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.

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Luke. Comprehensive as usual.

3:57 pm, April 03, 2022

Blogger Unknown said...

Many thanks - 5 hour meeting not conducive to good decision making

8:05 pm, April 03, 2022


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