Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC), 16 September 2023 (Joint report with Belinda Loveluck-Edwards)

This was the first meeting in three months, having been postponed from a scheduled date two weeks earlier. The main item was supposed to have been a paper on the selection of Senedd candidates for the first elections under a new electoral system in 2026 but, in the event, this was deferred to another meeting, following representations from at least one affiliated union, on the basis that they hadn’t had the paper long enough to consult their lay committee. Darren raised the late receipt of papers by all WEC members – in breach of the Committee’s standing orders – as well as the postponement of the scheduled date at short notice, at the start of the meeting. He pointed out that the WEC is supposed to be the leading body of the party in Wales between conferences and it can’t do its job properly if it isn’t kept properly informed. The Chair acknowledged this as a fair point and undertook to ensure more consistent and timely arrangements in future.

The first substantive item was the Leader’s Report. As usual, Mark had circulated a detailed written report, covering a range of issues, including the ongoing efforts by Welsh ministers to refocus public spending in the face of a very challenging financial situation, the introduction of a default 20mph speed limit on restricted roads across Wales and efforts to monitor and address the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in school buildings. Mark supplemented this by highlighting a couple of matters in his verbal presentation. The first of these was the general point that the present Senedd term was now halfway through and there would be a temptation for the Welsh Government to ‘rest on its oars’, partly to avoid the inevitable criticism from its political opponents, but ministers were determined to continue to deliver the radical policies set out in their manifesto, to support those who rely upon a Labour government to defend them. The second point was more specifically about the announcement relating to the future of Tata Steel at Port Talbot. Welsh ministers had been trying to engage with the UK government for some time and had been frustrated by its response and specifically their exclusion from the site visit that had taken place the previous day. The £1.2 billion investment that had been announced was expected to protect 5000 jobs but another 3000 were at risk and the unions would need to use the formal consultation period to try and reduce this latter figure. Questions and contributions to Mark focused on the Tata issue and in his response he drew attention also to the Tory government’s failure to act to support floating offshore wind energy. 

The next item was the General Secretary’s report. A brief written report provided a Welsh party membership figure of approximately 18,000 (some 2,000 lower than the previous estimate given) and updated the WEC on campaigning activity. The General Secretary, Jo McIntyre also provided a verbal update on an issue that some of us had raised by email – namely, progress on the decision by Welsh party conference in March to conduct a consultation on further devolution of the rulebook. At the June WEC meeting, Jo had indicated that work would soon get underway on this but, on this occasion, she reported that very little had so far been done, because Welsh Labour needed clarification from the UK party as to what could ‘legally’ be devolved. Darren and Bel, along with the representative of Unite the Union, raised concerns about the lack of progress. Darren asked whether the 2024 conference could at least be given a more detailed update, setting out the precise basis on which the agreed consultation could proceed, and Bel asked whether (as previously indicated) the work could be taken forward by one of the newly-re-established WEC sub-committees and also highlighted the importance of the full WEC being kept informed on this issue. The Chair said that he was personally in discussion about this matter with Jack Sargeant MS, who is a strong advocate of devolution within the party, and would ensure that the issue would become a standing item on the agenda of the Party Development Board (the WEC’s ‘exec’). Otherwise, however, no clear commitment was given to take this matter forward on any definite timescale, which is somewhat worrying, given that the motion in question was carried unanimously at Welsh conference.

Following a brief General Election Update, which mainly reported that the campaign committee is continuing to meet regularly, there was an item on Westminster Parliamentary Selections. One of the Mid and West Wales CLP reps, Chris Hardacre, raised concerns about the selection process for the new Carmarthen constituency, particularly the fact that one of the shortlisted candidates had been excluded from the ballot at a late stage, following a complaint, when members had already begun to cast postal votes. Chris had written to request that the process be halted while the matter was reviewed but had had no response and the selection meeting had gone ahead, only to be abandoned after some strong expressions of unhappiness about the process, a motion not to proceed with the selection and several members leaving the meeting. A rescheduled meeting had now taken place, this time online, but in the meantime, a number of members had been suspended by the party. Chris asked that the party abandon any disciplinary action, in the interests of unity, and review the process that had been followed. Darren, who had seen first-hand testimony from Carmarthen members that tended to bear out Chris’ approach, supported her comments and suggestions, but the other rep for the Mid and West Wales region, who had been at the initial selection meeting, defended the actions taken by officers and claimed that a small number of members had behaved badly and disrupted the meeting. The Chair and the Deputy General Secretary also argued that the actions taken by the party had been fair and appropriate and said that the situation had been misrepresented in media reports.  The Chair suggested that the party could review what had happened to learn lessons, albeit without specifying when or how, but otherwise no action was agreed.

There was a brief information item on Police & Crime Commissioner (PCCs) selections, which is not devolved and where we were told that joint NEC/WEC panels would oversee the process, and that Andy Dunbobbin has already been re-selected for the North Wales position. A Conference Update revealed that the 2024 Welsh Labour conference would take place between 8 and 10 March 2024 in Llandudno. A CLP Reorganisation Update reported on progress towards the establishment of new CLPs covering the constituencies arising from the Westminster boundary review; concerns were reported from some CLPs where the Welsh Labour officers had appointed transitional officers without necessarily consulting or even informing the outgoing officers of the existing CLPs.   

The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Deputy Leader, WLGA leader and PCC rep had all circulated written reports, to which they added only a few brief comments, if anything.  

Under the Minutes of the meeting held on 10 June, Darren raised concerns about accuracy that he, Bel and five other WEC members had already highlighted in an email to officers. There were two particularly serious errors. The first of these involved a claim that an indicative vote had been taken to establish the WEC’s view as to the weight to be given to incumbency when carrying out Senedd candidate selections for 2026. In fact, there had simply been an opportunity to give initial thoughts on the issue, which a handful of WEC members had taken up, and no vote of any kind had taken place. Conversely, under the following item on Westminster Parliamentary Selections, the minutes had not acknowledged the lengthy and contentious discussion that had taken place over the imposition of candidates, in controversial circumstances, on Caerphilly and on Neath and Swansea East, which had ended in a vote; nor was there any mention of the request to see the party’s legal advice in respect of Caerphilly, which the officers had suggested should be possible. The officers conceded that the minutes were incorrect and should be changed, but, before a vote could be taken to confirm this, one WEC member said that she wanted to see the proposed amendments in writing before she could agree to them, and so the decision was deferred to the next meeting.

Under Correspondence, there was a discussion of a detailed report that had been sent to all WEC members by Beth Winter MP on the Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon parliamentary selection, raising a series of concerns about the process and asking for an independent review to be carried out. Darren proposed that we agree to Beth’s request, supported by Bel and by Unison, but the officers reported that they had prepared responses to the various questions she had asked, which were being checked, and said that a decision should be deferred until these had been shared with the WEC. The chair ruled that this approach should be adopted; Darren challenged this, on the basis that the issue called for prompt resolution, but the subsequent vote upheld the chair’s position, by a narrow margin. There being no other business, the meeting was then adjourned.

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