A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

In memory of my dad

My dad, Anthony Philip Akehurst, died aged 83 on 9th May 2022. I wanted to tell his story so that future generations of the family, and anyone else who chooses to read this, will know a bit about this kind, modest, generous, helpful and caring man.

 

It’s impossible to tell dad’s story without setting it in the context of place, because he was born, lived all except two years of his life, worked and died all within about a 20-mile radius. Go to a map of East Kent and draw a rough quadrilateral with the west side being the River Stour, the north side the A2 from Canterbury to Dover, the east side the channel coast from Dover through Folkestone to Dungeness, and the south side a line from there to Ashford. Almost everything in dad’s life happened in this little part of the aptly named Garden of England.

 

Every day for 40 years my dad would drive to work on his farm every morning and back every evening through scenery literally labelled as an area of outstanding natural beauty. He was deeply rooted in this place, and he understandably didn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

Tony was born in July 1938 in his parents’ home, Kano, in the village of Dymchurch on Romney Marsh. He was the fourth of five children, with older brother Douglas already being 13, and sisters Daphne and Olive 10 and 7. His little brother Bob was born after the war in 1947. Dad’s father Philip was an insurance agent. Phil and his wife Freda were highly religious people, very active at the time in the Salvation Army, but later leaving it after some kind of falling out over the running of the local branch’s band. The whole family were musical – there is a press cutting I have from a local newspaper detailing all the different instruments each family member including aunts and uncles played.

 

The early years of dad’s life were played out with World War Two as the backdrop, in one of the most dangerous places in the country. East Kent was known as Hell’s Corner because it was the nearest part of England to the Nazi occupied continent, hence subject to air threat and in the case of Dover, where one of dad’s granddads lived, to long range artillery bombardment from Calais. Dymchurch, with its lovely wide sandy beach, would have been a key landing point for Operation Sealion, Hitler’s planned invasion, and dad’s house was immediately behind the sea wall. His parents were advised to evacuate but were stubborn and the family stayed through the entire war years in this potentially vulnerable location. Dad’s father was away serving in the RAF, serving as a ground crew electrician at the Lincolnshire base of 617 Squadron, the famous Dam Busters. For a little boy, the war was exciting. Dad saw both German and Allied aircraft, and later V1 doodlebug flying bombs, fly low over the sea wall. Next door was an anti-aircraft artillery gun base with soldiers to chat to. American GIs would come past and hand out sweets. Dad assembled a collection of shrapnel.

 

Dad didn’t enjoy school, other than showing a talent at Secondary Modern school for woodwork and metalwork. His only anecdotes about it were about avoiding being in the front row so the teacher couldn’t whack him on the knuckles with a yard ruler. He left with no qualifications as quickly as he was legally allowed, which in those days was just 15 years old.

 

At this tender age, he started working as a farm labourer, in his words “shovelling chicken shit out of sheds”.

 

In April 1954, Phil and Freda moved from Dymchurch to Clipgate Farm, at Lodge Lees, a hamlet between Barham and Denton, and took up farming, so from this point Dad was working on the family farm. The holding initially consisted of 10 acres of land, a timber bungalow of a type built in 1919 for returning WW1 officers, chicken sheds and pigsties. In the first few years Clipgate produced eggs, which were sold to the public in the neighbouring towns and villages via an egg round. Pigs were also reared for sale at Canterbury and Ashford Markets. Dad talked about Christmases dominated by plucking vast numbers of turkeys. Over the years the farm slowly grew in size and diversity, particularly taking on contracting work to make it more cost effective to own tractors and combine harvesters, with major clients being at times Kent County Council for grass verge cutting and snow ploughing, and Pfizer, who owned an experimental farm next door at Breach Farm in the Elham Valley.

 

At 18, Dad was unlucky to be part of the final intake of conscripts who had to do two years of Cold War era National Service. Like his father and elder brother Doug he went into the RAF. He served on bases near Stratford-on-Avon and in Wiltshire, the only time in his life he ever lived away from Kent. His duties were to be a telephone operator, and because he could already play a trumpet from his Salvation Army days, a bandsman. He claimed in later life to be able to assemble and disassemble blindfolded all the main small arms, Bren LMG, Sten SMG and Lee Enfield rifle, in the event that Soviet parachutists had landed at night! He didn’t enjoy air force service. It was boring, arduous, they had very little money and he was homesick. If given weekend leave, he would motorcycle all the way back to Clipgate to get Sunday lunch at home.

 

Back home working on the farm, dad’s social life centred on the East Kent Young Farmers, which I believe he was an office holder in. He played bass guitar in a band with Bob his younger brother on lead guitar and earned money from gigs at weddings and the like well into the 1980s. Whatever he got up to in the 1960s before meeting mum, he never told us!

