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9 March 2020

I’m a former Labour minister, yet I don’t have a leadership vote

Labour needs all the friends – and all the members who support its principles – that it can get. So why haven't I received a leadership ballot?

By Leighton Andrews

I rejoined the Labour Party on 15 January. Jennie Formby welcomed me back in an email. She promised my new membership card was on its way to me. People like me were ‘the heart and soul of the party’. I got a text the same day thanking me for rejoining.

Since then – nothing. Zilch. Bugger all. Sweet FA. I tried logging on with my old membership number, and was told there was a problem and I should email Labour membership. I emailed them on 8 February. No reply. I emailed them again on 23 February. No reply. I said in the emails that I acknowledged they were working under pressure.

I had no notice of the leadership hustings in Cardiff. I am told that there is no record of my membership in Cardiff West, my local party, the constituency of Labour’s First Minister, my former Welsh Government ministerial colleague, Mark Drakeford.

I am perfectly prepared to believe that Labour’s membership department is overwhelmed by people seeking to rejoin after Johnson’s general election victory and Corbyn’s departure announcement. What I can’t understand is why there isn’t even an automated reply to people approaching the membership department about delays in getting their membership confirmed.

My membership of the Labour Party lapsed in March 2019. I’d decided months before that I wasn’t going to be caught out by an automatic renewal and cancelled my direct debit. In the European elections. I decided not to vote for the pro-Brexit anti-Semitic shambles that the Labour leadership has allowed the party to become. After all, in the 2017 I had voted Labour, and my vote had been waved around with that of millions of others as an endorsement of the leadership’s plans for a better Brexit. Well, stuff that. Won’t get fooled again.

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So, having left Labour, I loaned my vote to the Greens last May. My decision was explicitly prompted by the Labour NEC decision on Brexit. Perhaps that means that my membership application is being closely scrutinised. Who knows? Personally I would hope that my thirteen years as an elected Welsh Labour member of the National Assembly for Wales, along with eight years as a Welsh Labour minister, might just count in my favour. After all, a lot of people with long records of supporting other parties were allowed to join Labour in the summer of 2015. 

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In the December 2019 General Election, I voted for my local Labour MP Kevin Brennan, who had a strong anti-Brexit position, having voted, like all other Cardiff Labour MPs, against the introduction of Article 50 in 2017. I donated to a couple of local Labour campaigns in Wales too.

I rejoined the Labour Party in January explicitly to vote in the leadership election for a candidate who can reclaim Labour from Corbynism, address the issue of anti-Semitism, and reconnect the party with the wider public. The leadership campaign so far suggests that there is a chance of returning the Labour Party to sensible but radical leadership. If I get the opportunity, I will vote for Lisa Nandy then Keir Starmer.

This is not to say that whoever is elected, Labour doesn’t face significant challenges. And the challenges facing Wales and the UK as a whole are deep and will be accentuated by the lived reality of Brexit. Rebuilding won’t happen overnight. And the outcomes, in the face of this new Conservative activist unionism, are uncertain. Labour needs all the friends – and all the members who support its principles – that it can get.

 Leighton Andrew is a professor at Cardiff Business School and a former Labour Welsh Assembly member