This meeting had a particularly heavy agenda and it was a struggle to deal with all 16 items even after extending the finishing time to 1.30pm.
Report of the Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister
Carwyn Jones gave a verbal report, where he described in not very flattering terms the current state of the Tory negotiations over Brexit. While the Welsh Government had produced a White Paper on the matter and was working with big employers, the Tories’ failure to produce a detailed and comprehensive trade deal between the EU and the UK would have very serious consequences for Wales. He also warned that public finances under the Tories’ austerity programme would be very tough next year. Carwyn expressed concern over funding for the public sector pay deal and the detrimental effect on such schemes as student finance and the free school meals project. He warned that, however tempting it may seem to raise taxes, they should not be used to plug the gaps created by central Government. Instead any such increases should go to additional needs, in order to secure a fair settlement for Wales. Concern was also expressed over the uncertainty as to whether Wales would remain part of an all EU defence, security and anti -crime force. Cllr. Debbie Wilcox rightly accused the Tory Government of ‘killing off public services’ and raised the need for us to demonstrate our opposition to what is happening under this government using the slogan, ‘Tell the Truth about the Tories’, which Chris strongly endorsed, arguing that the labour movement had been too quiet and should take our campaigning out on the streets. Carwyn finally advised the meeting that as a party we must get ready for an election, as he wondered how much more people could take of the UK government’s austerity measures.
Report of the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
A written report had been circulated, covering Christina’s campaign work plus what was happening in parliament over Brexit, the Tories refusal to fund the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and Wales Questions. The Welsh MPs had raised a series of matters such as post Brexit farming funding, the impact of Universal Credit, Leaving the EU and international trade opportunities, the state of cross border rail services, matters in North Wales, to name but a few. It would appear that Alun Cairns replies were ‘less than inspirational’.
Report of Welsh Labour Deputy Leader
Carolyn Harris’ written report described the campaigning work she has been engaged in, since taking office. She offered to visit any CLPs over the summer. She was also involved in the current WASI Women and the Period Poverty Campaigns and said that she would be working with the Welsh Government to provide children attending summer holiday play groups with sandwiches for lunch.
Discussion of Welsh Labour Democracy Review with Lord Murphy
The first part of this item was an opportunity to raise questions and concerns with Lord (Paul) Murphy about Stage 1 of the Democracy Review, which is looking specifically at the electoral system for Welsh Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections. Chris asked Paul about comments he had previously made about his approach to considering submissions, whereby he said he will “give a flavour” of responses in his report, and asked how he would weight the respective strength of feeling for and against different options. In response, he defended this approach and said that he aimed to “ensure that all views are heard”, rather than conducting a “mathematical exercise” to weigh responses.
Darren highlighted the importance of a choice of options would being put before the special conference on 15 September but Paul failed to give any assurances in this regard and seemed to suggest that he would prefer to avoid this, hoping instead that some degree of consensus would emerge; he did acknowledge, however, that a choice might be necessary if opinion seemed very evenly divided. The Chair, Margaret Thomas, also asserted that it will ultimately be the WEC itself that decides what is put before conference.
In response to a suggestion from one of the local government reps that the leadership nominations procedure be reformed to allow for greater diversity and specifically to ensure that a woman candidate on the ballot-paper (a proposal that has been promoted by supporters of Eluned Morgan), Paul Murphy said that that would be a matter for Stage 2 of the Review. The next WEC meeting on 8 September will be dedicated to agreeing what will be put to the special conference the following weekend.
There was also a presentation on Stage 2 of the Review, which is being divided into a number of ‘workstreams’, each of which will be taken forward by a sub-committee of the WEC or an ad hoc working group. The Welsh Policy Forum meeting scheduled to take place in Newport on 27 October will also be feeding into the workstream on our future policy-making arrangements. The work on Stage 2 will get underway after the special conference concludes Stage 1 but initial meetings of the various sub-committees and working groups are to be arranged sooner than later.
Selection and Reselections
This section of the agenda covered a series of connected items on parliamentary and Assembly selections and turned out to be the most controversial aspect of the meeting. The first sub-item followed on from the paper discussed at the June meeting, which had suggested delaying selections for Westminster candidates in the six less winnable non-Labour-held Welsh constituencies, rather than proceeding with them as soon as the six more winnable seats had been dealt with, as agreed in September 2017. As agreed at the previous meeting, the Deputy General Secretary, David Costa had written to the six CLPs in question, pointing out the various concerns that had been raised and asking them their views. All but one of these CLPs had responded by stating emphatically, but in a carefully considered manner, that they wanted to select candidates as soon as possible. A consistent theme in their responses was the conviction that, if Labour is to have any chance of capturing the seat in question, it must have a candidate to act as a public spokesperson for the party. Five of the six ‘challenge’ seats are in the Mid and West Wales and Catherine Thomas, one of the CLP reps for the region, spoke passionately about the need to respect the CLPs’ wishes, supported by Darren and other CLP reps. Other WEC members raised objections, however, based mainly on the workloads of staff and officers recommended that the selections be delayed until the New Year. When it came to the vote, only eight of us (all CLP reps) voted in favour of respecting the constituencies’ views; the fifteen other voting members of the Committee present voted to delay the selections. Catherine asked that a senior officer visit each constituency to explain the decision. The Chair said, however, that this would be unnecessary: a letter should suffice but she would be willing to meet a delegation consisting of one or two officers from each CLP.