 

In 1970 he met my mum, Nan Davies, at a jazz gig at Bridge Country Club. You can read more about mum here: http://lukeakehurst.blogspot.com/2021/04/in-memory-of-my-mum.html

 

He fell in love with this trendy and stylish young woman, who was eight years younger than him and from a rather more middle-class background. They had in common a love of music, and families that, whilst otherwise not very similar, were both staunchly Labour.

 

In October 1971 they married at Canterbury Registrar’s Office, and initially lived with mum’s parents in Rough Common, on the edge of Canterbury. Dad became very close to his in-laws George and Molly, who were delighted that their daughter had met a calming influence!

 

My mum viewed dad both with adoration but also as a long-term project – a rough-edged farm boy who needed to be poshed up a bit. She made him read library books every week, with some success as he got really into the historical novels of George MacDonald Fraser and William Clive. I’m not clear if listening to classical music was something he had done before, or a mum-imposed thing. She corrected his speech - dropped H’s and saying “ain’t” and swearing too much. He ignored her and carried on speaking the way he always had. Later she got him to give up smoking, but I’m fairly sure he carried on sneaking the occasional roll-up at work. He was given a constant rota of jobs around the house and garden, which must have been exhausting on top of a tough physical job at the farm. The bit of her lifestyle he really did buy into was the food, he was prepared to accept being bossed about as it came with cordon bleu dinners.

 

The family grew, to dad’s delight – the beam on his face in pictures with us as babies is something else. I was born in 1972 and my brother Sam in 1974 and sister Ella in 1976.

 

Dad was a wonderful father. He played sports with us and whilst he wasn’t that engaged directly in our play in the modern way he would ask us about everything we were doing and affect to being astonished by the complexity of our toy soldier battles compared to his. Where there were practical tasks, like fixing a Hornby railway set onto a massive base board, his DIY skills came into play. He drove us around on request to school, to drop us off to go running, and when we were sixth formers to and from the pub. On Saturday mornings in the school holidays he would often take us to the farm while he worked, leading to my brother taking a deep interest in tractors and their engines which set him on the path to be a Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He didn’t push advice or life lessons on us, but was there if we needed to talk to him, as long as it wasn’t over the phone, his conversations on that being limited to “I’ll just get your mother”. Everything we did or achieved seemed to delight and amaze him. When my sister encountered health problems, he devoted himself to her care, and has been there for her for decades providing incredible support through many ups and downs.

 

After a couple of years living with Molly and George, dad and mum moved to Coverts, another of the 1919 bungalows in Lodge Lees, on the plot next to Clipgate.

 

Dad was initially working on non-farm jobs as an insurance agent for his father’s old employer Wesleyan and General, and then as a sheet metal worker and later foreman at ActionAir and Canterbury Sheet Metal Works. He hated the factory jobs, and missed farming, so in the late ‘70s he went back to work on the family farm, staying there for the rest of his working life. This was the only major decision he ever took without mum and it angered her a lot, but I think it was probably essential for his happiness to be doing the job that he loved.

 

Farm life is necessarily seasonal, and my childhood memories are of dad almost staggering through the door having worked every daylight hour at harvest time, sunburnt and covered in dust from the combine harvester.

 

Throughout my childhood dad never earned much, money always seemed to be extremely tight. Their financial situation only really improved in the 1990s. Dad personally never carried any money at all, he gave his entire pay straight to mum as he didn’t want the rows over money he had seen between his own parents.

 

In 1979 mum and dad, having waited for a decent rather than decaying home for several years, benefited from the Callaghan government’s push on new social housing and were allocated a newly built house on The Hyde, an estate in the village of Chartham, just south of Canterbury. They lived in Chartham the rest of their lives, moving in the early ‘90s to Swanhaven, a house in the heart of the village. Mum’s extensive involvement in the village community and various clubs and committees meant that dad had a supporting role helping set up fetes, fairs and jumble sales, and helping us be perennial winners of “most unusual pet” competitions by bending the rules to include farm animals.

 

As we grew up and had families of our own, dad was delighted to become father-in-law to my wife Linda and Sam’s wife Catherine, both of whom he adored. He became a much-loved grandfather to a total of five little boys and has played an important role in bringing up my sister’s son Caspar, as she is a single parent and has lived with him at Swanhaven.

 

Dad made his first ever trip abroad with me (a day trip to Boulogne) as late as 1991, but he wasn’t a narrow-minded person, he liked to know about the wider world and enjoyed holidays with his children in Portugal and Italy and a period where he and mum explored Europe on coach trips.

