Labour MS’s ‘bribed’ to back controversial Closed List system
Labour MSs are being “bribed” to back a controversial change to the Senedd voting system with the promise of virtually guaranteed re-election in two years time, we can reveal.
Under an agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, the number of Senedd Members is due to be increased from 60 to 96 in time for the next election in May 2026. In addition the electoral system will change to a proportional one under which people will vote for a political party rather than for individuals.
Wales will be divided into 16 “super-constituencies”, each of which will elect six MSs according to the proportion of votes won by each party. Parties will themselves rank their candidates, with those at the top having the best chance of getting elected. The system is known as “Closed List” because voters are not given the opportunity to choose between a party’s list of candidates as they would be, for example, under the better known proportional system of the Single Transferable Vote.
The Closed List system has been criticised for putting too much power in the hands of parties and for downgrading the ability of voters to support or oppose individual politicians of their choice.
Welsh Executive Committee
Confirmation that existing Labour MSs will be given top ranking on the Closed Lists is included in a document written by Darren Williams, a left wing member of the party’s Welsh Executive Committee (WEC).
His report for party members of a meeting of the WEC that took place in December 2023 states: “A paper was presented, covering the issues of incumbency and equality. In relation to incumbency, it was proposed that, subject to a trigger ballot, sitting Members of the Senedd (MSs) who wished to seek re-election would automatically be placed at the top of the list in each of the new constituencies.
“On equality, party officers were continuing to discuss with the various equality committees measures that could be taken to ensure the maximum diversity in the selection processes.
“I spoke in opposition to the proposals on incumbency, arguing that the forthcoming expansion of the Senedd represented a major opportunity to rejuvenate the party’s representation in the Senedd and that this opportunity would be squandered if all of the most winnable seats were reserved for existing MSs.
“Although the paper had said that this would be a one-off arrangement for the first election under the new set-up, I felt that, once the precedent had been set, the party might well choose to continue with the same arrangements in future.
“The argument had been put that the new Senedd would need an assurance of Ministers with experience but I argued that most who wished to continue would probably be selected under any arrangement and that in 1999 the majority of new Ministers had had no experience at an equivalent elected level.
“My arguments were supported by one of my fellow CLP [Constituency Labour Party] reps, who pointed out that there is plenty of talent in the party outside of the current Senedd on which we could draw and also expressed scepticism about the need to make this decision now when most other matters were being deferred, suggesting a delay to give CLPs the opportunity for further input.
“Most other speakers, however, supported the paper’s proposal, with the exception of the Unite representative, who reaffirmed her union’s support for open selection. Mark [Drakeford] responded to support the paper’s proposal, pointing out that, in the first election under a new voting system, the presence of familiar names as lead candidates would help the Labour vote, and dismissing my point about comparisons with 1999, saying that the position was completely different now that the Senedd had full law-making powers. The paper was put to the vote and carried by 16 votes to 5.”
A Welsh Labour insider said: “This has come as quite a shock. We were told that the plans for an enlarged Senedd were about doing politics differently and instead we are getting the same faces guaranteed a seat. There are some really talented young activists in Welsh Labour, they should be given a chance to stand. The case for an open list has never been stronger.”
The main Senedd reform Bill is currently being considered by MSs.
Meanwhile a spokesman for the Welsh Government said it was “still working” on a second Senedd reform Bill that would seek to ensure an equal number of men and women get elected to the body. Under the proposal, parties would have to alternate females and males on their candidate lists in each of the 16 new “super constituencies”.
A draft of the bill leaked to the Women’s Rights Network would have allowed trans candidates to self-identify as women. The bill was withdrawn days before it was due to be introduced because of concerns that it would be beyond the powers of the Senedd to pass it.
It is unclear whether the promise to Labour MSs of top ranking on the closed lists would be compatible with a law aimed at ensuring a gender-balanced Senedd.
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