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.

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

Thursday, July 22, 2021

NEC Report – 21 July 2021

 

The July NEC has a reputation for having a heavy agenda every year, and this was no exception, lasting nine and a quarter hours on one of the hottest days of the year.

 

The most important items in my view were the reports from the General Secretary and Executive Director of Finance about Labour’s financial situation and the restructuring this necessitates.

 

David Evans said that since his appointment he had been preparing a restructuring called Organise to Win, aimed at getting the Labour Party into shape to fight the next General Election but also putting in on a sustainable financial footing. This is the first full scale review of Labour’s professional machine since 2006, so long overdue. The party was traumatised by four General Election defeats and by 2019 it had lost its reputation for campaigning innovation and faced a far more modern Tory machine, particularly in digital campaigning. Structural problems had been laid bare by the May local elections. The antisemitism crisis and legal challenges associated with it meant we are spending more on legal action than on campaigning, and ten times more than we used to. Much of the review was informed by pro bono work by Lord (Bob) Kerslake and other financial and organisational structure experts. The new structure will have a simplified hub and spoke model with support services in the centre and at three regional resource hubs, and as much campaigning resource as possible put out into the regions and nations. It will foster collaborative working and enable staff to develop specialisms and become experts. Resources will be focussed on communications, digital campaigning and field operations. To make it financially sustainable it will be lean, with sadly 90 redundancies needed, but strong enough to be built back from as we approach the General Election. Cultural change internally away from factionalism will be driven by rewarding good behaviour and a focus on diversity and inclusion. Sign off processes will be streamlined to try to reduce the risk averse culture that has developed. A flatter management structure is more appropriate for any political campaign organisation. All operations will be guided by the electoral strategy.

 

The Executive Director Finance provided more detail on the financial situation. As well as the vastly increased legal costs budget, staffing had remained at General Election levels ever since 2015 due to the three elections in quick succession and the unique circumstances of the pandemic. Historically all political parties have lower donations, lower membership and fewer staff in the mid years of the electoral cycle, and Labour needs to get back to a sustainable number of core staff in the midterm. The legal spend will gradually reduce as the backlog of disciplinary cases is dealt with. The party had lost 22% of the “Short Money” that funds the policy function of HM Opposition because this is based on a formula relating to electoral performance so it was cut due to the seats lost in 2019. The cancellation of the 2020 Annual Conference had removed the main source of commercial income for that year. Membership always spikes at a General Election or Leadership Election then drifts down between such events. Even so, membership income in 2021 was the same as in 2019, it was only lower than the record 2020 level. Plans were in place for growing both high value one off donations, smaller regular donations and membership. Treasurer, Diana Holland, noted that whilst the party has a deficit it needs to reduce by making savings, its long-term financial position is far stronger than before 2010 as it has no debt anymore.

 

David also reported on the boundary review process, the byelections in Chesham & Amersham and Batley & Spen, and the successful Women’s Conference. On the long-awaited Forde Report he said he was pushing Martin Forde QC to complete and publish by early autumn the two sections of the report which don’t potentially prejudice the ICO’s investigation. The sections on the truth or not of the content of the leaked report last year, and on the culture and practices of the party, could be published if they are ready, but the section on the circumstances of the leak need to wait until the ICO has reported.

 

Bespoke unconscious bias training was being rolled out to staff and the NEC. The NEC would continue to meet online until its meetings at conference. CLP meetings could now either be held in person or online, with guidance on Covid safety being issued.

 

As at previous meetings there were questions from his supporters about Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the PLP. David emphasised that the Chief Whip has put the letter to Jeremy with its three criteria for the whip being restored into the public domain. Those criteria have not been met yet.

 

We also heard reports from the Leader and Deputy Leader.

 

Keir explained that the three days he had spent on the ground in Blackpool listening to voters was part of a pattern that would continue around the country through the summer. Each visit would show the leadership getting outside Westminster and would involve interaction with local media and community groups. Keir said that Labour was on the attack on every level against the Tories on Covid as the Delta variant was “the Johnson variant”, spreading rapidly due to Boris’ failure to take effective action, and the Tories were causing the country a summer of chaos and confusion.

