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.

Friday, January 27, 2023

NEC Report – 24 January 2023

The January NEC meeting was the first one held at Labour’s very impressive new HQ in Blackfriars Road in south London. The overall feel was the most united, friendly, and focused externally on winning the election that I have seen since I re-joined the NEC in 2020.

 

The meeting opened with a minute’s silence for Holocaust Memorial Day, and the solemn tone continued as we noted the obituaries of former MP Alice Mahon and former NEC Chair and AEU stalwart Brenda Etchells.

 

David Evans presented an upbeat General Secretary’s report. He said we had to capitalise on the opportunity presented by our poll lead with a modern campaign machine. He was focused on sharpening our comms, print, digital and field operations. He believes the current support the party has is conditional and provisional and there is still a lot of work to be done to convert poll leads into cast iron commitments to vote Labour in the May 2023 local elections and the General Election, whenever it comes. We have to have a positive, optimistic, future-facing offer for voters, and will be shaping that through the National Policy Forum this summer and the Annual Conference in October. The task force structure for fighting the election was in place, and LOTO was now integrated completely as one team with party HQ. Staff training was being provided on management and leadership skills. The regional comms teams were being enhanced. Interviews were taking place for 11 digital trainees. We were advertising soon for an additional of trainee organisers.

 

David outlined Project Victory, the plan for May’s local elections, where 8,000 council seats are being contested. The new requirement to provide ID in order to vote was something Labour had opposed as it is a fairly obvious Tory attempt at suppressing turnout, but we need to campaign in a way that doesn’t put voters off by suggesting it is too difficult, and to get more people signed up as postal voters, as this is unaffected by the new law. Selections of council candidates are proceeding faster than in previous years.  71 parliamentary candidates have been selected and this will rise to 100 by the start of the local election campaign. 57% are men, 43% women. 20% are BAME, 10% disabled and 10% LGBT+. There is no complacency about any of these diversity stats. The 10,000 backlog of disciplinary cases has been cleared and the new independent aspects of the complaints process are up and running. Preparation for Annual Conference is underway. Membership is still at levels that are high in historic terms. There are 407,328 members, of whom 25,000 are in arrears. Labour Hub is replacing the existing log-in systems for all campaign tools. The new membership portal will give greater reporting, analysis and ability to fundraise from and mobilise members. The new membership hub is intended to be rolled out in early February, subject to testing. There will be investment in the Organise system for emailing members to make it more effective. The party is in a relatively strong financial position, with growing commercial income, and large and small donations. A two year pay deal and deal re. the pension scheme has been agreed with staff. Lord (Waheed) Ali has taken on a senior role in donor relations. The winter raffle raised a record £400,000. The party has moved into its new Blackfriars Road HQ and our accommodation in the regions and nations is also being reviewed.

 

Keir Starmer then gave his Leader’s report. He described the party as being in reasonably good shape, with a united PLP taking the arguments to the Tories, and polling looking good for the time being, but it was going to be a long year, with a General Election unlikely in 2023. We need to be disciplined and focused and ready for the greater scrutiny we will face. It is almost certain that Annual Conference will be the last one before the General Election. We need to strike the balance between maintaining our confidence but not being complacent. We have to fight like we are 5% the Tories, every vote needs to be earned. There had been a busy and positive start to the New Year for Labour. Keir’s New Year speech had been focused on hope, change and the need for a decade of national renewal. He had visited Northern Ireland with Peter Kyle and Angela Smith on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, to try to push for progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Attending Davos with Rachel Reeves had been a statement about Labour wanting the UK to play a greater part on the global stage. The discussion about the NHS was about the need to reform and restore it. It needs to offer a different service as well as being better funded. Other policy announcements had been about getting the over-50s back into the labour market, and Bridget Phillipson’s announcements about childcare and skills. Keir referred to the stories about Tory sleaze and said he could not understand why Sunak did not sack Zahawi. The Shadow Cabinet will be out across the country on 28 and 29 January for the national campaign weekend.

 

Angela Rayner gave her report as Deputy Leader. We had two excellent new MPs from the North West, Sam Dixon and Andrew Western, following the Labour wins in the City of Chester and Stretford & Urmston by-elections. The morale of activists and voters is high, they are convinced Labour can win and make a difference. On 9 February we hope to get Ashley Dalton elected as the new MP for West Lancashire. Angela condemned the “levelling up” grant awards as not being targeted on the basis of need, but on protecting Tory MPs in marginal seats. She was leading the opposition to the Procurement Bill and the new anti-strike legislation. The latter would not resolve the current disputes, which are driven by pay not keeping pace with the cost of living. She also lambasted the Tories over voter ID requirements, aimed at making it harder for people to vote them out of office, and sleaze.

 

Campaign Director Morgan McSweeney spoke about the local elections on 4 May, now less than 100 days away. We have to use them to demonstrate we are on course for a majority, and to improve all aspects of our campaigning. They are the largest set of elections in the cycle and the last or second to last set before the General Election. They are only in England, and not in London. 8,000 seats are up for election in approximately 240 councils. Morgan described three categories of key council: traditional swing councils that are more Tory than the ones up last year, areas where we have been going backwards and need to recover, and a small number of Labour councils facing insurgencies from the far right or independents. When last contested in May 2019 the results across the country had been 28% Conservative, 28% Labour, 19% Lib Dem. The Tories had lost 1,330 seats in a good year for the Lib Dems, which led to Theresa May resigning. This is therefore a tricky set of elections for Labour as the Tories are defending a position that was already a low point. Labour was seeking to present a positive offer, build campaigning capacity across the country, improve turnout, present Keir as candidate for PM, and get in shape for the General Election. Our strapline was “Build a Better Britain”. Themes would be cost of living, NHS waiting lists and sager seats. We need to get headline stories on the TV news so that there is greater awareness of our team and policies. We will be using digital channels to get content to voters who might make a difference. Regional comms is a priority as we need coverage in the regional and local media, which voters trust more than the national media. We were deploying the trainee organisers, have an increased campaign budget, and total integrated campaigning. We would overcome the voter ID challenge by increasing the number of postal voters, this is the proven way to increase turnout. By the end of the month selections in target councils should be complete. We needed a campaign that was far more targeted on the key swing wards in key swing councils. We need to persuade members in areas like London without elections to show solidarity and travel and campaign in target councils. Every Shadow Cabinet member has a target council they are supporting. We are trying to select candidates faster every year and always aim for 100% coverage so everyone can vote Labour. We mustn’t underestimate the Tories, they are still the most efficient election-winning party in the world.

