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, December 02, 2022

NEC Report – 29 November 2022


The NEC held its Annual Away Day on 29 November at Labour Central, the Newcastle home of the Labour Party's Head Office in the north.


The meeting began on a sad note with obituaries, including that of our fantastic National Constitutional Committee colleague Judi Billing.


We signed off on the NEC’s updated Aims and Objectives, Terms of Reference, Code of Conduct for NEC members and committee membership.


I will continue to serve on the Complaints & Disciplinary Sub-Committee, Equalities Committee, Organisation Committee, Development Fund Panel, Boundary Review Sub-Committee and as Liaison Member to Labour International CLP.


The main business of the day was a series of presentations about preparation for the General Election.


Campaign Co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood opened by emphasising the scale of the task facing Labour. We need a swing larger than in 1997 to get a single seat majority. The election is likely to be in summer 2024 and the polls are expected to tighten. Labour is under far more scrutiny as we are viewed as a government in waiting. This perception makes it easier to fundraise and easier to get a good range of candidates applying to stand, but it brings the risk of complacency. We have to make sure we pin the blame or economic chaos on Tory policy choices since 2010, we have to reinforce the hard-won economic credibility we have built up, and we need to make a positive offer to the electorate. Organisationally, we have recruited a new cohort of trainee organisers, and will be adding digital campaigning trainees. The new script used in Wakefield is important, particularly the question asking voters how likely they are to vote Labour on a scale of 1-10 helps us target swing voters. 80 candidates will be selected by the end of the year, currently almost 50% are women. We need to select candidates as early as possible, as it transforms the campaign having the candidate in place, and we have a new “First 100 Days” pack for them to make sure they hit the ground running.


Campaign Director Morgan McSweeney said that 20% poll leads should give us confidence but we had to avoid complacency. He quoted Shimon Peres: ““Polls are like perfume-nice to smell, dangerous to swallow.” Morgan said the Tory Party are in the business of winning General Elections and are the best party globally at doing that, they have increased their vote share six times in a row, at every General Election this century. Polls change, in March 2022 Opinium put Labour only 1% ahead and all the experts said the Tories were about to take the lead, but two days later Boris was fined for “partygate”, and that triggered the series of events that has led us to a 20% lead. If the pollsters can’t predict one week ahead, we should be cautious about any prediction of the outcome of the General Election. The polls are volatile, and we could go back down in the same way we have gone up. The boundary changes make our task more difficult. The Tories have immense financial resources and media, particularly the Daily Mail, who will try to destroy Labour. Our objective is a majority Labour government. The battleground seats are not all in the “Red Wall” or all in the “Blue Wall”, they are spread across every region and nation and we have to win seats across the country so we need messages and organisation that work for the whole country. Everything comes down to what will be in the mind of swing voters in swing seats at 6pm on Polling Day. We have to demonstrate to them that we understand their lives, we have a plan to make their lives better, and we are strong enough to see that plan through.


Morgan described the volatility of the electorate. From 70% of voters being core vote for either Labour or the Tories in 1997, the figure is now 40%, so 60% of the electorate are swing voters who are up for grabs. Voters definitely want change, but the Tories are adept at reinventing themselves and saying they now represent change from their own record of the last 12 years. The Tory coalition built by Boris in 2019 is very large but was forged from whipping up cultural divisions so has clear weaknesses. Sunak is so far just trying to accommodate the different factions in his parliamentary party. The main Tory attack line will be to accuse Keir and Labour of being weak, so we have to present leadership, a fresh start and that we will do what is best for the country, not act like the Tories do in the narrow party interest. On the economy we have to show that mortgage rate rises are down to Tory economic choices, to protect our own economic policy and to get our message out that we will prioritise growth but that we have proposals for doing that which are green. We need to promote a story about the country. People are angry with the political system because they can see it has caused their economic pain. We need to explain how we will redistribute power and rise above divisions and culture wars with a mission to unify the country. We have to promote all our candidates, starting with Keir as the candidate to be PM, and getting him out of Westminster speaking to voters as much as possible. Our manifesto has to be a manifesto for the voters, not internal party audiences.


