This meeting began with the announcement that two of the officers were stepping down. The Chair, Unite’s Philippa Marsden, began the meeting but then explained that she was resigning with immediate effect and handed over to the Vice-Chair, Cllr. Anthony Hunt. We were then told that the Treasurer, Jen Smith of the GMB, had also decided to call it a day and it was agreed that an election to fill the position would take place at the next meeting, giving time for members to submit nominations, and allowing the new Treasurer to be in place in time for Welsh Labour conference. Jen had served as Treasurer, and as a member of the WEC, for many years and Bel proposed that we write to her to express our appreciation and present her with a small gift; the General Secretary reported that this was already in hand.
Mark Drakeford then gave his Leader’s Report. He had already circulated a written version, covering a wide range of topics including the continuing efforts to accommodate Ukrainian refugees and the latest initiatives by the Welsh Government, but wanted to highlight a few particularly recent or noteworthy developments. Mark had met Keir Starmer the previous week; they had discussed efforts to maximise Labour’s success in the next general election, as well as Gordon Brown’s long-awaited report on the constitutional future of the UK, which was due to appear within a few days. Mark had then addressed the PLP, where there had been much interest in developments in Wales. Gordon Brown had also given a memorable speech at the gala dinner which had concluded the Llafur 100 celebrations and Mark remarked that this had underlined the intellectual, political and moral contribution the party had lost since he ceased to be leader. The Llafur 100 events had gone well generally and Mark paid tribute to the efforts of Eluned Morgan and all those involved. The Welsh Government had published its first annual report on the progress of the three-year co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. This had been hard work at times but the relationship had been sustained in a way that had enabled the Welsh Government to make progress on its manifesto commitments without having to fight for every vote. The next test would arise with the presentation of the Welsh budget the following week. This had been the main preoccupation of ministers in the preceding weeks and had been extremely challenging; the extra investment announced in the autumn statement was in reality far less than the Tories had suggested and the impact of inflation meant that Wales’ finances would be £1 billion worse off by next year.
Mark was asked about his and Vaughan’s trip to Qatar for the World Cup, which had caused upset in the LGBT+ community because of the Qatari government’s record in this area, and several members, including the WLGA leader, Andrew Morgan, highlighted the enormous financial challenges facing local government. On Qatar, Mark said it had been a difficult decision to attend the event but he had felt that Wales should be represented by its own government, rather than Westminster ministers. He acknowledged that, while he and Vaughan had raised LGBT+ rights at every meeting, there was little sign of immediate progress in this area, whereas there was greater cause for optimism regarding women’s and workers’ rights. On the public finances, Mark said that the draft budget would allocate every available penny for public services and essential items.
The next discussion concerned the Update on Senedd Reform, which is now a standing agenda item. Mark said that he is meeting on a weekly basis with Mick Antoniw, the minister responsible for taking forward the legislation, and his team. The latest issues on which decisions had been made were: to require anyone standing for election to the Senedd to be living in Wales; to require independent candidates to disclose their membership of any political parties over the previous twelve months; and to allow MSs who resign from their original party to sit as independents but not to join another party group. There was general support in the meeting for these proposals, although Mark was asked whether the Welsh residency requirement might put off talented potential candidates living elsewhere in the UK who would be reluctant to risk moving to Wales if they could not be sure of being elected. Mark acknowledged that this point had been considered but it had not been seen as a sufficient concern to justify abandoning the proposal, especially as there were no obvious cases historically where these circumstances would have applied. It was also suggested that, to counter the Tory argument that Senedd reform would be a massive waste of public money at a time of economic hardship, there should be an information campaign within the party, highlighting the achievements of democratic devolution. Mark responded that the actual costs were negligible at this point and that the figure of £100 million cited by the Tories had no basis in fact.
The next item was a paper on Resolving MP Candidate Claims. This set out a procedure, for selecting parliamentary candidates under the proposed new boundaries, whereby Labour MPs for current constituencies would have certain rights to be considered for selection for those new seats for which they wished to stand, depending on the percentage of their current constituency’s population that would be incorporated in the new constituency. The General Secretary pointed out that, while the party’s response to the boundary review was not devolved to Wales, selection procedures are devolved and there are several points in the proposed process where the WEC would have a degree of discretion in the application of the rules.