 

Finally, Anneliese Dodds gave an update on the National Policy Forum. There are ongoing discussions with the unions about how many amendments each NPF member can submit, and what the threshold should be for an alternative position to be put to Annual Conference (i.e. what percentage of NPF members need to back the minority position).

 

I also wanted to report on a key decision at the Organisation Committee the previous week. We agreed that CLPs will change boundaries to match the new parliamentary constituencies agreed by the Boundary Commission immediately after Annual Conference. Details of how this will work are online here: https://labour.org.uk/activist-hub/governance-and-legal-hub/clp-hub/clp-reorganising-faq/

 

 

 

Friday, December 02, 2022

NEC Report – 29 November 2022

 

The NEC held its Annual Away Day on 29 November at Labour Central, the Newcastle home of the Labour Party's Head Office in the north.

 

The meeting began on a sad note with obituaries, including that of our fantastic National Constitutional Committee colleague Judi Billing.

 

We signed off on the NEC’s updated Aims and Objectives, Terms of Reference, Code of Conduct for NEC members and committee membership.

 

I will continue to serve on the Complaints & Disciplinary Sub-Committee, Equalities Committee, Organisation Committee, Development Fund Panel, Boundary Review Sub-Committee and as Liaison Member to Labour International CLP.

 

The main business of the day was a series of presentations about preparation for the General Election.

 

Campaign Co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood opened by emphasising the scale of the task facing Labour. We need a swing larger than in 1997 to get a single seat majority. The election is likely to be in summer 2024 and the polls are expected to tighten. Labour is under far more scrutiny as we are viewed as a government in waiting. This perception makes it easier to fundraise and easier to get a good range of candidates applying to stand, but it brings the risk of complacency. We have to make sure we pin the blame or economic chaos on Tory policy choices since 2010, we have to reinforce the hard-won economic credibility we have built up, and we need to make a positive offer to the electorate. Organisationally, we have recruited a new cohort of trainee organisers, and will be adding digital campaigning trainees. The new script used in Wakefield is important, particularly the question asking voters how likely they are to vote Labour on a scale of 1-10 helps us target swing voters. 80 candidates will be selected by the end of the year, currently almost 50% are women. We need to select candidates as early as possible, as it transforms the campaign having the candidate in place, and we have a new “First 100 Days” pack for them to make sure they hit the ground running.

 

Campaign Director Morgan McSweeney said that 20% poll leads should give us confidence but we had to avoid complacency. He quoted Shimon Peres: ““Polls are like perfume-nice to smell, dangerous to swallow.” Morgan said the Tory Party are in the business of winning General Elections and are the best party globally at doing that, they have increased their vote share six times in a row, at every General Election this century. Polls change, in March 2022 Opinium put Labour only 1% ahead and all the experts said the Tories were about to take the lead, but two days later Boris was fined for “partygate”, and that triggered the series of events that has led us to a 20% lead. If the pollsters can’t predict one week ahead, we should be cautious about any prediction of the outcome of the General Election. The polls are volatile, and we could go back down in the same way we have gone up. The boundary changes make our task more difficult. The Tories have immense financial resources and media, particularly the Daily Mail, who will try to destroy Labour. Our objective is a majority Labour government. The battleground seats are not all in the “Red Wall” or all in the “Blue Wall”, they are spread across every region and nation and we have to win seats across the country so we need messages and organisation that work for the whole country. Everything comes down to what will be in the mind of swing voters in swing seats at 6pm on Polling Day. We have to demonstrate to them that we understand their lives, we have a plan to make their lives better, and we are strong enough to see that plan through.

 

Morgan described the volatility of the electorate. From 70% of voters being core vote for either Labour or the Tories in 1997, the figure is now 40%, so 60% of the electorate are swing voters who are up for grabs. Voters definitely want change, but the Tories are adept at reinventing themselves and saying they now represent change from their own record of the last 12 years. The Tory coalition built by Boris in 2019 is very large but was forged from whipping up cultural divisions so has clear weaknesses. Sunak is so far just trying to accommodate the different factions in his parliamentary party. The main Tory attack line will be to accuse Keir and Labour of being weak, so we have to present leadership, a fresh start and that we will do what is best for the country, not act like the Tories do in the narrow party interest. On the economy we have to show that mortgage rate rises are down to Tory economic choices, to protect our own economic policy and to get our message out that we will prioritise growth but that we have proposals for doing that which are green. We need to promote a story about the country. People are angry with the political system because they can see it has caused their economic pain. We need to explain how we will redistribute power and rise above divisions and culture wars with a mission to unify the country. We have to promote all our candidates, starting with Keir as the candidate to be PM, and getting him out of Westminster speaking to voters as much as possible. Our manifesto has to be a manifesto for the voters, not internal party audiences.

 

Organisationally, Morgan emphasised the need to have a disciplined focus on target voters in target seats, because the party’s data showed that in May 2022 too much effort had gone into seats that were very safe or unwinnable. We have to close the funding gap with the Tories, who have outspent us in the last three elections. We had to change the party completely to convince voters to trust us again, as in 2019 we were financially, politically and morally broken. Conference 2022 showed the public Labour had changed in a way that was real, not just presentational. The changes are bearing electoral fruit – a 35%-30% lead over the Tories in May, and councils gained all over the country, but this was not enough. Under Anas and Jackie, Labour has started to recover in Scotland and is now back in second place. We are transforming our campaigning machine based on lessons both from our own past victories in 1997 and 2001 and from winning campaigns by sister parties across the world.

