Note to readers: When I make an error it's always best to own up to it and not try to cover up anything. In a rush to get out news about Labour's National Executive Committee I didn't check the re-post of Ann Black's report which in fact referred to the NEC meeting last November.
I apologise unreservedly to readers and if Ann Black does produce a report I will make sure it is posted with an explanation of my error.
The January NEC meeting was mercifully short compared to some recent ones, at “just” five and a quarter hours.
Keir and Angela had to send their apologies due to the urgent statement about Ukraine in the House of Commons.
There was a poignant moment at the beginning of the meeting when obituaries to recently deceased comrades included former party Treasurer and Unite Deputy General Secretary Jack Dromey and Leo Beckett, much-loved husband and adviser to our NEC colleague Margaret and a formidable political operator in his own right.
We heard an update on implementation of the EHRC report. The new Independent Review Board, which reviews NEC disciplinary decisions, is now set up, but the recruitment process for the new Independent Complaints Board (ICB) is still being finalised. The new independent disciplinary process will therefore be up and running in March. The EHRC has moved Labour from monthly to quarterly reporting, and if all goes well the final monitoring point will be December 2022.
Anneliese Dodds updated us on work she is leading on tackling Islamophobia.
David Evans apologised that the Forde Report had been delayed again. A letter from Martin Forde states clearly that there has been no political interference and the delay is because the report is still being written. We were told it has been very nearly finalised.
Tom Webb, Director of Policy and Research, introduced a paper on The National Policy Forum (NPF) – pathway to the manifesto. This set out the framework and timetable for NPF activity in 2022 and 2023. There will be elections for new NPF reps in the summer. The September NEC will agree procedural guidelines for the final stage NPF meeting, which will be held in Q4 if a May 2023 election looks on the cards, or in summer 2023 if a later election seems more likely. A decision on this date will be taken in May. Six new policy commissions are being set up, to reflect the six themes of the Stronger Together policy review. These are listed below with their co-convenors:
1. Better jobs and better work – Rachel Reeves MP and Andy Kerr
2. Safe and secure communities – Yvette Cooper MP and James Asser
3. Public services that work from the start –Wes Streeting MP and Mark Ferguson
4. A green and digital future – Ed Miliband MP and Margaret Beckett
5. A future where families comes first – Bridget Phillipson MP and Diana Holland
6. Britain in the world – David Lammy MP and Michael Wheeler
Gavin Sibthorpe of the GMB was elected as the new Co-Convenor of the Joint Policy Committee.
David Evans gave his General Secretary’s report and made the obvious point that everything the party did was focused on the marginal constituencies needed to get us to 326 seats in the Commons. For the May elections there were target local authorities that aligned with parliamentary marginals. These would be challenging elections with a difficult base line for Labour. Pleasingly, more people are out campaigning and making more canvassing contacts than in recent years. Membership is now 434,000. That’s similar to late 2019 and not the haemorrhaging being speculated about on social media. In fact, membership has had an uptick in recent weeks due to the bad news afflicting the Tories. The cyber incident meant Member Centre is down so staff have had to develop work arounds and manual processes. A large number of join requests are being processed manually.
David reported that the Organise to Win restructuring had achieved 66% of the cuts in spending required to balance the budget. Staffing had been reduced by a net 60 posts (some new posts had been created in the regional hubs), without any compulsory redundancies. Non-staff costs were being reduced. The Party was on track for a balanced budget and a war chest for the General Election campaign.
A strong technical submission had been made to the Boundary Commission on the new parliamentary boundaries. Reselection trigger ballots had started, and six MPs had already been reselected, with another 50 processes underway. 350 people were being trained by the Future Candidates Programme. The new selections paper would deliver excellent candidates.
The party was implementing an action plan on diversity and inclusion.
Work on implementing the Liverpool Report is progressing well, led by Sheila Murphy, who is working to set up campaign structures and improve governance and probity measures in the City Council Labour Group. The number of complaints about members in Liverpool is falling.