 

It was disappointing that some colleagues again chose to waste their unique opportunity to engage constructively with Keir with rude and relentlessly negative questions, including asking the same ones about Jeremy Corbyn that David Evans had already answered.

 

Angela Rayner’s report focussed on the campaigning Labour would be doing over the summer to expose the Tories and set out our contrasting vision.

 

We agreed a report on Liverpool from a panel led by Sir David Hanson, which dealt with the Labour Party aspects of the fallout from the arrest of the former Mayor and subsequent Caller Report into the City Council. Having interviewed 60 of the key figures in the local party, it was clear that there was a bullying and toxic culture, a lack of scrutiny of the council, failure to declare interests etc. The panel’s 32 recommendations include dedicated party staff support for Liverpool, the NEC to run the panel process for council candidates, vetting, a code of practice and declarations of interest, antisemitism training for candidates and party officers, fast-tracking of all complaints about Liverpool members, refocusing the Local Campaign Forum on local issues, and reconstitution of the city’s CLPs so they all have a branch and GC model and scrutiny of councillors will be the same across the city.

 

I raised the related issues around Liverpool Jewish women MPs Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger being driven out of the party by antisemitism and said we would not have fully dealt with antisemitism until they felt able to re-join.

 

We then moved on to consider a general paper on how we assess the proscription of groups that are not compatible with Labour’s values, and four specific cases. I spoke in favour of the proscriptions. I was disappointed that some NEC members argued against proscription. I do not understand why more mainstream parts of the Hard Left cannot see the damage being done to their own reputation, let alone the party’s, by tolerating groups that minimise or deny the existence of antisemitism, or that are rival revolutionary communist parties seeking to infiltrate Labour. It was clear to me that Socialist Appeal is an entryist group, one of two lineal successors to the Militant Tendency, that Resist is already part of the steering committee of TUSC, a rival political party, and that Resist, Labour in Exile Network and Labour Against the Witch-hunt all oppose the party’s efforts to deal with antisemitism. None of these organisations belong anywhere near the Labour Party.

 

The main paper was approved by 22 votes to 11.

 

The proscription of Labour in Exile Network was approved by 22 votes to 10.

 

The proscription of Labour Against the Witch-hunt was approved by 22 votes to 10.

 

The proscription of Socialist Appeal was approved by 20 votes to 12.

 

The proscription of Resist was approved by 23 votes to 9.

 

We noted that membership of the party was now 466,000.

 

On Annual Conference we heard that the “Plan A” was a normal physical conference. If Covid necessitated, it then we could have a socially distant main hall with delegates only. Delegates who need to self-isolate could be replaced. Further fallback plans were for a hybrid online and physical conference or even a fully online one. Reference Backs on parts of National Policy Forum reports will now need to be sent in in advance of conference rather than from the floor. Replacement movers and seconders for composite motions will be allowed if the delegates from the initial organisations are pinged and have to self-isolate.

 

We agreed the outlines of the new Independent Complaints Process required by the EHRC as part of our action to stamp out antisemitism. It was noted that every action in the party’s EHRC Action Plan has been completed or is ongoing except this. The new process will apply to all disciplinary cases relating to the legally protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation), not just to antisemitism cases. Contrary to one NEC member’s question on an earlier item, Marxism is not a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act! The process requires further refinement and consultation with affected stakeholders before rule changes are agreed at Conference. Currently the NEC’s Disputes Panels, with an independent lawyer giving advice, hear cases where all the evidence is in writing. The National Constitutional Committee hears cases that need an oral hearing and appeals. Its rulings are final.

 

Under the new system the NEC Disputes Panels will still meet but where there are cases involving protected characteristics a lawyer from an Independent Review Panel (IRP) will be able to veto their judgements and refer them to an Independent Appeal Board (IAB) if they do not comply with the rules, the law, and new principles of independence. The IAB will consist of 4 lawyers, 4 lay members and 4 HR or regulatory experts, one person from each of these categories will serve on each decision-making panel. An IAB panel will also hear cases that would previously have gone to the NCC but involve a protected characteristic. The IRP will also have the power to undertake audits of the disciplinary process. IAB members will be appointed by a Recruitment Panel established by the General Secretary or their nominee.

