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Labour chairman draws criticism for election letter.

Byline: MARTIN SHIPTON Chief reporter

THE trade unionist who chairs Welsh Labour has been criticised for sending a letter to nearly 40,000 of his members advising them to vote for MP Carolyn Harris in the hotly-contested battle to elect the party's first ever deputy leader.

Some supporters of Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan, the Swansea East MP's rival for the post, have told Mike Payne it was inappropriate for him to sign such a letter.

But the GMB political officer strongly defended his right to communicate with members, telling them that the party backs Ms Harris. In the letter, Mr Payne wrote: "Dear Member, Thank you for your continued membership of GMB.

"Today you have the opportunity to vote in the Welsh Labour Party's Deputy Leadership election as a GMB political levy paying member. After interviewing both candidates, at GMB we've decided to back Carolyn Harris MP as our choice for deputy leader. As a GMB member herself, we believe that she is the best candidate to represent GMB members, and her enthusiasm, passion and commitment will best represent all wings of the Labour movement here in Wales."

Mr Payne went on to point members in the direction of Ms Harris' website, and provides instructions as to how they can vote online. Last year Welsh Labour decided to elect a female deputy leader to balance party leader Carwyn Jones. Controversially, the party's Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) has also decided to use the existing "electoral college" system to choose future leaders and deputy leaders, rather than adopting the 'one member, one vote' (OMOV) system under which Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Under the electoral college, one third of the votes go to AMs, MPs and Labour's MEP; one third go to ordinary members; and the final third to members of unions and other bodies affiliated to the Labour Party. Opponents of the electoral college system say it is unfair because AMs or MPs who belong to an affiliated union have three votes.

One supporter of Julie Morgan, who did not wish to be named, said: "As he's the chair of Welsh Labour, it's possible to argue that Mike Payne should have stepped back and allowed some other union official to send the letter. As the chair of Welsh Labour it would be better if he was neutral in the deputy leadership contest. There's no doubt that the letter will have some influence over GMB members in deciding how they should vote."

Mr Payne revealed that a panel of four GMB officials had decided that the union should nominate Ms Harris. He added: "A number of Julie Morgan supporters have told me that because I'm the chair of Welsh Labour, I shouldn't have signed the letter backing Carolyn on behalf of the union.

"I don't agree with that argument at all. My salary is paid not by Welsh Labour, but by the GMB. I sent out the letter as the union's political officer for Wales, and it was my job to do so."

Mr Payne said the issue of the voting system had been settled by a big majority at the WEC.

Julie Morgan supports a change to OMOV, while Ms Harris is happy with the electoral college.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 26, 2018
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