I asked for a clear statement that we would have nothing to do with pacts, deals or alliances and that we were focused on winning a Labour majority government. I was pleased that both David and Shabana Mahmood, the National Campaign Coordinator, confirmed that and said there would be no deals with any other party and we would stand in every seat. Decisions about targeting resources would be driven by our own priority of getting a majority Labour government, not what other parties were up to.
After David’s report, we dealt with the papers on the new system for parliamentary selections. The NEC will longlist candidates in each constituency, in order to both increase diversity and help underrepresented groups get a shot at standing, and to carry out due diligence and remove unsuitable candidates before the process, rather than have to get people to stand down once they are selected and the media exposes things from their past. There will be a spending cap (£1,000 in the smallest CLPs up to £3,500 in the largest) for the first time, and a far shorter process, lasting only five weeks. Both measures are aimed at making the process more accessible to people with less money and time.
A range of amendments had been tabled. Some were withdrawn, and many others accepted by the staff. Ann Black wanted an even lower spending cap of £500 but didn’t persuade any of the rest of us of this. However, Ann’s proposal to limit nomination rights on the party, as opposed to affiliate side, to geographical branches, and not allow the new equalities branches (Women’s branches etc) to nominate was passed by 19 votes to 13. There was a unanimous vote to require a minimum of 50% women to each shortlist, rather than the “gender balanced” shortlist proposed in the original paper, which would have reserved half the places on the shortlist for men. We couldn’t reach a consensus on whether membership lists should be provided to all longlisted candidates or only to those who have been shortlisted, so this will be resolved after the meeting.
We then heard a report on elections from Elections Director Morgan McSweeney. He warned that the Tories could swap leader and call a very early General Election. He had been interviewing the Labour directors and campaign coordinators of every General Election campaign from 1987 to 2019 to learn what had worked and what hadn't. But he said the nature of the competition had changed dramatically. In the 1960s 87% of voters stayed with the same party in every General Election. In the 1980s 79% still did. But in the four General Elections from 2005-2017 only 40% of voters stayed with the same party in all four. Volatility has become huge, so whereas campaigns used to be focused on turnout they now have to be focused on persuasion. The party has invested in dashboards so that data can be tracked very closely, and in a big overhaul of digital campaigning. The local elections are only 100 days away, but Morgan elaborated on David’s figures about doorstep activity and said canvassing stats showed higher activity than in any year since records had started being kept in the same format in 2016. He concluded that this was encouraging but there was a lot more to do, with Saturday's national campaign day on the cost of living being a key member mobilisation date.
Chief Whip Alan Campbell MP then joined us to report on Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the PLP. He said Jeremy had been suspended on 18th November 2020 regarding a breach of the PLP Code of Conduct regarding his remarks following the publication of the EHRC Report on antisemitism. Alan’s predecessor Nick Brown had written to Jeremy on 23rd November 2020 and published the letter due to the intense public interest in the case. The letter asked Jeremy to
1) Unequivocally apologise for his comments about the EHRC report
2) Comply with a request to remove or edit his Facebook post about the EHRC report
3) Agree to cooperate fully on the party’s implementation of the EHRC recommendations
As yet, Jeremy has not done any of these three things. Alan said he was happy to meet Jeremy to receive his answers.
Ian Murray of the FBU and Nadia Jama then moved a motion calling on the on the Chief Whip to review his decision and arrange for the Parliamentary whip to be immediately restored to Jeremy Corbyn. This was defeated by 23 votes to 14 with one abstention.
Laura Pidcock and Nadia Jama then moved a motion trying to reopen the question of the four organisations proscribed in July 2021 and to re-examine what constitutes “support” for these organisations and to cease the “retrospective application of this rule”. Executive Director of Legal Affairs Alex Barros-Curtis said the principles of natural justice were applied to these cases. Members were served with a notice of allegations and their response to these allegations was considered by the NEC panels looking at these cases. On 20th July 2021 four organisations had been deemed to be in contravention of Labour’s rules and support for them was deemed incompatible with Labour’s aims and values. The party is entitled legally to disassociate itself from organisations and people it considers inimical to its aims and values. The motion was defeated by 20 votes to 14 and the meeting came to an end.