 

General Secretary David Evans said he now had a very high calibre staff team thanks to tough legal, financial and HR decisions in 2020 and 2021 and the first major restructure in over a decade. The run of General Elections close together meant that the party had needed to reduce spending by £5 million but was now on a financial even keel. He was concerned that voters didn’t yet understand how much Labour has changed. Internally decision-making has been streamlined, resources had been prioritised around campaigning, and the structure is now based on task forces focussed on key aspects of the General Election.

 

Morgan said that the most voters we ever manage to canvass in a General Election is about 4 million out of 40 million, so we need to make sure the 4 million people we do canvass are all in the marginal seats where it will make a difference. Similarly, campaign spending has to be focused on reaching the right voters in marginal seats. Extra canvassing contacts in a seat delivers an increase in Labour’s vote share, the problem in May was that in many councils we didn’t target our canvassing at the most marginal wards. Seats Labour did target got an extra growth in vote share above the national increase. We were too cautious and not ambitious enough in our targeting in May, and we need to share data more to get activists to buy in to moving to work in marginal seats.

 

Director of Digital Tom Lillywhite said there had been no strategic rigour to Labour’s digital campaigning in 2019. We had now abandoned vanity metrics such as how many views a video gets and focused on making sure the right voters that we need to persuade see our content. There will be a new digital trainee staffer in every region and nation. Staff, supporters and candidates would be upskilled in digital campaigning.

 

Director of External Relations Vidhya Alakeson said the party had three key categories of external stakeholders relevant to the General Election. The first was business, which was essential for establishing our economic credibility. We needed to particularly build relationships with SMEs and with the manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors. The second was faith and ethnic minority communities, which are electorally decisive in 30 of the key target seats. The third is to engage with and reverse recent disengagement from Labour among men, particularly older men, and working class voters, where our poll leads are lower than among women and middle class voters, the opposite of the historical pattern.

 

National Policy Forum Chair Anneliese Dodds spoke about the policy development process. The final stage NPF meeting on 21-23 July 2023 would resolve differences of opinion well in advance of the General Election and agree election winning policies. Consultation documents will be published by each Policy Commission in January, with consultation open until March. The Commissions will then reflect on the submissions and produce draft policy documents which will be circulate in April with amendments being submitted by a deadline in May. A draft policy platform will be presented to the July NPF meeting which will from this produce a final policy platform which is put to the vote at Annual Conference 2023 alongside alternative positions. If the document is passed by a two-thirds majority it becomes the party programme ahead of the final manifesto being agreed by the Clause V meeting.

 

David Evans reported on fundraising. The party needs £20m for the short campaign as well as funding for the long campaign. This year had been the best non-General Election year in memory, with £6m in donations already in the bank. It still isn’t enough. A membership surge of 30,000 since September had brought in a huge cash injection, not just membership fees but also £300,000 in top-up donations from those new members. Targeted members were being phoned about donating and this is working well. Support is being given to the regions and nations to develop fundraising as it needs to happen at this level as well at CLP level.

 

Finally Executive Director Nations and Regions Hollie Ridley spoke. She described the trainee organiser and digital trainee schemes, the selection process and the progress made with getting candidates in place so far, and the way in which byelections had been used to pilot and test new organising techniques.

 

There was an extensive Q&A session. I asked about postal vote strategy, how we would respond to the new “voter ID” requirements, urged flexibility in targeting so we can pick off “targets of opportunity” (seats we suddenly discover are swinging unexpectedly heavily) and called for early selections in less winnable seats where there is a consensus about the candidate and for a job description for candidates in these seats that emphasises a high visibility, low resource campaign and providing twinning support for nearby marginals.

 

After lunch, we agreed a paper on implementing the recommendations in the Forde Report. This established membership of an NEC working group, its terms of reference, its timetable and that it will have Carol Sewell (NEC BAME rep) as Chair and Johanna Baxter (NEC Chair) as Vice-Chair. We had already categorised Forde’s recommendations at the previous meeting into those that had already been implemented, those that could not be progressed due to significant legal, financial or regulatory issues, and those that are in progress or require further analysis. This meeting further sub-divided the final category into those that can be taken forward by staff, those that need to be considered by LOTO (Leader’s Office) and GSO (General Secretary’s Office), and those to be dealt with by the NEC Working Group (grouped into cultural change and tackling discrimination). The LOTO and GSO category will be reported back on to the March NEC. The NEC Working Group will also report back to the same meeting and final decisions will be voted on if the group could not reach unanimous decisions. Progress reports will be made on implementation to the Working Group in April, July and November 2023 and published on the Forde Report page of the party website, with a final report to the Working Group in December 2023 and then to the NEC for approval.

 

Finally, Vidyha Alakeson presented a paper on Delivering on Equalities in 2023. Key recommendations were:

·         Not to hold the BAME and Disabled Members’ Conferences and elections at them to national committees until after the General Election, producing a saving of about £450,000, and allowing the alternative arrangements below to be tested.

·         To hold the in-person Women’s Conference on the Saturday of Annual Conference 2023.

·         To work in partnership with Labour Women’s Network to support the fifth

cohort of the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme.

·         To strengthen BAME Labour (the affiliated socialist society) by assisting the existing BAME Labour Committee in conducting democratic and

transparent elections in Q1 2023; conducting a renewed drive for equalities data to identify BAME members of the Labour Party; look further into the collection of membership fees for BAME Labour and take appropriate action; all self-identifying black and minority ethnic members will be invited to join and stand for elected positions in BAME Labour; BAME Labour’s affiliation fees continue to be waived until a newly elected committee is formed and the affiliate can be deemed as self-sufficient.

·         BAME Labour to elect the NPF reps that would have been elected by the National BAME Committee.

