Although there have been the NEC Away Day and a special meeting to deal with the EHRC Action Plan, this was the first ordinary full NEC meeting I have attended since my election back onto the NEC in November.
Apparently, it was a better meeting that others in 2020 had been. The mind boggles about what they were like if this was a “better” one. Presumably, any improvement is down to the changed political balance. There is now a clear working majority that supports the leadership, making any votes that are forced performative displays of victimhood by the Hard Left for the benefit of their reports to the (rapidly dwindling based on the results of recent CLP AGMs) Momentum email list.
When I served on the NEC from 2010 to 2012 it was characterised by being a friendly, collegiate body, where people from across the spectrum of party opinion looked for issues where they could work together, treated each other respectfully, and were polite and positive towards the leadership and the General Secretary.
This longstanding culture has been broken and needs to be restored. I am assured by people who have served in the interim that the breakdown in good manners and professional behaviour is very recent, and that despite profound concerns about his leadership, moderate NEC members treated Jeremy Corbyn with respect and courtesy.
Now we have a situation where the majority on the NEC are behaving in a comradely, professional way and a minority are being relentlessly uncomradely.
The six and a half hours of the NEC meeting included large sections where the time of people of good will who are trying to make Labour electable was wasted in order for people who don’t want Keir to succeed to undermine him with a litany of negativity.
Time, because of what members choose to focus their questions on, is disproportionately spent on attack lines about confected internal cause celebres that excite the hyper-active, have already been extensively aired on social media and are of very little interest to the mass of party members let alone Labour or potentially Labour voters (whether Keir should appear next to our national flag, the end of the Community Organising Unit, suspensions for ignoring instructions about non-competent business, Jeremy Corbyn’s disciplinary case, something that Lord Falconer has said). Rather less time is spent making positive proposals or offering constructive scrutiny that might help the party staff with their immediate and huge task of rebuilding a party traumatised by the Corbyn era and winning the bumper lot of elections that are happening in May.
It is like having an opposition party inside the NEC meeting trying actively to damage the party. On occasion people were overtly personally rude as well.
I think this is a terrible waste. There are talented people from across the political spectrum on the NEC. If everyone played their role as team players we could achieve so much more, and in fact the left of the party would be far more likely to advance its agenda by being collegiate and constructive.
This is not a good use of Keir, Angela or David’s time, and their forbearance, dignity and calm in putting up with this nonsense is extraordinary, as is Margaret Beckett’s skill as chair.
Keir’s report was delivered from Heathrow where he had been meeting Unite union reps in solidarity with their dispute over fire and rehire. He outlined Labour’s approach to the Budget on 3 March and to the May elections, stressing that we want to “build forward” to a different, more equal future, rather than “build back” to the pre-Covid world as the Tories want. Keir said Labour will be fleshing out the detail of our practical “Recovery and Rebuild” policy proposals, which are in the three areas of health and wellbeing, the economy, and redistributing power.
Keir reported that Labour had forced Opposition Day debates on topics that were important to raise in Parliament and divided Tory MPs: fire and rehire, Universal Credit and Cladding.
In the Q&A I asked Keir to emulate the Biden campaign by consistently driving home the message about the need to sign up for postal votes.
Keir was on incredible form and dealt with all the questions, positive and negative, with great answers.
Angela Rayner’s report focused on campaigning but again there were silly attempts by the Hard Left to extract damaging answers, such as asking for foolhardy predictions about May’s elections. Have these people never heard of expectation management? I was pleased that Angela specifically picked up on my theme about postal voting and set out steps that are being taken.
David Evans read out a letter from the Forde Inquiry, saying they had had to pause publication of their report while the Information Commissioner’s Office conducted an investigation into the data breach associated with the leak that Forde was investigating. The report has already been delayed because the panel has conducted so many interviews and considered so many submissions. The letter has now been published on the Forde Inquiry website: https://www.fordeinquiry.org/forde-inquiry-update/
David also covered progress on the Organise to Win 2024 programme of organisational change, staff diversity, and the EHRC Action Plan, where he reported on creation of an Antisemitism Advisory Board (biographies here: https://labour.org.uk/antisemitism/action-plan/ ) and said training for staff and the NEC would be completed by 29 April.
