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Labour reorganisation delayed in Wales. Time for autonomy?

Next week’s meeting of Labour’s executive is likely to agree to defer reorganising constituency Labour parties in Wales in what should be seen as an indication of the acceptance of greater autonomy for the Welsh party. Whereas all other constituency parties in Britain are to be reorganised from January 2013 in the light of proposals for new constituency boundaries, reorganisation in Wales is to be delayed until after a UK government consultation on changing the basis of constituencies for the National Assembly for Wales. This will also permit a subsequent decision on whether Welsh boundaries should be based on Westminster boundaries or Welsh Assembly boundaries (in line with what is to happen in Scotland) — should they end up being different. In Scotland the new CLPs will be based on the boundaries of the Scottish Parliament. This followed the decision to create the post of Leader of a largely autonomous Scottish Labour Party, a measure forced by the disastrous performance against the SNP in the Holyrood elections in 2011. Although Welsh Labour’s electoral performance was very different — a consequence of the political autonomy it had shown through the latter years of New Labour — many party members in Wales eagerly sought the same level of organisational autonomy. Currently there are forty constituency seats in the National Assembly for Wales elected by first-past-the-post with a further twenty “top-up” seats elected in five regional groups under PR. The government is now consulting on whether that system should be changed, potentially to a new system based on 30 constituency seats and 30 “top-up” seats. If adopted, this would in all likelihood create coterminous assembly and Westminster boundaries. It would also make the assembly more proportionate (and, in consequence, make an overall majority more difficult for Labour to attain). Welsh First Minister, Carwen Jones, has already made clear his opoosition to changing the electoral system:

We don’t want to see any change. Nobody has a mandate for change. Nobody thought we’d have a Green Paper such as this in this age of devolution, seeking to impose change on the people of Wales without their consent. We thought we were beyond those days and the Prime Minister has given me assurances there’d be no change. without the agreement of the Assembly.

However, Andrew Davies, Leader of the Tory group of AMs also opposes change:

I am in favour of the status quo and in favour of de-coupling. I will be feeding this into the consultation process over the next few weeks. The current 40:20 model has serve the Assembly well.

Although the Lib Dems support a “fully proportionate system” and Plaid Cymru support STV, it seems quite likely that “de-coupling” (i.e. adopting different boundaries for Westminster and assembly seats) will happen. Labour members in Wales are advised to consider the implications.

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