This was the first full meeting of the newly-elected WEC, following the Welsh Labour conference in April. The main item was discussion of the Welsh Labour Democracy Review, which had been agreed at conference. The Chair, Margaret Thomas, began the meeting by expressing her disappointment at the leaking of the papers on this item to the Welsh media.
Report of Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister
Carwyn reiterated his intention to resign by the end of September 2018, allowing his successor to be elected in time to take office on the 12th December 2018, in the last week before Christmas recess. He said that he had been in government for 18 years and now needed to give someone else the chance to do the job. It had not been the easiest time because of austerity, but his government had delivered Welsh Labour’s manifesto commitments despite the reduction in resources by Westminster.
On Brexit, there seemed to be an endless public fight between UK Cabinet Ministers who should have been sacked. Carwyn welcomed the amendment put down by the Labour front bench in Westminster. Businesses that already operate in Wales were, however, considering transferring elsewhere and there was still no solution to the Irish border question. Labour needed to keep pushing the Tories and try to ensure that the public understood the issues. The Welsh Government had recently announced the shape of the new rail franchise; Carwyn said that it was not Welsh ministers’ first preference, as they would have preferred a not-for-profit model, but this had been prevented by the Wales Act. However, there would be a far better service at a far lower price than under the current franchise. Carwyn also talked about the problems caused by the US Government’s introduction of steel tariffs, and about the failure of the UK Government to guarantee the future of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which cast doubt on the future of all such projects.
Tributes were paid to Carwyn in the course of members’ contributions, and questions were raised about a number of the points that he had touched on; most significantly, he was given the opportunity to elaborate on the deal done with the UK Government on the repatriation of powers from Europe. Carwyn emphasised the progress that had been made; the Tories had wanted to take powers in 64 areas and legislate where they saw fit, but it had now been agreed to put a minority of powers in ‘the freezer’ so that they could not be used unless there was mutual agreement, and for the remainder to return directly to Cardiff.
Report of the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Christina thanked Carwyn for all of his help and friendship and talked about the parliamentary discussions over Europe. There would now be two days to debate the EU Withdrawal Bill. Confirmation of the UK Government’s position on the Tidal Lagoon was still awaited and Labour was working with the steel unions on the tariffs issue.
There were now a series of elections for the various WEC sub-committees and working groups. Nominations had been sought in advance of the meeting, but the Chair said that she would take additional nominations from the floor.
Several of these bodies have no maximum membership limit and are open to all WEC members who wished to volunteer – namely: the Organisation sub-committee (on which Chris and Darren will both sit during the present WEC term; the Local Government Sub-Committee; the Appeals Panel; the Behaviour and Culture Working Group; and the Gender Equality Working Group. Four other bodies were subject to contested elections, however. The first of these was the Party Development Board (PDB), which acts as, in effect, the ‘executive’ of the Welsh Executive Committee. This body has 3 representatives of affiliated organisations and 3 from party units, as well as the Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer, Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Darren was elected to one of these seats, along with Catherine Thomas from Mid and West Wales and Deborah Davies from South Wales East. Unlike the PDB, however, the remaining three elections – for WEC observers at SOC meetings; representatives on the Electoral Reform Working Party; and the Welsh Policy Forum – reserved no places for CLP reps and none of the CLP reps who stood for positions were elected, a worrying state of affairs that suggests a lack of commitment on the part of some of our WEC colleagues to these bodies being as representative as possible.
Submission to UK Democracy Review
It had been agreed at the previous full meeting of the WEC that, although the UK party’s Democracy Review dealt mainly with issues that were not specific to Wales, there were one or two matters on which the WEC should make a submission. The agreed points, which had been set out in a brief paper, mainly acknowledged that we were now embarking on our own Welsh Democracy Review, but also reaffirmed the importance of the devolution to the WEC of certain key aspects of the Welsh party’s business. The response also included a declaration of support for the continuation of a seat for the Welsh Labour Leader on the UK party’s NEC. We and other CLP reps had previously expressed reservations about this seat being in the gift of the Welsh Leader, rather than elected by Welsh members, but the majority of the WEC favours the current arrangements, and so we suggested that a second seat could be added, which would be elected by the whole Welsh party, and it was agreed to include this in the submission. The final point in the paper was to reaffirm that, since the NEC meetings usually clash with Assembly plenary business, Carwyn needed to appoint a representative to participate on his behalf. Darren pointed out that, under the NEC’s rules, Carwyn could either take the seat himself or delegate someone else, but not switch between the two. However, Carwyn did not seem to take this on board, and the only additional point agreed was to ask that the NEC meetings be switched to a different day, a request that seems unlikely to be accommodated.