 

I’m not 100% sure when dad formally retired from the farm, as he didn’t let on to mum that he had done so, and carried on going there every day, possibly to avoid being set chores. In any case, the ratio of tractor driving to tea breaks gradually reversed over time. He loved to spend time there with Bob and his wife Averil, who were not just his relatives and business partners, but also his closest friends. As late as the week before he died dad was at Clipgate, driving a golf buggy with Bob.

 

Having enjoyed robust health until he was nearly 80, Dad was diagnosed with a progressive lung disease in 2019, and this eventually caused his death, but he bore this unpleasant illness uncomplainingly and with considerable dignity, alongside deterioration in his hearing and eyesight which meant that he had to give up his car. Losing mum in April 2021 was a devastating blow to him after 49 years of loving marriage, but he was determined to carry on enjoying life, and in this last year enjoyed time spent with family and trips out to eat and to visit the farm. After mum’s death it was very touching that my private and reserved dad felt able to talk about his love for her and for us, and to hear how much we all loved him.

 

His mind was sharp and he kept his love of life right to the end, the week before his death he was still enjoying steak and a glass of wine at home.

 

Like many farmers, dad combined a love of being in the countryside and around nature with a passion for machinery and engines and driving. He loved music and could play piano, trumpet and guitar, and listened to a wide range of sounds but particularly trad jazz. He enjoyed both hearty food and fine dining, red wine, a G&T and a pint of Shepherd Neame Master Brew bitter.

 

He was a modest and somewhat shy man who never boasted about anything, but took obvious pride in his wife, children and grandchildren and their achievements.

 

But he was also extremely passionate in his political views. A lifelong socialist and Labour supporter, and in the ‘80s a big fan of Tony Benn, he was angry about injustice and inequality, and hated the Tories and the SDP.

 

He retained a keen interest in current affairs right until the final hours of his life, when he was asking about Ukraine and the local election results.

 

I never heard anyone say dad had done them any wrong, and I met many, many people he had helped through countless small acts of kindness. Everyone who met him enjoyed his company, and he was held in great affection by an incredible range of people.

 

He lived his life selflessly, working hard, nurturing and caring for his family, always putting others first.

 

He was fundamentally a very good, and lovely man, who consistently did the right thing as a husband and father.

 

I am honoured to be his son and loved him very much.

 

Dad is survived by his three children, five grandsons and his brothers Doug and Bob.

Sunday, April 03, 2022

NEC Report – 29 March 2022

 The March NEC meeting was relatively short, at five hours, and focussed very much on the practicalities of the coming local elections and preparation for the General Election.


David Evans gave an extremely comprehensive and confident General Secretary’s report. He said:


There had been recent incidents where party staff had been briefed against. This would not be tolerated, and the party had the power to auto-exclude members who abuse staff.

The local election launch would be in Bury on Thursday. The seats being fought were last contested in 2018 when Theresa May was at a low point in her premiership, and 40% of them are in London where that round of elections had been a very high-water mark. We are in far better shape politically and organisationally than for last year’s elections in May 2021.

The staff structure is now more fit for purpose, but this restructuring is not complete yet. Shabana Mahmood has been driving through change as National Campaign Coordinator. Hollie Ridley has been promoted to Executive Director, Nations and Regions.

The solid result in the Birmingham Erdington by-election was testament to the party’s political and organisational improvements. 

Work was being done on improving digital campaigning and integrating it through the organisation, as this was an area where the Tories had dominated in 2019.

Operation Change was the internal transformation strategy to get the party ready for the General Election. Elements of it would be trialled in the local elections. Staff training was being enhanced, an Organising Academy established, and canvassing scripts modernised for the first time in over a decade.

The boundary review was proceeding, with the secondary consultation hearings around the country ending on 4 April, and revised proposals being published in the autumn.

The tough decisions taken to stabilise the party’s finances in 2021 had led to £4 million is savings year on year. The party had no debt and no deficit budget. Donor engagement was very encouraging and more had been donated in Q1 of 2022 than in the whole of 2021. There had been excellent fundraising gala dinners in the South East and North West regions, with the East Midlands one about to happen.

The party was very mindful about the impact of not being able to use All Women Shortlists on diversity in parliamentary selections. 

There was a lot more to do on diversity of the party staff, 56% of the workforce was male, and more women were needed in senior positions. BAME staff were 9% of the men and 21% of the women, a discrepancy that needs to be addressed.

The usual cyclical decline in membership has slowed to half the rate seen in 2021, and there are far more joiners, 8,000 so far this year. Total membership is 430,000. A recruitment and retention taskforce had been re-established.

