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.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

NEC Report – 23 May 2023


The NEC met on 23 May for the first time since the local elections, with spirits consequently high.


The first main item of business was to sign off the assignment of incumbent MPs (except those that have failed a trigger ballot or have outstanding disciplinary issues) as candidates for new seats following the boundary review. In all except one case contests between MPs had been avoided. However, the abolition of the current Wirral South constituency means that both Alison McGovern MP and Mick Whitley MP wish to stand in the new, redrawn Birkenhead constituency, so a selection contest using an OMOV ballot between the two will proceed. Some members raised anecdotally that they had heard (literally during the meeting) that Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood had announced her retirement, and this created an extra vacancy in that area, but as this hadn’t been notified formally to the party we agreed the paper as it was with a proviso that it could be changed if the two MPs indicated a different stance after any news about Wirral West.


Parliamentary candidates who have already been selected in target seats are also being assigned to new seats, but in every case there is an obvious successor constituency.


It was noted that there is also a contest between two incumbent MPs (Gerald Jones MP and Beth Winter MP) for the new Merthyr Tydfil & Upper Cynon constituency but that this was a delegated matter for the Welsh Executive Committee.


Concerns were raised about the Copeland selection proceeding on the old boundaries rather than the new Whitehaven and Workington boundaries, as members in the town of Workington can’t participate. It was noted that this was unfortunate but that the process was already under way so could not be changed.


We then agreed a paper on the procedures for selection in non-priority constituencies, defined initially as those with a Tory majority of over 40%. This category of seats will involve a review by an NEC panel of any due diligence concerns about applicants, but then move straight to shortlisting by a panel consisting of three members of the relevant CLP. They may either run a contest if there are multiple suitable candidates or announce a shortlist of one if there is only one suitable applicant. The NEC representative has to sign off the final shortlist and can refer it to the Chair of the Organisation Sub-Committee for final adjudication.


David Evans then gave his report as General Secretary. He said the party had used the local elections as a testbed for the General Election campaign and drawn key learnings from the experience. The results were hugely encouraging but there was no complacency about the General Election. The results were not inevitable, they reflected political and organisational choices over the last three years. The organisation had worked well but there would be a thorough evaluation process.


David reported that Simon Mills had stepped down as Executive Director, Finance after very good stewardship that left the party with no debt and no deficit. It was testament to Simon’s hard work that he was being replaced by two people, having become responsible for all the functions based at the Labour Central office in Newcastle. Chris Tidswell would join from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and be Chief Financial Officer. John Lehal would be Chief Operating Officer and oversee key service functions. Scott Hardy has been appointed as the new Regional Director for Yorkshire and the Humber.


David said the General Election organisational strategy would be about persuasion of swing voters, not just GOTV of Labour supporters. We had to consolidate support which is currently provisional and conditional.


Over the summer there will be residential training for field organising staff and candidates, and regional events for the volunteer leadership of each battleground CLP.


Further professional development of staff was being pursued with leadership training for those at director level and above, and management training for everyone with a managerial responsibility.


The party now has 395,811 members, of whom 17,233 are in arrears. At 4.3% this is the lowest ever recorded level of arrears. 48,295 of the members have joined in the last 12 months and 15,000 of those since the start of 2023.


Annual Conference was set to be a major commercial success, with 220 exhibitors registered, bringing in £1.7m in income. There was a waiting list for fringe space, and sale of that has already raised £700,000. The summer raffle had raised £280,000.


David stated that he had reminded staff of the standards expected and procedures for reporting complaints, after recent distressing news about harassment in Parliament.


In local government, Campaign Improvement Boards had been invaluable in resolving longstanding issues.


There is almost certain to be a recall petition and by-election in the SNP-held seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and this will be led by Scottish Labour but be a big priority for the UK Labour Party.


Campaign Director Morgan McSweeney then reported on the local elections. The campaign had been framed as “Build a Better Britain”. This was the biggest set of local elections in the four-year cycle but did not include London, Scotland and Wales. Labour gained a net 536 councillors and 22 councils and the Tories lost over 1,000 councillors despite most of the seats they were defending having last been fought in 2019 which was a year so bad for them that it led to Theresa May resigning. Labour’s margin of 9% over the Tories in projected national vote share was the best for 26 years, since 1997, and the best for an election not coinciding with a General Election since 1996. We are now the largest party in local government, winning back the Local Government Association Chair. Our votes were where we needed them in marginal seats, not stacked up in large majorities in wards in big cities and university towns. Labour was up 8% in Conservative wards compared to 6% in Labour wards and 4% in Lib Dem wards. Our vote is becoming distributed more efficiently. Labour improved most in Leave-voting areas. We were up 3.7% in the most Remain areas, but up 7.8% in areas with a Leave vote of 58-63%. This is important because the Leave vote is distributed in more parliamentary constituencies (it “won” 77% of them) than the very urban-concentrated Remain vote. We are reversing a trend that has been long-term of piling up a vote among graduates in big cities and university towns that can’t deliver a parliamentary majority.