Organisationally, Morgan emphasised the need to have a disciplined focus on target voters in target seats, because the party’s data showed that in May 2022 too much effort had gone into seats that were very safe or unwinnable. We have to close the funding gap with the Tories, who have outspent us in the last three elections. We had to change the party completely to convince voters to trust us again, as in 2019 we were financially, politically and morally broken. Conference 2022 showed the public Labour had changed in a way that was real, not just presentational. The changes are bearing electoral fruit – a 35%-30% lead over the Tories in May, and councils gained all over the country, but this was not enough. Under Anas and Jackie, Labour has started to recover in Scotland and is now back in second place. We are transforming our campaigning machine based on lessons both from our own past victories in 1997 and 2001 and from winning campaigns by sister parties across the world.


General Secretary David Evans said he now had a very high calibre staff team thanks to tough legal, financial and HR decisions in 2020 and 2021 and the first major restructure in over a decade. The run of General Elections close together meant that the party had needed to reduce spending by £5 million but was now on a financial even keel. He was concerned that voters didn’t yet understand how much Labour has changed. Internally decision-making has been streamlined, resources had been prioritised around campaigning, and the structure is now based on task forces focussed on key aspects of the General Election.


Morgan said that the most voters we ever manage to canvass in a General Election is about 4 million out of 40 million, so we need to make sure the 4 million people we do canvass are all in the marginal seats where it will make a difference. Similarly, campaign spending has to be focused on reaching the right voters in marginal seats. Extra canvassing contacts in a seat delivers an increase in Labour’s vote share, the problem in May was that in many councils we didn’t target our canvassing at the most marginal wards. Seats Labour did target got an extra growth in vote share above the national increase. We were too cautious and not ambitious enough in our targeting in May, and we need to share data more to get activists to buy in to moving to work in marginal seats.


Director of Digital Tom Lillywhite said there had been no strategic rigour to Labour’s digital campaigning in 2019. We had now abandoned vanity metrics such as how many views a video gets and focused on making sure the right voters that we need to persuade see our content. There will be a new digital trainee staffer in every region and nation. Staff, supporters and candidates would be upskilled in digital campaigning.


Director of External Relations Vidhya Alakeson said the party had three key categories of external stakeholders relevant to the General Election. The first was business, which was essential for establishing our economic credibility. We needed to particularly build relationships with SMEs and with the manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors. The second was faith and ethnic minority communities, which are electorally decisive in 30 of the key target seats. The third is to engage with and reverse recent disengagement from Labour among men, particularly older men, and working class voters, where our poll leads are lower than among women and middle class voters, the opposite of the historical pattern.


National Policy Forum Chair Anneliese Dodds spoke about the policy development process. The final stage NPF meeting on 21-23 July 2023 would resolve differences of opinion well in advance of the General Election and agree election winning policies. Consultation documents will be published by each Policy Commission in January, with consultation open until March. The Commissions will then reflect on the submissions and produce draft policy documents which will be circulate in April with amendments being submitted by a deadline in May. A draft policy platform will be presented to the July NPF meeting which will from this produce a final policy platform which is put to the vote at Annual Conference 2023 alongside alternative positions. If the document is passed by a two-thirds majority it becomes the party programme ahead of the final manifesto being agreed by the Clause V meeting.


David Evans reported on fundraising. The party needs £20m for the short campaign as well as funding for the long campaign. This year had been the best non-General Election year in memory, with £6m in donations already in the bank. It still isn’t enough. A membership surge of 30,000 since September had brought in a huge cash injection, not just membership fees but also £300,000 in top-up donations from those new members. Targeted members were being phoned about donating and this is working well. Support is being given to the regions and nations to develop fundraising as it needs to happen at this level as well at CLP level.


Finally Executive Director Nations and Regions Hollie Ridley spoke. She described the trainee organiser and digital trainee schemes, the selection process and the progress made with getting candidates in place so far, and the way in which byelections had been used to pilot and test new organising techniques.


