This meeting was called at a point when it looked as though there might be an imminent General Election. By the time that it took place, this seemed less likely due to the opposition parties in Westminster uniting to defy Boris Johnson’s push towards a snap election. Nevertheless, it was felt useful to put in place selection procedures for any parliamentary vacancies that might needed to be filled quickly. At the time of the meeting, only one of these was known about, which was Ynys Môn, where Albert Owen had announced that he would be retiring after 18 years as MP.
A paper had been prepared by party officers, which reviewed the situation in Wales and made proposals for urgent selections. Of the non-Labour held seats in Wales, only two still needed to select candidates, namely Montgomeryshire and Ceredigion. Both of these were due to complete their respective selection within a fortnight of the meeting. The paper made a commitment to ensure that there was as much democratic involvement by party members as possible while also completing selections without delay to ensure that the party would be ready for the election when it came.
The constituency party in Ynys Môn had been consulted and agreed a timetable which would skip the normal branch nominations process but would allow members to participate in a hustings meeting, where they would decide between candidates shortlisted by a selections committee. The hustings meeting was expected to take place on 5th or 6th October. Similar arrangements would be put in place for any other vacancies that might occur before a General Election was actually called.
This was all uncontentious and the meeting agree the paper. However, Darren also took this opportunity to ask about progress on trigger ballots for the re-selection of candidates in Labour-held seats. This process had been underway in England for a couple of weeks, with constituencies undertaking the process in stages, but this had not yet begun in Wales. The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, explained that, since the WEC had agreed at its last meeting that Mark Drakeford should write to the UK Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby to ask for a rule change to give Welsh Labour devolved control over re-selections of parliamentary candidates in Wales, he had been advised that Mick Antoniw, as Mark’s representative on the NEC, should put a rule change motion to the NEC, which was due to meet the following week.
Any progress on trigger ballots in Wales would therefore have to wait on the outcome of this meeting. If the NEC agreed to support Mick’s rule change, then it would go to UK party conference. If carried, it would mean that the WEC would have to decide on re-selection rules for Wales at its next meeting on 5th October. If the NEC or conference rejected the rule change proposal, then the WEC meeting on 5th October would have to draw up detailed procedures for implementing the same mechanism as was already underway in England.
Darren asked whether, in the event that the NEC rejected the rule change, the process of implementing trigger ballots in Wales could be brought forward, rather than wait for 5th October, because of the limited time available, given the continuing possibility of an early election. He pointed out that most members in Wales hadn’t had an opportunity to choose their parliamentary candidate since around 2013 or 2014. He also noted that, in the event of the rule change being agreed, the actual mechanism applied in Wales would be determined by the 30-odd voting members of the WEC, whereas the procedures in England had been agreed by UK party conference. It was explained, however, that it would not be possible to bring the meeting forward due to party conference and Mark’s expected absence the following week.
The final item was a report from the General Secretary on election preparations. Louise said that Welsh Labour leaflet template text was available as both bilingual and monolingual versions via Labour Connect. The party would be conducting interviews in the next few days for both the Policy Officer and vacant Regional Organiser positions and would be seeking an increase in staffing if and when a general election was called. There would also be campaign training in South West and North Wales and IT training on Contact Creator and Labour Connect. It wasn’t intended to cancel scheduled events such as Welsh Women’s Conference or the Welsh Policy Forum unless a snap election were to be called. Darren asked whether there would be more engagement between the WEC and the Welsh manifesto process on this occasion, noting that in 2017 WEC members had been told nothing about the process until the manifesto was actually published. David Costa responded that the Welsh manifesto process was a subsidiary of the UK process and that the specifically Welsh elements would reflect documents already agreed by the WEC or the Welsh Policy Forum and there was also a need for the text to be written quickly by a small number of people. Mark Drakeford added that, although there were real time constraints, he would want the party to look at how we could engage people in the process as far as possible. He explained that SpAds do most of the actual writing of the manifesto but that there could be an opportunity to WEC members to meet them to discuss particular policy areas. Chris also commented on the manifesto, saying that the Welsh version had been rather bland in 2017 and that this time it needed to be more dynamic with positive reference to Jeremy Corbyn.