Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) Report May 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

A special WEC meeting was held to consider just two items. The first was a report on the Parliamentary Selection process to be undertaken in Wales following the Westminster Boundary Review. This report incorporated a draft Code of Conduct for that process alongside draft proposals on how the process would be undertaken. The second item was a report setting out the options for Senedd term lengths when the new electoral system is introduced in 2026. 

No other formal reports were submitted or considered but Mark Drakeford opened the meeting by making a statement on recent issues within Plaid Cymru and the news that Adam Price was to step down with immediate effect. Mark made clear that the appropriate reaction from Welsh Labour should not be to comment on Plaid’s difficulties but to look at ourselves, ensuring that our own house is in order and giving our constituents a clear commitment that we will live up to the standards that they have a right to expect. He outlined that there will be mandatory training to deal with the issues highlighted by Nerys Evans in her report so that anyone with a concern can raise it knowing that they will be heard and attended to. He explained that later that day he would be sending an open letter to every member of the party to set out Senedd group plans and the wider party including access to materials, training and above all else the ability to feel supported so that members of our party know that we will deal with any breach of standards firmly and fairly. This approach was warmly applauded by several WEC members. 

The Deputy General Secretary, Joe Lock then introduced the first report around the Senedd term length and the options to be considered within the paper, that the Senedd term length either remain at five years, or be reduced to four (as it was when the Assembly was first established). Because the issue had been discussed before, a full debate was considered unnecessary at this point but Vicky Howells, representing the Senedd Labour group stated that after a number of discussions the Group had been slightly in favour of a five-year term; and Cllr. Andrew Morgan, speaking on behalf of the WLGA Labour Group, also stated that they supported a five-year term. A vote was then taken, first on a four-year term. We both supported this option, both because of the general feeling that, other things being equal, shorter terms mean greater accountability, and also because of the specific concern that a longer term allows greater opportunity for MSs to change their party affiliation – as several of those elected for UKIP in 2016 had done. This was defeated by 12 votes to 10, however. The five-year option was then put to the vote; this was tied at 12 votes all, so the Chair used his casting vote in favour.  

The next item, around the Parliamentary Selection process, gave rise to a lengthy debate that highlighted a number of concerns from various members including ourselves. The main paper presented by officers set out the process that would be followed in every type of situation resulting from the boundary review. We were told, however, that, since much of the content had been agreed at previous meetings, the only part of the paper that needed to be discussed was the section relating to new constituencies where there were two sitting, and re-selected, Labour MPs, each with a substantial territorial claim on the new seat (meaning that at least 40% of the electorate of their current seat would transfer to the new one). There were only two places in Wales where this was the case and in one of these (Neath and Swansea East) the process was currently on hold because one of the two sitting MPs was currently under suspension.

Consequently, our discussion would relate specifically to the new constituency of Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon and we were told that the party was ready to begin the selection, subject to agreement on the proposed process, which officers believed was the best fit for this circumstance. 

As CLP reps we felt unable to support the proposal due to the rigid timelines set, the significant variation from how we have undertaken selection processes in the past and the isolation and removal of member engagement in this critical process, not least due to the online-only approach.

There were a number of contentious aspects of the process, as set out in the paper. These included the unusually short duration of the contest: 7-14 days (although in the course of the discussion, the Deputy General Secretary said this could be increased to 16 days) and the fact that both the hustings meeting and the voting would be conducted entirely online (with a vaguely defined and conditional facility for ‘proxy’ voting for those unable to vote online). There would be no capacity to allow affiliated organisations to hold meetings to discuss nominations, nor for party branches to do the same. The Procedures Secretary would not be someone from the CLP but a Welsh Labour staff member and a member of the WEC would be appointed to oversee the procedures. With the selection preceding the establishment of the new CLP, the role of elected CLP officers had effectively been removed, which for us as CLP reps set an undemocratic precedent. No firm evidence was presented to justify the haste with which the contest was to be conducted, given that there was no  realistic prospect of a General Election on the horizon. 

A number of other WEC members made raised similar concerns, mostly around disenfranchising members. 

UNISON put forward an amendment, which we supported, seeking an extension of the process to 28 days, an in-person hustings meeting and voting at the hustings meeting, with a postal vote for anyone unable to attend.

The GMB successfully requested that voting on this item be undertaken in secret, which is within the rules but very unusual. 

  • Extending the process to 28 days: lost by 14 votes to 12.
  • In-person hustings meeting: the vote was tied at 13 votes all and, as the Chair did not wish to use his casting vote, the proposal fell.
  • The third element of the Unison amendment – voting in person at the hustings or by postal vote – therefore also fell, by default.