Martin Forde QC had written to confirm that his report is finalised and is being legally checked. It is important to note that only the sections about the truth of the allegations in the 2020 leaked report and the structure, culture and practices of the party can be published yet, the section on the circumstances of the leak has to be held back for legal reasons. 

The backlog project has virtually cleared the 10,000 undealt with disciplinary complaints that had been uncovered. 97.2% had now been dealt with. The new independent complaints process was going to come into force very soon.

National Women’s Conference had been a great success. 

A new membership system to for CLPs and branches to use would be online in the late summer. Interim workarounds had been developed following the cyber incident and David would update CLPs about this.

Extra staff resource had been put into the London regional team due to all the out selections.

Training on recognising Islamophobia and other measures were being implemented in response to Labour Muslim Network’s report.


We agreed to add Derby North and Bolsover to the first tranche of 14 parliamentary selections agreed at the recent Organisation Committee meeting.


Keir Starmer opened his Leader’s report by paying tribute to the decades of achievement of NEC colleague Margaret Beckett, who has announced she is retiring as an MP at the next General Election. Other matters raised by Keir in his report included:


Ukraine. There should have been tougher sanctions against Russia years ago. There is far too much Russian oligarch money and property in London and the Government’s six-month registration deadline is a ridiculous loophole. The Government has been too slow, too mean, and too narrow in allowing in Ukrainian refugees. Keir had met the Belarussian opposition, the ambassadors and delegations from Finland and Sweden, and visited Estonia to meet UK and other NATO forces. Extensive talks were going on between Labour and Germany’s SPD.

The P&O scandal. P&O was contemptuous of the law and Parliament. The loophole they exploited has been there for years and the Government was warned about by Karl Turner MP two years ago.

The Spring Statement. People face the worst fall in living standards for seventy years, high inflation and a crunch on benefits and wages and a National Insurance rise. The Chancellor is deeply cynical and has failed to rise to the occasion, is a “low tax” Chancellor putting up taxes and is not helping the people who most need help. Labour’s alternative energy offer, funded by a windfall tax on oil and gas profits, would take £600 off the bills of those who most need it.

He was looking forward to five weeks on the road campaigning in the local elections.


Morgan McSweeney, Elections Director, presented on the local elections, which cover 164 councils including all 32 in London, all 32 in Scotland and all 22 in Wales. Labour will have over 6,000 candidates. Labour and the Tories are in a similar place in the polls to the previous time these seats were contested in 2018. Labour has 30 target councils in England and Wales, a mixture of potential gains and ones where we are fighting a defensive battle, and these councils have an eclectic mix of local political situations. The STV voting system in Scotland means every council is likely to be hung, but it would be a game changer if Labour could come second in national vote share across Scotland. 


Morgan said all his conversations with predecessors and sister parties had led to the same conclusions. Successful campaigns focus on the voters, on persuasion of swing voters not just mobilisation of core supporters, and on decisions based on data to make speedy, nimble, and targeted decisions. 


Labour’s contact rate was up significantly in key wards. 


Moving on to the General Election he said the scale of gains required, 125 seats just for a narrow majority, meant Labour had no choice but to try to win everyone, everywhere. No assumptions could be made about any category of voters, all were now volatile. The most volatile were those voters who had lost most from globalisation, who tended to be people who had stayed in the towns they grew up in. Labour’s problem was that in the two hugely important referendums, on Scottish Independence and Brexit, we had been the party of the status quo when lots of previously Labour voters had wanted change, i.e. “Yes” in Scotland, “Leave” everywhere. Our messaging about respect includes respecting the choices made by these voters and is essential to winning. Morgan emphasised there is no route to victory without significant gains in Scotland. 


He said that while some CLPs have very good levels of activity, there are others where the party needs to be reactivated. 


National security is the huge contextual difference from 2018, now voters trust Keir’s stance on Ukraine, whereas in 2018 they didn’t trust Labour’s position on the Salisbury poisonings. Now we were spending £1 million on trainee organisers while then we were spending it on a failed music festival.


Tom Lillywhite presented the party’s digital strategy. This included countering online disinformation and using social media to understand target voters and understanding how content spreads. All the party’s online content is now evaluated using randomised control trials. There is a digital roadmap to get us election ready. Easily localised content was being provided to candidates and CLPs. 


