This was the first WEC meeting for four months; it had originally been scheduled for 10 September but was then cancelled, along with all other political meetings, due to the Queen’s death.
The first item was an update from the General Secretary, Jo McIntyre, who talked about the campaigning work that Welsh Labour has been doing and reported that the party has recently taken on two new organisers. In answer to questions from WEC members, she gave some details about the Welsh Labour Women’s Conference taking place on 19 November, agreed to provide membership figures at future meetings and also to circulate a schedule of dates for future WEC meetings leading up to next year’s conference and also to reinstate the practice of making WEC papers available to the wider membership after every meeting.
Jo was also asked about the NEC’s refusal to allow hybrid party meetings to be held and there was a discussion about this in which several members, including Mark Drakeford, expressed concern that this restriction was unnecessarily limiting participation in party meetings at a time when most organisations were recognising the value of a more flexible approach. The General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary explained the reasons given for the NEC’s decision, which included concerns about local parties not bothering to book accessible venues under hybrid arrangements, on the basis that disabled members would join online, and about the difficulty of ensuring anonymity in any voting. It was generally felt, however, that these problems could be resolved and it was therefore agreed to make representations to the NEC that the restrictions be relaxed.
We then heard Mark Drakeford’s own report as Leader, which covered the general political situation at UK level and its implications for Wales; the Welsh presence at Labour conference in Liverpool; and details of a series of recent policy initiatives by the Welsh Government, ranging from financial support to those hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis and accommodation of Ukrainian refugees to moves to improve voter participation and legislation to ban single-use plastics and promote sustainable agriculture. Mark commented on the latest opinion polls, which suggested that an imminent general election would see Labour take 70% of the vote in Wales, but cautioned that we could not afford to be complacent and needed to maintain our efforts to secure a Labour government at UK level.
In the questions that followed, Darren commented that Mark’s outrage at Andrew RT Davies’ criticisms of the Welsh NHS had won widespread sympathy and support and asked about the status of Gordon Brown’s report on the constitutional future of the UK and suggested that the WEC could take a discussion of the report when it appeared, perhaps led by Carwyn Jones, as one of the Welsh contributors. Mark welcomed this latter suggestion and also responded positively to a suggestion from another WEC member that one of the Scottish contributors to the report could usefully be invited.
The reports of the other lead elected representatives then followed; all had circulated written reports but most added a few verbal comments. The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Jo Stevens, echoed Mark’s comments about Labour’s current position in the polls and said that we needed to behave like we were lagging behind the Tories in order to consolidate our position. The Deputy Leader was absent. The Leader of the WLGA, Andrew Morgan, highlighted the worsening financial position facing councils, with the Tories’ budget statement threatening further spending cuts and thousands of public sector job losses. The Police and Crime Commissioners’ representative, Jeff Cuthbert, argued that recent developments in crime and policing had further strengthened the case for devolution in this area.
The next item was an update on Senedd Reform, which summarised the progress made in this area since the special party conference in July – particularly, the agreement of the proposals by the Senedd and the beginning of work on the necessary legislation – and sought agreement that, as Welsh Labour begins to consider its own arrangements for candidate selection and related organisational matters, the WEC should maintain this as a standing item on its agenda. The WEC was asked for its view on two specific matters. First, while the constituencies on which the 2026 election would be fought would be arrived at by pairing Westminster seats, there would be a full boundary review before the 2031 election; did the WEC agree that there should be as little change as possible to boundaries at this point? Second, in relation to the proposed legal requirement to introduce gender quotas, should these impose a strict 50:50 ratio between female and male MSs, or require simply that at least half of MSs should be women? The first point was agreed, on the second, most of those who commented felt that we should aim for at least 50% women in the Senedd, subject to taking advice as to whether this would be legally permissible. The discussion also touched on wider aspects of Senedd reform, including the way in which constituencies would be paired – which was a matter for the Senedd’s boundary commission – and the need for action to promote diversity in other areas, including ensuring improved representation for members of the BAME and LGBT communities and Welsh speakers. While there was general support for this latter objective, it was acknowledged that it was harder to achieve under the law than gender balance.
We were then presented with a paper on Parliamentary Selections, which proposed to supplement the procedures agreed at the previous meeting in two respects. First of all, in relation to the longlisting by the WEC of aspiring candidates for parliamentary constituencies, it was proposed that, where there were two or more WEC candidates interested in a particular seat, an NEC member should be co-opted on to the WEC panel. It was not immediately clear why this was considered necessary but officers clarified that it was to avoid any suggestion of the WEC favouring its own members and to ensure that there were sufficient BAME members to meet the requirement in the procedures that they be represented on each panel. Several members, including Darren, challenged the need for this proposal and expressed concern at the prospect of the WEC relinquishing its own autonomy over the process. Some of those who spoke argued that, if additional panel members were needed, they could be recruited without going to the NEC – for example, by co-opting members of the Welsh Labour BAME Committee. While we both voted against the proposal, it was adopted, by 13 votes to 10.
The second proposal was to adopt a Code of Conduct for Parliamentary Selections, which was a version of a paper developed at NEC level. While much of this was uncontentious – for example, prohibiting elected representatives from campaigning for or against candidates in selections and from disparaging any candidate – concerns were expressed about a provision that an elected representative at another level (such as a councillor) seeking to become an MP should stand down if selected as a parliamentary candidate. Several of us argued that this was unnecessarily restrictive and could involve giving up a council or Senedd seat unnecessarily if the candidate failed to win the parliamentary seat. It was also pointed out that Wales has recently allowed council staff to stand for election as councillors and be required to resign their posts only if elected, so this proposal was in conflict with that approach. The officers explained that the intention was to avoid a costly by-election after the parliamentary election but it would be up to the WEC whether it enforced the obligation on the elected representative to resign pre-emptively in any given case. One of the Senedd Labour Group representatives pointed out that the Group had not yet had an opportunity to discuss this proposal and suggested that a decision be deferred, and this was eventually agreed.
The final substantial item was a paper on CLP reorganisation. This is an area that remains under the control of the UK party, rather than being devolved to Wales. Nevertheless, Welsh conference in March had asked the NEC to temporarily exclude Welsh CLPs from the reorganisation being undertaken in response to the creation of new parliamentary boundaries, pending a decision on Senedd reform. Now that that decision had been made, the WEC was asked to agree that Welsh CLPs should be included in the reorganisation and a provisional timetable was presented, which saw new CLPs begin to be established in January 2023 and fully take effect in July. While the principle was accepted, concerns were expressed that this process would be moving forward too quickly and could detract from the party’s campaigning efforts if a snap general election were called during the first half of the next year. Some reassurance was offered, to the effect that the new CLPs would operate only on a shadow basis until the new boundaries came into existence, and also that their officers would be elected by local members in the usual way.