There had been a long gap since the previous WEC meeting as a result of the General Election and our assessment of the latter took up most of the time of this meeting. Wayne David MP was present in his capacity as chair of the election campaign committee for Wales and it was also the first meeting for Cllr. Andrew Morgan, who had succeeded Cllr. Debbie Wilcox as Leader of the WLGA following her elevation to the House of Lords.
In his Leader’s report, Mark Drakeford said that his government was undertaking the most ambitious legislative programme ever attempted in the final year of an Assembly term. This included measures to protect tenants in the private rental sector, rights for people in residential care, radical proposals for education, measures to tackle agricultural pollution, plans to re-regulate the bus industry, new powers for local government and a new social partnership bill. The Welsh Government’s budget included extra money for the health service, a real-terms increase in funding for local government and money for climate change. Welsh Labour was now also preparing in earnest for the Assembly elections the following year.
In the ensuing discussion, council representatives thanked Mark for the extra funding being made available, while noting the continuing challenges that they faced. Christine registered her concerns about reports of the schools funding formula in England and Mark confirmed that the Welsh formula was completely different, being driven by people, deprivation and rurality.
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Christina Rees, talked about Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill, which was even worse than Theresa May’s having removed any protection for workers’ rights. Labour had opposed but lost the vote. The Queen’s Speech debate was now underway- the opposition had put down an amendment on health and social care to try to secure decent funding but this had also been lost. The House of Lords had won five victories on Tory legislation including the Alf Dubs amendment on reuniting refugee children with their families, but the Commons had rejected it and the Lords had decided not to ‘play ping-pong’.
In her Deputy Leader’s report, Carolyn Harris expressed her sadness at the loss of the Labour MPs who had lost their seats. She thanked Welsh Labour staff for their hard work and said that we would need to work hard to win back the electorate and that the PCC election campaign would be important in this regard. She thanked Mark and the Welsh team for giving some protection for Wales. She also highlighted her role as co-chair of the Keir Starmer leadership campaign.
There followed the General Election de-brief, which included a detailed written paper. Mark began by summarising the results and putting them in context. The outcome had been deeply disappointing, especially for those people who had invested their hopes in a Labour government. We needed a hard-eyed look at the reasons for our defeat, which included the impact of a winter election, Brexit and the divided views on Jeremy Corbyn. Looking at the historical record, there was a fairly consistent trend for Labour’s vote in Wales to be ten points ahead of its UK vote in a good election, and seven points ahead when the party did less well, and this election had been no exception to this rule. The coalition supporting the party now included especially young people, graduates, BAME communities and public sector workers. This was different from in the past. The difference between the outcomes in North East Wales and South Wales was mainly due to the relative size of the party’s previous majorities. Mark was working with David Hanson and Chris Ruane to get their perspective on what had happened on the ground. Mark added, however, that the results should not give rise to a council of despair, as people were depending on Labour to pick ourselves up and move forward. We had still secured 41% of the vote in Wales and run a strong campaign on the ground. There had been robust support from the trade unions and from party staff as well, and a new leader would help to persuade people to give Labour another chance.
The General Secretary, Louise Magee added some detailed comments on the campaign and the outcome, acknowledging that the initial strategy had been geared towards winning certain seats from the Tories but that a more defensive approach had been adopted as the campaign went on. The party’s digital work had been much improved and there had been 175 visits from Shadow Cabinet members and other key campaigners. Some 200,000 people had been spoken to in the course of the campaign. In addition to the seats that we had lost, we came close to losing Newport West and Alyn and Deeside. There had been issues with the print system, which had given rise to a number of complaints.
Wayne David also made some comments, in which he highlighted that this had been the most centrally-directed campaign that he had experienced and that the party had been slow to respond to feedback from the ground in Wales.
A long discussion followed, in which some WEC members were critical of the party leadership and its position on Brexit, among other things. Darren argued that a balanced assessment was needed rather than a rush to judgement as we had seen from many quarters. There were long-term issues as well as the dominance of Brexit, which the Tories had exploited to the full with their simplistic sloganeering. Darren paid tribute to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and expressed concern about the negative comments made by certain elected representatives during the campaign. Others also felt that certain comments by prominent party figures had crossed the line and undermined the party’s campaign. They called for action to be taken. It was eventually agreed that the WEC should write to the Chief Whip of the Assembly Group about these matters. Darren also supported the proposal by fellow CLP rep Catherine Thomas that we write to Jeremy Corbyn to thank him for his leadership and this was agreed.
There was a brief item on the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections in which Louise reported that we still needed to select candidates to cover the Dyfed-Powys and North Wales police areas and that the officers and CLP reps from the regions concerned would meet after the meeting to discuss this.
The next item was entitled ‘other work in progress’ but focussed on an update on the Welsh democracy review, where it was reported that the planned timetable had been disrupted by the General Election and there had been insufficient discussion on various proposals that had been submitted. To secure a degree of consensus, it was proposed that the staff work with Paul Murphy to prepare a report for conference reviewing the work that had been done, the areas where rule changes were now unnecessary (either as a result of decisions by the NEC or of work by the WEC- such as the establishment of standing orders for the Welsh BAME Committee) and deferring any more substantial changes until 2021. Darren argued, however, that to postpone further reforms in the way suggested would be a missed opportunity and would cause great disappointment among party members, who had hoped that the democracy review would bring in significant change. While acknowledging the practical difficulties, he suggested that certain changes to the makeup of the WEC could be agreed at this year’s conference before the committee was re-elected for the 2020-22 term. Specifically, seats representing BAME members, women members and a proposed new seat for disabled members could be elected by OMOV, which would be popular among members and achievable as a result of action at the UK level. It was agreed that options on these matters could be included in a report to be brought to the February meeting.
It was also suggested that it would be useful to conduct a longer-term review of the way that the party operated on the ground and try to learn lessons for the future in relation to our culture and organisational capacity. As the meeting was already over-running, the remaining reports were taken quickly before the meeting adjourned.