NEC Update, 22 July 2016
Thank you again for your continued support, it means a great deal. Also for all the messages, most of which are courteous whether they agree or disagree with me, unlike Twitter. I now have 1,000 mails and no hope of answering them individually, so below are some frequently raised issues and a report from the meeting on 19 July. I’m happy for this to be published widely, with my account of the 12 July meeting at
First, it is not true that papers covering the freeze date, the fee, the sign-up period for registered supporters and the suspension of most local meetings were sprung on the NEC on 12 July after some members had left. All papers were available half an hour before the start. Some of us read them, others didn’t. If more members had stayed we could at least have got a later cut-off date for voting in the leadership election.
Second, I referred to feedback before the meeting, and some people ask who I consulted. I have a list of some 8,000 addresses. They include all current and most former CLP secretaries, together with members who have written to me since I was elected to the NEC in 2000. Many forward on to their branches and constituencies. It is not a scientific sample – I have no access to individual membership records – but I have no reason to think that it is biased. More recently I’ve had many mailings on one side or the other, where I cannot tell whether they reflect the extent of feeling or the capacity to mount e-campaigns.
Third, sandwiches. The crates of sandwiches which the media saw being carried into the building were not for the NEC or the staff, but for a group of lawyers on a different floor. The NEC had coffee and biscuits.
Fourth, NEC elections. Members should have received email notification by Friday 15 July and hardcopy packs by Friday 22 July. The deadline for voting is Friday 5 August. If nothing has arrived by Wednesday 27 July please call the membership team on 0345 092 2299. Everyone in membership at 24 June 2016 will be able to vote, and I urge you to do so, whatever your choice.
Fifth, I’ve had a number of questions relating to the above. I’m standing as part of the centre-left grassroots alliance, and as such I am committed to the democratically-elected leadership’s progressive policies. I have therefore voted for Christine Shawcroft, Claudia Webbe, Peter Willsman, Darren Williams, Rhea Wolfson and myself. I deeply regret the current leadership contest at a time when all our attention should be focused on the Tories. However it has now been triggered, and as a member of the procedures committee, responsible for overseeing the election, I cannot endorse or campaign for any candidate.
Sixth, on a different topic some Labour MPs have claimed, again, that the 2015 conference supported renewing Trident. This is not true. Instead, delegates decided not to discuss nuclear weapons at all. So the position remains as agreed by the 2014 conference, which referred to past policy in support of Britain’s nuclear weapons and called for a wide-ranging debate on all aspects of defence going forward.
National Executive Committee, 19 July 2016
However Trident was not even mentioned when the NEC met the day after the parliamentary vote. We started by considering ways to honour Jo Cox through bursaries or other lasting memorials, and to recognise the bravery of Bernard Kenny who tried to intervene, and then moved on to the agenda.
The Chair reported receipt of several motions seeking to overturn decisions made by the NEC on 12 July and re-run much of the debate on procedures. He had ruled these out of order. Arrangements for the contest were already in train, and the NEC standing orders say that decisions cannot be rescinded within three months. This principle is included in model standing orders for local parties, and continually revisiting issues because some people choose to leave early or disagree with the outcome is a recipe for paralysis at every level. I therefore supported the Chair and proposed moving to next business. Sixteen members voted in favour, with 14, including Jeremy Corbyn, against. Meanwhile the party is defending the NEC decision to allow Jeremy Corbyn onto the ballot without nominations from MPs against a legal challenge from Michael Foster, and I hope that the NEC’s authority is upheld in this and in all other respects.
Some questioned whether the procedures committee exceeded its powers in explaining that affiliated supporters must have joined their organisation by 12 January 2016, the same as the cutoff date for party members. The NEC clearly did not intend that affiliates should be used to circumvent the process, and last year the unions focused entirely on asking existing members to affiliate to Labour. In any case the procedures committee has delegated powers, as it did last year. The shadow cabinet had apparently suggested new attempts at mediation after the failure of the Andy Burnham / Debbie Abrahams initiative, and while all of us wish desperately that we were not in this situation, we could not delay indefinitely.
Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to David Hopper, who died suddenly just days after the Durham Miners’ Gala. He was reaching out to trade union members at their conferences, and had attended the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival, London Pride, the vigil for the victims in Orlando, the anniversary of the battle of the Somme, and an Eid reception. He spoke at dozens of rallies during the referendum campaign, and his so-called holiday was less than 24 hours in Exmouth between events. The results were complex, but particularly in areas of post-industrial decline the vote gave people a free hit to say No to anything that they didn’t like. Immediately after the Leave vote he contacted the party of European socialists. He stressed that Labour was not retreating into an island mentality and wished to continue working on employment and human rights, consumer protection and access to markets. He regretted the increase in hate crime, even in tolerant Islington. While he hoped to restore full gender equality within his shadow cabinet, that did require colleagues who were willing to serve. He welcomed the latest surge in party membership, bringing in expertise which should inform our policy-making, and increasing our campaigning strength on the ground.
Putting Our Own House In Order
He again stated his absolute and total opposition to all forms of abuse, including on social media, and said that all of us should respect other members and different views, a standard which the NEC itself is finding it hard to sustain. So that Labour can be a decent, welcoming party, Jeremy Corbyn had asked Shami Chakrabarti to inquire into anti-semitism and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia. She presented her report, praising Labour for having the courage to examine its own principles and practices. This is at
and NEC members welcomed her recommendations. She made clear that “zio” is among the epithets that no party member should use, and that there is a clear distinction between anti-semitism and criticism of some of the actions of the Israeli government. She proposed that no constituency should be in special measures for more than six months without proper review, that suspension should not automatically be imposed while allegations were investigated, that complaints and disciplinary procedures should have explicit timescales, and that the respective roles of staff and lay members should be clarified.
