Peter Willsman’s report of NEC meeting 17th May 2016 Print E-mail
Friday, 20 May 2016

The major subject for debate at the NEC were the reports from Baroness Jan Royall. These were handed round at the meeting and collected up at the end. In addition, Shami Chakrabarti attended the NEC to discuss the framework for her Inquiry. There was a very friendly and positive attitude at the NEC reflecting the relative success in the recent elections and the general consensus that the bulk of the Party is pulling together.

Leader’s Report

Jeremy gave his assessment of the election results, drawing attention to several victories in the South and, of course, to our splendid results in Bristol and London. Jeremy said he had visited Bristol several times and from the beginning had stressed to members and Party staff that Bristol was winnable, especially with our impressive candidate. Furthermore our two new MPs have been warmly welcomed by the PLP. Jeremy’s message to the NEC and the whole Party is that we should always believe that Labour’s vision can get across to the electorate and thus we can win. There is of course much more work to be done, particularly in setting out a comprehensive programme for government. But if we believe in ourselves and our policies we will win.

In relation to Scotland, Jeremy made the point that the commitment of long term Labour voters to our Party has been in decline for some years. As he promised, Jeremy always visits Scotland at least once a month. The party has much work to do, but again, if there is the political will we can recover. Jeremy emphasised that the SNP are a walking contradiction. Their policies often point in opposite directions e.g. their broad economic policy vis a vis their talk of workers’ rights; and higher education opportunities in contrast to their policies on further education. Also the SNP will struggle because they are trying to appeal to all sections of the whole political spectrum. In the long term this is unsustainable. North of the Border, our policies were popular in the polls but unfortunately this did not carry across sufficiently to votes.

Jeremy emphasised that the policy framework that we are developing will have social solidarity as a central theme: a progressive agenda especially addressing workers’ rights and the rights of the self-employed, which are often neglected. We are now locked in a battle with the Tories over human rights. Jeremy outlined how he wants this campaign to develop. He congratulated our parliamentary spokespeople and the unions on the successful campaign against universal academies. As Jeremy pointed out, one of the Tories’ aims was to destroy national collective bargaining. Jeremy also highlighted our successes in relation to police and crime commissioners, highlighting Humberside. He pointed out that the Party needs to develop mechanisms of accountability in relation to PCCs, as we do not have adequate mechanisms for this at the moment.

Several NEC members commented on issues raised in Jeremy’s Report. It was stressed by several comrades round the table that party members’, left, right, and centre, are dismayed by the damage that is being done by a few Labour MPs constantly making negative comments in the press and media. In relation to the loss of Rhondda, it was pointed out that the Labour candidate had made unhelpful comments that had inflamed Plaid Cymru and many voters.

Finally, Jeremy congratulated all Party staff for their tremendous efforts above and beyond the call of duty. This, together with the role of party activists, was the key to our good result. He applauded the fact that staff and members are now working hard on the EU referendum. Jeremy outlined our many reasons for voting ‘In’. He has set these out in a recent set-piece speech.

Code of Conduct in Relation to Combatting and Campaigning Against All Forms of Racism, Including Antisemitism and Islamophobia

Jeremy informed the NEC that NEC officers and staff had prepared a Code of Conduct. This will be issued to the media today. Jeremy took the NEC through all aspects of the Code. The Code stressed that our party is an anti-racist party and will not tolerate any form of racism. Our Party will ensure that we are a welcoming home to members of all communities.

Baroness Jan Royall Inquiry Report

Jan took the NEC through the two reports that she had prepared. The first related to complaints regarding the Oxford University Labour Club. Jan firmly emphasised that she had found no sign of institutional antisemitism within the OULC. The first Report recommended that the OULC should aim to have a greater continuity of leadership rather than elections every term. The report also recommended training by Labour Students (together with the Jewish Labour Movement) of all Labour Club officers UK-wide. There should also be materials/guidance for all post-holders throughout our Party.

The First Report also made suggestions to the Chakrabarty Inquiry. For example, it suggested that rule changes should be considered, that there should be more rigorous vetting procedures for local and national candidates for public office, that it was completely unacceptable to use antisemitism/racism as a factional political tool.

The second Report covered the Young Labour Conference. Again Jan took the NEC through this report. The report recommended that the timing/location of the Young Labour conference should not be dependent on the Labour Students’ Conference; that in future, national elections in Young Labour should be held by national ballots conducted by an independent balloting company. Finally, the second Report recommended that the NEC consider reforming the structure of Young Labour.

Several NEC members responded to Jan’s report, particularly noting that it was comprehensive and covered the issues that had been raised. I argued that rule changes may not be such a good idea as they would be difficult to word and might open the door to hostile legal suits. I also welcomed the commitment to reforming the structure of Young Labour, pointing out that this had been raised on several occasions by trade unions on the NEC. The Unions feel that Labour Students are given an undue vote weighting compared to trade unions and other affiliates. It was also agreed that staff from trade unions could be present at the youth conference in addition to staff from TULO. A proposal was made to co-opt a member of the Jewish Labour Movement onto the NEC’s Equalities Committee. This was referred to the Equalities Committee to consider.

Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry

Shami set out the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry into tackling antisemitism and other forms of racism. The inquiry will report in two months. It will consult widely with Labour Party members, the Jewish Community, and other minority representatives about a statement of principles and guidance concerning antisemitism and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia. It will recommend clear and transparent compliance procedures for dealing with allegations of racism and antisemitism. The Inquiry will take account of the recommendations from Jan Royall’s Reports and will set out a framework to ensure our Party is a welcoming environment for members of all communities.

The NEC warmly thanked Shami for agreeing to chair this very important Inquiry. Finally, Shami emphasised that this is in no way a disciplinary review, rather it is looking at issues ‘in the round’.

Deputy Leader’s Report

Tom presented a written report covering the work that he has been doing in relation to our party’s use of Social Media. Tom stressed that collectivism is at the heart of what we do. We seek to break down the wall that creates ‘us’ and ‘them’. When we say ‘we’, that means the whole Movement and those who share our values. We prioritise the issues that affect the public in their everyday lives. We should use accessible language and avoid jargon. Tom also reported on the recent Online Conference centred in Weymouth.

Tom outlined the work that he and his working party are doing to identify ‘best practice’ in different aspects of our communities. We will build on these lessons and communicate them as widely as possible.

Local Government Report

Councillor Alice Perry gave a verbal report. Alice pointed out that we should have regained control of the LGA, but at the moment the Liberal Democrats and the Tories are ganging up and playing political games. Alice gave an assessment of the local government elections and stressed the hard work that our councillors had undertaken. We had major victories in unexpected places, especially in the South. Alice also reported that one Labour Council had elected a Cabinet and officers that were entirely men. The Labour Group in question has, of course, been instructed to re-run the election.

Alice also raised the need for proper NEC Guidance in relation to allowing private companies to sponsor events/stalls at Party Conference. This was agreed.

EPLP Leader’s Report

Glenis Willmott, the leader of the Labour Group of MEPs, was out and about campaigning on the EU referendum and therefore could not be present. Glenis had submitted a written report and this was moved by the General Secretary. It detailed the work that our MEPs had been pursuing in Brussels and Strasbourg. For example, our MEPs have been taking a leading role in the fight against tax dodging, pressing to block Chinese steel dumping, fighting to safeguard public services and bring transparency to TTIP negotiations, protecting the use and sharing of personal data, and pressing for effective EU action as Vokswagon’s emissions hearing begins.

The General Secretary outlined the hard work that has been carried out by Party staff and members for the Labour ‘In’ campaign. Alan Johnson had been a ‘safe pair of hands’ in fronting the campaign. Gordon Brown has also swung into action as only he can.

NPF Chair’s Report

Angela Eagle, chair of the NPF, had circulated a detailed report. This covered the ‘Labour is Listening’ pilot, the Priority Issue Consultation, and an update of the work of the seven Policy Commissions. The NEC also had before it the minutes of the Joint Policy Committee (effectively the executive committee of the NPF) held on the 24th of March. The latter stated that the outcome of the Defence Policy Review would form a submission to the International Policy Commission, and pointed out that the Commission is responsible for Labour’s policy development in this area. The JPC had also agreed that a general question about Labour policies at the 2015 election should be included in all seven Priority Issue Consultation Documents.

During the discussion on the NPF Report a Unison representative pointed out that since Ken Livingstone was unable to be a Co-Chair of the International Policy Commission, it was necessary to elect another Co-Chair. He proposed Cath Speight (GMB representative) to be the Co-Chair of this commission. This was agreed.

International Report

A paper setting out recent international work by the Party was moved. For example, NEC member Jonathan Ashworth had attended the NDP national convention in Canada and gave the keynote international speech (I congratulated Jon, as I understood he had received a standing ovation!). We have also hosted several visits from our sister parties e.g. from Norway and Italy. Yvette Cooper, Chair of the UK Labour Party Refugee Taskforce, met with our Greek colleagues in Athens about unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. Many of our sister parties have written with congratulations on the election of Sadiq Khan.

General Secretary’s Report

Iain gave a detailed update on the Tooting by-election. The Party is already working flat-out to win the seat for our committed candidate Rosena Allin-Khan, who is deputy leader of the local Labour Group. Many NEC members (including myself) are intending to do their bit in Tooting.

Draft Motion from Peter Willsman

In recent months I have addressed many Party meetings. The response from our members, left, right and centre, is that the small number of Labour MPs, who constantly pump out negativity to the press and media, are simply providing ammunition to our enemies and damaging our Party. I therefore felt that it was important that the NEC addressed this issue. Accordingly, I submitted a draft motion for discussion. My draft motion provoked a lively debate. John Cryer, chair of the PLP, responded that despite what it says in the press, the atmosphere in the PLP is much better. John added that almost every Labour MP is focussing on Labour winning. This assessment was echoed by MPs and others around the table. I responded by stressing that this message needs to get across to our members because they tend to have a different view. Nevertheless, in the spirit of unity, I accepted the mood of the meeting, namely that the way forward was for John to make a statement to the PLP. He would stress that the NEC believes that the whole Party should pull together behind the Leader.