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.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

NEC Report - 11 February 2021


Although there have been the NEC Away Day and a special meeting to deal with the EHRC Action Plan, this was the first ordinary full NEC meeting I have attended since my election back onto the NEC in November.


Apparently, it was a better meeting that others in 2020 had been. The mind boggles about what they were like if this was a “better” one. Presumably, any improvement is down to the changed political balance. There is now a clear working majority that supports the leadership, making any votes that are forced performative displays of victimhood by the Hard Left for the benefit of their reports to the (rapidly dwindling based on the results of recent CLP AGMs) Momentum email list.


When I served on the NEC from 2010 to 2012 it was characterised by being a friendly, collegiate body, where people from across the spectrum of party opinion looked for issues where they could work together, treated each other respectfully, and were polite and positive towards the leadership and the General Secretary.


This longstanding culture has been broken and needs to be restored. I am assured by people who have served in the interim that the breakdown in good manners and professional behaviour is very recent, and that despite profound concerns about his leadership, moderate NEC members treated Jeremy Corbyn with respect and courtesy.


Now we have a situation where the majority on the NEC are behaving in a comradely, professional way and a minority are being relentlessly uncomradely.


The six and a half hours of the NEC meeting included large sections where the time of people of good will who are trying to make Labour electable was wasted in order for people who don’t want Keir to succeed to undermine him with a litany of negativity.


Time, because of what members choose to focus their questions on, is disproportionately spent on attack lines about confected internal cause celebres that excite the hyper-active, have already been extensively aired on social media and are of very little interest to the mass of party members let alone Labour or potentially Labour voters (whether Keir should appear next to our national flag, the end of the Community Organising Unit, suspensions for ignoring instructions about non-competent business, Jeremy Corbyn’s disciplinary case, something that Lord Falconer has said). Rather less time is spent making positive proposals or offering constructive scrutiny that might help the party staff with their immediate and huge task of rebuilding a party traumatised by the Corbyn era and winning the bumper lot of elections that are happening in May.


It is like having an opposition party inside the NEC meeting trying actively to damage the party. On occasion people were overtly personally rude as well.


I think this is a terrible waste. There are talented people from across the political spectrum on the NEC. If everyone played their role as team players we could achieve so much more, and in fact the left of the party would be far more likely to advance its agenda by being collegiate and constructive.


This is not a good use of Keir, Angela or David’s time, and their forbearance, dignity and calm in putting up with this nonsense is extraordinary, as is Margaret Beckett’s skill as chair.


Keir’s report was delivered from Heathrow where he had been meeting Unite union reps in solidarity with their dispute over fire and rehire. He outlined Labour’s approach to the Budget on 3 March and to the May elections, stressing that we want to “build forward” to a different, more equal future, rather than “build back” to the pre-Covid world as the Tories want. Keir said Labour will be fleshing out the detail of our practical “Recovery and Rebuild” policy proposals, which are in the three areas of health and wellbeing, the economy, and redistributing power.


Keir reported that Labour had forced Opposition Day debates on topics that were important to raise in Parliament and divided Tory MPs: fire and rehire, Universal Credit and Cladding.


In the Q&A I asked Keir to emulate the Biden campaign by consistently driving home the message about the need to sign up for postal votes.


Keir was on incredible form and dealt with all the questions, positive and negative, with great answers.


Angela Rayner’s report focused on campaigning but again there were silly attempts by the Hard Left to extract damaging answers, such as asking for foolhardy predictions about May’s elections. Have these people never heard of expectation management? I was pleased that Angela specifically picked up on my theme about postal voting and set out steps that are being taken.


David Evans read out a letter from the Forde Inquiry, saying they had had to pause publication of their report while the Information Commissioner’s Office conducted an investigation into the data breach associated with the leak that Forde was investigating. The report has already been delayed because the panel has conducted so many interviews and considered so many submissions. The letter has now been published on the Forde Inquiry website: https://www.fordeinquiry.org/forde-inquiry-update/


David also covered progress on the Organise to Win 2024 programme of organisational change, staff diversity, and the EHRC Action Plan, where he reported on creation of an Antisemitism Advisory Board (biographies here: https://labour.org.uk/antisemitism/action-plan/ ) and said training for staff and the NEC would be completed by 29 April.


