This was the first meeting since the election on 8 June and the first substantive item was therefore a General Election Debrief, the main contributors to which were the General Secretary, Louise Magee; Wayne David MP, who had chaired the Welsh Labour Campaign Committee; and Carwyn Jones. All three reinforced the general view of the paper circulated on this item, that the Welsh party could take pride in the very pleasing election results in Wales, which were somewhat better even than those elsewhere in the UK, and saw three seats won from the Tories, along with ‘near misses’ in several others. This success was attributed to the harmonious campaign conducted by Welsh Labour, with Welsh MPs, AMs union members (co-ordinated by TULO) and rank-and- file party members coming together. The success of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership during the campaign, and the popularity of the UK manifesto, were acknowledged, with the Welsh campaign and manifesto seen as complementing their UK counterparts (rather than distancing Welsh Labour from the British leadership, as had sometimes appeared to be the case during the campaign). Particular mention was made of Corbyn’s ability to inspire and energise young people.
Most of those contributing to the discussion commented in the same vein but some concerns were raised about the limited resources allocated to marginal non-Labour-held seats and the possibility that even greater gains could have been made, had there been a more assertive campaign, a standpoint taken in a letter to Welsh Labour from UNISON Labour Link. This point was echoed by Darren, who also commented that the failure to mention Jeremy at the Welsh campaign launch had provided the media with an opportunity to speculate on divisions within the party; that ordinary party members, including WEC members, had had no input into the Welsh Manifesto; and that the lack of adequate PA or staging had marred the open-air events with Jeremy in Cardiff and North Wales.
The next item concerned Election Procedures for the Leader and Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour and the Welsh Labour Rules Review. A draft consultation document had been circulated to the WEC, which was asked to approve it before it was sent out to CLPs and affiliates. Darren proposed the insertion of two additional questions in the section entitled, ‘Nomination Procedure-Welsh Labour Leader’ which stated that any candidate for the leadership must secure nominations from 20% of Assembly Labour Group – i.e. currently, at least 6 AMs out of 29. There was no consultation question on this point in the draft, suggesting that the current threshold was expected to remain in place, yet 20% seems particularly high, considering that only a 15% nomination threshold is required from MPs for the UK leadership candidate (and even this is widely seen as too high). The proposal to ask the party whether the nomination threshold among AMs should remain at 20% or be altered, was, however, heavily defeated, with Carwyn and others claiming that the Welsh Leader could not function properly in their role without the support of a minimum of 6 supporting AMs. A second proposed question, about whether nominations should be left to AMs or extended to CLPs, affiliates and MPs, was also defeated. A proposal from one of the Council reps on the WEC, to include the option of councillors (as well as – or instead of – AMs and/or MPs) being able to stand for the deputy leadership was accepted but a second proposal, from a CLP rep, to extend this to ordinary members, was defeated. The consultation paper, with that one amendment, was then endorsed for circulation within the Welsh party. Party units and affiliates have until 21 October to respond.
In the Report of Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister, Carwyn concentrated on the main issue that the Welsh Government faces which is Brexit. He said that Theresa May was presiding over a chaotic Tory Part: a party which is out of control, yet at the same time carrying on as if it had a majority in parliament. The Tory Welsh Secretary (and MP for the Vale) Alun Cairns is backing those aspects of the government’s Brexit plans that would involve Westminster taking devolved powers from the Welsh Government. Carwyn expressed his frustration at the Tories reneging on deals, such as the electrification of the Swansea to Cardiff rail line while failing to make a decision on such projects as the Swansea Lagoon. All this at a time when the Welsh Government are finding it very tough to attract investors into Wales, as the business sector want security in the market place which is not forthcoming at the moment. The Welsh Government is battling on two fronts at the moment: trying to ensure that powers due to Wales actually arrive, while also trying to stop the UK government ending all those protections currently provided by the EU. Carwyn also commented that the relationship between the Assembly Labour Group and the PLP was currently better than ever and that he was encouraged by the fact that the PLP had made Westminster’s power grab from the devolved administrations one of its ‘red lines’ on Brexit.
