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 21, 2022

NEC Report – 19 July 2022

We had unexpectedly weighty business to conduct at the July NEC, as at 11.35am, 25 minutes before the meeting and well over two years after it was commissioned, we finally received the Forde Report into the leaked submission Labour never made to the EHRC. This was swiftly added to the agenda, and we all attempted to read bits of it during the first few agenda items and the lunch break.

 

Angela Rayner’s report as Deputy Leader opened the meeting. She described the no confidence in Boris Johnson debate, and said his speech was delusional and that the Tories were trying to divide Labour over Brexit and levelling up. There had been more personal attacks on Angela from the Tories, which did not work as they were based on misogyny and classism. Angela outlined her work on the Procurement Bill and the Employment Bill, which the new PM might drop. Labour was fighting against Tory attempts to break strikes. The heatwave was clear evidence of the climate crisis, and Angela was exposing the Government’s lack of resilience planning. Angela was looking forward to bringing the policy-building project, “Stronger Together: A Better Future for Britain” to Annual Conference. She had attended both the Durham Miners’ Gala and the Tolpuddle Festival. Asked about frontbenchers being told not to attend picket lines, she said this was to stop the Tories making industrial disputes about the Labour Party, we all support the trade union movement.

 

At this point the NEC voted by 27 votes to nil to immediately publish the Forde Report. You can read it here: https://www.fordeinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/The-Forde-Report.pdf

 

David Evans then reported as General Secretary. Task forces had been set up to prepare for the General Election, they will report regularly and fully to the NEC. There need to be tough decisions about which areas of campaigning machinery we invest fastest in. He praised the work of staff and NEC members in administering the initial tranche of selections. The trigger process for incumbent MPs was almost complete. We all want to complete all the selections in good time so that we move away from the candidate impositions of the 2017 and 2019 snap elections. He had absolute confidence in the due diligence process for parliamentary candidates. No one has an absolute right to be a candidate. Whilst membership will continue to trend downwards until there is a General Election (this is what always happens), the curve is not steep, and we still have 415,000 members (32-33,000 in arrears) and have recruited 15,000 new members in 2022. The new membership IT system was being progressed and staff appreciated the serious impact on local role holders of lack of access to it at the moment. Party HQ would move out of Southside in October and there was a review of the entire property portfolio, including the nations and regions. There was a shortlist of 2 or 3 alternative premises, all near Westminster and flexible enough to be scaled up for a General Election campaign. On fundraising, £2.3m had been raised this year, £1.8m from major donors and £400,000 from the Rose Network (previously the 1000 Club). The target is to build a General Election war chest of at least £10m from major donations, with the aspiration being to have this given or firmly pledged by the end of 2022.

 

In response to a question from Ann Black about the speed at which CLPs were being asked to reconfigure along the new parliamentary boundaries, David said he wanted to give provision to move as fast as possible where changes were minimal, whilst appreciating that it might take longer where the changes are more radical. The concerns raised by Ann would be taken back to the NEC Boundary Review Sub-Committee. The bottom line was that our structures had to have changed before there was a General Election on the new boundaries.

 

In response to my question about the urgency of increasing staffing in the regions, David said he was reviewing staffing right now for the English regions and would soon be deploying the 30 trainee organisers. The staff structure needs to be much more voter-focussed, and staff would be redeployed to achieve that, with a focus on comms and field operations roles.

 

David revealed that Campaign Improvement Boards would be working with the Labour Groups in the following local authorities: Birmingham, Blackburn, Croydon, Dudley, Hastings, Luton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Redcar & Cleveland, Stoke, Sunderland and Wirral.

 

He confirmed that, contrary to media reports, Labour does not use Non-Disclosure Agreements to mute former staff from speaking out on sexual harassment issues.

 

Keir Starmer then gave his Leader’s report. He commented on Boris Johnson’s exit and his extraordinary behaviour in the vote of no confidence debate. The Tories were now in a cat fight over the new leader, the candidates had all pulled out of the final TV debate as the first two debates had given Labour so much ammo, particularly their fantasy economics. The country needs a fresh start with a new Labour government, not just a new Tory leader, after 12 years of Tory failure. Keir briefly referred to the Durham Police decision, then spoke about his Gateshead speech on the economy, which had focussed on creating next generation jobs, revitalising public services, and uniting the country. Labour was pledging £28bn in climate investment to create jobs and meet the UK’s carbon obligations. We had a buy, make and sell in the UK policy. Decision-making needs to be devolved as close to the people as possible. We need public services focused on prevention. Keir said we had come a long way electorally but warned against complacency. The question we were now being asked was how we would form a government, not if it is possible. Our candidate selections required a new and higher standard of candidate. We’ve seen the Tories brought down by scandals around MPs, so due diligence is essential. Annual Conference will be a very important opportunity to set out our stall and plans for the country. There would be strategic visits over the summer to build up to it.