Finally, we voted to proscribe three organisations. Socialist Labour Network is simply a merger of two already proscribed organisations, Labour Against the Witch hunt and Labour In Exile Network. This was passed by 19 votes to 11. Labour Left Alliance has attacked the involvement of JLM in providing antisemitism training, is affiliated to and encouraged its supporters to join LATW and LIEN and uses the PayPal account of LATW to process its membership subscriptions and affiliation fees. This was passed by 20 votes to 11. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty actually has quite a good stance on antisemitism and was recommended for proscription for wholly different reasons: it is a revolutionary socialist party that was registered as a political party and stood candidates against Labour until it deregistered in 2015 and entered into the Labour Party, but has kept its own programme, principles and policy, branches, and distinctive and separate propaganda. This was passed by 20 votes to 11. I spoke and voted in favour of all three proscriptions. 


Since the previous NEC meeting on 25th January, I have also participated in the following other meetings. It is not my intention usually to report in detail on sub-committee meetings because when I was on the NEC before we were under instruction that reports should only be on full meetings not committees, and in the case of disciplinary panels the proceedings are confidential:


Complaints and Disciplinary Committee

Equalities Committee

Organisation Committee

Development Fund Panel

Boundary Review Working Group

2 meetings of the GRT Working Group

4 Disputes Panels

NEC-led local government selection panels in Newham, Sandwell and Walsall


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

NEC Report – 25th January 2022

 

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.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 21st November, I have also participated in the following other meetings. It is not my intention usually to report in detail on sub-committee meetings because when I was on the NEC before we were under instruction that reports should only be on full meetings not committees, and in the case of disciplinary panels the proceedings are confidential:

 

Complaints and Disciplinary Sub-Committee

Organisation Sub-Committee

Boundary Review Working Group

Unconscious Bias Training

4 Disputes Panels

Friday, November 26, 2021

NEC Report – 25 November 2021

The November NEC meeting is the Away Day when we don’t tackle ordinary business but instead hear a series of strategic presentations from senior staff.

 

It isn’t very “Away” as we met at Labour’s Southside HQ in London, but it was the first time since the initial Covid lockdown, aside from conference, that we have held a primarily in person meeting, and that was enjoyable and useful in terms of being able to speak to each other and key staff in the margins of the meeting. In fact, the meeting was successfully run as a hybrid, with about two thirds of us in the room and the remainder on a Zoom call. Alice Perry as the new NEC Chair very ably made this work so that both in person and online attendees were all able to have their say, and the meeting concluded on time at just after 5.30pm, a mere seven hours including a lunch break and a fire alarm drill!

 

At the start of the meeting Alice notified the NEC that the long-awaited Forde Report would now be circulated at some point ahead of our next meeting in January. She also said that a motion from Laura Pidcock and Nadia Jama opposing the retrospective implementation of proscriptions of four organisations would be taken at the January meeting.

 

The first presentation was on the party’s Organise to Win restructuring. We were told that the party had achieved 80% of the £5.5m savings it needed to make to balance its finances, and had reduced staffing from over 400 in April, to a more normal mid-term level of 320 now, through voluntary redundancies. The new structure would be finalised by January. The next set of priorities are parliamentary selections and reselections, the local elections in May (especially where these are in areas that are also marginal in the next General Election), developing new canvassing scripts, advising MPs on how to use their incumbency to defend their seats, transforming our digital campaigning, responding to the boundary review, and using an Organising Academy to increase the skills of specialist volunteers. I asked the party to prioritise recruiting more Regional Organisers as soon as we start increasing staffing in the run-up to the General Election.

 

We then heard about lessons from our sister party, the SPD’s, victory in Germany. They had held their nerve stuck to their plan even though they had been running third for most of the electoral cycle, and it paid off in the final weeks of the campaign. Everything had been focused on Olaf Scholz as Chancellor candidate and his competence and trustworthiness. German politics has been becoming increasingly volatile with fewer core voters for the two main parties, as in the UK. The SPD had a very clear narrative around three themes of Future, Respect and Europe, and a concise policy offer that was set out very early and not added to during the campaign. Two thirds of the campaign budget was spent on dominating the street battle with billboards (parties are allowed to flypost on street furniture in German elections). All materials offline and online kept to a very simple design with black and white photos and only one colour – reclaiming red. The campaign emphasised both change and reassurance and was strongly centralised. I said that whilst we cannot flypost on the streets we needed to improve quantity and quality of the UK version of this outdoor publicity, which is garden stake posters.

 

Anneliese Dodds presented on the internal culture of the party and our efforts to improve it. She outlined the new complaints process and new codes of conduct and training not just on antisemitism as required by the EHRC but also on Islamophobia and anti-black racism. She outlined steps being taken on harassment and trans awareness. Abuse of party staff was now a specific offence in the rules. We need to create a culture that is supportive of each other and what we are doing and achieving. Laura Pidcock said she felt the disciplinary actions being taken were alienating many members and were unfair, but I said that whilst there were cases where people had been administratively suspended for far too long because of the backlog of cases, we also had to prioritise justice for the victims of abuse and discrimination, particularly given that the EHRC had found us to have harassed our own Jewish members. I urged an end to the demonisation and hyperbolic criticism of Keir and David Evans, where there are exaggerated claims of purges and mischaracterisation of minor policy changes as though our leaders are Thatcherites.

