THE ATMOSPHERE WITHIN THE WELSH LABOUR PARTY has become increasingly febrile in recent months. The most obvious reason is the continuing controversy over the events surrounding the sacking and subsequent suicide of cabinet minister, Carl Sargeant, last November. First Minister, Carwyn Jones, faces four separate inquiries into his handling of the matter and related issues and in a by-election on 6th February, Carl Sargeant’s Assembly seat was won by his 23-year-old son, Jack, who has vowed to secure “justice” for his late father. But party members are also preoccupied by controversies over internal democracy and by the start of an election for the new post of deputy leader
The 2016 Labour conference devolved responsibility over a number of areas of Welsh Labour organisation and activity to the Welsh party, including the party leadership in Wales. The Welsh conference six months later made the fairly uncontroversial decisions that the overall Welsh leader should always be the party’s leader in the Assembly; that there should be a deputy leader; and that the leadership team should be gender-balanced.
The Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) subsequently launched a three month consultation among CLPs and affiliates over the way in which leadership and deputy leadership elections should be conducted. By common consent the most important question was whether to adopt a simple One Member One Vote (OMOV) system, as with the UK and Scottish leadership, or to continue to use an electoral college. 19 of the 27 CLPs that responded favoured OMOV, while all five unions that expressed a view wanted an electoral college.
When the WEC met on 4th November to consider the outcome of the consultation, it came down in favour of the electoral college, by 24 votes to 6. Not only did this decision disregard the clear weight of opinion among party members but it was to be binding, rather than (as most people had expected) simply a recommendation to the following year’s Welsh conference. Moreover, a third of the college would be made up of Welsh Assembly members, MPs and the sole MEP, a third of party members and a third affiliated supporters - thus giving 58 full-time politicians the same weight as more than 27,000 ordinary members.
It is widely believed that the centre right majority on the WEC favours an electoral college because it is more likely to deliver another ‘moderate’ leader when Carwyn steps down, whereas OMOV would probably result in the Welsh party being headed by a Corbyn supporter.
Immediately, there was uproar among a substantial section of the active membership. Several CLPs passed censure motions or wrote to the WEC expressing their disapproval. On 6th January in Llandrindod Wells, a campaign was launched to overturn the WEC decision, attended by officers from 19 of Wales’ 40 CLPs (with a couple more sending apologies) and two socialist societies, along with four Assembly Members: Mick Antoniw (who himself favours a version of the electoral college but agrees that conference should make the final decision); Mark Drakeford; Mike Hedges and Julie Morgan. Drakeford’s presence was particularly noteworthy, given that he is the cabinet secretary for finance; by the end of January, another four ministers had announced their support for OMOV, representing more than half of Carwyn Jones’ cabinet.
The Llandrindod meeting agreed to focus on getting motions debated at Welsh conference in April that would challenge the WEC decision. Three model motions were agreed: two dealing directly with the questions of conference sovereignty and OMOV and the third calling for a Welsh Democracy Review (as devolved matters are excluded from the main review headed by Katy Clark).
Meanwhile, the deputy leadership election is now underway, with two candidates in the running: Julie Morgan, Assembly Member for Cardiff North, who previously represented the same constituency in Parliament and before that was a councillor for twelve years; and Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East since 2015. The left is united behind Julie Morgan, who has a long record of support for progressive causes and has said that she was prompted to stand by her opposition to the WEC’s rejection of OMOV. By contrast, Carolyn Harris, as a PLP rep on the WEC, was party to that decision.
is a member of the Labour Party NEC and Welsh Executive Committee.