News Bulletin March 2017

Dear Comrade/Annwyl Gyfaillon

This bulletin focusses particularly on the forthcoming Welsh Labour conference, covering both motions to be debated and our own fringe meeting, and the Momentum conference taking place on the same weekend while also giving the usual brief rundown of recent developments and forthcoming events. We are aware that it is several weeks since the last edition and will endeavour to find a way to produce more regular bulletins in future.

The UK Government presented its budget on Wednesday (the last to be held in the spring). Philip Hammond managed to ignore Brexit, while continuing with essentially the same failed economic policies and breaking a key Tory manifesto pledge by increasing national insurance contributions for the self-employed (although, under pressure, the government subsequently announced that a decision on this change would be deferred until the autumn). The trade union backed think-tank, CLASS has published a useful briefing on the budget, as well as from its expert panel. Labour took its response the budget – and its arguments for an alternative to Tory policies – out on the streets with another national campaign day on Saturday.

The budget gave our Westminster frontbench a welcome opportunity to go on the offensive after a period of introspection following the two by-elections on 23 February, during which all the usual suspects tried to blame Jeremy Corbyn for the loss of Copeland (while giving him scant credit for the victory over UKIP in Stoke). Many comrades will no doubt have seen the blog by Paul Mason, which provides a useful counter to the prevailing narrative among media pundits. There has also been some media comment on the meetings of Labour’s NEC Disputes Panel and Organisation Committee, which took place on Tuesday – see the report by WLG member, Darren Williams. The full NEC meets on 21 March.

In Wales, Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford has highlighted the uncertainty faced by theWelsh Government over the implications of the Tories’ plans to cut £3.5 billion from public spending in 2019/20 and has also raised the alarm about indications by the UK government that it will seek to overturn Welsh Labour’s Trade Union Bill if and when it is passed by the Assembly.

Welsh Labour conference takes place in Venue Cymru, Llandudno on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th March. Jeremy is due to speak on the Saturday morning and Carwyn on the afternoon of the same day. There are a number of motions to be discussed, most of which are fairly uncontentious and will be supported by the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC). In a few cases, however the WEC will ask the movers of the motion to remit (i.e. kick it into the long grass) and, if remittance is not forthcoming, will recommend rejection. (See this report of the relevant meeting from WLG members, Chris Newman and Darren Williams, for more detail on the process and WEC discussions.)

The contentious motions come mostly from the left, the most significant being as follows:

Not for Profit Rail (Cardiff West CLP) – calls on the Welsh Government to carry out previous conference policy to ensure that the Wales rail franchise is run on a not-for-profit basis; ministers claim they do not have the power to carry out the terms of the motion but this is disputed by the CLP, the rail unions and public transport experts;

Affordable Housing (Clwyd West CLP) – calls on the Welsh Government and local authorities to prevent unfair rent increases and evictions and for the establishment of a Fair Rents Officer to ensure parity of private sector with social sector rental charges; WEC was told that the latter was not deliverable but the ‘instruction’ in the motion contains the get-out clause “seek to ensure” (i.e as far as possible) and it would be a shame to lose a good motion on an important issue because of a quibble over wording.
Rule change motion on WEC Agendas, Minutes and Quorum (Swansea West CLP) – calls for timely circulation of WEC papers, which the WEC concedes in a rule change of its own, but also for publication of papers on members net (which is apparently contentious) and for more robust attendance quorum rules for WEC meetings than the WEC is willing to accept.

Election of Welsh Labour Leader and Deputy Leader (Ceredigion CLP) – the motion wants conference to take a position in support of OMOV, which is seen as ‘pre-empting’ the forthcoming consultation (yet WEC has taken a position in favour of a gender-balance leadership team (also supported by the Ceredigion motion), which also preempts the consultation!

It will be an uphill battle to get these motions passed in the face of WEC opposition, so please try to get your CLP or other party body to support them (more information about each can be provided via WLG). In addition, motions from the Socialist Educational Association, Socialist Health Association and Cardiff West Women’s Forum have been ruled out of order and the bodies in question are likely to attempt to overturn this decision by moving reference back of the Standing Orders Report at the start of conference (so please be in the conference hall early to support them).

The WLG fringe meeting will take place on the Saturday evening (25th March) from 6.00 pm in the Imperial Hotel, The Promenade, Vaughan Street, Llandudno LL30 1AP. Speakers will include Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government; outgoing Welsh Labour Chair, Donna Hutton; and NEC/WEC member, Darren Williams. Please come along if you’re going to be in Llandudno and encourage your friends and comrades to do likewise.

For those not going to Welsh Labour conference, there is the considerable alternative attraction of the first ever Momentum conference taking place on the same weekend. This important event for the left will taking place between 12.00 noon and 5.30 pm on Saturday 25th March at Warehouse 119, 119 Floodgate Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5SR. It is open to all Momentum members and will feature activist training, political education workshops and discussion focused on four key themes of ‘Transforming Labour’; ‘Helping Labour Win’; ‘Building the movement’; and ‘Building Momentum’. See here for more details of the event and how to book tickets. Any WLG members able to attend are, of course, strongly encouraged to go along.

Still on the subject of Momentum, the first meeting of the newly-elected National Co-ordinating Group took place in Birmingham on Saturday. WLG was represented by our vice-chair, Maggie Simpson, who is our designated rep on the body. (Unfortunately, neither of the two WLG members who stood for election to the NCG in the relevant regional section were successful.) More details about the discussions that took place at Saturday’s meeting will be passed on in due course.

Forthcoming WLG/Momentum meetings:

Monday 13 March: Cardiff & Vale group meeting, 7.00 pm at Sport Wales, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff CF11 9SW

Thursday, 30 March, the Swansea group is hosting a screening of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at the Phoenix Centre, Powys Avenue, Townhill, Swansea SA1 6PH, 7.00 -10.00 pm.

Other forthcoming events:

Thursday 16th March: Stand Up to Racism Newport launch meeting with the former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Moazzam Begg at Pill Millennium Centre, Courtybella Terrace, Newport NP20 2GH, starting at 7.30 pm – full details here.

Saturday, 18 March: march and rally in Cardiff (coinciding with demos in London and Glasgow) to mark United Nations Day Against Racism. The assembly point is Grange Gardens, Grangetown CF11 7LJ at 11.00 am and the march will terminate at City Hall where there will be speeches – from Jo Stevens MP, Cllr. Sue Lent and Stephen Doughty MP, among others – and music. Organised by Stand Up to Racism with the support several trade unions and other organisations – for further details, please see the event’s Facebook page.