Voting on the Unison amendment then proceeded as follows:

The unamended paper was then carried by 15 votes to 11.

Although, in the course of the discussion, officers made a couple of concessions in response to the concerns raised – the slight extension of the timescale and, most importantly, a commitment that all members would be given the right to apply for a postal vote – the process as a whole gives us serious concerns about the democratic deficit involved.

Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) report, February/March 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

WEC meeting held on 4 February 

This was the first and, to date, the only full meeting of the WEC held this year. It took place less than a week after the sudden, tragic death of Mark Drakeford’s wife, Clare. Mark was therefore absent and the meeting began with expressions of condolences from WEC members. 

The most significant item on the agenda was a paper on selection procedures for the Westminster Parliament. It was reported that all sitting Welsh Labour MPs had now gone through the trigger ballot procedure and declared to have been reselected, with the exception of Wayne David, who had announced that he would be stepping down, and Christina Rees, who is currently under suspension. Of the constituencies without a sitting Labour MP, selections had now taken place in four (the Vale of Glamorgan, Wrexham, Monmouth and Ynys Môn). Based on the experience in these constituencies, some proposals were presented as to how the procedures could be improved in a practical sense; most of these were sensible and uncontentious. 

A decision now needed to be made about the remaining seats without a Labour candidate; all of these would be significantly affected by the proposals for redrawing boundaries that had come out of the recent review. The WEC was asked to consider three options: either to continue selecting candidates on the existing boundaries until the new boundaries came into effect in summer 2023; or to pause selections until the UK party began selecting on the new boundaries after the English local elections; or, lastly, to move immediately to the selection of candidates on the new boundaries. The first option was considered the most problematic because of the unlikelihood of being able to complete all selections before the new boundaries came into effect and the uneven and messy situation that could result from this. 

On that basis, it was agreed to halt all such selections and it was felt that it would be better to proceed to selecting for the new seats as soon as possible rather than wait for the UK party to begin its work in England. Welsh party officers had suggested some principles by which the selections could take place; some of these were more controversial than others and it was agreed that a detailed paper should be prepared, rather than agree the details immediately. One change to the proposed procedures that was agreed following a suggestion from Darren was that unions and other organisations affiliated to any predecessor constituency to a new seat would be able to make nominations, rather than organisations affiliated at an all-Wales level, as had been the original suggestion. 

There was some discussion about the position of Caerphilly, where there was no move to begin a selection, despite Wayne David having announced his retirement some time before. The CLP officers were known to be unhappy about this. It transpired that no selection could take place until the intentions of all sitting MPs with a territorial claim on the new constituency had been ascertained. Chris Evans, MP for Islwyn, was the only MP in this position, as a small part of his current constituency would become part of the new, enlarged Caerphilly. WEC members had not previously appreciated that, under procedures agreed the previous year, any sitting MP with even a small claim on a new constituency could be declared selected unopposed. There was a lot of unhappiness about this situation but it was not immediately clear what could be done about it. 

There was also a report from a meeting of the Party Development Board (PDB), which had taken place the week before, to consider some matters relating to the ongoing Senedd reform agenda. The most pressing of these was about the guidelines on which any future work to redraw Senedd constituency boundaries would be based; the 2026 election would be based on pairing the new Westminster parliamentary boundaries and it had been agreed that there should be limited change to these in future. An average number of constituents per seat had to be set, along with a permissible variance from that size. For the current UK Parliament review, this variance was +/- 5% but the PDB agreed to allow flexibility of up to 10% compared to current boundaries, to allow greater flexibility to potentially correct some of the anomalies arising from the UK Parliament review. A couple of other issues had also been discussed at the PDB where no decision was necessary; one was whether the length of the Senedd term should be four or five years, while the other was whether parties could join together to present a joint list of candidates. The WEC noted the report.

The only other substantive item was the General Secretary’s report; concerns were raised about the quality of membership reports, which had been affected by the data issues that the party had experienced. The commitment to place WEC papers on the party website was also raised and the General Secretary agreed to work on this. Finally, meeting dates for future WEC meetings were requested. 

The reports from the various elected representatives had been circulated in writing and there were few, if any, questions or comments on these. 

Darren also raised correspondence he had received from Pontypridd CLP, seeking discussion of a motion it had passed calling for Welsh representation on the union flag. The CLP chair, Graham Colk, was also present as CWU rep and added his own representations but officers advised that the motion could not be discussed at the WEC. 

