Harris vs Morgan: Deputy leadership contest begins

The campaign to elect the newly created position of Deputy Leader of the Welsh Labour Party kicked off last week, as two candidates were confirmed as having enough nominations to be put on the ballot. Party rules require that the position be filled by a women, in order to sequre gender parity at the top of Wales’s governing party.

Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris and Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan will go head to head over the next few weeks in order to win the votes of party members, trade unionists and elected officials, before a winner is announced at Welsh Labour’s spring conference in Llandudno on the 21st of April. Despite the reservations of some party members and senior officals, the post will not be elected on a “one member – one vote” basis. Instead, following a desicion taken by the party’s national executive committee last year, an electoral college system will be used, with three sections comprising Labour Party members, members of affiliate trade unions and AMs, MPs and MEPs each getting an equal say.

Defending the system, Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones said: “Welsh Labour is at its best and its boldest when it harnesses the support, ideas and enthusiasm of all those who share our values and ideals. The electoral college has helped us do just that, bringing together as it does all those with a stake in our Party and our country.”

Harris, only elected as an MP 3 years ago, is thought to be the frontrunner, standing on a platform of being a strong campaigner, having lead numerous national campaigns such as: to reduce fixed term betting odds and to scrap child burial fees. Furthermore, she’s won the support of 31 Welsh Labour AMs, MPs and MEPs, dwarfing the 20 supporting Morgan. According to Jeremy Miles AM, many are backing Harris, because “she’s a real example of how Welsh Labour is standing up for Wales not only in the Assembly, but in Westminster too.”

Morgan is countering that narrative by emphasising her experience not only as an AM, but also as an MP and Councillor. Senior frontbencher Mark Drakeford AM is supporting Morgan’s campaign, stating Morgan is “uniquely qualified” for the post. Cllr Debbie Wilcox, leader of Newport Council, who was intending to stand herself, but failed to get the required level of support for nomination, has come out in support of Morgan, signalling that Morgan’s previous experience as a Councillor is perhaps bringing in more less high-profile support to her campaign.

Evidently, given the nature of the electoral college system used to elect the Deputy Leader, gaining the support of trade unionists will be vital to secure victory. Morgan has won the endorsement of Wales’s largest trade union UNISON, with Dan Beard, Chair of UNISON Cymru saying, “We want our political leaders to be principled campaigners who stand up for working class people. Julie Morgan fits that to a T.” Despite this Harris has fought back by succeeding to gain endorsements from USDAW, ASLEF and Community trade unions. USDAW General Secretary John Hannet said the union was supporting Harris because she’s been “at the forefront of the state pension inequality campaign in Parliament, working with USDAW to tackle the unjust increase in the state pension age that discriminates against women workers born in the 1950s.”

With two months to go until the result will be announced, this close race may well go down to the wire as both candidates seek to garner as much support as possible before the deadline for voting shuts, and we find out who will be the first ever deputy leader of Welsh Labour.

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