WEC Meeting 25 January 2020 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

There had been a long gap since the previous WEC meeting as a result of the General Election and our assessment of the latter took up most of the time of this meeting. Wayne David MP was present in his capacity as chair of the election campaign committee for Wales and it was also the first meeting for Cllr. Andrew Morgan, who had succeeded Cllr. Debbie Wilcox as Leader of the WLGA following her elevation to the House of Lords.

In his Leader’s report, Mark Drakeford said that his government was undertaking the most ambitious legislative programme ever attempted in the final year of an Assembly term. This included measures to protect tenants in the private rental sector, rights for people in residential care, radical proposals for education, measures to tackle agricultural pollution, plans to re-regulate the bus industry, new powers for local government and a new social partnership bill. The Welsh Government’s budget included extra money for the health service, a real-terms increase in funding for local government and money for climate change. Welsh Labour was now also preparing in earnest for the Assembly elections the following year. 

In the ensuing discussion, council representatives thanked Mark for the extra funding being made available, while noting the continuing challenges that they faced. Christine registered her concerns about reports of the schools funding formula in England and Mark confirmed that the Welsh formula was completely different, being driven by people, deprivation and rurality.

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Christina Rees, talked about Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill, which was even worse than Theresa May’s having removed any protection for workers’ rights. Labour had opposed but lost the vote. The Queen’s Speech debate was now underway- the opposition had put down an amendment on health and social care to try to secure decent funding but this had also been lost. The House of Lords had won five victories on Tory legislation including the Alf Dubs amendment on reuniting refugee children with their families, but the Commons had rejected it and the Lords had decided not to ‘play ping-pong’.

In her Deputy Leader’s report, Carolyn Harris expressed her sadness at the loss of the Labour MPs who had lost their seats. She thanked Welsh Labour staff for their hard work and said that we would need to work hard to win back the electorate and that the PCC election campaign would be important in this regard. She thanked Mark and the Welsh team for giving some protection for Wales. She also highlighted her role as co-chair of the Keir Starmer leadership campaign. 

There followed the General Election de-brief, which included a detailed written paper. Mark began by summarising the results and putting them in context. The outcome had been deeply disappointing, especially for those people who had invested their hopes in a Labour government. We needed a hard-eyed look at the reasons for our defeat, which included the impact of a winter election, Brexit and the divided views on Jeremy Corbyn. Looking at the historical record, there was a fairly consistent trend for Labour’s vote in Wales to be ten points ahead of its UK vote in a good election, and seven points ahead when the party did less well, and this election had been no exception to this rule. The coalition supporting the party now included especially young people, graduates, BAME communities and public sector workers. This was different from in the past. The difference between the outcomes in North East Wales and South Wales was mainly due to the relative size of the party’s previous majorities. Mark was working with David Hanson and Chris Ruane to get their perspective on what had happened on the ground. Mark added, however, that the results should not give rise to a council of despair, as people were depending on Labour to pick ourselves up and move forward. We had still secured 41% of the vote in Wales and run a strong campaign on the ground. There had been robust support from the trade unions and from party staff as well, and a new leader would help to persuade people to give Labour another chance. 

The General Secretary, Louise Magee added some detailed comments on the campaign and the outcome, acknowledging that the initial strategy had been geared towards winning certain seats from the Tories but that a more defensive approach had been adopted as the campaign went on. The party’s digital work had been much improved and there had been 175 visits from Shadow Cabinet members and other key campaigners. Some 200,000 people had been spoken to in the course of the campaign. In addition to the seats that we had lost, we came close to losing Newport West and Alyn and Deeside. There had been issues with the print system, which had given rise to a number of complaints. 

Wayne David also made some comments, in which he highlighted that this had been the most centrally-directed campaign that he had experienced and that the party had been slow to respond to feedback from the ground in Wales. 

A long discussion followed, in which some WEC members were critical of the party leadership and its position on Brexit, among other things. Darren argued that a balanced assessment was needed rather than a rush to judgement as we had seen from many quarters. There were long-term issues as well as the dominance of Brexit, which the Tories had exploited to the full with their simplistic sloganeering. Darren paid tribute to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and expressed concern about the negative comments made by certain elected representatives during the campaign. Others also felt that certain comments by prominent party figures had crossed the line and undermined the party’s campaign. They called for action to be taken. It was eventually agreed that the WEC should write to the Chief Whip of the Assembly Group about these matters. Darren also supported the proposal by fellow CLP rep Catherine Thomas that we write to Jeremy Corbyn to thank him for his leadership and this was agreed. 