·         Tackle underrepresentation of Black men by focusing the next cohort of

the Bernie Grant Leadership Development Programme on Black members only, as this is where we as a Party faces our biggest challenge when it comes to representation and where a targeted programme could add the most

value in overall equalities impact.

·         Establish a new local government focused Future Candidates programme to develop a diverse pipeline of talent through being councillors.

·         Disability Labour (also an affiliated socialist society) to get an extra NPF seat alongside one for disabled trade unionists as the seats allocated to the National Committee of Disabled Members will not be taken up.

·         The Party uses the period from now until the New Year to conduct a renewed drive for equalities data to identify disabled members of the Labour Party and all self-identifying disabled members will be invited to join Disability Labour

(membership of Disability Labour for disabled members is currently free).

·         Accessibility training for regional teams and CLP role holders.

·         Member training and engagement events :

o   Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members event on 19th November

o    Women members event on 5th December

o   Islamophobia training for members on 17th November and 15th December.

 

There was extensive debate as some NEC members were unhappy about going back on the commitments regarding the BAME and Disabled conferences and national committees, whereas others felt it was better to help BAME Labour and Disability Labour flourish as socialist societies, as this was in line with the principle of autonomous self-organisation for liberation campaigns. Constructive amendments were accepted from the GMB to ensure appropriate union representation and from Gurinder Singh Josan about BAME self-organisation. An amendment from Yasmine Dar to elect a BAME committee using the method used to elect the NEC BAME rep and to delete the recommendations about BAME Labour was defeated with 5 votes for, 22 against and 1 abstention. The amended paper was passed with 21 votes for, 3 against and 4 abstentions.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

NEC Report – 20 September 2022

 

The September NEC meeting is always dominated by conference business, and is a meeting of the outgoing NEC, as any newly elected members take office at the NEC AGM on the final evening of Annual Conference.

 

We began with a minute’s silence in memory of the Queen.

 

We then agreed the conference timetable and, in a contested vote, appointed Angela Eagle, Diana Holland, Gurinder Singh Josan and Wendy Nichols as assistant chairs of conference, meaning that they will be part of the pool of chairs of conference sessions alongside the NEC Chair (Alice Perry) and Vice-chair (Johanna Baxter).

 

After a short break due to a power cut, we agreed best practice award winners and then moved into a debate and votes on proposed NEC-sponsored rule changes.

 

We agreed to promote the following rule changes (alongside a number of uncontentious tidying-up changes to wording). These are all a lot more minor than the big package of changes last year.

 

·         Capping each CLP’s Annual Conference delegation at six delegates to prevent conference floor being dominated by very large delegations from wealthy CLPs (and stop CLPs wasting money on 7th, 8th or even 20th delegates which they could be spending on campaigning). This does not affect the voting strength of CLPs, which continues to be based on their number of members. Passed by 16 votes to 11.

·         Restoring flexibility to how the NEC deals with shortlisting in snap elections and by-elections. Passed by 21 votes to 10 with 1 abstention.

·         Changing the election system for the two CLP reps on the Conference Arrangements Committee from OMOV to a ballot of CLP delegates at conference. This is logical as the steering committee for conference should be elected by conference. It removes the need for any OMOV ballots every second year, saving the party about £25,000. Passed by 20 votes to 11.

·         Restoring the “one year rule” so that rule changes submitted by CLPs or affiliates are tabled and considered by the NEC for a year and can be properly responded to before being voted on at conference, rather than taken in the year they are submitted. Passed by 20 votes to 11.

·         Councillors who do not withdraw from coalitions with other parties when the national party instructs them to lose the whip. Passed nem con.

 

The CAC Chair, Harry Donaldson, reported on arrangements for conference. He told us that 1,032 CLP delegates and 260 affiliate delegates had registered and that the total number of attendees including visitors was over 9,500.

 

We then considered the NEC position on rule changes submitted by CLPs. There were legal or consequential reasons to reject all of them, but contested votes went as follows:

 

·         A rule to allow an MP suspended from the PLP to come back in as candidate if readmitted, even if another candidate had already been chosen. Vote went 21 to 10 with 1 abstention to oppose this.

·         A rule to remove the NEC’s ability to stop affiliate backed candidates from being on parliamentary selection longlists on due diligence grounds. Vote went 21 to 11 to oppose this.

·         A rule to ban property developers and private sector lobbyists from being selected for any public office until four years after they leave the job. Vote went 22 to 10 to oppose this.

·         A rule to force the NEC to provide specific details of why it has imposed a candidate at any level. Vote went 21 to 10 to oppose this.

 

Keir Starmer then gave this leader’s report. He said it had been an extraordinary ten days of national mourning and that he had been honoured to represent the Labour Party at the Queen’s funeral and the new King’s accession council. He paid tribute to the Queen’s 70 years of public service. He said politics had now restarted after the mourning period and there was a clear divide over energy prices, with both major parties agreeing on a price freeze, but Labour believing the energy companies should pay through a windfall tax, while the Tories want working people to pay through tax in the future. As well as the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS was under-funded and the Tory policy on the economy and growth appeared likely to be based on failed trickle-down theories of making the rich richer through tax cuts and hoping some of their spending reached people lower down the economic ladder. Labour’s position is to build the economy in a way that deals with the climate crisis and creates the next generation of green jobs. We had an industrial strategy that aims to create growth across the UK. We were moving from a political era of a character divide with Boris Johnson to one of a policy divide with Liz Truss. A major statement from the Government on the NHS is expected on Thursday, and a fiscal statement on Friday. Keir said that whilst his 2020 speech had been acknowledging how badly Labour had lost in 2019, and his 2021 speech had been introducing himself to the country, the 2022 leader’s speech would be about his plan for Britain and would contain a series of robust policy propositions. On the Forde Report he reiterated his apology to all the individuals concerned who had been affected by unacceptable behaviour, and said we now needed to work on Forde’s recommendations.