On the suspensions for ignoring guidance about non-competent business about antisemitism there had been no blanket policy of suspensions, they had been on a case-by-case basis and were being resolved by Disputes Panel hearings. The key issue was that the EHRC Report had made the Labour Party legally responsible for the actions of its “agents” down to the level of councillors and branch and CLP officers. David said he would, after consulting the NEC, recast and reissue an updated set of guidance in order for CLPs to be able to frame discussions about antisemitism in a safe and inclusive way. He would also change the disciplinary process so that members could be issued with reminders of conduct and formal warnings without them having to be suspended.


I welcomed David’s proposed change to the disciplinary process as I don’t think it is fair for people breaching the rules in less serious cases to lose their right to hold office for months and eventually only get a written reprimand. But I made it clear that I supported the party having taken the action then available to it to stop uncontrolled debates about issues around antisemitism, which could have created flash points that would have caused a hostile environment for Jewish members and could have led to further legal and EHRC problems for the party. I said that many members had contacted me demanding the party take action to tackle the unpleasant culture in their CLPs and desperately wanted positive debates about policy and campaigning, not meeting after acrimonious meeting focused on the debate around antisemitism and the disciplinary process.


The membership report revealed we now have over 512,000 members, 19% of whom have joined since the start of 2020. I urged the party to work with affiliated unions to bring union members into full individual membership to redress the longstanding disproportionate bias in the party’s membership towards older middle class white male graduates and the London and South East regions.


We were given an update on the review of how the party makes policy, which will now move to a period of focussed engagement led by Angela, with rule changes to be proposed at Annual Conference. David said he was committed to there being a 2021 Annual Conference but Covid meant there were still two scenarios, a full conference and a socially distant one.


The most important item from my point of view was the update on the May elections, presented by the newly appointed Executive Director Elections & Field Delivery, Anna Hutchinson. This is a uniquely challenging double set of elections, with the added complication of Covid meaning that doorstep campaigning is unlikely to be possible and in-person voters will be told to wear a mask and even take their own pen or pencil! The party’s top priorities are maximising the number of postal voters, which we are describing as “early voters” as postal voting has connotations of being for older people only; and using the newly upgraded Dialogue phone canvassing. It was fantastic to hear that as much canvassing is now being done via Dialogue as was being done conventionally pre-lockdown. I was pleased that Anna responded positively to my suggestion of greater use of twinning and targeting of key marginal areas given that this is particularly easy when almost all the work is being done by phone. She said the party will be pushing a message to CLPs that every third Dialogue session they run should be in support of a marginal area.


We agreed that in Sandwell, where there has been a lot of local infighting (largely unrelated to national left vs. right conflicts), to ensure the council candidate selections are run fairly they should be untaken by panels consisting of regional appointees, and we added two of our own NEC colleagues, Nick Forbes and James Asser, to the panel line-ups.


A working group to come up with a model for re-establishing a student wing of the Labour Party was agreed. I was very pleased to be appointed to serve on this as I am a former National Secretary of Labour Students.


We agreed that overseas members in the Labour International CLP should be allowed to pay the concessionary membership fee if they are unwaged, when previously all overseas members had been charged the full rate.


Finally, we agreed to sign up the Labour Party to the employer aspects of the Armed Forces Covenant.  


Between the NEC Away Day on 24 November and this meeting I 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:


·         Training for serving on Sexual Harassment disciplinary panels – 3 December and 2 February

·         Two Disputes Panel hearings.

·         Equalities Committee meeting on EHRC Action Plan – 4 December – this elected James Asser as the new committee Chair.

·         Special full NEC meeting on the EHRC Action Plan – 7 December

·         Development Fund Panel – 10 December – this panel allocates grants to CLPs

·         Equalities Committee – 14 January – this included items on the EHRC Action Plan, Women’s Conference, tackling anti-GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) racism, and BAME working group.  

·         Disputes Panel – 21 January – this elected Shabana Mahmood as the new Panel Chair and received statistics on total numbers of cases being resolved etc.