Morgan gave examples of key wins in parliamentary marginal areas: Swindon where we have a majority for the first time in 22 years, Dover, which we have not won since 1995 and is a strongly Leave area, and the Mayor of Middlesbrough, part of Teeside where there are seven parliamentary marginals. But as well as making progress against the Tories we also took Brighton with sweeping gains from the Greens with our first majority there since 1999 and took York again with gains from the Greens.


There is no need for pre-election “dodgy deals” as voters know what they need to do in terms of tactical voting to beat the Tories. The Greens were up 8% in Tory seats but only 0.5% where they were fighting Labour for the seat. This is a lethal cocktail for the Tories.


Leaders usually peak in their first or second year of local elections, but Keir has built up year-on-year: Labour was 12% behind the Tories in 2019, 6% behind in 2021, 5% ahead in 2022 and 9% ahead in 2023.


We notionally gained parliamentary seats that are beyond the 200 gains mark, such as Aldershot. We are forming a coalition of Labour support that can win in every type of seat.


Our messaging grid had been Cut the cost of living, Cut crime, and Cut waiting lists. To this we had added campaigning around sewage in rivers as the public are very concerned about this. The adverts attacking the PM for his responsibility for the Tory record over the last 13 years had captured media coverage of the campaign and got it back onto our key messages when the Tories had been dominating the media with “culture wars” messaging about trans issues and grooming gangs.


For next year’s local elections we would aim to select candidates earlier and spread best practice about how to campaign where the Greens are our main opponent.


Keir Starmer then gave his report as Leader. He thanked David, Morgan and Campaign Chair Shabana Mahmood MP for their work. Overall, he was very pleased by the results but there are some pockets that still need to be worked on. The range of places we won was impressive, including Medway, Dover, Plymouth, Swindon, Stoke and Middlesbrough. The trajectory is improving but we need to keep it up and there is a lot more to do. A lot more will be thrown at us in the General Election. Everything we do has to be exceptional to go from the heavy 2019 defeat to government. He had set three objectives in 2020:

1)    Recognise the scale of the defeat and change the party.

2)    Expose the Tories as not fit to govern.

3)    Set out our positive case for change.

The third had been started with policy announcements at Annual Conference last year. This year’s conference is probably the last showcase before the General Election. He had set out our five missions for a purpose-driven government. The one on “NHS Fit for the Future” had been launched on Monday and well-received. The National Policy Forum meeting in July is the culmination of the first full policy-making cycle since 2014. There will be a choice of whether to reach a consensus on key policies at the NPF or slug it out in public at Annual Conference.


Returning to the local elections, Keir concluded that our messaging and targeting had been vindicated by the results.


Shabana Mahmood gave a very vigorous defence of the attack ads against Sunak. She said:

1)    We have to hold the Tories to account for the whole of their record since 2010, there can be no clean slate for Rishi because he is “new”.

2)    The criminal justice system has been wrecked by the Tories. Labour has to be on the side of the victims of crime.

3)    As a person of colour, she rejects the “dog whistle” charge – the PM’s ethnicity should make no difference to whether we condemn Tory failures around criminal justice.


I asked about the process for signing-off power sharing agreements in hung councils. Nesil Caliskan (Local Government rep) explained that there was a far higher volume of requests to form coalitions because the Tory collapse had increased the number of hung councils. Each request is considered on a case-by-case basis. The NEC panel looks at the merits of the proposal from the local Labour Group and the local context. In most cases the panel challenged details and requested further clarification. The panel did not want to sign-off unnecessarily broad and unstable coalitions with lots of small partners if a majority could be attained by Labour plus one additional party. The panel also looked closely at who any Independent councillors were who a deal was proposed with and would not authorise coalitions with ex-Labour councillors as this undermines Labour Groups. Some “Independents” were actually “Tories in disguise”. Post-election agreements, with NEC approval, are very different to pre-election pacts which are against party rules.


Angela Rayner reported as Deputy Leader about the meetings with unions and businesses she was holding around the company around a fair deal for workers. Labour’s coalition includes employers who want to do the right thing. She had been campaigning with Anas Sarwar in Rutherglen and spoke at the Scottish TUC, which is not a universally pro-Labour audience. She had enjoyed the “battle of the gingers” vs. Oliver Dowden when she substituted for Keir at PMQs. A Labour government feels closer than ever, the data shows this and the attitude of our activists does too. We must keep focused as this is our real opportunity to change lives for the better. We must also keep in mind how bad five more years of the Tories would be.


Finally, under AOB, we agreed that once the current seven selections are completed all parliamentary selections will be conducted using the new constituency boundaries.

Free Hit Counters
OfficeDepot Discount