Some reflections on a weekend in Llandudno

Until about 2.30pm on Saturday afternoon conversations in Llandudno had been dominated by the deputy leadership contest.

Carwyn’s speech changed everything.

But in many ways his announcement also served to deepen, sharpen and provide a new focus for those pretty intense conversations which were already taking place.

It was immediately clear that the electoral college could not be used to elect our new leader. I hope the Welsh Exec will now move quickly to ensure that we have a democracy where people feel empowered in the debate over the future direction of the party. For anyone with any doubts let me be clear: the argument over OMOV is won. And those who still have objections would be best advised to find a way of coming to terms with this new democracy rather than finding novel, inventive and bureaucratic devices to obstruct the clearly-expressed will of the party.

But in this new democracy we also need a debate which goes beyond OMOV. In many ways the dominance of OMOV as an issue in the deputy leadership contest ironically served to cloud the debate and actually prevented us from having a much richer debate about our democracy and how the new role could help strengthen the party. However for me it is not enough to simply demand OMOV for the election of the leader. This is a limited view of our democracy and not one which I believe is an adequate response to the challenges facing us as a party.

One of the most striking aspects of the deputy leadership contest which has not attracted any real comment was the low participation of our members. Some of us received multiple ballots – as members of an affiliate or individual members – in the future we need to ensure that we all receive a single ballot. And then we need to motivate people to use it. The party likes to make much of the enthusiasm of our new mass party but that was not what we saw in this election. Only 36% of our members voted. Amongst affiliates the the turnout was a disastrous 4%. This does not speak of enthused and enfranchised membership. And it needs to be addressed. There is no purpose in changing the system if we cannot persuade members to take part.

We now need to have that debate.

In another decision in which now seems like a watershed conference, the decision to launch a democracy review is crucial for us as a party. But it needs to do far more than simply provide a new opportunity to rehearse existing arguments on re-selections and CLP standing orders. My own decision to support Carolyn was based on a belief that we all need to do far more to bring the party together. In this way it would have been a mistake for the whole leadership team to be based in Cardiff Bay. As a member of the party’s NEC I regularly tried to contribute to discussions on the policy approach that the party is taking across the whole of the UK – from Brexit to justice policy to economic policy. We need the structures to develop a policy platform for Wales whilst at the same time recognising a coherence – or at least an awareness – of the policy positions, outlooks and approaches of the party across Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. This means we need to address the fundamental shape of the party.

We are in power but we do not have anything like the internal political structures to reflect this position. If our party democracy is to mean anything then we not only need to actively involve people but we must also create a new architecture of accountability and political decision-making. We need to find new ways of involving this new membership in making policy and to maximise the input of our trades unions colleagues and also of councillors and MPs. We have a fantastic strength in terms of the experience and knowledge and skills within the party but we do not have the means to use this power to create policy or hold our elected representatives to account for actions and decisions taken in the name of the party.

And whilst we are considering the fundamentals of our democracy I also want to say a word about a deputy leadership candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot paper.

Our local government leader, Debbie Wilcox, has made a real impression in her determination to place local authority leaders at the heart of the debate over our leadership. Her campaign for nomination means that at very least the party now needs to make immediate changes to ensure that the threshold for future elections is changed to allow Welsh Labour local authority leaders to nominate and to play a much fuller part in our party. Of course this should have happened already. It’s ridiculous that a politician who leads a political group with executive responsibilities and a budget of many tens or hundreds of millions of pounds does not have the same rights within the party as a backbencher in either Cardiff or Westminster. If we are to reach out and create a more inclusive leadership team then it needs to change and it must change quickly.

With a leadership election taking place later in the year it is essential that this wider debate now takes place. And it is essential that we actively create the time and space to debate these issues before we turn our attention to the question of our leadership.

But more about that tomorrow.

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