Subjects raised in questions to Carwyn included the parking fines at the Heath Hospital; Carwyn said that parking had to be some restriction on parking at the site, for safety reasons and there had been an amnesty on fines for a period recently; moreover, the press reports were not entirely accurate and the private provider’s contract expires in a year’s time. He was also asked if he could provide a briefing for members on the party’s position in Brexit; he said that virtually everything that he would want to say to members was already covered in the Welsh Government’s white paper. Chris raised the need for a national register of supply teachers, based on the Northern Ireland model, instead of relying on exploitative private staff agencies. It was confirmed that when teacher’s pay and conditions are devolved this matter would be addressed.
Christina Rees MP then gave her report as Shadow Welsh Secretary, enthusiastically setting out the work in which she had been involved, both in Wales and at Westminster, working hard on behalf of the WASPI women, challenging the UK government’s public sector pay cap, lobbying for Barnett consequentials for Wales and holding Tory ministers to account over their disgraceful decision regarding rail electrification. Christina also said that she’d been pleased to welcome the new Gower MP, Tonia Antoniazzi as her Parliamentary Private Secretary.
The main item in the General Secretary’s Report from Louise Magee was a paper on Parliamentary Selections in Wales. This set out the procedure to be followed over the coming months to get candidates in place in the seats considered the greatest priority in expectation of another early general election. A paper had been agreed for England at the NEC meeting the previous Tuesday but Wales and Scotland now have devolved responsibility for our own selections. With Labour having won 28 of the 40 Welsh constituencies on 8 June, the remaining 12 seats were divided into 6 “offensive” seats, considered the most winnable and therefore the priority for selection purposes, and 6 “majority” seats, seen as less of an immediate priority. Those in the “offensive” category are: Aberconwy; Arfon; Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire; Clwyd West; Preseli Pembrokeshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. There would be an initial consultation, leading up to 8 September, on gender balance in these six seats, to determine which ones should choose candidates from an All-Women Shortlist, then the selections should take place immediately in all six, using the established procedures.
Darren pointed out that, when the NEC had agreed procedures for priority marginals in England, this had included the election by GCs or All-Member Meetings of a Selections Committee to oversee the process, providing greater democratic accountability, which should help to address members’ unhappiness at their exclusion from selections for the June election. He proposed that this be incorporated in the arrangements for Wales, rather than simply leaving CLP Executive Committees to make their own arrangements, under the default procedures. This proposal was heavily defeated, however, and the paper was adopted as originally tabled. A vote was also taken on the question of gender balance and it was agreed, nem con, that the WEC wanted at least half of the six seats to have All-Women Shortlists. One of the CLP reps for Mid and West Wales asked about the timetable for selections in the 6 “majority” seats but was told that there are no definite plans at this stage.
Louise also reported that some new Welsh Labour leaflets, on various different subjects, had been produced, in time for the Royal Welsh Show and John McDonnell’s visit to Pembrokeshire (copies were handed around) and some party merchandise, featuring Aneurin Bevan, was also going to be available. Two members of Welsh party staff, Jo McIntyre and Alvin Shum, had moved on since the election, leaving eight full-timers currently based in Wales. Louise was negotiating with the General Secretary about the retention of one organiser who had originally been employed for the election and was also talking to HQ about the employment of a digital co-ordinator.
It was also announced that next year’s Welsh Labour conference will take place in Venue Cymru on the weekend of 20-22 April (a lot later in the year than usual).
By this point, we had almost exhausted the allotted time, leaving only a couple of minutes each for Derek Vaughan’s European Parliamentary Report and Debbie Wilcox’s Local Government report. Each of them said a few words and Derek added that he would circulate something in writing, but one of the other CLP reps made the point that it was unsatisfactory for such important business to be squeezed out and proposed that we make whatever arrangements might be necessary to ensure that we could extend the time in future, if required, and fit everything in. This was put to the vote and carried, nem con.