 

Because of case law about the right to freedom of assembly and association under Article 11 of the Human Rights Act it isn’t legally possible to make the process totally independent from the Labour Party. The proposal is financially practicable and legally watertight and meets the EHRC’s requirements.

 

We were informed that it will take a further six months to clear the backlog of disciplinary cases.

 

We ended the meeting by agreeing a new Code of Conduct on Confidentiality by 19 votes to 10, and then there was a high note of unanimity where we agreed the very important Code of Conduct on Islamophobia, which incorporates the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims Definition of Islamophobia, unanimously.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 25 May, 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:

 

·         Equalities Committee – 1 June

·         Organisation Committee – 8 June

·         Disputes Panel – 8 June

·         Health and Social Care Policy Commission – 26 May, 22 June

·         National Policy Forum – 6 July

·         Working Group on student structures – 8 July

·         Disabled Members Structures Working Group – 15 July

·         Boundary Review Working Group – 6 meetings and 3 regional consultation events

·         And a Disputes Panel hearing

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

NEC Report - 25 May 2021

The NEC met in sombre and serious mood on 25 May, with an obvious priority of reflecting on the 6 May election results and considering the dramatic improvements and changes that will need to be made to respond to the message the electorate has sent us.

 

You can read my own analysis and response to the election results here https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/starmer-has-one-shot-to-save-labour-from-national-irrelevance-qqltzcj3f and here https://labourlist.org/2021/05/how-successful-was-labour-in-the-may-2021-elections/

 

Keir Starmer’s report opened with a pledge, on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and the launch of the Black Lives Matter movement, that a Labour Government would bring in a Race Equality Act to address structural racism.

 

Keir welcomed Anneliese Dodds (new frontbench rep) and Angela Eagle (new PLP rep) to the NEC.

 

He provided a candid, balanced and sobering summary of the election results and how serious a setback they had been, before setting out five policy themes that Labour will now be promoting:

 

1)    Restructuring a broken economy towards long-term investment rather than short-term shareholder return.

2)    Transforming the way we deliver public services so they are more integrated and less silo-ised.

3)    World class education and skills.

4)    Radical devolution.

5)    Modernisation of Britain.

 

He said the party needs a complete change of culture, so it is facing the voters at all times and less internally focused. We need to transform and modernise our campaigning structure in order to be able to transform and modernise the country.

 

Keir warned the General Election could be as early as May 2023 and we face the immediate challenge of a byelection in Batley & Spen.

 

During the Q&A I responded to claims by Momentum-supporting members of the NEC that members had been demoralised and therefore not campaigned by saying that this was not borne out by my personal experience as a council candidate or, in a different ward, as a ward organiser, in both cases I had seen increased levels of volunteering. Nor was it borne out by the data collected nationally about the number of canvassing contacts made, which Keir confirmed was higher than in the previous set of local elections, even with Covid affecting the way we could campaign. I asked Keir to make sure the policy review developed policies that would appeal to segments of the electorate who have moved away from us, particularly older voters, who we can’t win a General Election without winning back, as they are an increasing share of the population and have high propensity to turnout.

 

Answering a total of 16 questions, some of them disappointingly couched in less than comradely tones, Keir emphasised that policies from past manifestoes are never ruled out, but after several defeats you can’t just pick up the old manifesto you lost on as the starting point. We needed a simplified and focussed policy offer as there had just been too much for voters to believe was deliverable in 2019.

 

He emphasised the need to reach out to both rural voters and older voters, where an existing trend towards Labour voting falling off by age had become profoundly worse in 2019. He said we needed policies for older voters that would guarantee security and dignity in old age and wanted a discussion in detail about this at a future NEC meeting.

 

Asked about the Gaza conflict he reiterated Labour’s support for a two-state solution and referred the NEC to Lisa Nandy’s balanced statements which strongly condemned breaches of international law and human rights by either side (https://labour.org.uk/category/lisa-nandy/).