There was an extensive Q&A session. I asked about postal vote strategy, how we would respond to the new “voter ID” requirements, urged flexibility in targeting so we can pick off “targets of opportunity” (seats we suddenly discover are swinging unexpectedly heavily) and called for early selections in less winnable seats where there is a consensus about the candidate and for a job description for candidates in these seats that emphasises a high visibility, low resource campaign and providing twinning support for nearby marginals.


After lunch, we agreed a paper on implementing the recommendations in the Forde Report. This established membership of an NEC working group, its terms of reference, its timetable and that it will have Carol Sewell (NEC BAME rep) as Chair and Johanna Baxter (NEC Chair) as Vice-Chair. We had already categorised Forde’s recommendations at the previous meeting into those that had already been implemented, those that could not be progressed due to significant legal, financial or regulatory issues, and those that are in progress or require further analysis. This meeting further sub-divided the final category into those that can be taken forward by staff, those that need to be considered by LOTO (Leader’s Office) and GSO (General Secretary’s Office), and those to be dealt with by the NEC Working Group (grouped into cultural change and tackling discrimination). The LOTO and GSO category will be reported back on to the March NEC. The NEC Working Group will also report back to the same meeting and final decisions will be voted on if the group could not reach unanimous decisions. Progress reports will be made on implementation to the Working Group in April, July and November 2023 and published on the Forde Report page of the party website, with a final report to the Working Group in December 2023 and then to the NEC for approval.


Finally, Vidyha Alakeson presented a paper on Delivering on Equalities in 2023. Key recommendations were:

·         Not to hold the BAME and Disabled Members’ Conferences and elections at them to national committees until after the General Election, producing a saving of about £450,000, and allowing the alternative arrangements below to be tested.

·         To hold the in-person Women’s Conference on the Saturday of Annual Conference 2023.

·         To work in partnership with Labour Women’s Network to support the fifth

cohort of the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme.

·         To strengthen BAME Labour (the affiliated socialist society) by assisting the existing BAME Labour Committee in conducting democratic and

transparent elections in Q1 2023; conducting a renewed drive for equalities data to identify BAME members of the Labour Party; look further into the collection of membership fees for BAME Labour and take appropriate action; all self-identifying black and minority ethnic members will be invited to join and stand for elected positions in BAME Labour; BAME Labour’s affiliation fees continue to be waived until a newly elected committee is formed and the affiliate can be deemed as self-sufficient.

·         BAME Labour to elect the NPF reps that would have been elected by the National BAME Committee.

·         Tackle underrepresentation of Black men by focusing the next cohort of

the Bernie Grant Leadership Development Programme on Black members only, as this is where we as a Party faces our biggest challenge when it comes to representation and where a targeted programme could add the most

value in overall equalities impact.

·         Establish a new local government focused Future Candidates programme to develop a diverse pipeline of talent through being councillors.

·         Disability Labour (also an affiliated socialist society) to get an extra NPF seat alongside one for disabled trade unionists as the seats allocated to the National Committee of Disabled Members will not be taken up.

·         The Party uses the period from now until the New Year to conduct a renewed drive for equalities data to identify disabled members of the Labour Party and all self-identifying disabled members will be invited to join Disability Labour

(membership of Disability Labour for disabled members is currently free).

·         Accessibility training for regional teams and CLP role holders.

·         Member training and engagement events :

o   Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members event on 19th November

o    Women members event on 5th December

o   Islamophobia training for members on 17th November and 15th December.


There was extensive debate as some NEC members were unhappy about going back on the commitments regarding the BAME and Disabled conferences and national committees, whereas others felt it was better to help BAME Labour and Disability Labour flourish as socialist societies, as this was in line with the principle of autonomous self-organisation for liberation campaigns. Constructive amendments were accepted from the GMB to ensure appropriate union representation and from Gurinder Singh Josan about BAME self-organisation. An amendment from Yasmine Dar to elect a BAME committee using the method used to elect the NEC BAME rep and to delete the recommendations about BAME Labour was defeated with 5 votes for, 22 against and 1 abstention. The amended paper was passed with 21 votes for, 3 against and 4 abstentions.


Anonymous David Whitaker said...

Thank you for such a detailed report. Yes there is a lot of work to do in The next Eighteen months.

7:59 pm, December 04, 2022


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