This meeting did not include any particularly controversial agenda items and ran largely to time. The first item, as always, was a report from Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour Leader. Mark spoke about his forthcoming appearance at UK Labour Conference, where he would speak on ‘Labour in Power’ alongside other elected representatives such as elected mayors. He discussed the worsening Covid situation, where the numbers contracting the disease and being admitted to hospital were rising, putting pressure on the NHS, alongside the more positive announcement of a booster vaccine campaign. He also outlined the progress, as reported in the press, in discussions with Plaid Cymru to agree common positions on a limited number of proposals, to ensure sufficient support to get the relevant legislation passed in the Senedd. Mark then responded to a number of questions and contributions, particularly in relation to social care and partnership working.
We then received a lengthy presentation from a member of the UK party’s data unit, who ran through the recent boundary proposals to take effect from the next Westminster elections, with a specific focus on the changes proposed to the Welsh parliamentary boundaries, which would see the number of constituencies reduced from 40 to 32. The party staffer further outlined the proposed timetable and consultation periods; an initial discussion had been held with Welsh CLP secretaries earlier in the week and a report would be prepared to enable individual CLPs to respond directly to the Boundary Commission for Wales. Party members were encouraged to contact the party with their views, which could be sent to this email address: email@example.com
The WEC then agreed its meeting schedule to March 2022 and agreed to continue holding meetings via Zoom. It also agreed a report prepared by the Senedd electoral reform working group, which would potentially present options around this topic to the October WEC meeting, for agreement at the March conference
The most significant discussion took place around the planned November Welsh Labour Conference; we were told by Mark and by the Acting General Secretary, David Costa that the Covid situation coupled with an unavoidable lack of preparation for an online alternative meant that the WEC were being asked to agree to cancel the planned November conference. The 2022 conference would still take place on schedule in March and Welsh Labour would plan for both an in-person and an online version of that event. It was suggested that Welsh Government ministers would instead be available for small in-person gatherings on a regional basis across Wales with those members who had been elected as delegates to the conference, where informal policy discussions could take place, potentially framed by the motions submitted to the conference.
While the WEC accepted the need to cancel the planned in-person conference on public health grounds, several members expressed concern about where this had left us. Sophie made the point that it seemed inconsistent that UK conference should be going ahead the following week, at which, as described above, Mark Drakeford would be speaking, and queried whether the relevant rules concerns that had prevented an online conference from being a valid proposal for 2020 had now been overcome. Darren suggested that informal policy discussions with ministers would be in no way an adequate substitute for a decision-making conference. Unison delegates were also concerned, questioning whether this event would be cancelled in isolation or whether Welsh Government guidance would change for non-party events of a similar size and level of risk.
In response to Sophie’s point on rules specifically, David Costa said that there were outstanding rules concerns but that lessons would be learned from the successful online UK women’s conference that had taken place in the summer. We were told that an online conference would come at huge expense for the party.
Notwithstanding these concerns, the WEC agreed to cancel the conference, and also approved a report on progress in developing the use of the Welsh language by Welsh Labour, which was widely supported.
In response to the report from Acting General Secretary David Costa, Darren asked for figures on the number of party members in Wales who had recently been subject to, or threatened with, auto-exclusion, as well as enquiring about the impact on Welsh Labour staff of the prospect of some ninety redundancies across the UK, causing Unite and GMB members to vote for strike action in an indicative ballot. David was not aware of any recent auto-exclusions in Wales and believed that the party’s restructuring would not have too severe an additional impact on Welsh staff, who were already carrying one vacancy. As is now required, each elected representative had produced a written report in advance of the meeting, so those of the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales (Nia Griffith MP), Welsh Labour Deputy Leader (Carolyn Harris MP), WLGA Leader (Cllr Andrew Morgan) and PCC (Jeff Cuthbert) were presented to the WEC. There were no questions on these reports (Jeff Cuthbert was, in any case, absent for health reasons). The Deputy Leader commented, however – apparently in response to comments on previous agenda items relating to concerns around the number of party members under disciplinary investigation or suspension and the associated reduction in overall membership – that the party exists primarily to ensure the election of MPs and MSs and that greater attention should be paid to that than to concerns about its membership. This is not an opinion that we share, as representatives of the members; of course the party is a vehicle for achieving power through successful electioneering, but we believe that the party should be a proponent of genuine societal change and that, as such, it should be led by its ordinary members, who volunteer their time to campaign but whose views on policy and whose voices in internal party democracy are too often ignored.