There was a brief item on the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections in which Louise reported that we still needed to select candidates to cover the Dyfed-Powys and North Wales police areas and that the officers and CLP reps from the regions concerned would meet after the meeting to discuss this. 

The next item was entitled ‘other work in progress’ but focussed on an update on the Welsh democracy review, where it was reported that the planned timetable had been disrupted by the General Election and there had been insufficient discussion on various proposals that had been submitted. To secure a degree of consensus, it was proposed that the staff work with Paul Murphy to prepare a report for conference reviewing the work that had been done, the areas where rule changes were now unnecessary (either as a result of decisions by the NEC or of work by the WEC- such as the establishment of standing orders for the Welsh BAME Committee) and deferring any more substantial changes until 2021. Darren argued, however, that to postpone further reforms in the way suggested would be a missed opportunity and would cause great disappointment among party members, who had hoped that the democracy review would bring in significant change. While acknowledging the practical difficulties, he suggested that certain changes to the makeup of the WEC could be agreed at this year’s conference before the committee was re-elected for the 2020-22 term. Specifically, seats representing BAME members, women members and a proposed new seat for disabled members could be elected by OMOV, which would be popular among members and achievable as a result of action at the UK level. It was agreed that options on these matters could be included in a report to be brought to the February meeting. 

It was also suggested that it would be useful to conduct a longer-term review of the way that the party operated on the ground and try to learn lessons for the future in relation to our culture and organisational capacity. As the meeting was already over-running, the remaining reports were taken quickly before the meeting adjourned. 

NEC Meeting 17 September 2019

This was the meeting that takes place every year in the week preceding party conference and which finalises whatever decisions the NEC might need to make regarding the conference agenda and other arrangements. It is normally, therefore, one of the lengthier meetings and this year’s was no exception. 

Jeremy began his Leader’s report by paying tribute to those prominent party members who had died over the summer months and for whom we had received obituaries, but also to Jennie Formby, who had continued to undertake the role of General Secretary with her usual fortitude and professionalism despite having to contend with her treatment for cancer. He also thanked the party staff in general, who had worked hard throughout a particularly demanding period. 

Jeremy then reminded us of the challenge that we would soon face to secure a government that would represent ordinary people. Boris Johnson had been elected by a mere 92,000 Tory votes, he was making a series of unfunded spending commitments and had the temerity to say that austerity was now over when this was clearly not the case. Jeremy continued to campaign all over the UK and had paid a visit to Whaley Bridge, to see the damage done by the flood and the work that had been put into deal with it and protect local people. The community had been full of praise for the emergency services and seemed supportive of the local Labour MP. The Tories were still committed to leaving the EU by 31st October but didn’t seem to have any new proposals. They had tried not to publish the Yellowhammer report but it had come out two days after parliament was prorogued. Legislation had been passed to avoid a no-deal Brexit, thanks to Labour MPs and peers. 

The Prime Minister was under pressure to say whether he would abide by the law as passed. There was also a court case underway on the question of whether the prorogation had been legal and Shami Chakrabarti had attached herself to the case. Jeremy had reached out to other opposition parties to prioritise ruling out no deal and this had proven effective. He said that we shouldn’t promote either a referendum or an election until no deal was off the table. The government no longer had a majority, having lost 21 Tory MPs. If Boris Johnson were defeated on the Queen’s Speech, this could lead to an election; otherwise Labour could potentially table a vote of no confidence. The alternative to Labour’s approach would be Johnson taking the UK into the arms of Trump’s USA. Labour was determined to campaign on all issues during an election including poverty and austerity. In the meantime, we would be having a full debate at conference on Brexit and Labour’s plans for a Green New Deal among other issues. 

In the ensuing discussion, several NEC members congratulated Jeremy on his handling of the Brexit issue in parliament and there was criticism of Jo Swinson for her attempt to avoid working with Jeremy and the LibDems commitment to revoke Article 50 without going back to the people. 

The next item should have been the Deputy Leader’s report but Tom Watson was not present and had not given apologies, so we had to move on to the subsequent item. This was the local government report, where Cllr Nick Forbes said that the LGA had unanimously adopted a Labour motion on the climate emergency. He was also promoting Labour innovation in local government on a special website, which would be a useful resource for the party. Andrew Gwynne MP had said that local government was an important delivery agent for 44% of our manifesto. Nick was also delighted that Debbie Wilcox, previously Leader of Newport Council and the WLGA, had been elevated to the House of Lords. 