Welsh Labour Democracy Review
We then moved in to the most significant business of the meeting, which had been trailed in the media beforehand. Carwyn had circulated a paper to the WEC, proposing that the Welsh Democracy Review agreed at the April conference be split into two stages, the first of which would deal solely with the question of how the Welsh Leader and Deputy Leader would be elected in future, tacitly acknowledging the continuing controversy over this issue since the declaration at conference of the Deputy Leadership election result, whereby Julie Morgan had won two-thirds of members’ votes but lost out overall. Carwyn proposed that this part of the review be concluded at a special conference on 15 September, before the election to choose his successor. Stage 2 of the Review would then cover all other areas of organisation and activity devolved to the Welsh party and Carwyn had suggested a list of topics, including increasing the recruitment of new members and the engagement of existing members, especially women; raising the representation and involvement of people from BAME communities and from the LGBT+ community, as well as making it easier for people with disabilities to get involved; strengthening the links with affiliated unions and reviewing the party’s relationship with socialist societies and friends’ groups. Carwyn proposed that Lord (Paul) Murphy, the former Torfaen MP and UK cabinet minister, oversee the Review.
In the ensuing discussion, Darren welcomed Carwyn’s initiative but asked a number of questions of detail: would all members be able to give their views in both stages of the consultation; would the WEC make a recommendation to the special conference on Stage 1, with the latter making the final decision; would all CLPs be able to participate in the special conference, including those barred from the April conference due to late payment of affiliation fees; would the list of areas covered by Stage 2 be expanded to include items omitted from Carwyn’s list, such as the make-up and functioning of the WEC itself; and, given, the formidable range of issues covered by the Review as a whole, would Lord Murphy have a team of people to assist him? The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa responded to these questions and answered most in the affirmative, although he said that the inclusion of late-paying CLPs would be a matter for the Standing Orders Committee.
Another CLP rep said that the Review should be looking at how we could retain, as well as recruit, members and pointed out that, in this time of austerity, some members were finding it difficult to keep up their subs payments. It was pointed out, however, that membership fees are non-devolved and this should therefore be covered by the UK review. Our BAME rep, Ramesh Patel, said that the party needs to do more engage BAME members and pointed out that, for example, Cardiff’s Labour-led Council does not have a single BAME member in its cabinet, despite its highly diverse population and a number of BAME councillors. An MP said that it was important that any submissions from CLPs should be the result of genuinely representative meetings, so that the views expressed could be weighted appropriately, and a trade union rep said that ‘official’ responses from CLPs and affiliates must carry more weight than those from individual members of such bodies. David Costa said that Paul Murphy will produce a report that reflects the issues and concerns that will have been fed in, rather than the numbers for and against each option. He confirmed that the WEC would make a democratic decision about what to put to the special conference.
It was agreed to adopt the proposals contained in Carwyn’s paper, with a special WEC meeting on 8 September and a special conference a week later, on the 15th.
Consultation on Leadership & Deputy Leadership elections
We then moved on to the draft consultation document for Stage 1 of the Democracy Review, containing a series of questions relating to preferences between OMOV and an electoral college, and particular variants of each. Darren suggested a series of amendments: first, that the questionnaire should take the form of a ‘decision tree’, so that anyone expressing an initial preference for OMOV or the electoral college should then answer subsidiary questions on their preferred system, not on the alternative; second that the option for OMOV to be limited to party members should be removed, as no-one actually wants to exclude affiliated supporters; and that there should be a question on whether multiple voting should be permitted. Chris and other CLP reps supported these points, and one also said that the explanatory preamble should make clear that the current system gives full-time politicians a vote worth more than 400 times that of an ordinary member. Other members opposed these suggestions, however, and some suggested that anything not covered by the set questions could be added as ‘further comments’ under Question 5.
When it came to voting, the Chair refused to take amendments to the paper first, which is the normal procedure in Labour party (and other) meetings, and instead asked the WEC to vote on the paper as originally presented. It was agreed to accept it unamended by 18 votes to 9, with Chris, Darren and all other CLPs present among the nine.
Preparation for Leadership Election, including Appointment of Procedures Committee
This was a routine procedural item, the main outcome of which was agreement that the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) would be the Procedures Committee for the Leadership election in the autumn. This marked a change from the Deputy Leadership election, when the Party Development Board (PDB) was the Procedures Committee. PDB members had also been prominent supporters of one or other of the two candidates, however, whereas the SOC members are expected to remain publicly impartial in relation to internal elections and other contentious matters within the party.
A paper was presented to the WEC that had not been circulated beforehand, which raised a number of concerns relating to the ongoing selection of parliamentary candidates in non-Labour-held seats. In particular, we were relatively few members were putting themselves forward for selection as candidates in these seats. Questions were posed as to the desirability of relaxing the rules on nominations and minimum shortlist sizes, as well as the potential introduction of a Wales-wide panel to undertake ‘quality control’ in relation to aspiring candidates. Most controversially, it was suggested that, in view of the relative paucity of candidates and the renewed possibility of boundary changes, selections in the six least-winnable Welsh seats (known as ‘challenge’ seats) – which the WEC had previously agreed should proceed a.s.a.p. – could be postponed. CLP reps argued against any delay, pointing out that the CLPs in question were all committed to securing a candidate a.s.a.p. and also proposed (successfully) that considerations of natural justice should apply to any vetting of candidates. It was eventually agreed to defer a final decision on the issues raised in the paper until the next WEC meeting and, in the meantime, to solicit the views of the CLPs in the ‘challenge’ seats about deferring their selections.
The discussion of selections was the last substantial item, the remainder of the agenda being made of uncontentious reports, which had been circulated in writing; minutes; and correspondence.