The Labour Party in Wales is in the middle of a historic campaign to elect its first ever deputy leader. Both of the candidates are women, both from the broad left of the party – and both have served as MPs.
But only one supports the Welsh party switching to OMOV – one member, one vote – to empower Labour members in the election of their leadership, instead of the ‘electoral college’ system pushed through by the Welsh Executive in what many consider to be an attempt to protect the ‘centrist’-dominated power structure, which gives a handful of MPs and Assembly Members the same voting power as all Welsh Labour members.
That candidate, Julie Morgan, spoke exclusively to the SKWAWKBOX on OMOV and much more.
SKWAWKBOX: How have you found the campaign so far?
JM: Some of it has been quite good fun, the hustings have been interesting. We’re in Rhyl on Saturday, Camarthen next week then Swansea and Newport. I’ve done Cardiff and the women’s conference.
S: Is it true you and Carolyn [Harris, the Swansea MP who is also standing for the deputy leader position] have had to fund the hustings yourselves?
JM: There was going to be a £5 charge for entry. That’s a lot of money and bad for democracy. That’s completely unacceptable so Carolyn and I have covered the cost.
S: What was the process for interested women to make it to the final contest?
JM: You have to get at least twelve nominations in total, of which three have to be from MPs. We had a great woman council leader who’d have made a fantastic candidate, but she couldn’t get the MP nominations she needed. It’s a pity we have nobody from local government standing, but she’s supporting me now.
I’ve been campaigning for this post and for women’s equality in the party for a long time. We’ve got more women AMs (Assembly Members) than men now, so when it came up I thought I’d like to have a go – it’s the first time we’ve had a deputy leader in Wales so it’s a chance to set the tone for the post.
S: You’re on the record as strongly supportive of OMOV to empower the members. Is that the key differentiator between you and Carolyn Harris?
JM: I support OMOV very strongly – I’ve campaigned for it for twenty years. The electoral college (EC) system is fraught with problems and bad for the members’ voice. But I need to succeed in the EC system first to be able to do something about it.
As an AM at the moment, my vote worth is 400 times more than a member. On top of that, EC gives me multiple votes as socialist society member, union member etc.
There’s huge support for OMOV in the Welsh party – and support for it being decided by conference. If we don’t have OMOV, increasing our membership actually dilutes each member’s voice – the total membership vote still only counts for one third, so that means less voice per member in an EC system.
Changing that means a lot to people. We have to operate in the current system for this election but I’m very hopeful.
S: What other changes do you want to make?
JM: Another big issue is geographical. People say Labour, like Welsh politics in general, is Cardiff-centric, so members in North Wales feel on the fringes. I want them to be fully part of what’s happening – we already have conference in North Wales but we should move more things there, such as having the women’s conference in Wrexham and getting out to constituencies a lot more.
I’m also very keen to work with members and unions. Some people are claiming that my support for OMOV means I don’t want the unions involved, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We’ve been able in Westminster to repeal some of the anti-trade union legislation for devolved services. We’ve been able to do a lot working together with Trade Unions and I want to take that further.
S: Your union didn’t nominate you. What was that about?
JM: Welsh Unite was going to nominate Carolyn but put their nomination in too late for it to be counted officially. I’ve been a Unite member for thirty years, so that’s obviously disappointing but I don’t have any details why.
S: The SKWAWKBOX receives a lot of messages from Welsh Labour members, who complain that their party is still dominated by centrists and that the voting processes have been set up to keep it that way against the member wishes. What do you say?
JM: Welsh Labour needs to become more democratic. But when Labour was in government in Westminster under Blair and Brown, Welsh Labour was considered far more red – there was clear red water between us and the English party. We were more radical, showed more support for public services and against privatisation, for universal benefit provision – a really key issue.
We also brought in the opt-out system for organ donation – which Jeremy has said he’ll also do in government. We have free prescriptions, universality.
S: Will you have a role in disciplinary processes if you succeed in becoming deputy leader?
JM: As far as I’m concerned, this is a new post and can do new things. Discipline is very important but I hope it won’t be the deputy leader’s job – I want to concentrate on our 25,000 members.
Labour has remained consistently in control in Wales, but the new challenge now is to try to make the party meaningful to all those new members and I want to work on that.
S: We’ve talked about OMOV. How else would you differentiate yourself from your opponent?
JM: I don’t want to get into that kind of comparison. But in terms of my own history, I’ve been a councillor, MP and AM – I’m probably the only person in the world who’s done all those, although it would be a small pool.
I voted against Iraq war, against Trident, against tuition-fees. That’s my background. I thought Labour was going in the wrong direction on those issues and I made my voice heard. It was a terrible shame that Labour brought in tuition fees – I had a full maintenance grant with no tuition fees and others should be able to enjoy the same in one of the richest countries in the world. Welsh Labour policy is now for maintenance grants.
S: There has been a lot of talk in the media this week about events in Salisbury and a lot of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s measured approach. What do you think about it all?
JM: my view is Jeremy was fairly moderate in what he said. You have to be very cautious, particularly with the UK’s history on foreign policy and a record of jumping to conclusions and acting wrongly because of it.
I do think it’s important to be cautious and make sure – Jeremy has spoken wisely in terrible circumstances.
The first inquiry was probably carried out properly.
S: Finally, there has been outrage in Wales about the outcome of one of the inquiries into events around the tragic death of Carl Sargeant, because Carwyn Jones was judged not to have released information about Carl’s suspension. What do you make of that and the ongoing situation?
There were three inquiries instituted as a result of Carl’s death. Carl’s family have only just agreed the terms of reference for the third, so we’re waiting to see what they show. His son Jack has already made an outstanding contribution in a short time, but of course the circumstances that took him there are terrible and sad. Carl’s death has left everyone heartbroken and very subdued.
The first inquiry probably carried out properly, but there was a lot of upset about it.
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