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.

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

In memory of my dad

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Sunday, April 03, 2022

NEC Report – 29 March 2022

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Women’s Conference had been a great success. 

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Complaints and Disciplinary Committee

Equalities Committee

Organisation Committee

Development Fund Panel

Boundary Review Working Group

2 meetings of the GRT Working Group

4 Disputes Panels

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


 
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