 

Following Keir, Angela Rayner also gave her report, talking about how we reconnect with voters we have lost and about her policy priority of addressing fire and rehire and insecure work in her new role as Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work.

 

Executive Director of Elections Anna Hutchinson took us through a detailed statistical analysis of the 6 May results.

 

General Secretary David Evans covered the byelections in Batley & Spen and Chesham & Amersham in his report, and the possibility of one in Delyn as the Conservative MP has been suspended for six weeks.

 

He reported on the work of the party’s internal Diversity and Inclusion Board, including the rollout of unconscious bias training.

 

He said publication of the Forde Report was still postponed, to avoid even partial disclosure prejudicing an ICO investigation. He was doing everything he could to get it published.

 

Membership is now 489,000, which remains very high by historic standards. A membership retention strategy is being developed.

 

The party was concerned about the risk of potential loss of income if Covid leads to restrictions on the format of Annual Conference.

 

Both David and Keir were repeatedly and tediously asked the same question about restoration of the whip to Jeremy Corbyn and David advised those NEC members who repeatedly raise this to write to the Chief Whip.

 

After David’s report we supported an amendment from Ellen Morrison to the paper about future arrangements for CLP and branch meetings to keep open hybrid online and offline options as online meetings are more accessible for many people. All meetings remain online until the end of July when the situation will be reviewed.

 

Anneliese Dodds spoke about the policy review she is now leading. This will produce a clear offer in time for a 2023 early General Election. It will show our core values of equality, security and ambition for our country. The review will work in step with and not duplicate the work of the National Policy Forum (NPF) and its commissions. The NPF tries to be encyclopaedic and develop policy on everything, whereas the review will only look at a small number of key areas. It will be future looking, trying to generate a Labour vision of the UK in 2030 and counterpoise that with a vision of what the UK will look like by 2030 if the Tories stay in charge. We want to create a country that is more equal, more secure and more ambitious about what it can achieve.

 

We were then given an update on the NPF’s processes. Equalities issues had been better integrated into the work of each Policy Commission. There will be a full NPF meeting on 6 July. The Policy Commissions were proving consensual and constructive. NPF Chair Ann Black said she wanted to harness the positive energy around policy making to give the NPF a more campaigning role.

 

Just to confuse things there is also an ongoing review of policy development. The deadline for CLPs and affiliates to make submissions is 24 June, then the NEC will agree proposals for a new way of making policy and put these to conference.

 

We signed off standing orders and a code of conduct for the National Women’s Conference.

 

We also signed off procedures for the trigger ballots and selections for Mayoral elections. Mish Rahman from Momentum proposed the trigger threshold should be 1/3 of branches or affiliates rather than ½ (i.e. that it should be easier to force a full reselection ballot). This was defeated by 19 votes to 10. He proposed that the Organisation Committee should have to sign off any decision by the General Secretary to rescind endorsement of a candidate if something damaging to the party emerges about them, This was defeated by 16 votes to 14.

 

Nadia Jama from Momentum tabled a motion calling for the Leader of Sheffield City Council Labour Group to be elected in an OMOV pilot by party members rather than by the Labour councillors. This was defeated by 20 votes to 11.

 

The meeting ended on a forward-looking note with agreement of a paper on an impressive Future Candidates Programme of training for up to 350 potential parliamentary candidates.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 11 February, 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:

 

Equalities Committee – 4 March – dealing with EHRC Action Plan, All Women Shortlists, Women’s Conference, GRT working group, candidate diversity

Boundary Review Working Group – 9 March

Disputes Panel – 11 March

Organisation Committee – 11 March – dealing with EHRC Action Plan, new codes of conduct, BAME Structures, GRT working group, regional rules and standing orders

Working Group on student structures – 12 March

Health and Social Care Policy Commission – 15 March and 27 April

Full day training on Decision Making – 9 April

Training on antisemitism – 15 April

4 Disputes Panels hearings

Friday, April 30, 2021

In memory of my mum

 A few words about my mum, Nan Akehurst (nee Davies), who passed away suddenly today.

