|Peter Willsman’s report of NEC meeting 17th November|
|Sunday, 22 November 2015|
The NEC is united in its support for Jeremy as he gets to grips with a very difficult job. I worked with Jeremy in NUPE before he became an MP. I have never met anyone as dedicated. Jeremy is totally exceptional. Party members want to give Jeremy a chance to show what he can do. The small number of “comrades” who are briefing the media against Jeremy are not only disloyal to our elected leader but are harming our party. Party members are unlikely to forgive them for the damage they are doing.
You will see that the NEC established a Party Reform Working Group which will begin work before Christmas. Will CLPs and party members please let me have any suggestions that could be brought to the attention of the working group as soon as possible.
The November NEC is always scheduled as an “Away Day”, which we all found rather amusing, given the fact it was only a mile and a half up the road from where we normally meet.
Jeremy opened his report by stressing our solidarity with the people of Paris. The mindless violence against innocent people has shocked us all. Jeremy stressed that the use of maximum force is necessary and justified in these dreadful situations.
Jeremy drew attention to the refugee crisis and the inadequate response by the government. Jeremy reported that he had strongly lobbied the Chinese Premier on behalf of the steel industry drawing attention to the very serious effects of the dumping of Chinese steel. Jeremy emphasised that if we lose our steel industry it would undermine the whole of the UK’s manufacturing base. Jeremy also reported that he had pressed the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue of human rights. Jeremy will continue to raise these issues at every opportunity.
Jeremy then addressed the sheer vindictiveness of the Tories’ trade union bill and the fact that its aim is to undermine the Labour Party, as well as to make it very difficult for workers to defend their rights. Jeremy stressed we must develop a positive policy covering all aspects of workplace rights. Ian Lavery MP, the Chair of the Trade Union Group of Labour MPs, is already working on this and putting together a document. Jeremy congratulated all concerned on the effectiveness of the ongoing Tax Credit Campaign. This has put the Tories on the back foot and we intend to keep up maximum pressure on this issue.
NEC members responded to Jeremy’s report by developing many of the points and issues that he had raised. Several NEC members raised the issue of the very harmful leaks to the media and the very damaging way in which social media is being used. It was agreed that we need to develop a Labour Party Code of Conduct in relation to the use of social media.
Jeremy thanked the party staff, the NEC and party members for their support in the face of a hostile attack on him personally and on the party.
NEC Aims and Objectives
The NEC considered a 22 page document setting out the custom and practice that has been established over many years. This included the NEC’s standing orders. NEC members were asked to submit suggestions for revising this document and amendments will be agreed at the next NEC meeting in January.
“Tomorrow’s Labour Party: Giving the Party Back to its Members” - Paper from Tom Watson
Tom introduced the paper which covered ‘a digital revolution’, and ‘party reform’. Tom had asked the NEC to make suggestions for his paper and he thanked those who had responded. The first set of Tom’s recommendations covered the development of a digital strategy for the party as a priority. This would be overseen by a Digital Working Group, reporting to the Organisation Committee and then discussed at every NEC meeting. There will be a showcase event in the spring, livestream open forums for every quarter, for organisations and members to discuss ideas and develop pilots. There will also be support for local innovation and pilot projects in CLPs together with the trade unions.
The recommendations covering party reform were wide-ranging, e.g. looking at the structure of the NPF, gender representation within the party, increased representation of under-represented members, including a bursary scheme for working-class candidates, issues connected to devolution, greater support for Labour councillors, a political education program, a youth review and reviewing the implications of the Trade Union Bill.
This Working Group will start its work before Christmas and will be reporting to every NEC meeting. It will be jointly chaired by Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson and be open to all NEC members. The actual members of the Working Group were agreed to be Angela Eagle, Ann Black, Jennie Formby, Johanna Baxter, Andy Kerr, Kath Speight, Alice Perry and Jim Kennedy. It was agreed that the Working Group would also review the democratic structures of the youth section.
In this discussion I stressed that the NPF should be accountable to the NEC, as it was when it was first step up by Larry Whitty, General Secretary of the party at the time. I also pointed out that all policy developed in the party should be brought to the NPF, including all policy developed by the “Shadow Shadow Cabinet”, i.e. the PLP policy groups. I also argued that the NEC must be restored to its central position in the party that it held for some eighty years before it was downgraded and sidelined by the Blair Supremacy. (I recommend that all party members should read The Blair Supremacy by Professor Lewis Minkin). In particular the NEC needs to examine its committee structure because before New Labour there were several very important committees that were then abolished.
