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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

NEC Report – 25 July 2023

 The NEC meeting on 25 July started with obituaries to Margaret McDonagh, Glenda Jackson and Bob Kerslake. 

Our first major item of business was to review reports from the Forde Report Working Group regarding actions complete, actions not being progressed, and actions underway from Forde’s recommendations, and draft codes of conduct, aimed at improving party culture, for members and people in leadership positions at every level of the party. It was noted that training on the new codes of conduct and on recognising and avoiding anti-Black racism and Islamophobia would be rolled out, starting at a role-holder weekend in September, and to the wider membership in 2023, and the codes of conduct would be built into how the newly reconstituted CLPs on the new boundaries will work. A competitive process to find the third-party training providers on anti-Black racism and Islamophobia was being launched. We agreed the codes of conduct in principle but sent them to the Forde Report Working Group for consultation, from where they will go to the NEC Officers’ Group for final sign-off.

Anneliese Dodds gave a report as Chair of the National Policy Forum (NPF). She said the final-stage NPF meeting in Nottingham from 21-23 July had been a very successful weekend. She thanked Head of Policy Development Adam Terry, who had completed the process and was now moving overseas, for his incredible work, and Margaret Beckett for the inspirational speech she gave at the NPF dinner. Labour was united and ready to deliver, and all our commitments met our fiscal rules. NPF representatives had had to give ground to achieve compromise and consensus. Staff were now consolidating the final report and ensuring that all the text correctly reflects what was agreed. 

David Evans gave his report at General Secretary. The Labour victory in Selby & Ainsty changes the weather for any Tory MP with a majority under 24,000. There will be an evaluation and review of both by-election campaigns so that lessons learned can be incorporated into the campaigns in Tamworth, Mid-Bedfordshire and Rutherglen & Hamilton West. Learning from the local elections was also being implemented, particularly the need to focus on the right voters in the right places. Our data was a lot better and the trainees that had been recruited were now in the field. 119 parliamentary candidates have now been selected and a residential training weekend for them had been held in Stratford-on-Avon, where the organisational strategy and what that means they need to do as leaders in their CLPs had been shared. 

The Win ’24 strategy was about identifying target voters and then building trust and confidence with them and finally persuading them to vote Labour rather than Conservative. It would be rolled out over the summer. The General Election task forces at HQ are updating their plans and there is already a plan ready for a snap General Election. May 2024 still looks like the most likely election date. The Boundary Commission had now provided final new constituency boundaries and the membership system would switch to these after Annual Conference. A new version of “Organise”, the system for emailing members, had been launched. 

Annual Conference would be from 8-11 October and there was greater interest in and scrutiny of what we were doing than ever before. The number of exhibitors, the income generated, and the likely number of attendees were all at record levels.

On fundraising, our target is to match the Tories and we are more or less doing that. There are now 590 people in the “Rose Network” (donating over £1,000 a year). Phoning members was achieving a 20% conversion rate to donating. The party had completed its application for a lottery license. 

Membership now consists of 385,324 fully paid-up members, and 13,871 in arrears. The level of arrears is at a historic low. 

The party has tested the market for office rental and decided to leave Blackfriars Road after Annual Conference, to move just 100 metres to a long-term HQ, suitable both for the General Election and a party in government, in Rushworth Street. The new building is cheaper, bigger, and of higher quality and specification. 

The party is looking to hold the September NEC meeting in Scotland.

In the Q&A, David said six of the regions and nations were also moving to improved premises. He noted that the rules will be fully applied to anyone found to campaign for a non-Labour candidate in any region. He noted we have 100 extra staff in the field compared to 18 months ago. 

Keir Starmer then gave his report as Leader. He said the NPF had agreed a good policy package that combined the mutually reinforcing strands of reform and responsible economics. This would feed into the manifesto and ultimately to implementation in government. 

He thanked the staff and activists for their work in the by-elections. Selby & Ainsty was an incredible result, an unprecedented size of Tory majority for Labour to overturn. It was number 237 on our target list. The strategy of getting direct switchers from the Tories had been vindicated. Uxbridge & South Ruislip was disappointing. ULEZ had prevented us winning despite 1,000 activists on the day. Our 66% contact rate means we had detailed data on what issues were affecting voting behaviour. We have to learn from our successes and failures. The strategy we have is correct, but we can be tripped up by issues. Three more crucial by-elections are on the way. Peter Kyle is doing more work as the lead MP in the Mid-Beds campaign than any of the Tory MPs representing the seat have ever done. We are using all these by-elections to improve our campaign operation, but they do divert time and energy. 

Keir said Annual Conference will be a very important platform to showcase the incoming Labour Government as it is the last one before the General Election. Unusually, Labour has the last slot of the major parties this autumn.

Angela Rayner gave her report as Deputy Leader. She thanked Anneliese and staff for the positive NPF weekend. Her own policy brief on workers’ rights had come out of the NPF with a policy offer that would radically transform the lives of working people. We have not watered anything down, we made policy together. We need to be government ready as the workers’ rights policies need to have the mechanisms and legislation prepared so they can be achieved as a priority within our first one hundred days in power. We would campaign hard on the New Deal for Working People.  She praised the team on the ground in the by-elections as being absolutely fantastic. 

Finally, Morgan McSweeney reported as Campaign Director. He said the last eight days had been extraordinarily important. They had started with the residential weekend for parliamentary candidates. Our organisational and political plans had been set out to them and training had been provided. The quality of the candidates is inspiring. A new ground campaign methodology has been launched: “Pathways to Persuasion”, which will result in higher quality voter contact. 

Then there were the by-elections. The amount of work was incredible: 300,000 leaflets delivered, 17,000 contacts on polling day, 9,000 volunteers, £350,000 in online donations. 

Selby was one of the best results in Labour’s history. The biggest margin we have ever overturned in a by-election since WW2, and the second highest swing. There were no local specific reasons to cause a fluke result, it is a largely rural constituency. It shows that it is “utter bollocks” that only the Lib Dems can win in this type of seat. We exuded hope and optimism and kept our focus on the voters.

We mustn’t gloss over Uxbridge. It was not a fluke either. It was not good enough. ULEZ was the main issue of the day in Uxbridge because the cost was linked in voters’ minds with wider cost of living issues. We can’t have a mindset that says we can win through organisationally even if we have unpopular policies. Our green agenda needs to be about cutting bills, creating jobs and energy security. 

Morgan said he had been studying complacency in campaigns, particularly the case studies of the losses in 1992 in the UK, 2016 in the USA and 2019 in Australia. These had each subsequently led to lessons being learned and wins in the next election, but we don’t have the luxury of another learning experience of losing a winnable election, we have to skip straight to winning. None of those case studies were about inexperience, or laziness, or thinking it was in the bag. They were all about ducking the difficult conversations about political problems. Problems need to be fixed now; it is too late to do it during the short campaign. 

Finally, there had been the NPF, where we chose the path of difficult decisions. We need to combine hope and realism and learn from both Selby and Uxbridge. We have to listen to the voters on ULEZ. The alternative is to pretend we didn’t hear it, or were unlucky, or were never going to win Uxbridge. 

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