 

Mum was quite a character. She was fun, caring, thoughtful, arty, creative, wacky, and could be incredibly stubborn, illogical (she said logic came from maths, and she hated maths), and hot-tempered.

 

She was a baby boomer, whose mum and dad had put off starting a family for five years because they were busy doing their bit in WW2 as a casualty clearing station nurse and a Lance Bombardier in the 11th Survey Regiment. Back in civilian life her dad, George, returned to his teaching career, while her mum, Molly, cared for the family. Baby Nan was born in Northfleet, Kent, in June 1946. She owed her unusual first name to Scottish ancestry on her mum’s side, her maternal grandfather William McKenzie was born in Dumbarton but had travelled to Kent to find work and ended up as the Labour Mayor of Gravesend.

 

Mum’s childhood was marred by a series of painful operations and long stays in Great Ormond Street hospital for reconstructive surgery because she and her brother were born with a rare genetic anomaly that meant they only had one ear, and this obviously meant in later life her hearing was affected. Tragically her younger brother Billy died in a road accident when he was 11 and mum was 13. She became a rebellious teenager – school reports she kept cannot have been comfortable reading for her parents, nowadays we would say she had PTSD. Her dad’s promotions in his teaching career saw the family move first to Coventry, where my mum liked her short time at the gleaming new Whitley Abbey Comprehensive School, where her dad was a housemaster, and remembered crossing acres of still bombed out streets to get there (this would have been around 1957). Her dad’s promotion to be a secondary head teacher saw the family move back to Kent and settle in Canterbury. Mum didn’t enjoy her new school, Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar, and the loss of her brother a year later clearly had a big effect on her for a long time. She only really opened up to me about how traumatic it was a few years ago.

 

Mum left the Langton after a rather mixed bag of O Levels and spent a couple of years at Canterbury College of Art. It sounds like incredibly good fun, and she kept in touch for decades afterwards with her favourite teachers, but there were no jobs at the end of it. A highlight was that she designed a tie for Mick Jagger which she says he wore on stage.

 

After art college there was a brief period living away from home in Kingston-upon-Thames and commuting into a very dull civil service job in a tax office near The Strand.

 

London life didn’t appeal so mum ended up back in Canterbury and eventually found a role that really suited her as a fashion buyer in the boutique section – the clothes for younger women – at Martin’s, the main women’s wear shop in town. She also worked at Riceman's and Lenleys, department stores that were features of Canterbury shopping. The fashion job was in the late ‘60s.

 

1960s mum was described by her younger cousins to me today as “cool and groovy”.

 

By this time my mum had developed a very clear set of ideas about what she liked and what she didn’t like. She liked the Stones and despised the Beatles. She liked to be stylish, and this was achieved whether through careful saving for certain key outfits, or an incredible eye for bargains at sales and jumble sales. She liked music in a minor key and with soul to it – Motown, Ella Fitzgerald, Georgie Fame, blues, heavy Russian classical composers like Prokofiev and Rachmaninov. She liked equally soulful art: Van Gogh (who she identified with because of his missing ear), Hieronymous Bosch (thanks for the nightmares when you showed me his pictures of hell as little kid mum!), Fra Filippo Lippi. This meant on a later trip to Italy when we took her to Florence we got stuck for nearly an hour analysing one picture in the Uffizi. She liked cooking and eating spectacular meals, often waking at the crack of dawn to start preparing them, with a range from traditional roasts to French style sauces and often a choice of several hand made deserts. The Christmas parties she hosted were legendary. The final year of her life seemed to involve a lot of confit de canard. To go with the food, she liked wine – it had to be red, or if white, of a dryness akin to gargling pebbles. No fruit flavours were allowed to get in the way. Gin was also on the list of household essentials. She liked interior decoration, the house seemed to get a makeover several times a decade. She loved to read, particularly historical novels.

 

She did not like TV (until relatively recently – she didn’t allow one in the house until the late ‘80s), or sport, or technology, pizza, or pasta.

