto commitments in a time of austerity. If Wales’ block grant from Westminster had continued to increase after 2010 at the same rate as before, Wales would have had an extra £4 billion to spend on public services. The final budget for 2019-20 would be put before the Assembly in January; the extra money from the UK Government only amounted to £6 million in revenue and £2.6million in capital spending. The Welsh Government had decided to use the extra resources to provide more of a cushion to local government. Carwyn added that the Welsh Government was going to place bus transport under far greater control than before now that it had the power to do so, as with the railways, and was working towards a better integrated transport system. Carwyn finished by saying that, despite different views on the WEC, the committee had always worked together well and had avoided public argument, as everyone was united in working towards electing a UK Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn.
WEC members then paid tribute to Carwyn for having provided robust and dignified leadership and having defended the interests of Wales through some difficult times.
The first item of business requiring a decision was a draft questionnaire for CLPs and party units on the second stage of the party’s consultation on electoral reform, in response to the proposals in this area that had been put forward by the National Assembly. The document had been produced by a working group made up of WEC members and was largely factual in nature, avoiding taking any position in favour or against any one system but pointing out some of the implications of possible decisions that could be made. It was therefore approved with some minor tweaks and a closing date of 13 February was agreed for responses.
There were then a number of short papers relating to selection procedures for parliamentary and Assembly seats. Firstly, it was agreed that the parliamentary selection in Clwyd West (the last of the six priority target seats in Wales) would recommence as soon as possible following the breakdown of the previous process, and would then be followed in the New Year by selections in the remaining six parliamentary constituencies, three of which would be All Women Shortlists. A last-minute addition to these plans following Paul Flynn’s announcement that he would be stepping down, was that the parliamentary selection in Newport West should also be prioritised early in the New Year and should be an All Women Shortlist. Paul’s departure, while understandable in light of his worsening health, is sad news given his long and impressive contribution to Welsh politics as one of the most principled and independent-minded MPs of recent times.
Turning to Assembly selections, it was agreed that re-selections in Labour-held seats should begin as soon as possible and that any open selections resulting from trigger ballots in seats with sitting women AMs should be All Women Shortlists. Selections for seats not currently held by Labour, or with retiring Labour incumbents, should proceed later in 2019 on the basis that initially 50% would be All Women Shortlists. It was agreed that Bridgend, where Carwyn would be stepping down in 2019, and the Rhondda, which we hoped to win back from Leanne Wood, would be prioritised, and the Gender Equality Working Group and the Party Development Board had both recommended that these seats should be selected using an All Women Shortlist. Bridgend CLP had written, however, to request that a decision on its own selection be deferred to give local members the opportunity to discuss the matter. It was agreed to accede to this request, albeit pointing out that there would be a presumption in favour of an All Women Shortlist. We also signed off arrangements for the All-Wales Panel for Assembly and Parliamentary selections, which had been agreed at the previous meeting, and noted that any of the arrangements that we had agreed would need to be changed if there were an early General Election or if Parliament agreed any boundary changes.
The next item was a revised set of standing orders for the National Assembly Labour Group, which had been updated recently, after not having previously been reviewed since 2001. Under the party rules, the WEC had to approve the changes. Although a fairly thorough job had been done by the Group, with the assistance of party officers, Darren raised concerns over a couple of points; for example, there was no clear commitment to bring any proposal to form a coalition government back to the WEC for agreement, let alone convene a Special Conference (as happened when we went into coalition with Plaid Cymru in 2007). We were told, however, that it was not possible for the WEC to make any amendments, only to agree the document as it stood or refer it back to the Group for further changes. As the new standing orders were largely acceptable, it was agreed to approve them but to highlight to the Group those areas that had prompted questions and ask that they be revisited at the earliest opportunity.
Next, we had a report from the new Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, covering the major areas of Welsh Labour’s work over the period since the WEC had last met. Darren highlighted a few significant developments that did not appear to be covered, such as the recent Welsh Policy Forum meeting in Newport, the outcomes of the recent Welsh Women’s Conference and any information about the then-forthcoming Welsh Young Labour Conference, as well as asking for a progress update on Stage Two of the Democracy Review. Rhiannon agreed to provide this information in writing.
Finally, under any other business, Darren queried the outcome of the discussions that had apparently been taking place between Welsh Labour and the UK party over the extent to which new rules for CLPs agreed at the Liverpool conference would apply in Wales, particularly with regard to quorums for CLP meetings. The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, stated that these discussions were still underway and that, for the time being, any previously agreed arrangements would remain in place.