 

We then moved to a discussion on the Forde Report. An extensive piece of work had been untaken by party staff over the summer to analyse the recommendations and group them into three categories, those that had already been enacted (because a lot had changed in the party while the report was being written), those that there were legal, financial or regulatory reasons for not enacting, and those that needed further detailed work on how to enact them. This middle group, initially comprising 79 of the 165 recommendations, will be referred to an NEC Working Group which will report back to the NEC Awayday in November. We agreed that if any NEC member feels one of the recommendations should be moved into the middle category from another category and examined by the Working Group, this would happen. The main political disagreement seemed to be over the inclusion of a recommendation about political neutrality of staff, which some NEC members felt meant staff being totally apolitical, whereas I made the case that whilst the staff leave their personal politics at the door, it is an element of their job for some of them to carry out political management tasks to ensure that the party moves in the political direction the NEC desires e.g. staff involvement in policy development is not a neutral task as the party leadership needs outcomes from the policy process that help it win elections. There was a move by Momentum supporters on the NEC to delay the entire process until after the Away Day, but we argued there is a strong desire from members to see action on implementing the recommendations sooner rather than later.   

 

The following statement was agreed by the NEC:

 

“The Labour Party apologises for the culture and attitudes expressed by senior staff in the leaked report, as well as for the way in which those comments came to light. The report is clear that the culture of factionalism led to a situation where allegations of racism and harassment weren't being addressed. Elected representatives, our members, and the public rightly expect better from a progressive left-wing party.

 

The Labour Party is committed to ensuring that such a situation will not arise again and that any racist and discriminatory attitudes will be tackled immediately, wherever they arise, in whatever section of the party.

 

An apology alone is not enough, and that is why, even prior to the publication of the Forde Report, steps have been taken to begin to change the culture of the party. This work is ongoing, and the Forde Report provides additional recommendations to further this work and to ensure that this is never allowed to happen again.

 

The NEC is currently seeking the views of Party stakeholders in deciding how to take forward the recommendations from the Forde report.”

 

We then moved on to David Evans’ report as General Secretary. He said the absolute priority remains preparation in case there is a snap General Election, although this now looks less likely to happen. He had been on a tour of all the nations and regions as part of this. The priority areas for investment were field operations, digital campaigning, and comms. A staff training programme had been launched with a focus on leadership and persuasion skills. The regional comms team and digital campaigning team have been scaled up. The party was doing well regarding securing high value donations and, once licensing is completed, will be launching its own national fundraising lottery. A pilot scheme phoning members who have been identified as potential donors was generating a lot of donations. Discretionary spending remains carefully scrutinised so that resources are focused where that are most needed. A very diverse and talented team of 31 new trainee organisers have been recruited. Moves were being planned to integrate locally funded organisers better into the staff structure. Party membership is now 401,000 of whom 28,000 are in arrears. This is 8,000 above the projected level for this point in the electoral cycle because there have been 24,000 new joiners this year. The turnout in the NEC elections had been 18.6% (approximately 70,000 votes cast out of approximately 380,000 ballots issued). There would be a briefing for the NEC on the introduction of the new membership database. The final legal hurdles were being crossed in procurement of a new HQ which is only 50% the cost of the current one and better configured both as a general working environment and as HQ for a General Election campaign. There was also a review going on of properties used to house the nations and regions.

 

Angela Rayner gave her report as Deputy Leader. She paid tribute to the late Queen’s 70 years of public service and said she was honoured to have spoken in the parliamentary tributes to the Queen. She then went on to speak about two Labour Party activists who have recently sadly passed away, Jean Stretton (former Leader of Oldham Council) and Kathryn Sharman. At the end of Angela’s report we held a further minute’s silence for these two comrades and others who have passed away since our last meeting. Angela said she saw Liz Truss as proof that the extremist ERG faction had taken over the Tories, and the prospect of them winning another term in government with such a hard right agenda was scary. We were focused on winning the argument for an economic approach based on higher wages as well as higher growth. She had spent the summer highlighting Tory failures on the cost of living and other scandals such as the dumping of sewage. She will be opening party conference on Sunday and closing it on Wednesday. She stressed that there is no ban on Labour MPs joining picket lines, it is just not viewed as a good idea for the Shadow Cabinet to do so. We will support union members taking industrial action.

 

The meeting closed with a report on the timetable for the National Policy Forum, which will meet online on 25 October to elect its chair and vice-chairs.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

NEC Report – 19 July 2022

We had unexpectedly weighty business to conduct at the July NEC, as at 11.35am, 25 minutes before the meeting and well over two years after it was commissioned, we finally received the Forde Report into the leaked submission Labour never made to the EHRC. This was swiftly added to the agenda, and we all attempted to read bits of it during the first few agenda items and the lunch break.

 

Angela Rayner’s report as Deputy Leader opened the meeting. She described the no confidence in Boris Johnson debate, and said his speech was delusional and that the Tories were trying to divide Labour over Brexit and levelling up. There had been more personal attacks on Angela from the Tories, which did not work as they were based on misogyny and classism. Angela outlined her work on the Procurement Bill and the Employment Bill, which the new PM might drop. Labour was fighting against Tory attempts to break strikes. The heatwave was clear evidence of the climate crisis, and Angela was exposing the Government’s lack of resilience planning. Angela was looking forward to bringing the policy-building project, “Stronger Together: A Better Future for Britain” to Annual Conference. She had attended both the Durham Miners’ Gala and the Tolpuddle Festival. Asked about frontbenchers being told not to attend picket lines, she said this was to stop the Tories making industrial disputes about the Labour Party, we all support the trade union movement.