 

At the start of the 1970s she met my dad, Tony Akehurst, at the Bridge Country Club at a jazz gig, mum was working behind the bar there. They were together for the rest of her life, marrying in 1971. They would have had their 50th wedding anniversary this October. Dad was 8 years older than mum, and a farm boy from Barham in East Kent. I think he was blown away by mum’s sophisticated and fiery persona, and he provided the perfect foil for her – calm, laid back, practical. They made a brilliant team as parents to me (born 1972) and my younger siblings Sam (1974) and Ella (1976) and their loyalty and affection for each other and us has been just incredible.

 

Financially the 1970s were very tough for mum and dad, with mum at home with three little kids and dad in not very well-paid jobs, particularly after he returned to the family farm. They lived with my grandparents until I was two, and then in a draughty 1919 bungalow built of asbestos near the farm. This was a mile or more to the nearest bus stop, quite a hike with three children, so my mum felt very isolated.

 

Things looked up in 1979, though money was still short, when they were allocated a housing association house on a new estate in Chartham, a large village just outside Canterbury. Mum was delighted to be somewhere where there were people rather than just fields, and became a fixture of the village community for the rest of her life, later moving to the first and only house they bought, Swanhaven, in the heart of the village.

 

Mum was the Chartham village columnist for the Kentish Gazette for decades, paid 7p a line to report everything down to who got 3rd place for potatoes at the cottage gardeners’ society exhibition. She played a leading role in the Friends of Chartham Primary School, helping organise a succession of Christmas and summer fetes. She ran summer holiday play sessions for local kids, sometimes in liaison with the librarians from Canterbury children’s library. Whilst not as involved in political life as me or her grandparents, she was a member of the Labour Party from about 1980 onwards, standing once for the parish council (she didn’t enjoy being a candidate) and for many years leafletting the entire village at election times. Her politics were ferociously left-wing – she was burning with anger about her own experience of coping on Family Credit top-ups in the Thatcher years, but also about poverty, injustice and racism wherever she saw it.

 

Mum’s biggest contribution to village life was to be part of the upbringing not just of her own three children but of two entire generations of Chartham children. This started with helping organise the Chartham Preschool Playgroup, in the days before areas like that had any LEA provided nursery provision. This eventually folded into a proper nursery class at the local primary school, and my mum worked as a classroom assistant from the 1990s until well into her 70s. She was adored by small children and loved working with them. She stayed at the school so long that eventually children she had looked after in the 1990s came back as parents with their own children twenty years later. She spread happiness and love to hundreds of children.

 

Mum was delighted to become a mother-in-law to my wife Linda and Sam’s wife Catherine. She welcomed them into her family and hosted some of the most glorious, deliciously catered and wine saturated dinners you can imagine. She was even more delighted when over the last 15 years, between her three children a total of five grandsons joined the tribe.

 

She adored them all and loved spending time with them, and they with her. She particularly played a crucial role in the upbringing of my sister’s son Casper. My sister and her son have been living with my mum and dad as my sister has a number of health problems, and mum has sacrificed more than we will ever know to provide them with care, support and love.

 

Mum was a loyal friend to dozens of people. She would handwrite letters – definitely not emails, which she refused to engage with – in her extremely distinctive italicised handwriting (a graphologist would have had a field day) to contacts she had kept since school and art college days. Her art college friend Denise, who she adored, would come to stay. Every minutiae of people’s lives in the village and beyond appeared to be a matter of passionate concern. If you were alone, bereaved or having a bad time, there was a place at the dinner table. No matter her own family stresses and tribulations, and there were many, she was always there for other people.

 

My mum wasn’t a person who found consolation in any faith, but she lived her life by very firm values about serving and caring for others, friendship, selflessness and love.

 

She hated the idea of getting old, and never conceded an inch to the aging process. In going suddenly, we’ve missed a couple of decades we thought we had left of her excellent company, but she will be forever remembered as about as youthful a 74 year-old as it is possible to be.

 

Thank you mum for everything you have done for us. We will always be in debt to you for your love, support and care. We love you and miss you already.

 
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