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.

Friday, November 26, 2021

NEC Report – 25 November 2021

The November NEC meeting is the Away Day when we don’t tackle ordinary business but instead hear a series of strategic presentations from senior staff.

 

It isn’t very “Away” as we met at Labour’s Southside HQ in London, but it was the first time since the initial Covid lockdown, aside from conference, that we have held a primarily in person meeting, and that was enjoyable and useful in terms of being able to speak to each other and key staff in the margins of the meeting. In fact, the meeting was successfully run as a hybrid, with about two thirds of us in the room and the remainder on a Zoom call. Alice Perry as the new NEC Chair very ably made this work so that both in person and online attendees were all able to have their say, and the meeting concluded on time at just after 5.30pm, a mere seven hours including a lunch break and a fire alarm drill!

 

At the start of the meeting Alice notified the NEC that the long-awaited Forde Report would now be circulated at some point ahead of our next meeting in January. She also said that a motion from Laura Pidcock and Nadia Jama opposing the retrospective implementation of proscriptions of four organisations would be taken at the January meeting.

 

The first presentation was on the party’s Organise to Win restructuring. We were told that the party had achieved 80% of the £5.5m savings it needed to make to balance its finances, and had reduced staffing from over 400 in April, to a more normal mid-term level of 320 now, through voluntary redundancies. The new structure would be finalised by January. The next set of priorities are parliamentary selections and reselections, the local elections in May (especially where these are in areas that are also marginal in the next General Election), developing new canvassing scripts, advising MPs on how to use their incumbency to defend their seats, transforming our digital campaigning, responding to the boundary review, and using an Organising Academy to increase the skills of specialist volunteers. I asked the party to prioritise recruiting more Regional Organisers as soon as we start increasing staffing in the run-up to the General Election.

 

We then heard about lessons from our sister party, the SPD’s, victory in Germany. They had held their nerve stuck to their plan even though they had been running third for most of the electoral cycle, and it paid off in the final weeks of the campaign. Everything had been focused on Olaf Scholz as Chancellor candidate and his competence and trustworthiness. German politics has been becoming increasingly volatile with fewer core voters for the two main parties, as in the UK. The SPD had a very clear narrative around three themes of Future, Respect and Europe, and a concise policy offer that was set out very early and not added to during the campaign. Two thirds of the campaign budget was spent on dominating the street battle with billboards (parties are allowed to flypost on street furniture in German elections). All materials offline and online kept to a very simple design with black and white photos and only one colour – reclaiming red. The campaign emphasised both change and reassurance and was strongly centralised. I said that whilst we cannot flypost on the streets we needed to improve quantity and quality of the UK version of this outdoor publicity, which is garden stake posters.

 

Anneliese Dodds presented on the internal culture of the party and our efforts to improve it. She outlined the new complaints process and new codes of conduct and training not just on antisemitism as required by the EHRC but also on Islamophobia and anti-black racism. She outlined steps being taken on harassment and trans awareness. Abuse of party staff was now a specific offence in the rules. We need to create a culture that is supportive of each other and what we are doing and achieving. Laura Pidcock said she felt the disciplinary actions being taken were alienating many members and were unfair, but I said that whilst there were cases where people had been administratively suspended for far too long because of the backlog of cases, we also had to prioritise justice for the victims of abuse and discrimination, particularly given that the EHRC had found us to have harassed our own Jewish members. I urged an end to the demonisation and hyperbolic criticism of Keir and David Evans, where there are exaggerated claims of purges and mischaracterisation of minor policy changes as though our leaders are Thatcherites.

 

We then heard a presentation about the local elections next May. 6470 council seats are being contested, including every seat in Birmingham, London, Scotland and Wales and a third of the seats in most metropolitan boroughs. When these seats were last fought in 2018 the vote share across the country had been quite good – 35% each for Lab and Con, 16% Lib Dem and 12% UKIP. Whilst Labour had gained a net 71 seats that year in England, this was driven by excellent results in London which offset losses in other areas. Labour had lost 133 seats in Scotland and 108 in Wales. Understandably the party is focusing resources on marginal wards in councils that could change control and which overlap with marginal parliamentary seats. I asked for reports to be given to us on the number of candidates fielded, so that we could ensure every voter had a chance to vote Labour and we didn’t fail to contest wards. I also asked for specific training, scripts and advice to be provided to areas where the main challenger to Labour is the Green Party, as this requires a different political response to areas where there is a straight fight between Labour and the Tories.

 

Then we were given a presentation about the General Election, talking us through the key metrics of activity that would be expected of candidates and CLPs in seats we need to gain to form a Labour Government. Keir emphasised the importance of due diligence and high-quality candidate selection as the recent Tory sleaze means every candidate will be under intense scrutiny. I asked for a clear twinning scheme where non-marginal seats would be linked to and given metrics for the support they would give a nearby marginal.

 

Finally, there was a fascinating presentation on the latest internal polling and focus group research by Deborah Mattinson. She talked us through the issues the public think are most important, and segmented the electorate and highlighted the groups of voters we have most chance of persuading to switch from Conservative to Labour.

 

After the Away Day presentations, there was a short business meeting that started poignantly with a minute’s silence in honour of the late Andy Howell. There was some to-ing and fro-ing about the NEC procedures for tabling late papers, which seemed to leave everyone satisfied. We renamed the Disputes Panel the Complaints and Disciplinary Sub Committee to make its role clearer. We delayed the start of next year’s internal elections by a week to 21 January to enable the deadlines for the National Policy Forum elections, which the unions want further consultation about, to be agreed at the Organisation Committee on 18 January. I successfully got the nomination thresholds reduced for the national committee elections for the new National Labour Students organisation, so that it will be easier for candidates to get on the ballot and members will get more choice and fewer uncontested elections.

 

The meeting ended on a high note with a very powerful exposition of the paper on NEC Aims and Objectives from Morgan McSweeney, Elections Director. Morgan said that after dealing with crucial internal issues the party now has to refocus externally on the voters. There could be a General Election at any time between now and 2 May 2024, and it isn’t clear on which boundaries as the new ones only get implemented on 1 July 2023. We need candidates who are insurgents and hungry to win, and the Labour rosette on a candidate needs to be seen by voters as a mark of quality. Both the standards and the diversity of our candidates can be increased. We need to revolutionise our digital campaigning. We have to change the whole way we work and campaign in order to build new coalitions of voters large enough to win a majority Labour government. The National Policy Forum process needs to be completed so that we are on a speedy pathway to an election-winning manifesto. And our culture needs to be transformed.

 

There was a half-hearted attempt to reopen the question about a moratorium on the retrospective application of the disciplinary action towards proscribed organisations, but as this was raised after the chair had declared the meeting closed, those of us present in person departed to the pub in good spirits, feeling it had been a focused and constructive meeting.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 17 September, 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:

 

Annual Conference including two NEC meetings and the NEC AGM

Equalities Committee

Disputes Panel main meeting

Organisation Committee

4 Disputes Panels

3 panels relating to local or regional issues

Boundary Review Working Group

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