Welsh Labour to vote on Senedd expansion and election reform plans at special conference
Welsh Labour delegates will meet today at a special conference to vote on plans to increase the size of the Senedd amid a warning from some unions that they are unhappy with the proposals.
At the conference, to be held in Cardiff, delegates will have an opportunity to debate and vote on the proposals to expand the Senedd to 96 members and change the voting system. It has already received support from a majority of Senedd Members.
Three unions closely affiliated with Labour have however said that they oppose the reforms, saying that they are concerned they could make it harder for Labour to hold on to power in Wales.
GMB, Community and Usdaw are understood to be against the proposals. They are however still expected to pass with the backing of Unite and Unison.
Welsh Labour MPs Chris Bryant and the party’s deputy leader Carolyn Harris have also criticised some aspects of the plans.
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant said that his party branch had “voted unanimously” to oppose the plans because the new constituencies would be too large.
“Although we support reform in principle, the Rhondda Labour Party voted unanimously last night against the present proposals for reform of the Senedd,” Chris Bryant said.
“We object to electing six representatives in each 200,000 constituency on closed lists. It will make MSs much less connected to local people.”
The Welsh parliament voted last month to rubber-stamp the reforms which will see the number of members expanded from 60 to 96.
The 32 Westminster new constituencies will be paired to create 16 large constituencies, electing six Senedd members each.
Senedd elections will also use closed proportional lists with integrated statutory gender quotas, in practice giving parties full control over their list of candidates.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds called on Welsh Labour to back the reforms, saying that they must be “on the right side of history” in building a stronger and more fair democracy in Wales.
“We all really hope that Welsh Labour delegates vote to do the right thing tomorrow and support a much fairer and more democratic voting system in Wales,” she said.
“Too often Labour have blocked electoral reform across the UK and now is a chance to put Wales’ interest over their party political interests.
“It is disappointing that the GMB, Usdaw and Community trade unions groups have come out against introducing a more proportional voting system in Wales, blatantly stating they are against the proposals because it may make a Labour Government less likely.
“Elections should be competitive and a more promotional system means that more voters can vote for who they believe will deliver the change their communities and our country needs, not just to stop the other side from winning.”
This week however one of the architects of the Senedd reform plans raised concerns with the proposals for Senedd reform, saying that a closed list system will deny voters choice.
Professor Laura McAllister, who chaired an Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform in 2017 that produced many of the recommendations on which the reforms have based, raised concerns with the closed lists.
The pairing of proportional representation and a party-chosen list of candidates would in practice almost guarantee some prospective representatives’ seats in the Senedd.
Writing for the Constitution Unit Blog, Prof. Laura McAllister said that their expert panel had rejected the closed list system as it lead to less “voter choice and accountability”.
“It is a strange choice, as there are a host of problems with closed list PR systems, most notably over promoting party control over voter choice,” she said.
“Under closed lists, voters have no influence on the hierarchy in which candidates are elected – this being pre-selected by the party, locally or nationally.
“Furthermore, in this specific case, candidates will be ordered not only by party preferences but also by gender, which gives even less independent choice for voters.”
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