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, September 22, 2022

NEC Report – 20 September 2022

 

The September NEC meeting is always dominated by conference business, and is a meeting of the outgoing NEC, as any newly elected members take office at the NEC AGM on the final evening of Annual Conference.

 

We began with a minute’s silence in memory of the Queen.

 

We then agreed the conference timetable and, in a contested vote, appointed Angela Eagle, Diana Holland, Gurinder Singh Josan and Wendy Nichols as assistant chairs of conference, meaning that they will be part of the pool of chairs of conference sessions alongside the NEC Chair (Alice Perry) and Vice-chair (Johanna Baxter).

 

After a short break due to a power cut, we agreed best practice award winners and then moved into a debate and votes on proposed NEC-sponsored rule changes.

 

We agreed to promote the following rule changes (alongside a number of uncontentious tidying-up changes to wording). These are all a lot more minor than the big package of changes last year.

 

·         Capping each CLP’s Annual Conference delegation at six delegates to prevent conference floor being dominated by very large delegations from wealthy CLPs (and stop CLPs wasting money on 7th, 8th or even 20th delegates which they could be spending on campaigning). This does not affect the voting strength of CLPs, which continues to be based on their number of members. Passed by 16 votes to 11.

·         Restoring flexibility to how the NEC deals with shortlisting in snap elections and by-elections. Passed by 21 votes to 10 with 1 abstention.

·         Changing the election system for the two CLP reps on the Conference Arrangements Committee from OMOV to a ballot of CLP delegates at conference. This is logical as the steering committee for conference should be elected by conference. It removes the need for any OMOV ballots every second year, saving the party about £25,000. Passed by 20 votes to 11.

·         Restoring the “one year rule” so that rule changes submitted by CLPs or affiliates are tabled and considered by the NEC for a year and can be properly responded to before being voted on at conference, rather than taken in the year they are submitted. Passed by 20 votes to 11.

·         Councillors who do not withdraw from coalitions with other parties when the national party instructs them to lose the whip. Passed nem con.

 

The CAC Chair, Harry Donaldson, reported on arrangements for conference. He told us that 1,032 CLP delegates and 260 affiliate delegates had registered and that the total number of attendees including visitors was over 9,500.

 

We then considered the NEC position on rule changes submitted by CLPs. There were legal or consequential reasons to reject all of them, but contested votes went as follows:

 

·         A rule to allow an MP suspended from the PLP to come back in as candidate if readmitted, even if another candidate had already been chosen. Vote went 21 to 10 with 1 abstention to oppose this.

·         A rule to remove the NEC’s ability to stop affiliate backed candidates from being on parliamentary selection longlists on due diligence grounds. Vote went 21 to 11 to oppose this.

·         A rule to ban property developers and private sector lobbyists from being selected for any public office until four years after they leave the job. Vote went 22 to 10 to oppose this.

·         A rule to force the NEC to provide specific details of why it has imposed a candidate at any level. Vote went 21 to 10 to oppose this.

 

Keir Starmer then gave this leader’s report. He said it had been an extraordinary ten days of national mourning and that he had been honoured to represent the Labour Party at the Queen’s funeral and the new King’s accession council. He paid tribute to the Queen’s 70 years of public service. He said politics had now restarted after the mourning period and there was a clear divide over energy prices, with both major parties agreeing on a price freeze, but Labour believing the energy companies should pay through a windfall tax, while the Tories want working people to pay through tax in the future. As well as the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS was under-funded and the Tory policy on the economy and growth appeared likely to be based on failed trickle-down theories of making the rich richer through tax cuts and hoping some of their spending reached people lower down the economic ladder. Labour’s position is to build the economy in a way that deals with the climate crisis and creates the next generation of green jobs. We had an industrial strategy that aims to create growth across the UK. We were moving from a political era of a character divide with Boris Johnson to one of a policy divide with Liz Truss. A major statement from the Government on the NHS is expected on Thursday, and a fiscal statement on Friday. Keir said that whilst his 2020 speech had been acknowledging how badly Labour had lost in 2019, and his 2021 speech had been introducing himself to the country, the 2022 leader’s speech would be about his plan for Britain and would contain a series of robust policy propositions. On the Forde Report he reiterated his apology to all the individuals concerned who had been affected by unacceptable behaviour, and said we now needed to work on Forde’s recommendations.