On the suspensions for ignoring guidance about non-competent business about antisemitism there had been no blanket policy of suspensions, they had been on a case-by-case basis and were being resolved by Disputes Panel hearings. The key issue was that the EHRC Report had made the Labour Party legally responsible for the actions of its “agents” down to the level of councillors and branch and CLP officers. David said he would, after consulting the NEC, recast and reissue an updated set of guidance in order for CLPs to be able to frame discussions about antisemitism in a safe and inclusive way. He would also change the disciplinary process so that members could be issued with reminders of conduct and formal warnings without them having to be suspended.
I welcomed David’s proposed change to the disciplinary process as I don’t think it is fair for people breaching the rules in less serious cases to lose their right to hold office for months and eventually only get a written reprimand. But I made it clear that I supported the party having taken the action then available to it to stop uncontrolled debates about issues around antisemitism, which could have created flash points that would have caused a hostile environment for Jewish members and could have led to further legal and EHRC problems for the party. I said that many members had contacted me demanding the party take action to tackle the unpleasant culture in their CLPs and desperately wanted positive debates about policy and campaigning, not meeting after acrimonious meeting focused on the debate around antisemitism and the disciplinary process.
The membership report revealed we now have over 512,000 members, 19% of whom have joined since the start of 2020. I urged the party to work with affiliated unions to bring union members into full individual membership to redress the longstanding disproportionate bias in the party’s membership towards older middle class white male graduates and the London and South East regions.
We were given an update on the review of how the party makes policy, which will now move to a period of focussed engagement led by Angela, with rule changes to be proposed at Annual Conference. David said he was committed to there being a 2021 Annual Conference but Covid meant there were still two scenarios, a full conference and a socially distant one.
The most important item from my point of view was the update on the May elections, presented by the newly appointed Executive Director Elections & Field Delivery, Anna Hutchinson. This is a uniquely challenging double set of elections, with the added complication of Covid meaning that doorstep campaigning is unlikely to be possible and in-person voters will be told to wear a mask and even take their own pen or pencil! The party’s top priorities are maximising the number of postal voters, which we are describing as “early voters” as postal voting has connotations of being for older people only; and using the newly upgraded Dialogue phone canvassing. It was fantastic to hear that as much canvassing is now being done via Dialogue as was being done conventionally pre-lockdown. I was pleased that Anna responded positively to my suggestion of greater use of twinning and targeting of key marginal areas given that this is particularly easy when almost all the work is being done by phone. She said the party will be pushing a message to CLPs that every third Dialogue session they run should be in support of a marginal area.
We agreed that in Sandwell, where there has been a lot of local infighting (largely unrelated to national left vs. right conflicts), to ensure the council candidate selections are run fairly they should be untaken by panels consisting of regional appointees, and we added two of our own NEC colleagues, Nick Forbes and James Asser, to the panel line-ups.
A working group to come up with a model for re-establishing a student wing of the Labour Party was agreed. I was very pleased to be appointed to serve on this as I am a former National Secretary of Labour Students.
We agreed that overseas members in the Labour International CLP should be allowed to pay the concessionary membership fee if they are unwaged, when previously all overseas members had been charged the full rate.
Finally, we agreed to sign up the Labour Party to the employer aspects of the Armed Forces Covenant.
Between the NEC Away Day on 24 November and this meeting I also participated in the following other meetings. It is not my intention usually to report in detail on sub-committee meetings because when I was on the NEC before we were under instruction that reports should only be on full meetings not committees, and in the case of Disputes Panels the proceedings are confidential:
· Training for serving on Sexual Harassment disciplinary panels – 3 December and 2 February
· Two Disputes Panel hearings.
· Equalities Committee meeting on EHRC Action Plan – 4 December – this elected James Asser as the new committee Chair.
· Special full NEC meeting on the EHRC Action Plan – 7 December
· Development Fund Panel – 10 December – this panel allocates grants to CLPs
· Equalities Committee – 14 January – this included items on the EHRC Action Plan, Women’s Conference, tackling anti-GRT (Gypsy, Roma and Traveller) racism, and BAME working group.
· Disputes Panel – 21 January – this elected Shabana Mahmood as the new Panel Chair and received statistics on total numbers of cases being resolved etc.
· Organisation Committee – 21 January – this elected Wendy Nichols as the new committee Chair. I was elected to the working group on the parliamentary boundary review, and as the NEC link member for Labour International CLP. Items considered included the Liverpool Mayor candidate selection process, boundary review, ensuring high quality candidates, election of Young Labour equalities positions, membership data access and use for CLP officers.
· I have also been elected to the NPF Health and Social Care Policy Commission, but this has not met yet.