This was an extraordinary meeting, the first to be held virtually, primarily to discuss important business involving various internal selections. The first meeting of the new WEC should have been the AGM; however, the rules state that the AGM should be held after conference, which had not taken place due to Covid-19, and the party does not currently have the technology to facilitate secret ballots (needed to elect the WEC officers). Given that conference was not due to take place until October 2020 (the WEC later agreed to cancel the conference, as discussed later) and the NEC had agreed to invest in the necessary technology, it was agreed that the next meeting of the WEC would be the AGM.
The meeting began with a series of reports from elected representatives, firstly from Welsh Labour leader and First Minister Mark Drakeford, which centred on the Covid-19 pandemic and the way in which the Welsh Government, supported by health boards and local authorities, had mobilised in response, reflecting the Welsh social partnership model. He discussed the current situation in care homes and the ‘fits and starts’ relationship with the UK Government. He had had regular discussions with Keir Starmer since he became Labour leader, and had attended a virtual meeting of the Shadow Cabinet. Mark reiterated that the Welsh Government would continue to take a careful and cautious approach to easing restrictions, in line with their ‘traffic light’ model. He also detailed survey results that indicated the Welsh population’s overwhelmingly positive response to the way in which the Welsh Government had handled the crisis. Mark answered questions on the care home situation, the ‘r’ number and the panel of experts established to advise on recovery measures. He was also asked whether the £500 payments given to 64,000 social care workers in Wales would be extended to other frontline staff, such as cooks and cleaners, in the sector- the Welsh Government would look to do so in the autumn if funding is available.
The leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, Cllr Andrew Morgan, made some comments to supplement his written report, highlighting the cooperation between the Welsh Government and local authorities, for example on PPE provision and the forthcoming test and trace service, in contrast to the relationships in England. The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Nia Griffith, paid tribute to her predecessor, Christina Rees, and discussed the party’s response to the Tories at Westminster and the difficulties of effectively challenging the government in opposition. She was followed by a short report from the Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris, who outlined the party’s plan to campaign to ensure that the £500 payment to social care workers was tax-free.
The first substantive paper was received only a short time before the meeting, due to changes having been made following the NEC meeting two days prior. This paper detailed the plans for choosing regional list candidates for all five regions ahead of the 2021 Senedd elections and it was reported that there had been a good response to the call for party members to join the panel of approved candidates. The plan remained to try to tie the ballot to the forthcoming NEC ballot; however, the NEC had yet to agree a final timetable for those elections, so the party may need to hold a separate ballot. The proposed timetable in the paper, which sought to have candidates in place by October 2020 to allow for the remaining constituency selections in the autumn, was agreed, as was the proposal to allow BAME applicants only to apply for more than one region. It was confirmed that the shortlisting procedure would seek to shortlist 5 men and 5 women, with an additional BAME place if no BAME applicants were initially shortlisted. The proposal to hold only one hustings meeting per region, held by Welsh Labour, was not agreed; instead, CLPs or groups of CLPs would be allowed to hold virtual hustings meetings provided all eligible candidates were invited and that the meeting was cleared by Welsh Labour before taking place.
The next paper was the most controversial and provoked a heated debate. It argued that, due to Covid-19, the two sitting Senedd Members in Mid & West Wales, should be automatically re-selected as the top two candidates on the regional list for the 2021 elections, instead of facing a trigger ballot. We, alongside the majority of the other CLP reps, particularly Christine Hardacre and Ivan Monckton (the two CLP reps for the region in question) and other comrades, opposed this, as it would be entirely anti-democratic and prevent the eight CLPs in that region from being able to decide their candidates for those elections. After a prolonged debate, Mark Drakeford proposed that a decision on this paper be delayed until a future WEC meeting, which was agreed. We will continue to campaign on this issue prior to the next WEC meeting in the hopes of successfully opposing it.
Two further papers (one on the proposed selection procedure for the Senedd candidate for the Rhondda constituency and one on the proposed process for the Welsh Policy Forum ahead of the 2021 conference and Senedd manifesto) were agreed without amendment. The main proposal in the Rhondda paper was for a postal ballot of all members in the constituency, as the coronavirus had prevented a selection meeting from taking place. Similarly, the policy forum paper presented fallback proposals following the cancellation of a Welsh Policy Forum meeting in June; these plans involved either a rescheduled WPF meeting in November or, failing that, policy papers being considered at Welsh conference in February 2021.
Welsh Labour now publish WEC papers on the party website for members only.
The final items were reports from the General Secretary, Louise Magee and from Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent. Louise proposed that, given the ongoing crisis, Welsh Labour conference should not take place in October, and that the next conference would be the 2021 conference ahead of the May Senedd elections, which was agreed. She outlined plans for candidate development and training programmes. Darren raised a point regarding the vacancy on the WEC for one the two seats representing the Co-op Party and socialist societies. We had been told that this seat would remain unfilled until the rescheduled Welsh conference, as there had been a tied vote in the postal ballot conducted among the socialist societies. In view of the cancellation of conference, Louise agreed to revisit this issue. Jeff had circulated a written report and discussed the cooperation between the Welsh Government and Welsh police forces in the current crisis.