WEC meeting held on 4 March

This was a special meeting to consider business for Welsh Labour Conference, which was due to take place the following weekend. Mark was absent once again but had submitted a written report covering a number of issues, including the Welsh Government’s efforts to resolve the various public sector pay disputes and its ongoing support for refugees from the war in Ukraine.

The General Secretary, Jo McIntyre reported that preparations for conference were going well and around 600 people were expected to attend in some capacity. The party was trying out a new approach with panel discussions and feedback would be welcomed at the next WEC meeting. 

The meeting then turned to the main business, which was a paper setting out the motions from CLPs and affiliates that had been successful in the priorities ballot; there were 18 of these, grouped under 9 headings. Mark had given advice on each motion from the perspective of the Welsh Government, which was passed on by the chair.

Motions on the climate emergency, education funding, the creative industries, the economy, health and workers’ rights were all uncontentious and the WEC agreed to recommend support to Conference for these motions. Slightly more surprisingly, given the public statements made by certain MPs, there was also no opposition to motions from Monmouth and Pontypridd CLPs calling for devolution of control over the justice system to Wales; this was broadly in line with the report recently produced by Gordon Brown, to which one of the motions referred. 

There was more controversy over four motions, which were almost identical, from Ceredigion, Clwyd South, Montgomeryshire and Ynys Môn CLPs. These noted that the Senedd and Welsh Government had continued to accrue responsibility over additional areas of public policy and that support for further devolution was strong and called for the WEC to explore proposals for devolution of the party rulebook to reflect decentralisation of decision-making at governmental level. Some WEC members raised concerns about the lack of detail as to which responsibilities might be devolved and made reference to the sensitivities surrounding the party rules in the light of criticism from the EHRC. It was pointed out, however, that the motions called only for the start of a process of discussion, which would, in any case, need the agreement of the UK party to deliver any change. On that basis, a majority agreed to call for support for these motions. 

The remaining motion that was contentious was the only one where Mark Drakeford’s advice had been to call for remission; this had come from Cardiff North CLP and dealt with housing policy, seeking a number of changes to make housing more affordable and better maintained and to give tenants greater security, including a system of rent controls and the strengthening of inspection, licensing and regulatory powers. The advice from Mark suggested that, while the intention of the motion was commendable, there were some practical difficulties in respect of the cost of the measures proposed and a potential clash with ongoing consultation. Darren argued for the motion to be supported but a majority of the WEC agreed to follow Mark’s advice and seek remission. 

There was also a discussion paper on the question of Senedd term lengths, setting out the arguments for and against, respectively, four and five year terms. No immediate decision was required and the paper was noted. 

Finally, Pontypridd CLP had written to draw attention to a motion it had passed calling, in light of recent developments, for CLPs to be able to choose their own parliamentary candidates, but officers advised that it was not proper business for the WEC.  

Report from Welsh Labour Conference, March 2023

Conference was held in Llandudno on 11 and 12 March. All of the motions considered by the WEC were debated and Conference voted along the lines recommended by the WEC. Cardiff North CLP declined to remit their motion, which was then defeated. There was a long debate on the devolution of justice and this was ultimately carried unanimously. There was also a lengthy and impassioned debate on devolving the rulebook; this was also carried with only very limited opposition and no speeches against. 

The other Conference business included the usual speeches from leading figures in the party, including the UK and Welsh leaders, the deputy leader and the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Mark’s speech was widely considered particularly impressive in its scope and political depth, passionately articulating the fundamental commitment to solidarity on which he and the Welsh Labour Government have based their policies. There were also a number of panel discussions involving Westminster MPs, MSs, parliamentary candidates and others considering different issues and questions of interest for the party. 

A WEC meeting was held on the Sunday morning of Conference; as it normally the case, this was very short and focussed and served mainly to elect the officers for the following year. Anthony Hunt (Leader of Torfaen Council) was elected as Chair (having already acted as Chair for the previous couple of meetings, after Philippa Marsden stood down); the former Assembly Member, Ann Jones was elected as Vice Chair and Jackie Thomas from the Community union was elected as Treasurer. There was also an informal discussion about how Conference had been going; while most of the feedback was positive, WEC members, including Darren, expressed concern about the amount of time devoted to the panels, which was felt to have unduly limited the time available to debate the motions. Darren also expressed concern about the fact that two requests to move reference back of the Standing Orders report, including one that he had presented in respect of a CLP motion that had been ruled out of order, were rejected by the Chair; although the rulebook is silent on the matter, this was not in keeping with previous custom and practice and the Deputy General Secretary agreed to seek further advice