Darren asked whether the party had incorporated in its official submission the views of those CLPs, such as Cynon Valley, which had objected to aspects of the latest boundary proposals. He also queried a statement in the paper to the effect that the WEC would endeavour to allocate all MPs selected under the current boundaries to a new constituency; this appeared unnecessary, given that a procedure had been drawn up to allow such MPs fair consideration and seemed to take power away from the members. The General Secretary said that all CLPs’ views had been taken into consideration but it had not always been possible to endorse alternative proposals, given that these often had a knock-on effect on other constituencies. With regard to the point about finding seats for reselected MPs, she explained that this was intended to indicate that sitting MPs would be given priority over new candidates. She was also asked about the omission of Caerphilly – where the incumbent is stepping down – from the list of new selections for current seats, with the implication that this would be resolved under the procedure for allocating MPs to the new boundaries; the CLP wanted an open selection a.s.a.p. and it had been agreed at the previous meeting that Welsh Labour officers would discuss this with the CLP officers, which hadn’t yet happened. The General Secretary apologised for this and said that a meeting with the CLP would take place as soon as possible.
The WEC then moved on to a closely-related item: a Parliamentary Selections & Code of Conduct Update. The paper gave a progress report on trigger ballots for sitting Welsh MPs, most of which had now concluded, with the MPs confirmed in all cases as candidates for the next general election. The four new selections agreed at the previous meeting – Vale of Glamorgan, Wrexham, Monmouth and Ynys Mon – were all now well underway and it was agreed to commence selections in four further seats: Aberconwy, Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, Vale of Clwyd and Preseli Pembrokeshire. The second part of this item – a Code of Conduct for Elected Representatives in relation to parliamentary selections – had been discussed at the previous meeting but a decision had been deferred due to concerns over a requirement that anyone holding elected public office at another level of government would be required by the WEC to step down from that position if selected as a candidate for the Westminster Parliament. The General Secretary explained that no-one could legally hold office as a Westminster MP while they were still an MS or PCC and the party wanted to avoid the cost and disruption of a by-election being held subsequent to the general election. She acknowledged, however, that there were particular concerns about councillors being required to resign their seats under these circumstances and said that the WEC would merely have the power to instruct councillors to step down but would take local circumstances into account when deciding whether to apply that power. Darren suggested that the document be re-worded to make the distinction between the rules for MSs and PCCs on one hand and councillors on the other; he was asked to propose an amendment to this effect, which was unanimously adopted. Darren also asked for clarification about a clause in the Code of Conduct prohibiting Welsh ministers or deputy ministers from campaigning for aspiring parliamentary candidates; it was explained that this ruled out any public expression of support.
The General Secretary’s Update was next. Jo McIntyre had circulated a written report covering party membership (currently around 20,000 in Wales); campaigning; fundraising and events; and staffing; and confirming that work was in hand on actions agreed by the previous meeting. She added that the 2023 Welsh Labour conference would be taking place in Llandudno on 12/13 March. Darren asked for future WEC meeting dates to be circulated as soon as possible, as agreed by the previous meeting, and also raised the issue of the UK party’s ban on hybrid meetings. This had been discussed at the previous meeting and Welsh Labour officers had been asked to make representations to the UK party for the ban to be reversed or relaxed. He asked for an update on this and cited further feedback to this effect, including from Rhondda CLP and from Cardiff West CLP’s Disability Officer, which had been particularly telling, given that one of the reasons previously advanced in defence of the ban had been that CLPs were supposedly not hiring accessible venues for physical meetings, on the basis that disabled members could participate online. Jo confirmed that she had made representations to the NEC and had cited the comments that Darren had passed on from Rhondda CLP, but the response had not changed, with UK party officials saying they were reluctant to impose on volunteer officers the responsibility for organising hybrid meetings where appropriate IT facilities could not be guaranteed and where it was difficult to organise secure voting on a secret basis. These explanations remain unconvincing to us and we will continue to push for the matter to be revisited.
The remaining items were the reports from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Labour Deputy Leader’s Report, Leader of the WLGA and Police & Crime Commissioners representative. These had all been circulated in writing and were presented with only a few additional comments, such as Jo Stevens’ acknowledgement of Labour’s positive result in the Chester by-election and Jeff Cuthbert voicing his disagreement with Adam Price’s advocacy of a single Welsh police force. In his written report, Jeff had mentioned the offensive WhatsApp messages by officers of Gwent Police, which had been exposed by the media, but explained that he couldn’t comment further while an investigation was underway. Darren made the point that this incident seemed representative of similarly troubling developments in a number of police forces across the UK and suggested that, in the event of policing being devolved to Wales, there should be a concerted effort to promote culture change.
Under Any Other Business, it was suggested that there would be merit in a comprehensive review of the Welsh Labour Women’s Conference, which had taken place in Aberystwyth on 19 November and had been briefly touched on in the General Secretary’s update. It was agreed that a report should be scheduled for the next meeting, perhaps to be presented by Michelle Perfect, who was praised for her role in organising the conference.