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, 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

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