 

At this point the NEC voted by 27 votes to nil to immediately publish the Forde Report. You can read it here: https://www.fordeinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/The-Forde-Report.pdf

 

David Evans then reported as General Secretary. Task forces had been set up to prepare for the General Election, they will report regularly and fully to the NEC. There need to be tough decisions about which areas of campaigning machinery we invest fastest in. He praised the work of staff and NEC members in administering the initial tranche of selections. The trigger process for incumbent MPs was almost complete. We all want to complete all the selections in good time so that we move away from the candidate impositions of the 2017 and 2019 snap elections. He had absolute confidence in the due diligence process for parliamentary candidates. No one has an absolute right to be a candidate. Whilst membership will continue to trend downwards until there is a General Election (this is what always happens), the curve is not steep, and we still have 415,000 members (32-33,000 in arrears) and have recruited 15,000 new members in 2022. The new membership IT system was being progressed and staff appreciated the serious impact on local role holders of lack of access to it at the moment. Party HQ would move out of Southside in October and there was a review of the entire property portfolio, including the nations and regions. There was a shortlist of 2 or 3 alternative premises, all near Westminster and flexible enough to be scaled up for a General Election campaign. On fundraising, £2.3m had been raised this year, £1.8m from major donors and £400,000 from the Rose Network (previously the 1000 Club). The target is to build a General Election war chest of at least £10m from major donations, with the aspiration being to have this given or firmly pledged by the end of 2022.

 

In response to a question from Ann Black about the speed at which CLPs were being asked to reconfigure along the new parliamentary boundaries, David said he wanted to give provision to move as fast as possible where changes were minimal, whilst appreciating that it might take longer where the changes are more radical. The concerns raised by Ann would be taken back to the NEC Boundary Review Sub-Committee. The bottom line was that our structures had to have changed before there was a General Election on the new boundaries.

 

In response to my question about the urgency of increasing staffing in the regions, David said he was reviewing staffing right now for the English regions and would soon be deploying the 30 trainee organisers. The staff structure needs to be much more voter-focussed, and staff would be redeployed to achieve that, with a focus on comms and field operations roles.

 

David revealed that Campaign Improvement Boards would be working with the Labour Groups in the following local authorities: Birmingham, Blackburn, Croydon, Dudley, Hastings, Luton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Redcar & Cleveland, Stoke, Sunderland and Wirral.

 

He confirmed that, contrary to media reports, Labour does not use Non-Disclosure Agreements to mute former staff from speaking out on sexual harassment issues.

 

Keir Starmer then gave his Leader’s report. He commented on Boris Johnson’s exit and his extraordinary behaviour in the vote of no confidence debate. The Tories were now in a cat fight over the new leader, the candidates had all pulled out of the final TV debate as the first two debates had given Labour so much ammo, particularly their fantasy economics. The country needs a fresh start with a new Labour government, not just a new Tory leader, after 12 years of Tory failure. Keir briefly referred to the Durham Police decision, then spoke about his Gateshead speech on the economy, which had focussed on creating next generation jobs, revitalising public services, and uniting the country. Labour was pledging £28bn in climate investment to create jobs and meet the UK’s carbon obligations. We had a buy, make and sell in the UK policy. Decision-making needs to be devolved as close to the people as possible. We need public services focused on prevention. Keir said we had come a long way electorally but warned against complacency. The question we were now being asked was how we would form a government, not if it is possible. Our candidate selections required a new and higher standard of candidate. We’ve seen the Tories brought down by scandals around MPs, so due diligence is essential. Annual Conference will be a very important opportunity to set out our stall and plans for the country. There would be strategic visits over the summer to build up to it.

 

Questions to Keir focussed on support for the current strikes. Keir said we are one labour movement, the party and the unions, hence the big package of policies around employment rights announced last year. There is no weakening of our commitment to trade unionism. The cost-of-living crisis was impacting severely on people who hadn’t had a decent pay rise for years. He knew that strike action wasn’t being taken lightly. Responsibility for unresolved public sector industrial disputes lies with the Tory Government. If we were in power, we would do things differently. Half of the Shadow Cabinet are members of unions that are on strike, so there is no question of an absence of solidarity, its about how you show that support, and Labour’s frontbench has to present itself as a government in waiting.

 

On making Brexit work, Keir said he had had talks in Berlin with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and focused on practical arrangements for the UK to work better with the EU, not going back in or re-joining the single market.

 

After the lunch break there was an opportunity to discuss the Forde Report, though all members noted it had not been possible to read it in detail when Forde had given it to the party at such short notice before an NEC. It was agreed that the September NEC meeting would be given a paper analysing which of the 165 recommendations we could and should implement. 61 of them relate to disciplinary processes, 28 to culture, 27 to social media and 49 to staff recruitment and management. Some of the ones to do with the disciplinary process may clash with the new process we have already brought in, and the party’s lawyers reminded us that this was designed in conjunction with the EHRC, and we were still under special measures from them.

 

There was a wide-ranging but calm and remarkably blame-free debate, showing perhaps how far the culture of the NEC has already moved on from the period of very bitter conflict the report covers. I spoke during the debate. I urged more time be taken to fully digest the report. I said I expected there would be a lot of useful recommendations around internal cultural change and tackling racism, but we shouldn’t revisit the changes the EHRC had already mandated us to make to the disciplinary system, which was working well. Some specific proposals would actually be detrimental, e.g. Forde’s idea of shrinking dramatically the number of NEC members who can serve on disciplinary panels would slow down the hearing of cases due to non-availability and conflicts of interest, mean many NEC members would have no active stake in and hence confidence in the process, and remove a forum which is actually the one where NEC members across the spectrum work best together in a quazi-judicial setting, and where we have developed a more trusting and consensual culture. I rejected the “both sides” tone of the report – you can’t make a moral equivalence between factionalism to try to fight antisemitism and factionalism to whitewash it. Rebuilding a healthier, more trusting culture was essential but would take time because the divisions in 2015-2019 were real. They were about widely different ideological perspectives. One wing of the party genuinely felt the other was connected to antisemitism and a threat to national security, and the other felt we were blocking the achievement of socialism. We had to understand that genuine political conflict does happen, but at the same time ensure there is professionalism in how our staff deal with that and comradeliness in how members resolve political differences. I was pleased that the report debunks the conspiracy theory that Labour staff had deliberately sabotaged the 2017 General Election campaign, but angry that such an obviously ridiculous idea had been given credence by being included in issues referred to an expensive inquiry, rather than us having had the political confidence just to laugh at it in 2020.