The International Report was presented by John Hilary, former Director of War on Want, who had recently moved into this role and wanted to ensure more political content in the NEC’s discussions of its relations with parties and other organisations abroad. Kashmir and Yemen were among the pressing international issues raised under this item. 

We then had the General Secretary’s report, with Jennie ringing in for this item. This covered many of the organisational issues that required consideration. Jennie reported that the EHRC were still working on their investigation. The party has also stepped is planning for a general election, which had been underway since 2017 and subject to regular review, with funding now made available for specific quantities of election materials. The party had recently opened up applications for aspiring parliamentary candidates and had received 1200 of these before the deadline. The Governance and Legal Unit had been carrying out due diligence checks. Trigger ballots for Labour-held seats were currently the priority. 

There was lengthy discussion covering a number of the points that Jennie had raised, including concerns about the procedure undertaken to fill vacancies for candidates in seats where the MP was retiring or had defected to another party- some of these selections had begun only to be abruptly halted and had yet to be recommenced. There was clearly a pressing need for the party to have candidates in place in these important winnable seats as soon as possible. 

Jennie asked the NEC to agree that the party should continue to prioritise trigger ballots, but ask officers to come back with a proposal for a truncated process for new selections. The NEC agreed, but asked for a detailed proposal to be brought to the eve of conference meeting the following Friday, despite Jennie expressing reservations as to whether this would be achievable, given the pressure of conference preparation work. NEC members also expressed concern about the continuing absence of a date for the next Women’s Conference- Jennie pointed out that other conferences had been cancelled but gave assurances that the Women’s Conference would definitely take place in the New Year, albeit that it was currently difficult to be more precise because the events team were preoccupied with the main conference. 

Harry Donaldson, Chair of Conference Arrangements Committee, then gave a report on how motions would be dealt with at conference- 398 had been submitted, 9 of which had been ruled out of order due to excessive length, 23 were on organisational matters and had therefore been referred to the NEC. The remainder had been grouped into 53 different subject areas. The issue of organisational issues not being considered a valid subject for conference motions is a controversial one as there is nothing in the rulebook to support this approach and it has simply become custom and practice since the Blair era. In the next item, which was acceptance of NEC Officers’ decisions, Jon Lansman moved that the officers’ decision on whether to allow organisational motions should be reconsidered, which I supported, but this was lost by 18 votes to 11. 

The next item was the report from the long-running review on Labour’s policy on organising in Northern Ireland. Jim Kennedy, who had chaired the review panel, presented a paper. There were a number of complex considerations regarding Labour’s links with the SDLP, which currently remained a sister party even though it had taken steps towards closer relations with Fianna Fail, which might yet result in merger. There were also questions to consider regarding the implications of any change in Labour’s position for the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which was currently in a more sensitive state than it had been for some time as a result of the Tories’ crude politicking in relation to Brexit. The overwhelming view of the NEC was that the report was a sensible, sober response to complex issues and should be accepted, although some of use, myself included, expressed the hope that we would not be closing the door to a potential change in policy in the future and that we needed to acknowledge the aspirations of the many Labour Party members in Northern Ireland who wanted to be able to play a more active role. 

We then turned to rule changes to be debated at conference both from the NEC and from CLPs. Most of the NEC rule changes were fairly uncontentious and represented attempts to address practical issues and to take forward the work of the democracy review. There was a lengthy debate on a motion regarding efforts to promote the selection of a greater number of BAME candidates, the result of which was that it was agreed that there should be more targeting of our efforts in this regard towards particular areas. By far the most contentious NEC rule change was the one seeking to give the NEC the power to carry out fast-track expulsions of members accused of particularly egregious conduct in relation to discrimination issues, where there was clear evidence of their guilt. Along with a couple of other NEC members, I strongly opposed this proposal, as I had done when it had been first raised, on the grounds that it was not necessary to improve the efficiency of the party’s disciplinary procedures but was rather an attempt to demonstrate to the media and the wider external audience that we were ‘getting tough’ on anti-Semitism. There was no clear definition offered as to what would constitute a sufficiently egregious case nor what kind of evidence would be considered prima facie. In addition, the change would blur the distinction between the role of the NEC as investigator/prosecutor and the quasi-judicial role of the National Constitutional Committee. These objections were, however, dismissed by the majority of NEC members and the rule change was accepted. None of the constituency party rule changes secured NEC support, which was unfortunate as a couple of them proposed very sensible and reasonable changes.