 

We then heard a presentation about the local elections next May. 6470 council seats are being contested, including every seat in Birmingham, London, Scotland and Wales and a third of the seats in most metropolitan boroughs. When these seats were last fought in 2018 the vote share across the country had been quite good – 35% each for Lab and Con, 16% Lib Dem and 12% UKIP. Whilst Labour had gained a net 71 seats that year in England, this was driven by excellent results in London which offset losses in other areas. Labour had lost 133 seats in Scotland and 108 in Wales. Understandably the party is focusing resources on marginal wards in councils that could change control and which overlap with marginal parliamentary seats. I asked for reports to be given to us on the number of candidates fielded, so that we could ensure every voter had a chance to vote Labour and we didn’t fail to contest wards. I also asked for specific training, scripts and advice to be provided to areas where the main challenger to Labour is the Green Party, as this requires a different political response to areas where there is a straight fight between Labour and the Tories.

 

Then we were given a presentation about the General Election, talking us through the key metrics of activity that would be expected of candidates and CLPs in seats we need to gain to form a Labour Government. Keir emphasised the importance of due diligence and high-quality candidate selection as the recent Tory sleaze means every candidate will be under intense scrutiny. I asked for a clear twinning scheme where non-marginal seats would be linked to and given metrics for the support they would give a nearby marginal.

 

Finally, there was a fascinating presentation on the latest internal polling and focus group research by Deborah Mattinson. She talked us through the issues the public think are most important, and segmented the electorate and highlighted the groups of voters we have most chance of persuading to switch from Conservative to Labour.

 

After the Away Day presentations, there was a short business meeting that started poignantly with a minute’s silence in honour of the late Andy Howell. There was some to-ing and fro-ing about the NEC procedures for tabling late papers, which seemed to leave everyone satisfied. We renamed the Disputes Panel the Complaints and Disciplinary Sub Committee to make its role clearer. We delayed the start of next year’s internal elections by a week to 21 January to enable the deadlines for the National Policy Forum elections, which the unions want further consultation about, to be agreed at the Organisation Committee on 18 January. I successfully got the nomination thresholds reduced for the national committee elections for the new National Labour Students organisation, so that it will be easier for candidates to get on the ballot and members will get more choice and fewer uncontested elections.

 

The meeting ended on a high note with a very powerful exposition of the paper on NEC Aims and Objectives from Morgan McSweeney, Elections Director. Morgan said that after dealing with crucial internal issues the party now has to refocus externally on the voters. There could be a General Election at any time between now and 2 May 2024, and it isn’t clear on which boundaries as the new ones only get implemented on 1 July 2023. We need candidates who are insurgents and hungry to win, and the Labour rosette on a candidate needs to be seen by voters as a mark of quality. Both the standards and the diversity of our candidates can be increased. We need to revolutionise our digital campaigning. We have to change the whole way we work and campaign in order to build new coalitions of voters large enough to win a majority Labour government. The National Policy Forum process needs to be completed so that we are on a speedy pathway to an election-winning manifesto. And our culture needs to be transformed.

 

There was a half-hearted attempt to reopen the question about a moratorium on the retrospective application of the disciplinary action towards proscribed organisations, but as this was raised after the chair had declared the meeting closed, those of us present in person departed to the pub in good spirits, feeling it had been a focused and constructive meeting.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 17 September, I have also participated in the following other meetings. It is not my intention usually to report in detail on sub-committee meetings because when I was on the NEC before we were under instruction that reports should only be on full meetings not committees, and in the case of Disputes Panels the proceedings are confidential:

 

Annual Conference including two NEC meetings and the NEC AGM

Equalities Committee

Disputes Panel main meeting

Organisation Committee

4 Disputes Panels

3 panels relating to local or regional issues

Boundary Review Working Group

Monday, September 20, 2021

NEC Report – 17 September 2021

 

The September NEC is always focussed on Annual Conference business. Whilst it was another long meeting, seven hours, it was curiously muted compared to recent meetings.

 

The meeting opened with a report on arrangements for conference from the Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), Harry Donaldson. He said:

·         CAC has agreed which motions are valid. 330 met the criteria (covering one subject only, under 250 words long and about policy, not organisation) out of 375 submitted.

·         There are 50 subject areas that will go forward to the Priority Ballot, which decides which ones get debated.

