This was the first full meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) elected at the end of last year, which took office at Welsh Labour conference in February (there was a very brief meeting at the conference, to elect a chair and vice-chair and fill some other posts).
The main item of business was a report and discussion on the Assembly election campaign, the results and subsequent developments at Cardiff Bay.
Carwyn Jones said that Labour’s result had been better than expected and that the results in Cardiff North and the Vale, in particular, had been gratifying, but our overall vote had gone down and much of it had gone to UKIP. The latter had already split, in effect, into two groups in the Assembly. Plaid had done well in Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West, as well as in the Rhondda, focussing mainly on local issues. There was little doubt that they had intended to take over the government when nominating Leanne for First Minister on 11 May and that Plaid AMs had approached the Tories and UKIP with this in mind. There had been strong public opposition to their manoeuvring, however.
Janice Gregory also gave her perspective as campaign co-ordinator. She said the campaign team had met weekly and had had big issues to contend with, like the steel crisis, which has had to be factored into the campaign. She praised the team in Transport House, whom she felt couldn’t have done more. She said that the result in the Rhondda had taken everyone by surprise.
The general secretary, Dave Hagendyk said it had been a very difficult campaign, with the Labour vote squeezed by Plaid and UKIP. Labour had undertaken four direct mailings in target seats and distributed three million pieces of print altogether, as well as using Facebook targetting. Across Wales, close to 300,000 people had been spoken to – more than anywhere else in the UK, outside London. Labour’s result in North Wales had been tremendous but recent elections had seen the party retreat eastward and we now needed to work hard to re-establish ourselves in the West and North-West of Wales. Welsh Labour would carry out a detailed analysis of the campaign and election results over the next couple of months and bring back a report to a future meeting.
There was a lengthy and thorough discussion of the campaign, some of the main points of which included: details of the campaigning tactics employed by Plaid in the Rhondda; the desirability in future of campaign messages tailored more specifically at North Wales; and the need to analyse the reasons for the big vote for UKIP.
In the context of a comment about the damaging effects of party disunity, there was some criticism (justifiably, in my view) of the circumstances of Stephen Doughty’s resignation from the front bench earlier in the year. Stephen, who was present as one of the two representatives of the Welsh PLP, defended himself, saying that he had resigned in writing prior to the contentious BBC interview on the matter and – notwithstanding his criticisms of the reshuffle – had worked loyally with the party leadership throughout. His explanation was accepted by the chair.
Carwyn alluded to the events surrounding Ken Livingstone’s comments about Zionism and the cancellation of Jeremy Corbyn’s planned visit to Wales. He criticised Ken for detracting from the positive messages of the campaign, saying that a day had been wasted, and reiterated that he had not stopped Jeremy from coming to Wales: the decision had been made by mutual agreement. While agreeing with Carwyn about the unhelpfulness of Ken’s comments, I expressed concern about his call for Ken to be expelled, as I felt that any disciplinary penalty should await the outcome of the party’s investigation. I also said that, notwithstanding the explanation he had given about Jeremy’s visit, the comments in the Western Mail attributed to a “party source” had been damaging, as they had implied that Jeremy was an electoral liability. Carwyn said that the media coverage had been “unfortunate” and Janice added that it was difficult to prevent people lacking any real authority from preventing themselves in the media as anonymous “Labour sources”. Andy Richards of Unite said that his union backed Carwyn’s position on the Livingstone issue.
I also commented on the Plaid campaign in Cardiff West, which had been very negative and focussed entirely on local government, rather than Assembly, issues, and I endorsed another Committee member’s comment that it was a shame that the Welsh Labour manifesto had been published so late.
Report from Nia Griffith, Shadow Welsh Secretary – Nia talked about the series of issues over which the UK Tory government had been forced to back down recently, including their plans to force all English schools to become Academies, as well as aspects of the draconian Trade Union Bill. The Queen’s Speech was due to take place in the coming week and the proposed legislation to tackle extremism was likely to be particularly controversial, in the light of the disgraceful Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan. Nia also commented on the implications of the Tories’ proposed parliamentary boundary changes, which would reduce Wales’ representation from 40 seats to 29. Stephen Doughty observed that the partial success of the campaign against the Trade Union Bill showed that the Tories can be defeated. Dave Hagendyk added that thanks were also due to Labour’s representatives in the House of Lords, including Eluned Morgan, who had now been elected to the Assembly.
European Referendum – Dave reported that printed campaign materials had now been delivered. The campaign needed to engage both with those voters who needed to be persuaded to vote ‘yes’ and with those already inclined to do so, who needed to be encouraged to turn out. Many loyal Labour voters were unconvinced of the need to remain in the EU and so much of the party’s efforts would be focussed on ‘heartland’ areas, rather than election marginals. There was a discussion, covering a number of points, including: the need to get the student vote out; the varying attitudes to the EU in different economic sectors; and the need to counter UKIP’s appeal to disaffected voters. Margaret Thomas of Unison said that her union had registered as a third-party campaign for the referendum, having consulted members, who’d been overwhelmingly supportive of a ‘yes’ vote. I said that Labour needed to have a distinct message from the official ‘IN’ campaign, emphasising the need for reform of the EU, to avoid repeating our mistake in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when we were seen as too close to the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign.
General Secretary’s report – Dave said that the Welsh party’s policy consultation work now needed to be refocussed on UK-wide issues, via ‘Your Britain’. He also reported that Welsh Labour would be left with just two organisers after the referendum: Michelle in North Wales and one (to be appointed) in the South.
Party Reform update – The chair, Donna Hutton reported that a ‘Party Reform’ exercise was being led by the NEC, with a number of strands, including one concerning the relationship between the party centrally and its Welsh and Scottish organisations. Andy Richards had been representing Welsh Labour in discussions about areas of party activity in which responsibility could be devolved to Wales. Any proposals would be put before the party conference in September, after which the Welsh party would conduct its own, detailed review of its rules and processes, which would culminate at the 2017 Welsh conference. In response to a question from Catherine Thomas (Mid & West Wales CLPs), it was confirmed that this would include agreeing a more consistent approach to gender-balanced representation.
Welsh Labour Conference 2017 – It was confirmed that this will take place in Llandudno, 22-26 March.