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Drakeford 'disappointed' after being overruled by UK Labour in reselection row

Corbyn and Drakeford on stage at Welsh Labour conference in April

An internal Labour party argument has broken out which could damage relations between Jeremy Corbyn and one of his earliest and strongest supporters, the First Minister Mark Drakeford.

The Welsh Labour leader has written to MPs to say he's 'deeply disappointed' by a decision taken on Tuesday by the party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) not to allow Welsh Labour control over the re-selection of MPs.

Some AMs are also angry after learning of another 'calculated insult' to Mark Drakeford. He's due to speak to Labour's conference in Brighton at 9.50am on Sunday morning, 'the graveyard or Tom Watson slot' as one put it.

The rule change may seem relatively obscure to those outside the party but the move is being seen inside as a deliberate attempt to impose rules on Welsh Labour and 'throwing devolution under a bus' as it was described to me.

And it actually may not be a change seen strictly in terms of the party's rule book. It was generally assumed that Welsh Labour had control over re-selecting MPs just as it does over selecting candidates to be MPs and both things when it comes to AMs.

But with re-selections and trigger ballots proving hugely controversial in the party and one of the fault lines between supporters and opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, it was something that it was decided to address when the NEC met.

Mark Drakeford supported formally devolving the power to Wales as 'a sensible cleaning up of the rules' as did his nominated representative on the NEC, Mick Antoniw. They were overruled.

The practical difference is that there are now likely to be different rules operating in the same constituency parties. So the threshold for triggering a full re-selection of a sitting AM would require 51% of votes from branches and affiliates whereas the threshold to do the same against a sitting MP would only require a third of votes which is the threshold in England.

Some have told me it was done ‘purely for factional reasons’ i.e. to gain control over trigger ballots such as that held against Police & Crime Commissioner Alun Michael this week.

Welsh MPs say that it's not so much the rule itself that they're angry about but that the principle of devolution has been ignored. 'It throws devolution under a bus,' said one.

More worrying for the leader's office will be the response of the Welsh Labour leadership. Mark Drakeford has now written to Welsh Labour MPs saying he was 'deeply disappointed' by the decision and that the Welsh Executive Committee will now consider the implications.

His letter is below:

Dear Colleagues

I just wanted to send you a quick update on the matter of MP reselections. The NEC today considered a rule change proposed by Mick Antoniw (in his role as the Welsh representative on the NEC) to ensure that, as had been generally assumed prior to last year’s Annual Conference, reselection procedures would be determined by the Welsh Executive Committee (and Scottish equivalent). This would have allowed the WEC to decide our reselection procedures for MPs as it does the selection procedures, while opening the way to consistent procedures for AMs and MPs.

Unfortunately the rule change was not agreed at the NEC today.

I am deeply disappointed that the NEC has reached this conclusion. The WEC was due to consider the issue of reselections at its next meeting on 5th October and I will ensure that we discuss what action we can take to secure this devolution of powers to the WEC in future. Meanwhile that meeting on the 5th will need to agree detailed guidelines for implementing the rules agreed by Annual Conference and staff will then liaise with you and your CLPs about the next steps.

Yours in solidarity

Mark

– Email from Mark Drakeford to Welsh Labour MPs

The First Minister was one of the earliest supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and has spoken strongly ever since both in favour of the Labour leader and the controversial rule changes which his time in office has seen.

Despite that support there's a feeling amongst senior Labour figures that the leader's office 'continues to disrespect the only Labour leader of a government across the UK.'

Perhaps it stems from a difference over Brexit which has emerged. While Jeremy Corbyn has said he'd remain neutral in a second referendum, Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Labour government has been clear they would campaign to remain.

Whatever the reason, a row which risks alienating allies seems a strange one to have on the eve of a Labour conference already likely to be tense.

Some supporters of Mark Drakeford and Jeremy Corbyn see things very differently. One said that the First Minster doesn't see insults in conference speech timings:

Another said the reselection rules are only controversial to MPs and others who feel they're losing control to members:

Mark Drakeford's letter to Welsh Labour members

With a difference of position emerging between the two Labour leaders, Mark Drakeford has moved to make his view and that of Welsh Labour clear.

He's written to all party members in Wales explaining why he'd back remaining in the EU in any future referendum.

Dear Friend,

Given the dramatic and worrying events in Westminster recently, I thought this would be a good time to write to you personally to set out the Welsh Labour Party's position on Brexit.

Welsh Labour believes that Wales' best interests will only be served by remaining in the European Union.

We campaigned for a remain vote in the 2016 referendum and nothing we have seen or learned in the three years' since has changed our minds.

Any type of Brexit - even the softest possible - will cause potentially irreparable damage to Wales and its economy. This is because Wales is heavily dependent on manufacturing and agri-food and 60% of our exports go straight to the EU.

We will support all the efforts our colleagues in Westminster are taking to prevent the no deal Brexit, which the Prime Minister and the Tory government is hell-bent on pursuing.

Labour has made an unequivocal commitment to put the Brexit decision back to the people.

In that referendum, we, as Welsh Labour, must and will campaign to remain in the EU.

Yours in solidarity, Mark Drakeford AM Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister

– Letter from Mark Drakeford to members

A Welsh Labour source insists the timing has nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn's suggestion that he'll remain neutral and that 'Mark has always intended to reiterate his position this week ahead of conference.'