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.

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

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