There was a very packed agenda for this meeting, which eventually ran for three hours. The first item was the report from Mark Drakeford as Welsh Labour Leader; he focussed on current Covid restrictions and the plans for the Christmas period, highlighting the arrival at a four-nation response around Christmas. He also discussed the Chancellor’s announcement on the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which had been bad news for public sector workers and those dependent on Universal Credit and which had made virtually no mention of Wales. Mark then answered questions on different aspects of the Covid response (including more detail around the Christmas restrictions and the plans in place for pregnant women) as well as our response as a party to the burgeoning Yes Cymru movement.
The report from the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Nia Griffith, was formally accepted without discussion, as she needed to leave the meeting early.
The next item was a substantial presentation from Louise Magee, Welsh Labour General Secretary, on the party’s plans ahead of the 2021 Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections. This focussed particularly on digital campaigning alongside leafleting, as well as media exposure and fundraising. Louise highlighted particular data analysis focussed on key target groups and encouraged members to make use of the Dialogue online phone bank and to encourage CLPs and branches to take part. She reported that 5 new regional organisers and 1 community organiser had been employed to help with the campaigning. She then took various questions on different aspects on the digital campaign, as well as one from Ivan Monckton, CLP representative for Mid and West Wales, who asked about member engagement at a time when there is widespread demoralisation because CLPs and branches are having their freedom of discussion on key topics restricted (although this point wasn’t directly answered).
We were then asked to agree a proposal that had not been communicated to us in advance, and for which there was no accompanying paper clearly outlining the plan. Louise stated that the WEC officers had discussed what procedure should be put in place if a complaint is made against any selected candidate standing for either the constituency or the list seats for the Senedd (and presumably any of the 4 PCC candidates, although this was not made clear). It was stated that there was no agreed procedure currently in place, and therefore the officers were recommending that they would consider any complaint first to decide if it had merit, then if it had merit they would interview the candidate, and then would make a recommendation to the Party Development Board (the executive of the WEC). Several CLP representatives, along with colleagues from Unison, challenged this suggested procedure, highlighting the lack of natural justice involved in such a process and arguing that it should have been presented as a written paper to the WEC in advance of the meeting. A vote was then taken on whether to accept this proposal in principle, with the proviso that officers would write a paper explaining the proposed process and circulate this to WEC members, and that WEC members would be able to feed in their comments; the vote was tied, so the Chair used his casting vote to agree that it should go forward.
The next paper was on the implications of the local government boundary review proposals, which could potentially come into force in time for the 2022 elections. David Costa, Deputy General Secretary, outlined the current status of Local Campaign Fora across Wales and the progress made towards training events and panel selections ahead of the ward selections of their candidates (likely to start in summer 2021 in some areas). He then outlined the respective impacts of the latest Boundary Commission proposals on different local government areas, and reiterated that we don’t currently know when or if these proposals will definitely be implemented, nor do we know exactly when the decision will take place (the proposals are currently with Welsh Government for consideration, but the constraints on Senedd time due to the pandemic may affect this). The main proposal of the paper was to agree that the definition of a sitting councillor should match that used for MPs when they’re affected by boundary changes, which states that a sitting councillor should be considered as such if the new proposals encompass 40% of the old ward area. This proposal was agreed, although there was some discussion around the politics of the boundary review proposals in some local government areas.
The most substantial agenda item focussed on reports (one prepared by David Costa and the other by Christine Hardacre and Ivan Monckton, the two CLP representatives for Mid and West Wales) on the process involved in the trigger ballots for the sitting MSs in the Mid and West Wales region over the summer; this was not to question the outcome but rather to discuss any issues in the process identified by the eight CLPs in the region. Dave introduced his paper, highlighting that it focussed on lessons learned during the process; Christine then introduced her and Ivan’s paper and was in the process of covering the points raised thoroughly when several WEC members (not CLP representatives) said that she was taking up too much speaking time and that the next speaker should be called. A vote was taken on this and was narrowly won, so Christine was unable to finish her contribution, while further contributions were taken from other members. At the end of the discussion both papers were noted rather than voted on, so any recommendations presented by either paper were not specifically adopted for future processes (should the need arise to run such a largely online process again).
We were then presented with another item for which no paper had been circulated in advance. Louise stated that it was impossible to run a physical conference in February 2021 due the pandemic and therefore asked the WEC to agree to postpone the conference until the following autumn. Several CLP reps, supported by Unison and the Co-operative Party, asked what this would mean for the policy-making process ahead of the manifesto for the May 2021 Senedd elections. A previous paper had been agreed by the WEC that said that, in the event of conference not taking place, CLPs and affiliates would be asked to suggest amendments to the final version of the draft policy document and that the Welsh Joint Policy Committee (the executive of the wider Welsh Policy Forum) would consider those amendments. Several WEC members argued that this earlier decision should be revisited – it had been taken at a time when we did not know for sure how things would pan out – and that an online policy-making event should be convened to allow as much member and affiliate input as possible into the manifesto. The Chair was advised by officers that the WEC had the power only to change the date of conference and not to comment on its format; furthermore, the rules only permitted a conference of the format used by physical conference, so an online version would need to replicate this exactly and that the technology did not exist to permit us to do so (elements such as hand or card votes were specifically highlighted). The Chair therefore ruled the proposal for an online policy-making event out of order. The WEC was then asked to vote on whether it wished to postpone conference to autumn 2021, and this was carried.
The final substantial agenda item was an update on the Welsh Labour Democracy Review. Had conference gone ahead, the WEC would have been asked to agree a document to go to conference, containing a progress report on the work that had been done on the Review before the snap general election and the Coronavirus intervened, along with a small number of proposals for relatively uncontroversial rule changes. Instead, in view of the postponement of conference, we were asked to agree that an updated version of the document would be circulated to CLPs and affiliates for further consultation. There were elements of the document that CLP reps would have wished to question, but did not do so as it would go out for further consultation and the WEC would discuss these points at a later meeting.
There were then a series of written reports from the General Secretary, the Deputy Leader, the Leader of the WLGA and the PCCs’ rep. Sophie asked for an updated overall membership figure for Wales and was told that the WEC was not permitted to have this information as it is the property of the NEC. Darren pointed out that NEC members had regularly been given membership figures for the party as a whole, which they had been allowed to report, and that the WEC’s role in relation to organisation, campaigning and engaging members meant that it needed to be kept abreast of trends in Welsh party membership levels; he therefore asked Louise to request permission to pass on such information, which she agreed to do.
Under correspondence, an email from Sophie, with the support of other CLP representatives, was read out setting out the role of a CLP rep on the WEC for the information of other WEC members, particularly highlighting the fact that CLP reps do not have direct access to members’ details and can only communicate with CLP secretaries, which the WEC officers had discussed and agreed (this had been sent in response to a comment at the previous meeting that CLP reps were not making sufficiently sure that they were speaking for the membership as a whole).
Overall, this was a very long and at times fractious meeting, not helped by the use made by certain WEC members of the Zoom chat function to post critical comments of other WEC members.