·         Reference Backs on National Policy Forum (NPF) reports have been submitted in writing and will be published in the CAC reports.

·         The Emergency Resolutions deadline is noon on 23 September.

·         1179 CLP delegates and 259 from affiliated organisations have registered but some may drop out or fail passport checks.

·         A total of 7,000 people will attend conference.

·         There are at least 350 fringe events and 84 exhibitors.

·         The Business Forum has raised £110,000 in income from business visitors, and a further £143,500 has been raised in sponsorship.

 

We then moved on to the main business of the meeting, agreeing our position on possible rule changes to be debated at Annual Conference. I was somewhat bemused by Momentum voting against even anodyne rule changes to tidy up things like deleting references to MEPs and the EPLP, despite the votes on rules they had indicated they found contentious being taken separately. Rule changes on toughening our stance towards members who litigate against the party were held over until the meeting on Friday 24 September for further consultation. Amendments from the floor saw the right of administratively suspended members to vote in OMOV ballots retained, and the number of officers of a Local Government Committee increased to 4 so that there is a quota of 2 women.

 

The new (not tabled at the July meeting) batch of non-contentious rule changes passed with 19 For, 9 Against, 1 Abstention.

 

A second batch of rule changes relate to the new independent disciplinary process for cases relating to protected characteristics, required by the EHRC Report. This was passed with 18 For, 8 Against, 1 Abstention. I was really disappointed that eight colleagues would vote against a change that is a legal requirement following the investigation into antisemitism.

 

The third batch of non-contentious changes already noted by the NEC in July passed 19 For, 4 Against, 3 Abstentions.

 

 A rule change to codify STV (Single Transferable Vote) as the voting system for the ballot for the nine CLP reps on the NEC passed with 16 For, 8 Against, 3 Abstentions.

 

A consequent rule change to abolish NEC by-elections in the CLP section, as you can now just recount the previous STV ballot without the member who has stood down, was passed with 17 For, 9 Against, 3 Abstentions.

 

A rule change that prevents CLPs from affiliating to external organisations without NEC approval was passed with 19 For, 9 Against, 1 Abstention.

 

A rule change to place the longstanding practice of the General Secretary’s power to reject membership applications during the eight-week probationary period on a

contractual/rule-based footing was passed with 17 For, 9 Against, 1 Abstention.

 

An extensive rewrite of the membership rules to improve the processes around auto-exclusions, including giving those expelled under this process a right to appeal for the first time, was then debated, and at this point the meeting became a bit more tense. Questions were asked about the implementation of the July NEC’s decision to proscribe four organisations. This decision could not be revisited as we have a three-month rule – you can’t reopen NEC decisions until three months after they have been taken. The General Secretary said that he refuted that the proscriptions were being implemented factionally. I argued and the General Secretary agreed that proscriptions had to be applied retrospectively to evidence of support for an organisation before it was proscribed to have any meaning. We were informed that in contrast to the noise about them being generated on social media, only 57 letters had been sent to members alleging they supported proscribed organisations, and only 5 people had been expelled. Letters are not generated automatically, complaints come in and are then assessed, in 10 cases complaints have been dismissed and not proceeded with. Members accused of support for a proscribed organisation have an opportunity to refute the allegations.

 

There was a proposal to defer this rule change. It was defeated by 16 votes to 11.

 

Ann Black proposed an amendment to remove the retrospective nature of the proscriptions. This was defeated by 18 votes to 10.

 

The paper itself was passed by 20 votes to 9.

 

We then looked at rule changes submitted by CLPs and determined the NEC’s attitude to each one.

 

We agreed to ask Oxford East CLP to remit their proposal regarding BAME quotas on Council Cabinets in favour of an NEC alternative which would be more tightly worded for legal reasons.

 

A proposal for Annual Conference to have sovereignty over disciplinary decisions of the PLP Chief Whip was defeated by 18 votes to 9.

 

A proposal to elect the General Secretary in an OMOV ballot was defeated by 19 votes to 7 with 1 abstention.

 

A proposal to allow rule changes that are similar to a previous one to be considered after less than the current three-year rule was defeated by 17 votes to 7.

 

A proposal about members having absolute rights to free speech was defeated by 18 votes to 9.

 

A proposal to use STV in the elections for every section of the NEC except the union and socialist society ones was defeated by 16 votes to 9. The argument against this is that STV in blocks of 5 or fewer seats does not produce proportional results.

 

A proposal to give CLP EC’s more power over by-election selections and last-minute parliamentary selections was defeated by 18 votes to 9.

 

A proposal to give a minimum seven-day window to apply for parliamentary selections was defeated by 17 votes to 8. Sometimes the election timetable doesn’t allow this much time.