I agreed with all of these principles, and pointed out that Christine Shawcroft had been excluded from an NEC meeting while suspended for remarks at a public event, despite no obvious threat to herself or others should she attend. An NEC panel is due to visit Birmingham, where several constituency parties have been in special measures for decades, in August. There were questions about whether the national constitutional committee was the appropriate body to consider initial suspensions, and some of the technical aspects of Shami Chakrabarti’s recommended rule changes need detailed consideration, which I hope we can conclude in September in time for this year’s conference.
On the referendum campaign I believed that this had been lost over decades. For the last three Euro-elections, under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, the NEC was told not to mention Europe because it turned voters off. In 2005 Tony Blair said that thirty-four per cent of strawberries were picked by Poles, and migrant workers helped to prevent inflation by keeping wage rises down. More recently we were assured, despite protestations, that UKIP would take votes only from the Tories and not from Labour. My view remains that no leader could have made up more than a million votes in a few short months.
There was, however, anger at Jeremy Corbyn’s acknowledgment of the role of Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart, who consorted with Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, and I had many complaints about them during the campaign. In addition his statement on 24 June appearing to call for article 50 to be triggered as soon as possible was not well received. There were reports from across the country of rudeness and worse towards foreigners and those perceived as foreigners, the prospect of Scotland breaking away after a second referendum, and deep anxiety about the disintegrating social fabric. Jeremy Corbyn shared concerns about far right movements in the ascendant across Europe and beyond. He hoped to maintain protection of social, employment and consumer rights, and suggested inviting a delegation from Norway to explain how their arrangements worked. Labour had given unconditional support for the rights of European nationals in Britain, while the Tories were half-hearted because of the position of British citizens living in other European countries. This wasn’t good enough.
Later in the meeting we received breakdowns of the referendum vote in different areas. While turnout among young people was initially reported as low, in fact it was 64% for 18-24 year olds, but for over-65s it was 90% so there is still a large differential.
Jon Trickett outlined plans for facing a snap general election, noting that Theresa May herself had not ruled this out. Clearly the five-year policy-making cycle goes out the window, and the initial national policy forum (NPF) documents are in specialised areas. We have the 2015 manifesto, but it is a manifesto on which we lost the general election. Further, Brexit has implications for every area, farming, science, higher education, crime and security, the NHS, and economic policy in general, and the NPF meeting scheduled for 2 July could have started work on this if it had not been cancelled.
I questioned, again, whether the NPF, the keystone of policy-making for the last 20 years, actually exists. It has not met for two years. The elected Chair Angela Eagle is no longer on the NEC or the shadow cabinet, and her extensive review seems to have departed with her. Two of the three vice-chair positions have been vacant for more than a year, and most of the frontbench policy commission co-convenors are new to their roles. I had already felt that structures designed for Partnership in Power (PiP) were not suited to Partnership out of Power, where rapid responses to government actions have to take precedence over medium-term plans which will be disrupted by forces beyond our control. I therefore argued that the NEC should step in to fill the vacuum until the NPF is revived, transformed or put to rest. However I would like to include all the hardworking NPF representatives, many newly-elected last year, who have put huge amounts of time and effort into the process.
On campaigning, clearly we would not have organisers and candidates in place in advance. This could be an opportunity to study the effective targeting techniques used by our opponents and whether these were a better investment than five million “conversations”. On selecting candidates, I was told that Unite have agreed a policy on mandatory reselection, but made the point that the party could not conduct more than 600 full selections in a few months. The only realistic course is to ask all the 2015 contestants to stand, and try to fill the gaps where candidates are reluctant to add to personal debts of tens of thousands of pounds, and where MPs retire. If the parliament runs for the full term, selections will take place on new boundaries from 2018 and the NEC has already agreed procedures, including trigger ballots which allow party and affiliate branches to decide whether to hold full selections.
Because the NPF reports will not be as comprehensive as usual, I suggested that criteria for contemporary motions should be relaxed so that conference could consider a wider range of topics. This met with a positive response from the general secretary Iain McNicol, though of course the conference arrangements committee, which makes the decisions, is completely independent. The women’s conference will be held on Saturday 24 September, and NEC members hoped that the leadership announcement would not eat into the time. It seems likely that the announcement will be held before the women’s conference, at perhaps 11:45 a.m., though I pointed out that some male delegates might have to pay for an extra night in a hotel and then spend most of Saturday at leisure in Liverpool.
I’d hoped to make more progress on enhancing the role of women’s conference, but this is one of many projects delayed or derailed by the leadership contest. At the moment any woman member can pay £10 and come along, without knowledge or advice from her local party. That contributes to a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. However if the women’s conference gains policy-making powers, a more formal delegate structure is needed for legitimacy, and balancing those two elements needs more thought. If women’s conference sent resolutions straight to annual conference that would create scheduling problems, and the alternative of passing them to the NPF would only work if the NPF exists (see above). I would also like to open women’s conference with a social gathering on the Friday night, rather than have attenders spend six hours travelling for a five-hour event, but that has cost implications for local parties.
And Finally …
The NEC agreed the audited accounts. Membership at 19 July stood at more than 540,000, the highest level since, probably, the 1950s. On Wednesday 20 July the procedures committee was informed that over 183,000 registered supporters had signed up in 48 hours at a cost of £25 each, far more than those who paid £3 last year. The £4 million-plus is clearly welcome, and may just about pay for all the lawyers that we seem to need these days.