Welsh Labour gears up for leadership election
IT IS THE SUMMER of leadership contests in Wales, with four of the five main parties engaged in selecting a new leader.
UKIP Wales were first off the blocks, with Gareth Bennett, whose history of racist and discriminatory remarks resulted in a temporary ban from speaking in the Senedd Chamber, beating Neil Hamilton (yes, that one) to the top spot. The Welsh Conservatives, meanwhile, are choosing between two Davies to replace another Davies, while Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood faces a challenge from two male colleagues, one of whom thinks the best way to revive the party’s fortunes is to change its name to ‘New Wales’.
For the left, there is a clear choice in Welsh Labour’s own election: Cardiff West Assembly Member (AM) and finance secretary, Mark Drakeford, a Corbyn supporter and the driving force behind Rhodri Morgan’s ‘clear red water’ policies, which kept Welsh public services free from privatisation.
Mark currently has the support of 13 of his fellow AMs, having declared his candidacy shortly after Carwyn Jones’ resignation at this year’s Welsh Labour conference in April. Many have connected Carwyn’s decision to the events surrounding the death of former cabinet member Carl Sargeant, who is understood to have taken his own life in November 2017 shortly following his dismissal from the Welsh government over allegations about his behaviour.
Exactly how our leader will be elected, however, remains to be decided. In late 2017, following a controversial consultation process in which the vast majority of CLPs chose the One Member One Vote (OMOV) option for leadership and deputy leadership elections, the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) instead imposed the continuation of an electoral college system, amidst much consternation. This system has three sections (AMs, MPs and the one MEP; ordinary members; and affiliated supporters) each with a third of the vote.
Its failures were starkly highlighted during this year’s inaugural deputy leadership election, as Julie Morgan, the candidate who received two-thirds of the votes of ordinary members, and the most votes overall, was not elected. It was ultimately the 58 full-time politicians (or, rather, the 54 who actually cast their votes) who decided the contest, rather than the thousands of members who took part, or the affiliated supporters, among whom the turnout was only 4.7%.
Following the WEC’s decision in November 2017, more than half of the CLPs in Wales came together to campaign for OMOV, backed by numerous AMs, including Mark Drakeford and Julie Morgan. While the campaign did not succeed in overturning the WEC decision at the April conference, it did secure a Welsh Party Democracy Review, akin to the one currently being finalised for UK Labour.
It was later agreed that this review would have two phases, the first of which would consider only the system for electing our leader and deputy leader, to conclude with a special conference on 15th September.
The consultation document accompanying this first phase was very narrow in its scope; members were asked for their views on the election system (OMOV or electoral college) only; they were not, for example, asked about their views on the nominations process - yet there have subsequently been calls for reform of the latter ahead of the forthcoming election. A cynic might argue that this is connected to the current difficulties experienced by Mark Drakeford’s opponents in securing support from their assembly colleagues (especially as those now seeking urgent reform previously seemed unmoved by the issue).
Thus far, four others have thrown their hats into the ring, but only the health secretary, Vaughan Gething, has the nominations from the necessary six AMs, including himself. With 28 AMs available to nominate (assuming that Carwyn Jones will not), and most of these already pledged to Drakeford or Gething, there is room for only one further candidate. Yet there are three other AMs vying for nominations: Huw Irranca-Davies (former MP and now AM for Ogmore); Eluned Morgan, the only woman to put her name forward; and latecomer Alun Davies, who has been in and out of the cabinet and the subject of much controversy.
Come December, Welsh Labour will have a new leader, the first change in nearly ten years. How that leader is elected, however, remains to be seen, as do any further changes to the way in which the party operates in Wales. All in all, an eventful period ahead!