 

After this, Morgan McSweeney reported as Elections Director. We were trying to plan for a General Election without knowing who the Tory PM would be, what the date of the election would be, or whether it would be fought on the old or new boundaries. But we will be ready whenever it comes. Our candidates tell voters who we are. If we get candidate selection right it inspires people to vote for us, if we get it wrong it undoes all our work. Boris Johnson had been brought down by lack of due diligence on Tory candidates. The early investment in training 475 candidates through the Future Candidates Programme had already seen 7 of them selected. The process had been made more accessible by reducing it to 5 weeks, giving candidates access to Labour Print templates, and spending caps. There was a bursary scheme for candidates from two categories; working class or low income background and disability support. It was agreed that the Labour Party would run an online fundraiser for MotherRED, the scheme that gives funding to mums seeking selection. We are open to doing the same for other schemes that support candidates from categories who find it difficult to access the selection process.

 

We agreed some minor amendments to the selection process, including giving 48 hours notice of due diligence and long-listing interviews, clarifying the criteria for due diligence and allowing shorter longlists (4 minimum) and shortlists (2 minimum) as there had been cases where a strong local frontrunner meant there were not many applicants.

 

Morgan said we had a moral challenge to maintain women’s representation in the PLP despite being legally unable to run All Women Shortlists this time because the PLP is already over 50% women. Of the 20 candidates selected so far, 9 were women, 2 were BAME, and 15 lived in the constituency they were standing in.

 

Turnout in the selections so far was between 30% and 40% of members, which is consistent with the previous round in 2019.

 

Morgan rejected a claim that some candidates had been rejected at longlisting on “spurious” grounds and urged the NEC to trust the judgement of colleagues on the panels.

 

Finally, we took an update on the National Policy Forum, the draft timetable for Annual Conference, and the Equalities Report from Vidhya Alakeson, Director of External Relations. There were a number of questions to Vidhya asking for clarity about when the first BAME and Disabled Members conferences would take place, and she agreed to come back to the September NEC with a plan for 2023 in this regard. Under AOB there was further discussion about getting the party’s staffing focussed on the organisational front-line in the nations and regions.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 24th May, I have also participated in the following other meetings:

·         Organisation Committee

·         Equalities Committee

·         Complaints and Disciplinary Sub-Committee

·         2 meetings of the NPF Public Services that Work from the Start Policy Commission

·         3 disciplinary panels

·         A number of parliamentary selection long-listing panels

Monday, May 30, 2022

NEC Report – 24 May 2022

This was another relatively short NEC meeting, at six hours, as the party moves on from the infighting of recent years to preparations for the General Election.

 

The meeting opened Angela Rayner’s report as Deputy Leader. She talked about the local election results and then about the misogynistic and classist attack she had been subjected to by the media, prompted by the Tories, and thanked Keir, the NEC and party for supporting her. The meat of her report was then on policy on employment and workplace issues. The Tories had dropped the Employment Bill from the Queen’s Speech. Labour was promoting a New Deal for Working People, and improvements to procurement law that would be helpful to good businesses that invest in their staff and the country. She praised the GMB getting a good agreement for Deliveroo drivers. Labour would ban zero hours contracts. Sadly 230,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. Angela had been on the picket line with Oldham bus drivers and attended the TULO (Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation) political weekend. She had been working with Labour Women’s Network and Stella Creasy to support women candidates. She highlighted the TUC We Demand Better march and rally due on 18 June. Labour had won the Commons vote on forcing the release of security advice about Lord Lebedev given to the PM. She was pursuing the scandals relating to dodgy PPE contracts, taxpayer funded focus groups for the Chancellor, and Baroness Mone. She believed that whilst law-breaking by the PM over party gate was not as central an issue the cost of living, it was still important to expose it as he has demeaned his office.

 

David Evans then reported as General Secretary. He described progress in the local elections as firm and significant. The staffing of the party was at its leanest but with fewer staff than in May 2020 we increased our vote share by 6% and got our biggest lead over the Tories for a decade. There were some flies in the ointment where we went backwards in individual councils. It was disgraceful the way Arooj Shah, who lost her seat as Oldham Leader, had been treated, and we had a duty of care to candidates. He said there was no complacency, and we can and must do everything better. We must change the party further and faster and challenge bad internal cultures and become inclusive and outward facing everywhere. Our digital campaigning was much improved. We had successfully framed the election as being about cost of living. The number of canvassing contacts made had broken records. We now need to put meat back on the bone of the staffing, that needs money. Resources must be focused on the battleground General Election seats and the key voters in them. We have raised more this year already than in 2021 but that is still not enough. Staffing was moving to a Task Force based structure for the General Election. A revised voter conversation script would deliver better information. Every marginal seat will have a plan of action tailored to it. Candidate selections have started. There have been 500 applications for the 21 trainee organiser roles. The Wakefield byelection campaign is underway and Simon Lightwood has been selected as candidate. We must take due diligence about candidates very seriously and that was done in Wakefield. We also have an excellent candidate in Tiverton & Honiton, Liz Pole. The independent complaints process is now up and running. Of the first c30 cases heard by NEC panels reviewed independently only one has been remitted back to a fresh panel. Membership is still declining but at a gentler rate than projected. With 10,000 new members this year, membership is now 420,000, of which 30,000 are in arrears. The new membership system for CLPs and branches to use will be in place by the end of the summer at the latest. Martin Forde QC has written a new letter saying his report will be completed shortly as it is being checked legally and for factual accuracy. Conference will run from Sunday to Wednesday, i.e. will not sit on the Saturday.