 

We then moved to a discussion on the Forde Report. An extensive piece of work had been untaken by party staff over the summer to analyse the recommendations and group them into three categories, those that had already been enacted (because a lot had changed in the party while the report was being written), those that there were legal, financial or regulatory reasons for not enacting, and those that needed further detailed work on how to enact them. This middle group, initially comprising 79 of the 165 recommendations, will be referred to an NEC Working Group which will report back to the NEC Awayday in November. We agreed that if any NEC member feels one of the recommendations should be moved into the middle category from another category and examined by the Working Group, this would happen. The main political disagreement seemed to be over the inclusion of a recommendation about political neutrality of staff, which some NEC members felt meant staff being totally apolitical, whereas I made the case that whilst the staff leave their personal politics at the door, it is an element of their job for some of them to carry out political management tasks to ensure that the party moves in the political direction the NEC desires e.g. staff involvement in policy development is not a neutral task as the party leadership needs outcomes from the policy process that help it win elections. There was a move by Momentum supporters on the NEC to delay the entire process until after the Away Day, but we argued there is a strong desire from members to see action on implementing the recommendations sooner rather than later.   

 

The following statement was agreed by the NEC:

 

“The Labour Party apologises for the culture and attitudes expressed by senior staff in the leaked report, as well as for the way in which those comments came to light. The report is clear that the culture of factionalism led to a situation where allegations of racism and harassment weren't being addressed. Elected representatives, our members, and the public rightly expect better from a progressive left-wing party.

 

The Labour Party is committed to ensuring that such a situation will not arise again and that any racist and discriminatory attitudes will be tackled immediately, wherever they arise, in whatever section of the party.

 

An apology alone is not enough, and that is why, even prior to the publication of the Forde Report, steps have been taken to begin to change the culture of the party. This work is ongoing, and the Forde Report provides additional recommendations to further this work and to ensure that this is never allowed to happen again.

 

The NEC is currently seeking the views of Party stakeholders in deciding how to take forward the recommendations from the Forde report.”

 

We then moved on to David Evans’ report as General Secretary. He said the absolute priority remains preparation in case there is a snap General Election, although this now looks less likely to happen. He had been on a tour of all the nations and regions as part of this. The priority areas for investment were field operations, digital campaigning, and comms. A staff training programme had been launched with a focus on leadership and persuasion skills. The regional comms team and digital campaigning team have been scaled up. The party was doing well regarding securing high value donations and, once licensing is completed, will be launching its own national fundraising lottery. A pilot scheme phoning members who have been identified as potential donors was generating a lot of donations. Discretionary spending remains carefully scrutinised so that resources are focused where that are most needed. A very diverse and talented team of 31 new trainee organisers have been recruited. Moves were being planned to integrate locally funded organisers better into the staff structure. Party membership is now 401,000 of whom 28,000 are in arrears. This is 8,000 above the projected level for this point in the electoral cycle because there have been 24,000 new joiners this year. The turnout in the NEC elections had been 18.6% (approximately 70,000 votes cast out of approximately 380,000 ballots issued). There would be a briefing for the NEC on the introduction of the new membership database. The final legal hurdles were being crossed in procurement of a new HQ which is only 50% the cost of the current one and better configured both as a general working environment and as HQ for a General Election campaign. There was also a review going on of properties used to house the nations and regions.

 

Angela Rayner gave her report as Deputy Leader. She paid tribute to the late Queen’s 70 years of public service and said she was honoured to have spoken in the parliamentary tributes to the Queen. She then went on to speak about two Labour Party activists who have recently sadly passed away, Jean Stretton (former Leader of Oldham Council) and Kathryn Sharman. At the end of Angela’s report we held a further minute’s silence for these two comrades and others who have passed away since our last meeting. Angela said she saw Liz Truss as proof that the extremist ERG faction had taken over the Tories, and the prospect of them winning another term in government with such a hard right agenda was scary. We were focused on winning the argument for an economic approach based on higher wages as well as higher growth. She had spent the summer highlighting Tory failures on the cost of living and other scandals such as the dumping of sewage. She will be opening party conference on Sunday and closing it on Wednesday. She stressed that there is no ban on Labour MPs joining picket lines, it is just not viewed as a good idea for the Shadow Cabinet to do so. We will support union members taking industrial action.

 

The meeting closed with a report on the timetable for the National Policy Forum, which will meet online on 25 October to elect its chair and vice-chairs.

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