 

Questions to Keir focussed on support for the current strikes. Keir said we are one labour movement, the party and the unions, hence the big package of policies around employment rights announced last year. There is no weakening of our commitment to trade unionism. The cost-of-living crisis was impacting severely on people who hadn’t had a decent pay rise for years. He knew that strike action wasn’t being taken lightly. Responsibility for unresolved public sector industrial disputes lies with the Tory Government. If we were in power, we would do things differently. Half of the Shadow Cabinet are members of unions that are on strike, so there is no question of an absence of solidarity, its about how you show that support, and Labour’s frontbench has to present itself as a government in waiting.

 

On making Brexit work, Keir said he had had talks in Berlin with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and focused on practical arrangements for the UK to work better with the EU, not going back in or re-joining the single market.

 

After the lunch break there was an opportunity to discuss the Forde Report, though all members noted it had not been possible to read it in detail when Forde had given it to the party at such short notice before an NEC. It was agreed that the September NEC meeting would be given a paper analysing which of the 165 recommendations we could and should implement. 61 of them relate to disciplinary processes, 28 to culture, 27 to social media and 49 to staff recruitment and management. Some of the ones to do with the disciplinary process may clash with the new process we have already brought in, and the party’s lawyers reminded us that this was designed in conjunction with the EHRC, and we were still under special measures from them.

 

There was a wide-ranging but calm and remarkably blame-free debate, showing perhaps how far the culture of the NEC has already moved on from the period of very bitter conflict the report covers. I spoke during the debate. I urged more time be taken to fully digest the report. I said I expected there would be a lot of useful recommendations around internal cultural change and tackling racism, but we shouldn’t revisit the changes the EHRC had already mandated us to make to the disciplinary system, which was working well. Some specific proposals would actually be detrimental, e.g. Forde’s idea of shrinking dramatically the number of NEC members who can serve on disciplinary panels would slow down the hearing of cases due to non-availability and conflicts of interest, mean many NEC members would have no active stake in and hence confidence in the process, and remove a forum which is actually the one where NEC members across the spectrum work best together in a quazi-judicial setting, and where we have developed a more trusting and consensual culture. I rejected the “both sides” tone of the report – you can’t make a moral equivalence between factionalism to try to fight antisemitism and factionalism to whitewash it. Rebuilding a healthier, more trusting culture was essential but would take time because the divisions in 2015-2019 were real. They were about widely different ideological perspectives. One wing of the party genuinely felt the other was connected to antisemitism and a threat to national security, and the other felt we were blocking the achievement of socialism. We had to understand that genuine political conflict does happen, but at the same time ensure there is professionalism in how our staff deal with that and comradeliness in how members resolve political differences. I was pleased that the report debunks the conspiracy theory that Labour staff had deliberately sabotaged the 2017 General Election campaign, but angry that such an obviously ridiculous idea had been given credence by being included in issues referred to an expensive inquiry, rather than us having had the political confidence just to laugh at it in 2020.

 

After this, Morgan McSweeney reported as Elections Director. We were trying to plan for a General Election without knowing who the Tory PM would be, what the date of the election would be, or whether it would be fought on the old or new boundaries. But we will be ready whenever it comes. Our candidates tell voters who we are. If we get candidate selection right it inspires people to vote for us, if we get it wrong it undoes all our work. Boris Johnson had been brought down by lack of due diligence on Tory candidates. The early investment in training 475 candidates through the Future Candidates Programme had already seen 7 of them selected. The process had been made more accessible by reducing it to 5 weeks, giving candidates access to Labour Print templates, and spending caps. There was a bursary scheme for candidates from two categories; working class or low income background and disability support. It was agreed that the Labour Party would run an online fundraiser for MotherRED, the scheme that gives funding to mums seeking selection. We are open to doing the same for other schemes that support candidates from categories who find it difficult to access the selection process.

 

We agreed some minor amendments to the selection process, including giving 48 hours notice of due diligence and long-listing interviews, clarifying the criteria for due diligence and allowing shorter longlists (4 minimum) and shortlists (2 minimum) as there had been cases where a strong local frontrunner meant there were not many applicants.

 

Morgan said we had a moral challenge to maintain women’s representation in the PLP despite being legally unable to run All Women Shortlists this time because the PLP is already over 50% women. Of the 20 candidates selected so far, 9 were women, 2 were BAME, and 15 lived in the constituency they were standing in.

 

Turnout in the selections so far was between 30% and 40% of members, which is consistent with the previous round in 2019.

 

Morgan rejected a claim that some candidates had been rejected at longlisting on “spurious” grounds and urged the NEC to trust the judgement of colleagues on the panels.

 

Finally, we took an update on the National Policy Forum, the draft timetable for Annual Conference, and the Equalities Report from Vidhya Alakeson, Director of External Relations. There were a number of questions to Vidhya asking for clarity about when the first BAME and Disabled Members conferences would take place, and she agreed to come back to the September NEC with a plan for 2023 in this regard. Under AOB there was further discussion about getting the party’s staffing focussed on the organisational front-line in the nations and regions.

 

Since the previous NEC meeting on 24th May, I have also participated in the following other meetings:

·         Organisation Committee

·         Equalities Committee

·         Complaints and Disciplinary Sub-Committee

·         2 meetings of the NPF Public Services that Work from the Start Policy Commission

·         3 disciplinary panels

·         A number of parliamentary selection long-listing panels

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