·         Organisation Committee – 21 January – this elected Wendy Nichols as the new committee Chair. I was elected to the working group on the parliamentary boundary review, and as the NEC link member for Labour International CLP. Items considered included the Liverpool Mayor candidate selection process, boundary review, ensuring high quality candidates, election of Young Labour equalities positions, membership data access and use for CLP officers.

·         I have also been elected to the NPF Health and Social Care Policy Commission, but this has not met yet.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

NEC Report - 24 November 2020

 Yesterday was my first NEC meeting after an eight-year gap.

I wanted to give you a quick report back so that you can be confident all of us elected on the Labour to Win ticket are doing the job of representing you that you would expect.

I think I ought to have anticipated a fraught start to the meeting when outgoing Chair Andi Fox congratulated a list of newly elected list of members and perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose, left out my name, and then had to be reminded to grudgingly add it.

Within minutes we were into an explosive row about who should be NEC Chair. This matters, it isn’t just about effective chairing of often contentious meetings, the Chair can rule out agenda items and only be overturned on this by a two thirds majority (which supporters of the leadership don’t have, we only have a simple majority), and the Chair and Vice-Chair sit on the extremely powerful NEC Officers group, which makes urgent decisions between NEC meetings. A hostile Chair using their role negatively could really damage Keir Starmer’s ability to lead Labour effectively.

The Hard Left argued that the outgoing NEC Vice-Chair Ian Murray (from the Fire Brigades Union, not the Scottish MP of the same name) was next in line to be chair.

We argued that the principle of seniority should be restored, which had been Labour’s custom and practice for four decades until broken by the Hard Left in 2017. This meant that we nominated Margaret Beckett for Chair as the longest-serving NEC member. She first joined the NEC in 1980, whereas Ian Murray has only been on the NEC about three years.

At this point Howard Beckett from Unite and Laura Pidcock attacked Keir and the General Secretary for “factionalism” and led a virtual walkout (it was a Zoom meeting) of 13 Hard Left NEC members.

In my first intervention I condemned this extraordinary behaviour. The disrespectful and personalised attacks on Keir and David Evans and the childish petulance of the walkout really shocked me, as when I had previously served on the NEC from 2010-2012 it had been a very comradely and collegiate body. Apparently this rude and aggressive behaviour only started in April when Keir became leader. The people who walked out failed their own supporters by leaving them voiceless in the rest of the meeting. This isn’t the serious approach to internal governance that a potential party of government needs to demonstrate, particularly when under scrutiny from the EHRC.

The rest of the eight-hour meeting was quorate, friendly, constructive, and brilliantly chaired by Margaret Beckett, who we went on to elect nem con once the kerfuffle from their stunt had died down. Alice Perry was also elected nem con as Vice-Chair. Congratulations to them both. They will bring much needed calm and experienced leadership to the NEC. Margaret is an iconic figure as Labour’s first woman Deputy Leader, Acting Leader and Foreign Secretary, who brings huge gravitas to the role of Chair.

During the formal part of the meeting we agreed a new NEC Code of Conduct (clearly behaviour of members needs to improve); a process for dealing with CLP motions sent to us; an important review of Safeguarding for children and vulnerable adults who participate in the Labour Party; and gave the go ahead for an online Labour Women’s Conference from 25-27 June 2021, which will elect the National Labour Party Women’s Committee. 

In the afternoon we had our “Away Day” where staff presented to us and we brainstormed ideas around three themes; Elections 2021, Engaging our Membership under Covid, and Effective Governance. We learned that Labour now has 540,000 members, a historically very high total.

We heard reports from both Keir and Angela Rayner. Keir answered questions on the forthcoming Brexit deal vote, devolution, public sector pay, Islamophobia (the party is drawing up an action plan to tackle it), local government funding, and shop workers. 

After an unnecessarily and wholly inappropriately disrupted start this felt like a good beginning for the new NEC with its new pro-leadership working majority. I’m honoured that your votes have allowed me to serve on the NEC and help with the big task of repairing the party. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Labour NEC Elections - state of the race

According to the CLP nominations so far, I'm currently 10th in the race for the 9 CLP reps on the NEC, which is an exciting place to be!

