This was a well-attended and broadly consensual meeting, with three central agenda items on planning for parliamentary selections and reselections; Senedd electoral reform; and promoting the use of Welsh within the party. The meeting noted that, following the disaffiliation of his union, the BFAWU from the Labour Party, Gary Johnston had ceased to be a WEC member. Under his Acting General Secretary’s report, when queried by Darren, David Costa noted that there was no rule provision for by-elections and that discussions would be had as to whether one could be held to fill this vacancy or whether the seat should remain vacant until the new WEC is elected in early 2022.
First Minister and Welsh Labour Leader, Mark Drakeford, supplemented his written report, highlighting the serious position with regard to increased Covid-19 cases, his forthcoming participation in COP 26 events and the progress of the constitutional convention, which would be jointly chaired by Rowan Williams and Professor Laura McAllister. Mark took questions on the reasoning behind the rise in Covid-19 cases, engaging industries such as steel in discussions on progress towards reducing carbon emissions and on youth employment guarantees.
Mark noted that, at UK Labour Conference, he had undertaken initial discussions with UK Labour General Secretary, David Evans, around the principle of devolving more powers to Welsh Labour. Mark sought agreement from the WEC to write to David Evans to ask him to reiterate his support for this principle. While there was broad support for this initiative, some reservations were expressed in relation to the potential public perception of differences between the Welsh and UK parties and the detail of what might or might not be devolved. It was agreed that Mark should send such a letter, on the basis that it would be collaborative in tone and that the detail would be left to later discussions.
There were then three substantial papers presented to the meeting for agreement. The first paper related to proposals to begin the selection and reselection process for parliamentary candidates as soon as possible; this was proposed in the face of a potential General Election on the basis of the current boundaries in 2023. It was noted that the UK rules in this area continue to apply to Wales and even if there was agreement to devolve these to the Welsh party, this could not be achieved until UK Conference 2022, which would be very late in terms of a potential 2023 election. It was proposed that the detailed procedural guidance be written and agreed by the Party Development Board (the executive of the WEC); Darren proposed instead a special WEC meeting to discuss and agree the proposals, which was agreed.
The second related to the report compiled by the working group considering electoral reform of the Senedd. The paper is a consultation document that seeks views from party members and affiliates on two key questions: the first is the potential expansion of the Senedd to 80-90 members and the second is the consideration of an alternative electoral system, on the understanding that any new system would need to be at least as proportional as the current system. It was agreed that this report be circulated to CLPs and affiliates for discussion and response.
The third paper related to further plans to strengthen and promote the use of the Welsh language in the party; David Costa commented on efforts made by staff to improve their Welsh, provision for translation, support for bilingual materials for candidates and for developments to social media and website support. There was a substantial discussion around how best to further promote the use of the language in the party, including potential for an informal Welsh speakers network.
David Costa had also provided a general written update in his capacity as Acting General Secretary in advance of the meeting. Darren queried the party’s response to its diminishing membership (there had been a fairly substantial reduction in members during 2021); David responded that the UK party was no longer directly approaching members who had lapsed to encourage them to resume their contributions, as this had not proven particularly effective but that contact from local parties and elected representatives had tended to be more successful in this regard.
There was then the customary series of written reports from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the Welsh Labour Deputy Leader, the Leader of the WLGA and the PCC representative. On the last of these, Darren asked Jeff Cuthbert about the reports of police attempts to coerce a Swansea Black Lives Matter activist to become a police informant, but Jeff was reluctant to comment on this directly as it had not taken place in the police force for which he is the PCC.
Finally, Darren noted that the minutes of the WEC meetings had increasingly become a note of decisions taken and contained diminishing detail regarding the discussion behind those decisions, and queried whether CLP secretaries were still receiving notice of the WEC agenda in advance of WEC meetings and given access to the most recent WEC papers. David Costa said that they would ensure that the portal where the papers were housed was up to date but said that they felt that it was more appropriate for the minutes to accurately record decisions as opposed to seeking to fully reflect different opinions shared.
There are now no more WEC meetings scheduled for 2021; the next WEC meeting is currently scheduled for Saturday 22 January 2022.