 

A proposal for spending limits in leadership ballots to be in the rule book rather than decided at the start of each election was defeated by 17 votes to 8.

 

A proposal to limit donations from any person or organisation other than affiliates to the party was defeated without being put to a vote, as this would present an existential threat to our funding, including ending £7.7m of Government grants via “Short Money” etc. I spoke on this item and urged that we should celebrate individual high value donors giving as much as they can afford to Labour, rather than make negative assumptions about their motives.

 

Keir then gave his Leader’s report, covering his visits round the country to speak to people who had stopped voting Labour, the Afghanistan crisis, the Workplace Taskforce policy announcements, and preparations for Annual Conference. He said he wants a benefits system that works much better than Universal Credit, which unfairly takes 75p from the first additional £1 you earn. On Social Care he said Labour’s policy stance is to:

·         Prevent people going into care homes for as long as possible.

·         Have a Home First principle.

·         Give the workforce proper terms and conditions and job security.

·         Have those with the broadest shoulders (people with income from property, dividends, stocks and shares) pay, not working people.

 

Keir refuted as nonsense allegations that Marsha De Cordova had resigned as Shadow Equalities Minister over lack of progress on racial justice policies.

 

He said Annual Conference was the first opportunity to look beyond the Covid crisis at what kind of future we wanted, one where we deal with the inequalities exposed by Covid and tackle the climate crisis.

 

On disciplinary cases he said he was in a fight to rid Labour of antisemitism, not a fight against any section of the party.

 

After Keir’s report I was delighted that we unanimously approved new national structures for Disabled Members and Labour Students. I served on both NEC working groups, as a disabled member of the NEC and a former National Secretary of Labour Students, and it was really good that in both cases a consensus was reached. I thanked Angela Rayner for her and her team urging a compromise national committee structure for the new Labour Students organisation, which had helped ensure a consensus was reached.

 

Angela’s Deputy Leader’s report focused on the way the Tories are making things tougher for ordinary people through the National Insurance hike and Universal Credit cuts. She praised union involvement in the Workplace Taskforce. Asked about party unity she said we all need to accept everyone in the party is motivated by wanting to change the country for the better. When we can’t reach consensus, we need to consider whether the action or policy we are backing will help get Labour into power.

 

David Evans gave his General Secretary’s report. He said the restructuring process within the party was halfway through. The voluntary redundancy scheme for staff had been closed. More that 100 staff had applied but some were in key roles, so their departure had not been agreed. The process was paused while leavers were being supported. A full financial review after conference would determine the next stage. The gap between the savings from voluntary redundancies and the £5.5m savings target was narrow enough that he had assured the staff unions that there would be no need for compulsory redundancies as it could be bridged through reducing non-staff costs, managing vacancies and raising income. Support for Young Labour would be in the new staff structure.

 

On the Forde Report he said the party was now expecting to be given the two sections that could be published in late October or November. He said the issuing of a Notice of Investigation (NOI) to the Chair of Young Labour had been due to an error, and a full review had revealed it was because of processes not being followed properly. There was a backlog of 5,200 outstanding complaints being worked through. The Executive Director of Legal Affairs, Alex Barros-Curtis, said that the process of going through the backlog would take 6 months and was in its 7th week. External additional staff had been trained in Labour’s rules and processes to do this. 3,000 cases had been assessed so far, of which 30% had been closed at assessment stage as they did not merit investigation. The NOI to Jess Barnard had not been signed off properly but it was an innocent mistake by the person concerned. The tone of letters had been amended and staff reminded never to send them outside office hours.

 

Alex Barros-Curtis was asked about the new submission to the EHRC from Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), who have claimed Labour has disproportionally expelled Jewish members. He said the party utterly refutes the submission made JVL: “Particularly that we disproportionately target them, and also that we ignore any complaints we have of theirs. Indeed, those complaints are actually in the backlog - so will be dealt with as part of the clearance project, which will mean these are resolved as swiftly as possible.”

 

The meeting closed with swift agreement of a series of reports on the Business Board, Women’s Conference, Sexual Harassment Procedures & Code of Conduct, and the National Policy Forum and Joint Policy Committee.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 21 July, I have also participated in the following other meetings. It is not my intention usually to report in detail on sub-committee meetings because when I was on the NEC before we were under instruction that reports should only be on full meetings not committees, and in the case of Disputes Panels the proceedings are confidential:

 

·         2 meetings of the Disabled Members Structures Working Group

·         3 Disputes Panels

·         Boundary Review Working Group

·         Briefing on the Boundary Review

·         Development Panel

 
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