Why did Northern Independence Party candidate once sit on the Welsh Affairs Committee?
The Northern Independence Party has selected a candidate for the Hartlepool by-election who has already had a taste of what it’s like to represent a national minority in the UK Parliament.
That’s because Thelma Walker, who was last night unveiled as the new party’s first parliamentary candidate after winning an online ballot of members, once sat on Westminster’s Welsh affairs committee.
Walker, who was the Labour MP for the Colne Valley seat in West Yorkshire during the last Parliament, got the role as a result of a shortage of Welsh Labour MPs willing or able to serve on the committee.
The Welsh affairs committee consists of 11 MPs and the number of members from each party is based on political composition of the Commons. During the last Parliament, Labour was allocated four seats on the committee.
So when Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock stepped down from the committee in January 2018 to concentrate on his work on the Brexit committee, it meant he had to be replaced by another Labour MP. When no Welsh replacement could be found, Walker stepped-up.
“I believe that my Yorkshire constituency and many Welsh constituencies face lots of the same issues,” she said at the time. “From farming and the impacts of Brexit, to issues with transport and broadband speeds.
“I will be a voice for Yorkshire, but also for communities in Wales who are equally affected by this government’s austerity-driven agenda. I would be more than happy to step aside if one of my Welsh Labour colleagues would like the opportunity to be on the committee, but in the mean-time, I felt it was important the committee had full membership.”
Walker certainly dived in at the deep end at the first of her two committee meeting, opening the questioning in an evidence session about the impact of Brexit on Wales.
Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said it was “disappointing” Labour couldn’t find four Welsh MPs to serve on the committee and described the decision to draft in Walker as an “insult” to Labour voters in Wales.
Labour pointed out that 17 of their then 28 MPs were in frontbench roles which prevented them from sitting on the committee and said they made “no apology for drawing on the experience and commitment of our whole movement in order to best serve the people of Wales”.
Walker was allowed to attend just two meetings of the committee before being replaced by Susan Elan Jones, the former MP for Clwyd South, less than a month after she had joined.
With Wales set to lose 8 MPs under plans to redraw constituency boundaries, Walker might prove one more useful ally if she pulls off a 33/1 upset in May’s by-election.