The next item was a paper on whether we should allow selected parliamentary candidates could stand in an Assembly election if the latter came first, and on what basis. The General Secretary pointed out that the current rules don’t allow someone to be a candidate for both Assembly and parliamentary elections at the same some; we would have to give special dispensation. Darren spoke in favour of allowing CLPs to decide on this, highlighting the current strength of the party’s grassroots organisation and the need to trust our members and activists. Chris spoke in support of this and also said that candidates should always be members of the relevant trade union. Other members disagreed, however, saying that we shouldn’t allow candidates to “chop and change” and Carwyn said that the comments made in support of flexibility didn’t cover the situation where a candidate jumped ship in order to stand in a safer seat; the ‘home’ CLP would have no control of this. When it came to the vote, only three of us voted in favour of allowing leeway on this and the various specific options then fell by default.
Next, we had a short paper relating to initial preparations for selecting candidates for the 2021 Assembly elections. The first point for consideration was wherever selections should be conducted on the basis of the current procedure and the Chair asked whether anyone would have any objections to this. No-one did, in principle, but Darren pointed out that the Welsh Democracy Review would cover selections and might result in a change of procedure. Carwyn said it seemed strange to argue for immediate selections earlier on but then to argue for a delay. Darren clarified that he wasn’t advocating delay, just that any changes needed to be implemented once they were agreed. Carwyn replied that we couldn’t have some candidates for the next Assembly election selected under one system and others under a different system. Others seemed to agree with this comment and, when it was put to the vote, it was overwhelmingly agreed that the current arrangements should continue. In response to a second question under this item, everyone agreed that AMs should be contacted to establish whether they plan to stand again.
The final paper in this section of the agenda raised the possibility of re-establishing an all-Wales panel to carry out initial vetting of aspiring candidates in relation to probity and general quality. David Costa set out three options, from which the WEC could choose if it liked the idea in principle. The first of these would involve the panel conducting a basic probity check – interviewing candidates and scanning their social media accounts. The second would add a compulsory training session, while the third would also test candidates’ skills, experience and knowledge. David said that, in the view or the officers, Options 1 and 2 could be helpful to CLPs but Option 3 would be step too far.
We CLP reps were sceptical about the value of any Wales-wide panel, which we saw as involving more work for staff, which had been highlighted as a potential problem earlier. Louise replied that it would be WEC members, rather than staff, who would make up the panel but staff support would undoubtedly be required. It was also suggested in the discussion that there could be Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (previously known as CRB checks) for all candidates; most, if not all of us supported this, but it would be carried out by civil servants and would not require Welsh Labour input. Some senior members of the committee suggested that many candidates have little knowledge of the political world in which they are seeking to get involved, including the differences between the Assembly and Parliament. It was eventually agreed in principle that we should have a Wales-wide panel, with only 8 CLP reps voting against and it was then specifically agreed to go for Option 2, with 3 abstentions.
The WEC was presented with a document giving a thorough review of the April 2018 conference and highlighting issues that had arisen, which could be taken into account in future. Perhaps the most significant aspect related to the decision by the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) not to accept delegates or motions for the April conference from CLPs or Women’s Fora that had not paid their affiliation fees before 31 December 2017. This had caused understandable outrage and the news that the SOC had agreed to relax this rule in future, provided that fees are paid before delegates are elected, was welcomed by the WEC. It was confirmed that the 2019 Welsh Labour Conference will be held in Llandudno once again, as Venue Cymru is an ideal size, disability access, etc. It was hoped that in future, the conference should be rotated around Wales but agreed that it should held in the North more frequently than the South, to help address concerns that Welsh Labour events are too South Wales orientated.
A grid was also circulated, showing motions carried by the Welsh Labour conference in April and the body responsible for acting on each of them. This was something Darren had specifically requested at the previous meeting, both in order to have a clear record of what had been agreed and to get a statement as to what the party and/or the Welsh Government proposed to do about each motion – especially in the case of more contentious issues like the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) where conference had overwhelmingly rejected the Welsh Government’s position. The grid merely gave the title of each motion, however, rather than summarising its intent, and said only which body was responsible for each motion, not what was being done about it. We had been told that we would be given a verbal report at the meeting but Darren requested something in writing and Carwyn said that he would circulate something after the meeting
General Secretary’s Report
Louise Magee’s written report included an update on parliamentary selections. Belinda Loveluck-Edwards had been selected in the Vale of Glamorgan, Marc Tierney in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Philippa Thompson in Preseli Pembrokeshire, Emily Owen in Aberconwy and Mary Griffiths Clarke in Arfon. Clwyd West would start again in the autumn. Both Louise herself and the Welsh Labour finance manager would be going on maternity leave very soon, which would also need to be factored into staff workloads over the coming months. Louise’s report also gave an overview of past and future campaigns, training, staffing and forthcoming events.
General Data Protection Regulation
A useful briefing on the party’s responsibilities under the new regulations was given by an officer from HQ.
Derek Vaughan submitted a written report which really expressed his contempt for the UK Government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, the high cost of leaving the EU and the fraudulent behaviour of the Vote Leave Campaigners.
Welsh Local Government Association Leader’s Report
Cllr Debbie Wilcox’s written report included: Local Government Reform, in relation to which she said that the decision not to proceed with the forced merger Option 3 of the “Strengthening Local Government Green Paper” had been warmly welcomed by councils; the establishment of a joint working group with the WLGA and the relevant trade unions chaired by Derek Vaughan MEP, tasked with examining key areas such as financial sustainability, structures, the respect agenda, active citizenship, powers and flexibilities over a twelve-month period, in preparation for the 2022 local elections. Debbie also reiterated that eight years of Tory austerity is causing great suffering.
Police & Crime Commissioners Report
The WEC also noted a written report from Jeff Cuthbert, PCC for Gwent, who was pleased to report the Welsh Government’s support for the setting up of a Policing Board for Wales and the continuation of the Schools Liaison Programme.