Tension high as Welsh Labour discusses leadership election changes

Credit: ITV Wales News, Adrian Masters

Tension within Welsh Labour is said to be running high ahead of a pivotal meeting to discuss changing the way the party chooses a successor to Carwyn Jones.

Members of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) will discuss proposals for a new voting system in leadership elections put forward by the former Welsh and Northern Irish Secretary Paul Murphy.

But I understand a profound split over the sort of change which should be recommended to grassroots members at a special conference means that what should have been a routine meeting could become a flashpoint in growing party divisions.

Members of the WEC didn't receive copies of the Murphy report until late Friday afternoon.

I understand that Lord Murphy hasn't been able to reach a conclusion on a single proposal for change. Instead he reports that two options have emerged from a consultation over the summer: a reformed version of the current system and a similar one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system to that used by the UK party.

Without a recommendation for one proposal or another, the committee could put both proposals to a special conference of members next week (September 15th) sparking fears the conference will be dominated by an acrimonious fight.

There's been considerable pressure to drop the current system, known as the electoral college, from activists who say members should have the final say on who fills the top jobs.

Under the college system party members, elected members and affiliated union members vote in three different sections.

Critics say it gives too much weight to the votes of MPs and AMs and too much influence to the unions.

They want to see the system change to 'one member one vote' (OMOV) which was adopted by the UK party and used to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

It's become even more controversial here in Wales after the WEC decided to keep the Electoral College last year. That controversy only increased after it was used in the election of a Deputy Leader earlier this year.

Defenders of the college say it's already been reformed so that unions no longer have block votes.

They also say any system must recognise the unique role of trade unions in the Labour movement, not just as donors but as the founders of the movement.

Members of the Welsh Executive Committee leaving a previous meeting Credit: ITV Wales News, Adrian Masters

Carwyn Jones had previously announced that a democracy review, led by Lord Murphy, would look at all the party's systems and report next year.

After huge internal controversy, that review was split into two stages and it's the first stage - choosing leaders and deputy leaders - which Lord Murphy will present to the WEC today.

He's spent the summer asking members to consider three options:

  • Continuing with the current electoral college system

  • Retaining the college but removing the parliamentarians' section (for MPs, AMs and MEP)

  • One member one vote

And if members decide to move to OMOV, whether the new system should:

  • Allow only individual Labour party members to vote

  • Allow union members who apply to be classed as affiliate members to vote

  • Allow all individual members of unions affiliated to Labour to take part on the same basis as individual party members.

There's anxiety amongst WEC members on both sides of the argument as they go into today's meeting at Transport House in Cardiff.

If the reformed electoral college proposal is the only one put forward to the Special Conference, supporters of OMOV will complain of a stitch-up.

If both OMOV and a reformed electoral college are put forward, some will criticise the committee for failing in its task of preventing the special conference being subsumed by bitter divisions.

I'm told there's not a majority for OMOV meaning the committee is likely to be split.

Some members are said to want a secret ballot. I'm told there are also calls for Lord Murphy's consultation to be published.

What had been expected to be a fairly straightforward meeting could now become a flashpoint and a precursor to an even more divisive and bitter special conference a week later.