 

Answering questions on Forde, including a rather rude call for David to resign from one of the Momentum members, David said he was not in post when the Forde inquiry was set up, did not set the terms of reference and was confident he was discharging his duties correctly. He reminded Momentum they had had the chance to vote him out of office at Conference 2021 and had lost the vote. He will be the person who receives the report from Forde, he hasn’t received it yet. It will be a public document.

 

In other answers he said that Labour Muslim Network has applied to be an affiliated socialist society and this is being reviewed as per all applications. 58 trigger ballots for reselecting sitting MPs have been completed and 35 are underway. The NEC majority in the composition of byelection selection panels was raised and he reminded the NEC that one of our previous meetings had agreed the supplementary guidance on this as the rulebook contradicted itself since the 2021 rule change.

 

Keir Starmer then gave his leader’s report. It had been a good set of local election results. He cited wins in Cumberland (which includes the parliamentary marginals of Carlisle, Copeland and Workington), Rossendale, Southampton, Worthing, Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster, all significant pointers for General Election marginals. Barnet and Bury have large Jewish communities and could not have been won if we had not tackled antisemitism. There had been progress in Wales and in Scotland we moved into second place and got our best result for ten years. He thanked Shabana Mahmood, Conor McGinn and Morgan McSweeney for their leadership of the campaign. The next two years will involve a lot more hard work and hard decisions. We must win the Wakefield byelection. The Tories were out of touch and had no response to the cost-of-living crisis. He predicted they would U-turn on the Windfall Tax Labour had called for 132 days previously. People are really suffering but all the Tories do is stoke culture wars. They will try to focus on this and not the economy in the General Election. There was no content to the Queen’s Speech, even though it is supposed to be a two-year programme. We need to pull together and it was heartening that ASLEF and FBU conferences had voted to continue affiliation to Labour. We need good local campaigns to make national ones work across the country, hence the proposal for Campaign Improvement Boards. There are 11 months to a May 2023 election or 95 weeks to a May 2024 one.

 

Morgan McSweeney, Elections Director, reported in detail on the local elections. We won, with growth in every type of voter and every part of the country. The results would see us be the largest party in a General Election, but not yet reach 326 seats. It was the best Labour vote share lead for ten years. We gained a net 108 councillors and the Tories did a lot worse than expected. Our 12 council gains were in every part of the country. Labour vote share was up most in the North and the West Midlands, but the North West and Yorkshire had not performed so well. Our vote grew fastest in areas that had voted Leave in 2016. Where these elections mapped directly to parliamentary constituencies, there would have been 44 clear constituency gains. Labour’s projected national vote share of 35% would see us gain 88 MPs, whilst the Tories on 30% would lose 112. There were good signs of organisational health. 2.4 million canvassing contacts had been made between 1 January and Polling Day. This beats all the non-General Election years since 2010. We had fielded the most candidates of any party for the first time in six years (5,304 versus 5,273 Tories and 3,623 Lib Dems). We had stuck to the issue of the cost of living and not got dragged into Tory culture wars. This had all happened because the NEC had changed how the party works. The Tories can’t hold together their majority, forged around culture wars, because of the economy. Annual Conference is the next big set piece event and needs to be a platform to show the public what a Labour government would look like. In some areas the activity rates were low or local parties lack campaign skills. This must be addressed. There are fewer and fewer solid voters for either main party, and far more churn between elections, so we have to research what motivates voters.

 

Shabana Mahmood, Campaign Chair, added that there had been significant progress among Labour Leave voters and people we lost for the first time in 2019, but slower progress in winning over Remain-voting Tories, some of whom were moving to the Greens.

 

In the Q&A I warned about the Tories using government funding given to Labour councils for radical traffic reduction measures, such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, as a tool to create another culture war where they pit different elements of Labour’s support base against each other, namely our environmentalist middle class supporters against parts of our core vote who are reliant on their cars for essential journeys, and we lose votes at both ends of our coalition, to the Greens and the Tories.

 

We agreed that parliamentary selections in the following seats should begin as

soon as practicable: Bassetlaw, Birmingham Northfield, Bishop Auckland, Chingford & Woodford Green, Cities of London & Westminster, Dover, Erewash, Exeter, Hartlepool, Hastings & Rye, Hendon, Ipswich, Norwich North, Penistone & Stocksbridge, Peterborough, Plymouth Moor View, Shipley, South Swindon, Southampton Itchen, Stoke-on-Trent Central, and Watford. A review of procedures will be undertaken once selections in the earlier, first tranche of 16 seats have concluded, likely at a July meeting of the NEC. I urged a focus on speeding up the selections and said I hoped NEC colleagues would be relaxed about further tranches being signed off at NEC Officers’ meetings or Organisation Committee rather than waiting two months for a full NEC meeting. The aim remains to get all the marginal seats selected by the end of the year unless they would be massively impacted by boundary changes.

 

We agreed a proposal to create Campaign Improvement Boards which can intervene where there are dysfunctional Labour Groups or councils. I argued in favour of this, citing the success of NEC and LGA and government intervention in Hackney in the 1990s and 2000s in turning the worst local authority in the country into a very good one. The paper was passed by 20 votes to 8 with 2 abstentions.

 

We heard an NPF (National Policy Forum) update from Adam Terry, Head of Policy. There was a discussion about whether the final stage NPF meeting should be in Q4 of 2022 or summer 2023. Colleagues from the unions wanted to defer this decision until the July NEC meeting but that was defeated by 12 votes to 10 and it was agreed unanimously to hold the final stage meeting in summer 2023.

 

The meeting concluded with a very wide-ranging and impressive update on all the different strands of our equalities work by Vidhya Alakeson, the party’s new Director of External Relations, who stressed that “Equalities sits at the heart of what the Labour Party is about. It defines who we are as a Party and will define who we are as a future government.” She outlined work around creating a more diverse party; engaging equalities stakeholders; and policymaking to support equalities.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 29th March, 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:

 

Boundary Review Working Group

 

4 Disputes Panels

 

NEC-led local government selection panels in Newham

 
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