The deadline for CLPs to nominate NEC candidates is fast approaching on the 27th September.

There are over 200 CLPs with nomination meetings scheduled in the next two weeks.

How is the battle for nominations going so far?

The headline figures are that Momentum are ahead, but not by an insurmountable margin given there are hundreds of CLPs still to nominate. Labour to Win candidates already have more nominations than in 2018, with two weeks to go, and Momentum have lost many of the CLPs they won then. Here are the numbers from Friday, when 120 CLPs in total had nominated:

Laura Pidcock                      Momentum                    83 CLPs
Ann Black                            Open Labour                  81
Yasmine Dar                         Momentum                   68
Gemma Bolton                     Momentum                    67
Mish Rahman                       Momentum                     65
Johanna Baxter                  Labour to Win                     61
Nadia Jama                           Momentum                            60
Gurinder Singh Josan      Labour to Win                     59
Ann Henderson                    Momentum                            56
Luke Akehurst                    Labour to Win                     45
Theresa Griffin                    Tribune                                 38
Jermain Jackman                 Open Labour                        36
Michael Payne                    Labour to Win                     35
Terry Paul                            Labour to Win                     31
Shama Tatler                       Labour to Win                     30
Paula Sherriff                      Tribune                                 25
Crispin Flintoff                      Independent                         16
Roger Silverman                  Labour Left Alliance            14
Vince Maple                          Independent                         12
Liz McInnes                          Tribune                                  11
Cameron Mitchell                 Independent                         11
Alex Beverley                       Independent                         11

Another 12 candidates also have the required 5 nominations to get on the ballot.

Things to bear in mind:

·         The final ballot is by Single Transferable Vote so it will award seats roughly proportionately between the factions – the days of one grouping taking all nine seats are gone.
·         Any increase in our representation from the 2 of 9 seats we already hold strengthens the mainstream majority on the NEC as a whole.
·         Over 100,000 new members who joined the party to vote for Keir, Lisa or Jess didn’t get a vote in the February NEC by-elections that saw Gurinder and Johanna narrowly win. They can now vote. And the Hard Left keep complaining that many of their supporters have quit the party …
·         With every week of nominations, our position has got stronger compared to Momentum’s.
·         Over 80% of the CLPs nominating Labour to Win candidates are gains we didn't win in 2018.
·         We are doing best in CLPs with All Member Meetings where the new members can vote, and Momentum are mainly holding on where there is a delegate GC system – AGM cancellations due to the General Election and COVID mean some GC delegates were elected at the height of Corbynism in 2018.
·         We are doing best in the CLPs with the largest membership that will have the most voting members in the final ballot while many of Momentum’s nominations come from small CLPs.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Unite Executive Council Elections 2020

If you are a Unite union member you will get a ballot for the Executive Council elections if there are contested elections in your region and/or industrial sector.

They must be returned by 12 noon on Thursday 18th June 2020.

Members who have not received a ballot paper by Monday 8th June 2020 should contact the ballot enquiry service on 0800 783 3856 (0818 333 155 from the Republic of Ireland or Gibraltar).

Details of candidates are here: https://secure.cesvotes.com/V3-0-0/unitenominates2020/en/home?bbp=6942&x=-1

I have seen the following list of suggestions circulated for who members should vote for if they want the union to change direction:

Noel Gibson
Marie Casey

North East Yorkshire and Humberside Region
Gary Andrews

Grieg McArthur
Helen McFarlane

South East Region
Dominic Rothwell

Kerry Owens

West Midlands Region
Stuart Hedley

Engineering, Manufacturing and Steel
Gary Buchan

Food, Drink and Agriculture
Neelam Verma
Matt Gould

Finance and Legal
Jacob Goddard
Fiona Tatem

Steve Thompson
Tracey Osment

Local Authorities
Lisa Colquhoun
Kevin Woods

Passenger Transport
Nigel Atkinson
Simon Rosenthal

Road Transport Commercial, Warehousing and Logistics
Mick Casey
Paul Shedd

Service Industries
Howard Percival

Unite Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
Jamie Bramwell
Stuart Grice

National Black and Asian Ethnic Minority Members’ Constituency
Raffiq Moussa

Friday, March 06, 2015

Council by-elections

Here are the recent council by-elections. Labour's vote increased in all 5:

5 March

Kenton Ward, LB Brent. Con hold. Con 1097 (51.6%, +0.3), Lab 839 (39.4%, +7), Green 121 (5.7%, -4.3), LD 79 (3.3%, -3). Swing of 3.4% from Con to Lab since 2014.