Becky Long-Bailey stressed that CLPs and unions should be asked for ideas to be taken into consideration by the Working Group. It was agreed that the Working Group would consider this proposal at its first meeting.
New Policy Commissions
The NEC agreed to set up seven policy commissions (Co-Chaired by Shadow Cabinet members and NEC members) on the following policy areas:
The Economy - Building a Productive Economy, chaired by Margaret Beckett and Jennie Formby
International - Britain’s Security and Defence Priorities, chaired by Ken Livingstone
Communities - Housing Policy, chaired by Jim Kennedy
Health and Care - Mental Health, chaired by Keith Burch
Children and Education - Early Years, chaired by Mary Turner
Home Affairs - Crime and Policing, chaired by Ellie Reeves
Transport, chaired by Diana Holland
In the discussion I stressed that these commissions should have as their basis the composite motions that were carried at the Annual Conference in Brighton. Also, as now, all 202 National Policy Forum members should be asked for their first and second preferences in relation to which policy commissions they wish to serve on. The policy commissions will begin their work very shortly and they’re will be a full meeting of the NPF in the Spring/Summer.
Review of the 2015 Annual Conference
There were 956 delegates, 509 women and 447 men. There were 671 CLP delegates representing 507 CLPs, 387 women, and 284 men. This is an increase of 60 delegates from last year. There were 261 trade union delegates representing thirteen trade unions, 110 women and 151 men. There were 24 socialist society delegates representing 19 organisations, twelve men and twelve women.
In the discussion, I pointed out that it needs to be made clear that under Partnership in Power CLPs and trade unions can send in Contemporary Motions on Organisation and Campaigning as well as on policy. The criteria for Contemporary Motions should be much more flexible. I also argued that the one-year delay which faces rule changes submitted by CLPs and unions should be dispensed with as it is totally unnecessary. I pointed out that the NEC does not look at rule changes submitted until its July meeting of the following year. I suggested that this was disrespectful to those CLPs and unions who had submitted rule changes. I proposed that the NEC should look at these rule changes much earlier.
Several NEC members raised the very contentious issue of the employment of G4S at our conference. It was felt that before G4S are invited to tender they should give the party assurances on the issues of concern. This proposal, on being put to the vote, was carried by twelve votes to four (there were several abstentions).
Local Government Report
Councillor Alice Perry presented a written paper setting out the hard work our councillors are doing at a local level in the face of horrendous reductions in their budgets forced through by the Tory government.
Alice also covered the “devolution deal” with George Osborne. This is a very difficult tightrope for councillors to negotiate, but efforts are being made to address the difficult issues which Osborne’s proposals create.
General Secretary’s Report
Our party is now debt-free. The NEC heartily congratulated our staff for their splendid efforts.
On 30th November 2014 membership was 192,707. It is now almost 400,000. Some 1,000 joined last week alone. Some 500 new members came to conference. The biggest increases were in London, North West, South East and South West. The largest increase by age were the 20-29 and 70-79 age groups. The conversion rate of registered supporters is some 30-40%. The new members have been asked what they would like from the party. The answers are to have their voices heard, to learn how to get involved, to make a difference locally and nationally, and to meet for social activities.
I pointed out that the Labour Party has more members than all the other parties in the UK put together. The Tories have about 100,000 members (closely guarded secret), with an average age of 68. I also pointed out that many elderly members are not on email and we do not want them to be treated differently than those with internet access.
Oldham West and Royston By-Election
Many NEC members had attended the service celebrating the life of Michael Meacher MP, who was a lifelong campaigner and committed socialist. Iain detailed the major campaign that is being waged to ensure Jim McMahon wins the by-election with a large majority. Many NEC members (including myself) are making the trip to Oldham to put across the party’s positive message.
Next year there will be elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, London Mayor and GLA, local elections (England), and police and crime commissioners. The NEC were aware that given the latest polls some of these elections are going to be more difficult than last time, especially Scotland. In the discussion I stressed that in London we should not underestimate George Galloway, who will lie low in order to lull us into a false sense of security.
The press and media have told us that the NEC was going to be locked in combat over the issue of Andrew Fisher. In fact, this matter was not discussed. I understand that the officers’ investigation is nearing completion and that the matter will be satisfactorily resolved very shortly.