This was the first meeting of the WEC elected in February/March, apart from a very brief meeting at Welsh Labour conference to elect the Chair, Vice-Chair and Treasurer for the year ahead.
The first substantive item, as ever, was Mark Drakeford’s report as Leader and First Minister. Mark began by highlighting the dangers of thinking and acting as though the Covid pandemic were over. He emphasised that, while the situation was improving, there was ongoing pressure on the NHS and a need to prepare for a possible further upturn in cases and the risk of a new variant, which the Welsh Government was doing, unlike the Tories in Westminster. He also talked about the cost of living crisis, the impact of which had been evident in doorstep conversations during the local elections. Welsh ministers were pressing the UK government to introduce a windfall tax – something supported even by the head of Tesco – but the Tories claimed this would be a deterrent to business; meanwhile, companies were making £745 extra profits every second, while many people were struggling to afford to feed themselves and to heat their homes.
The Welsh Government had also created its own platform to enable Ukrainian refugees to be matched with those offering accommodation, whereas the UK government was encouraging people to make such connections themselves via the internet, which was leaving some prey to exploitation. There had been an encouragingly high uptake of the Welsh Government’s invitation to Welsh households to host Ukrainian families but the UK Government’s visa system continued to present obstacles.
Mark also highlighted the recent joint announcement with Plaid Cymru on Senedd reform, which had delivered on the mandate provided by the unanimous vote at Welsh Labour conference, with plans to move towards a 96-member Senedd with equal-sized constituencies, each electing an equal number of members, and measures to guarantee gender balance. The electoral system would be based on multi-member constituencies elected from closed party lists via the d’Hondt method. Finally, Mark celebrated the results of the local results, which had generally been very food for Welsh Labour, notwithstanding a few setbacks like Caerphilly Council Leader (and current WEC Chair) Philippa Marsden’s loss of her seat and the loss of the party’s majority in Neath Port Talbot. Labour had won back control of both Blaenau Gwent and Bridgend and there were more women councillors than ever. Outside London, the party’s net gains amounted to eleven seats, which was less than the net gain in Monmouthshire alone. Mark suggested that the big issue that the party needed to tackle was the threat presented by Independent candidates, who continued to be able to make gains with a largely negative agenda and no coherent or consistent vision of their own.
In questions and discussion, several members echoed Mark’s comments about the role Independents in local authority elections, citing the experience of their own areas, and agreed that the WEC should do some work on this. Members also made points about the party’s progress in North Wales, the importance of town and community councils and the need for efforts to improve the ethnic diversity of candidates at both municipal and Senedd level; in respect of the latter, Mark felt that the Senedd reform proposals could provide opportunities for progress.
The reports of the other key elected officials, mostly circulated in writing before the meeting, focused largely on the local elections. The General Secretary’s report also highlighted the recruitment by Welsh Labour of a new Digital Officer and plans to recruit a trainee organiser. Jeff Cuthbert’s report on behalf of the Labour Police and Crime Commissioners reaffirmed his support for devolution of Justice and Policing.
The WEC then turned to the question of the Recall Conference, which had been agreed as the means by which the party would give its verdict on the outcome of the negotiations with Plaid Cymru on Senedd reform. Mark suggested a date of 19 June for this event but concerns were raised about clashes with other events and particularly about the limited time available for party units and affiliates to scrutinise the detailed proposals and mandate their delegates. Mark explained that the legislative timetable was very tight if the proposals were going to become law in time for the 2026 elections, and that even a small delay could prove problematic, but it was eventually agreed to schedule the conference for the first weekend in July. It was confirmed that this event would also agree the outstanding outcomes of the Welsh Labour Democracy Review and the General Secretary said that detailed proposals would be put before the next WEC meeting.
There was then a further item on the local elections, in which the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary provided detailed results for each local authority and also gave a progress report on discussions with other parties in those councils where there was no overall majority.Finally, there were elections to the WEC’s various sub-committees, most of which were uncontested. Bel was elected to the Local Government Sub-Committee and Darren was elected to the Organisation Sub-Committee and the Party Development Board.