This meeting was a special one, dedicated solely to receiving and discussing Lord (Paul) Murphy’s report on Phase One of the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review. The consultation period ended on 31st July, shortly after the WEC’s last meeting, but we did not receive the report until late on Friday 7th September, the day before our meeting; we were told that the delay was due to Lord Murphy undertaking on-going meetings with different interested groups up to the week before the WEC meeting.
The report itself was quite concise, detailing the background to the review and its scope: to deal exclusively with the electoral system to be used to elect our leader and deputy leader. The controversy at the end of 2017 is still fresh in people’s minds, when the WEC took the decision to retain an electoral college system, despite the majority of consultation responses favouring One Member One Vote (OMOV). Although Lord Murphy did not provide a precise breakdown of the responses, it was made clear that, this time around, CLPs and individual members (the latter via an online survey) favoured OMOV, as did Unite the Union, some smaller affiliate bodies and the majority of the members of the Assembly Labour Group. Other trade unions (including UNISON and the GMB) favoured a reformed electoral college system.
It was clear from Lord Murphy’s report that there is consensus against the continuation of the status quo, whereby the elected representatives (AMs, MPs and the one MEP) retain a third of the college (which, in the deputy leadership election, led to their votes being worth more than 400 times those of ordinary party members). There is also overwhelming support for the continued involvement of levy-paying members of affiliated unions and other organisations. However, there was no consensus over the electoral method that should be used and Lord Murphy therefore asked the WEC to consider two options:
- OMOV (which he calls “OMOV Plus”, to emphasise that it would not just involve party members – the ‘M’ in OMOV – but also affiliated supporters); and
- a reformed electoral college (wherein 50% of the college would be for party members and 50% for affiliated supporters).
The report contained draft wording of the relevant additions to the rule book to be added depending on which option was chosen, and contained a section on the workstream arrangements in place for Phase Two of the review, which is to consider all other aspects of party democracy devolved to the Welsh party.
The WEC therefore had to decide, on the basis of Lord Murphy’s report, what to put to the Special Conference (to be held on Saturday 15th September), where delegates from party units and affiliates will make the final decision.
The first discussion was therefore around whether or not both options should be presented to conference – as Chris and Darren, among several others, argued – or whether only one option should be presented. The latter view was put by most of the union reps who spoke (other than those from Unite), who wanted just the reformed electoral college option to go forward. Those of us who argued for the conference to be given a genuine choice argued that the confidence of members in the party’s process had already been damaged by developments over the last year and that this would be exacerbated if only one option were presented to delegates. Carwyn Jones made a significant intervention in the discussion, arguing that, although he personally favoured a reformed electoral college, both options should be put to conference; he added that this would not preclude the WEC from making a recommendation. When the vote was taken, it was duly agreed (by a margin of 21 to eight) to put both options to conference, which was a considerable relief and means that we will not simply be back in the same position in which we found ourselves last November.
It was then unanimously agreed that the WEC should make a recommendation to conference. Unfortunately, it was then narrowly agreed (by only one vote) that the recommendation should be for the electoral college. Conference will not, of course, be obliged to follow this recommendation – and, indeed, a WEC recommendation was rejected on more than one several occasion at the main Welsh conference in April. The main thing is that delegates from every CLP, affiliated union and socialist society will be able to participate in the crucial decision as to how we elect our leader and deputy leader in future.
The detailed arrangements for the Special Conference were not discussed at this meeting because they fall under the purview of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC), which will decide on such matters as speaking slots and voting arrangements. A couple of significant points were made, however. It was confirmed that the decision will be taken by a card vote, with delegates casting a vote roughly proportional to the membership of the bodies they represent. It was also suggested in the discussion that, since a rule change was involved, the decision would have to carry a two-thirds majority to be valid; party officers were able to state definitively that this is not required by the rules. The unions that support a reformed electoral college also made clear that they wanted to restrict anyone taking part in future elections to a maximum of two votes: one as a party member (if applicable) and one as a member of an affiliated organisation (if applicable) – whereas some people (especially elected politicians) had as many as six or seven votes in the recent deputy leadership election, depending on how many organisations they belonged to. This had not been specified in Lord Murphy’s report, so the relevant draft rule change was amended to reflect the unions’ position.
One other point needs to be mentioned in relation to this discussion. One of our fellow CLP reps proposed that there be a recorded vote on the decisions of this meeting, meaning that the names of the WEC members voting each way would be recorded in the minutes. This is something that was incorporated in the new standing orders that we agreed back in February, which say that there will be a recorded vote if at least two members request it. The chair (wrongly, in our view) opened this request up to discussion and then put it to the vote, and, as only eight of us supported it, she declined the request. In the course of this brief discussion, some WEC members suggested, rather questionably, that to reveal how members voted might expose them to abuse and intimidation. In our view, however, this is a question of accountability: most of us on the WEC are there not as individuals but as representatives of particular sections of the party, which have a right to know how we acted in their name. We would add that we rarely mention other WEC members by name in our reports and never in connection with anything controversial.
The only other item at the meeting was a brief update on the position of the Welsh Labour General Secretary. Louise Magee will soon be going on maternity leave and it was announced the Head of Communications, Rhiannon Evans would undertake Louise’s duties during her absence.