This was a very well-attended meeting with a very full agenda, reflecting the rapidly moving political developments affecting the party. Mark Drakeford had as usual circulated a detailed written report on both Welsh Government and party business, but chose in his verbal presentation to focus on two issues: Brexit and the re-selections process for the MPs in Wales.
On Brexit, he noted that UK conference had agreed that a UK Labour government would offer voters a referendum with a choice between remaining in the EU and a viable ‘leave’ option, and that the Welsh Government would campaign in such a referendum for ‘remain’. The party wouldn’t, however, get the opportunity to do that unless we won the election and it was therefore important to stress that only Labour would offer voters this choice.
On re-selections, Mark expressed his deep disappointment that the NEC had rejected the rule change proposed by Mick Antoniw, which would have given Welsh Labour devolved responsibility for re-selections in Wales. Mark said that this had perpetuated an anomaly whereby the Welsh party had control over selections and re-selections for Assembly candidates, but only for selections and not re-selections for parliamentary candidates. He would seek to persuade the NEC to reconsider its decision at some point in the future, but this was probably best done alongside any other requests for devolved responsibilities arising out of the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review.
Wales now had to proceed with trigger ballots on the same basis as in England, but Mark felt that time needed to be taken to do this properly, partly due to a duty of care to staff who were dealing with a number of other issues, including the selections in Ynys Môn and Cynon Valley, but also to ensure that the procedures followed were robust and not open to challenge. Certainly, it would not be possible to re-select in all constituencies simultaneously.
There was a lengthy discussion arising from Mark’s report, in which several WEC members echoed his disappointment over the NEC decision. One trade union representative criticised Darren for not having supported Mick’s rule change at the NEC. Darren responded that he was not on the NEC as a WEC representative but as a voice for ordinary party members throughout the UK, and that he had sought to reflect what he believed to be the consensus among members on this and other issues. He did not believe that most members in Wales felt it necessary for there to be separate Welsh selection or re-selection procedures for candidates for a UK-wide legislature. Darren also welcomed Mark’s positive comments on Brexit, highlighting the fact that only Labour, of the main parties, offered voters a final say, but expressed concern that any election material in Wales should acknowledge that a democratic decision had been made at UK conference on the party’s Brexit position, and that, while the Welsh Government was free to express a view, this had not been subject to consultation within the Welsh party. Unite also indicated their support for the UK party position.
Christina Rees. Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, reported on the ongoing saga in Westminster, where it appeared that parliament was now about to be prorogued again. There were concerns about the intricacies of the legislation relating to Brexit, but legal documents following the Scottish court decision suggested that the Prime Minister would comply with the law and request an extension to the 31st October Brexit deadline if no deal was agreed within the next few weeks. There were fears, however, that he might be seeking the assistance of other right-wing governments in Europe to veto any such extension.
In the following discussion, several WEC members condemned the irresponsible behaviour of UK government ministers, including in relation to the delay in providing funding for Wales, as well as the inappropriate, misogynistic language used by several Tory MPs.
In her Deputy Leader’s report, Carolyn Harris MP reflected on a successful UK party conference and the positive role played by Welsh Labour MPs at Westminster, including Diane Abbott’s historic role in leading for Labour at Prime Minister’s Questions. She talked about the continuing scourge of poverty, which underlined the vital need for a Labour government at UK level and reported that election preparations were well underway.
Christine commented on the issue of bursaries for nurses, pointing out that Wales already pays these, and said that Wales’ experience was not always adequately reflected in some of the debates at Westminster. She commended the party’s commitment to end the elitism represented by public schools and asked what Wales could do on this issue. Mark Drakeford said that the Welsh Government was seeking the agreement of the Assembly to remove charitable status from private schools and hospitals in Wales.
The next item was a set of draft standing orders for Welsh Labour’s BAME Committee, which had been drawn up by the Deputy General Secretary in liaison with the committee’s officers and which reflected the standing orders of the Women’s Committee. The Committee’s Chair and BAME representative, Ramesh Patel, thanked the party and Jane Hutt for their efforts. He asked whether it would be possible for the Vice Chair to attend WEC meetings in a non-voting capacity if the Chair were ever unavailable, but was told that this would not be consistent with practice in other areas where substitutes were never allowed. The only issue of detail that needed to be decided on the document was whether the committee should elect its officers annually or biennially; Ramesh said that the preference of the existing officers was for biennial elections, which would give them the same term of office as the WEC itself, and this was agreed by the WEC. Some members raised the question of how more BAME candidates could be selected and suggested the possibility of all-BAME shortlists, but it was pointed out that this would be illegal under the current legislation.
The next item was a document setting out procedures for the selection of Assembly regional list candidates and for the re-selection for the two sitting Labour regional list AMs. David Costa explained that the procedures from the last two elections had not been entirely applicable to the changed circumstances this year but he had taken those elements that still applied and updated them in a way that was consistent with procedures adopted in other areas. There were some minor questions of detail but this document was largely uncontentious. On the re-selection aspect, the trigger ballot threshold was set at 50%, but there was general agreement that this should not be changed for the next election as the same threshold had applied to all of the constituency Assembly re-selections. This was purely for CLPs, however, as trade unions and other bodies do not affiliate at the Assembly regional level. The paper was therefore adopted.
We then discussed draft procedures for parliamentary trigger ballots in Wales following the decision discussed above. David Costa explained that the paper was not concerned with the fundamentals of the mechanism but with the detailed implementation of the rules and therefore closely followed the NEC guidelines already drawn up for England, substituting references to the NEC for the WEC where appropriate. Darren expressed concern about the potential delay to the process that Mark’s opening remarks had seemed to imply. Darren said that it was important to get on with the process now as quickly as possible to give the members their democratic say in who their candidate should be and added that the seven-week model timetable seemed longer than strictly necessary and that we should look to shorten this somewhat. Most other contributors to the discussion, however, stressed that they considered seven weeks a tight timescale and that they were concerned about the workload for party staff. David Costa pointed out that the seven weeks was simply a model that could be adjusted to fit local needs.
The paper stated that, where a male MP faced an open selection as the result of a trigger ballot, party rules dictated that he should automatically be on the shortlist, but in keeping with Welsh Labour’s commitment to promote gender balance, the other places on the shortlist would be reserved for women candidates. Some of the union reps sought to challenge this and questioned its legality, but David Costa reassured them that the party was confident that its proposals were legally sound and the paper was eventually carried unamended.
There was a brief item simply confirming that the current Welsh Policy Forum representatives would continue to serve until replaced by the new WEC.
There then followed the General Secretary’s report, which gave a general overview of recent and ongoing party activity, including the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Louise paid tribute to Rhiannon Evans during her tenure as Acting GS. It was confirmed that Alice Hughes had been appointed as Policy and Campaigns Officer and Alvin Shum as Regional Organiser. WEC members raised questions about the parliamentary selection in Monmouth, which had prompted some concerns, and about the by-election campaign in Brecon and Radnorshire- these were to be pursued further via correspondence with the General Secretary.
By this point, the meeting was over-running and the EPLP and WLGA written reports were noted without further discussion. Jeff Cuthbert added some brief comments to his PCC report in relation to the continuing pressure caused by cuts in police numbers.
Under the minutes, an item from the June meeting was picked up where members had requested CLP membership figures, but the response was that these were the property of the Governance and Legal Unit at HQ and that it was not appropriate to share them. Under Any Other Business, Jackie Thomas from Community highlighted a multi-union march in Newport the following Saturday to save the Orb steelworks.