St Pancras & Somers Town Ward, LB Camden. Lab hold. Lab 1481 (72.8%, +4.7), Con 243 (12%, +2), Green 213 (10.5%, -4.8), LD 96 (4.7%, -1.9). Swing of 1.4% from Con to Lab since 2014.

Selhurst Ward, LB Croydon. Lab hold. Lab 1517 (71.5%, +19.4), Con  246 (11.6%, -2), Green 148 (7%, -1.5), UKIP 147 (6.9%, -5.6), LD 65 (3.1%, -2.9). Swing of 10.7% from Con to Lab since 2014.

Bocking Division, Essex CC. Con gain from UKIP. Con 1071 (34.3%, +2.1), Lab 974 (31.2%, +1.3), UKIP 855 (27.4%, -5.3), Green 165 (5.3%, +2.2), Ind 58 (1.9%, +1.9). Swing of 0.4% from Lab to Con since 2013.

19 Feb

Hengoed Ward, Carmarthenshire UA. Lab hold. Lab 335 (33.2%, +7), PC 313 (31%, +6.6), UKIP 152 (15%, +15), People First 80 (7.9%, -18.2), Ind 76 (7.5%, +7.5), Con 54 (5.3%, +5.3). Swing of 0.2% from PC to Con since 2012.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Council by-elections

There have been just four council by-elections in the last fortnight. Yesterday included an important Labour gain from UKIP in Harlow which is a key parliamentary seat in Essex.

12 February

Bar Hill Division, Cambridgeshire CC.  Con hold. Con 787 (46%, +0.6), UKIP 251 (14.7%, -7.4), LD 238 (13.9%, +5.4), Lab 235 (13.7%, +0.1), Green 200 (11.7%, +2.3). Swing of 4% from UKIP to Con since 2013.

Mark Hall Ward, Harlow BC. Lab gain from UKIP. Lab 586 (42.6%, +8.2), UKIP 353 (25.7%, -12.2), Con 334 (24.3%, +4.5), Green 55 (4%, +4), LD 47 (3.4%, -4.4). Swing of 10.2% from UKIP to Lab since 2014.

Oswestry East Division, Shropshire UA. Con hold. Con 629 (47.5%, +17), Lab 247 (18.6%, -10.2), Green 231 (17.4%, +17.4), LD 218 (16.5%, +16.5). Swing of 13.6% from Lab to Con since 2013.

5 February

Brimington Division, Derbyshire CC. Lab hold. Lab 1293 (62%, -6.7), UKIP 380 (18.2%, +18.2), Ind 157 (7.5%, +7.5), LD 135 (6.5%, -2.8), Con 120 (5.8%, -5.4). Swing of 12.5% from Lab to UKIP since 2013.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Council by-elections

There was one council by-election on Wednesday and two in the same ward on Thursday:

Purley-on-Thames Ward, West Berkshire UA. Con hold. Con 936 (68.1%, +1), Lab 172 (12.5%, -8.7), UKIP 163 (11.9%, +11.9), LD 104 (7.6%, -4.1). Swing of 4.9% from Lab to Con since 2011. This ward is in the parliamentary key seat of Reading West.

Marshalswick South Ward, St Albans DC. 2 Con holds. Con 667 & 647 (30.8%, -8.1), LD 495 & 488 (22.9%, +3.6), Green 450 & 166 (20.8%, +10.6), Lab 406 & 312 (18.7%, -4), UKIP 148 & 147 (6.8%, -2.4). Swing of 5.9% from Con to LD since 2014. This is in one of a handful of parliamentary seats the LDs think they might have a chance of gaining against the tide. The big gap between the two Green candidates is because they were listed on the ballot as “first choice” and “second choice”. This is the first by-election evidence of the Green polling surge.

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