|Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s November executive|
|Thursday, 24 November 2016|
National Executive Committee 22 November 2016 (‘Away Day’)
After several very tense and fractious set-tos there was clearly an effort made to have a tranquil NEC for a change. There was nothing faintly controversial on the agenda. The whole ‘Away Day’ was reminiscent of one of the Maharishi meditation sessions. Before reporting on the 22nd November NEC, there are two other meetings to quickly cover first.
National Policy Forum Report, 19-20th November
First, a brief report of the National Policy Forum (NPF) at Loughborough University, 19th and 20th November. The NPF was also calm and studious, as delegates hurried to workshops based around the 8 new Policy Commissions:
· Economy, Business, and Trade, convener Jennie Formby (NEC)
· Foreign Affairs, Aid, and Defence, convener Cath Speight (NEC)
· Health and Social Care, convener Keith Birch (NEC)
· Early Years, Education, and Skills, convener Christine Shawcroft (NEC)
· Justice and Home Affairs, convener Alice Perry (NEC)
· Housing, Local Government, and Transport, convener Jim Kennedy (NEC)
· Work, Pensions, and Equality, convener Diana Holland (NEC)
· Environment, Energy, and Culture, convener Margaret Beckett (NEC)
The focus throughout the weekend was on Jeremy’s ten policy commitments: full employment; a secure homes guarantee; security at work; a secure NHS and social care; a National Education Service; action to secure our environment; put the public back into our economy; cut inequality in income and wealth; action to secure an equal society; peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy.
It was noticeable that the delegates, leadership, and staff were taking the NPF seriously. A very effective Q&A session with Jeremy launched the NPF very successfully. Almost the whole of the Shadow Cabinet were present, which was a contrast with what has often happened in the past. The following were elected:
Chair – Ann Cryer.
Vice-Chairs (3): Trade Unions – Mike Whelan (ASLEF); CLPs – Katrine Murray; Elected Reps – Shabana Mahmood MP.
At the NEC I proposed that the NPF chair should have the right to attend the NEC as a participating observer. This was unanimously agreed. At the NEC I also raised the fact that delegates from all 3 of the sections were able to vote in the elections for all 3 of the vice-chairs, apparently recommended by the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) (the executive of the NPF). Not only is this rather counter-intuitive, but I am not sure it is completely in line with some previous practice. This point was not accepted with the same alacrity, and senior staff were resistant. This will not be the last time that the NEC will be hearing from me on this issue.
NECs at Annual Conference
Perhaps the major issue of contention concerned the fact that all 16 of the mixed-bag of rule changes put to conference by the NEC where voted on as a single item. This had certainly not been agreed on by the NEC. The way it emerged is still shrouded in mystery. It was accepted that there was precedent for a single vote on a small coherent group of rule proposals, but at Liverpool a dazzling kaleidoscope of different subjects were voted on all together. The most senior NEC member expressed concern that, in terms of procedure, we were moving into totally uncharted waters. This NEC member demanded that this bizarre procedure must not be accepted as in any way a precedent. This procedural point was accepted and the chair asked for this to be minuted.
CLPs may be somewhat surprised to learn that a majority of CLP delegates voted against every rule change put forward by CLPs. For example, that there should be a rule that every conference should have 4 Contemporary Motions from trade unions and 4 more from CLPs; that CLPs should have the right to submit a rule change and a Contemporary Motion (at the moment they can only submit one or the other); the right at Conference to vote on huge NPF documents in parts, rather than by one all-or-nothing vote (the latter, very important, democratic proposal was carried thanks to the trade unions, but certainly not thanks to the CLPs).
NEC 22nd November
Jeremy outlined the many major issues surrounding Brexit and was very pleased that Keir Starmer would be leading a discussion at the ‘Away Day’. Our party must be united and has much work to do. Whereas in Islington North 73% had voted to Remain, in equally strong Labour seats in the Midlands and the North, there had been sizeable majorities for Brexit.
Jeremy then outlined the work that he and our full-time officers are undertaking in the up-coming by-elections in Richmond Park and Sleaford and North Hykeham. We have two excellent candidates and already a large number of volunteers have eagerly participated. It is very obvious that the Tories are very short of volunteers compared to the past and often rely on paying for help.
Jeremy also stressed the importance of the whole party making a contribution to the Day of Action for the NHS next weekend. Jon Ashworth from the Shadow Cabinet, other shadow ministers, and himself have a full-programme of events for the day.
Jeremy then took the NEC through the very serious crisis which is developing in social care and mental health services and similarly the massive housing crisis. These and other developing crises are greatly exacerbated by the Tory government’s very damaging funding for local authorities.
General Secretary’s Report
· Iain outlined the many implications, financial and other, of Brexit. He confirmed that we are looking to distribute the Euro levy back to CLPs.
· Iain gave a detailed report of the disciplinary issues arising during the Leadership campaign. For information, these are the figures reported to the Disputes Panel on the 18th October:
o 1,038 members are still suspended, pending review over the next three months. A majority of these are likely to have their suspensions lifted.
o 618 have been auto-excluded from the party under rule 2.1.4
o At the Organisation Committee 18th October we also gave detailed consideration to those CLPs in “special measures”.
o The Chakrabarti Report had criticised the fact that a number of CLPs in Birmingham have been in “special measures” for some twenty-five years! The Report called for a meaningful review every six months of every case and that each of the CLPs has a plan to improve its practice and thus return to full democratic rights. The Organisation Committee agreed a very positive response to the Chakrabarti Report. At every Organisation Committee a report will be given of every CLP in “special measures”, with the aim of removing CLPs from these measures.
· Iain reported on the NPF at the weekend. I have covered some of my responses above. I also recommended that in the longer-term we should move towards the JPC becoming a sub-committee of the NEC. It would be the same elected comrades as now, but the whole structure would be much more integrated. I detected some eyebrow raising at this suggestion.
The Economy and the Autumn Statement
Becky Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and NEC member, gave a detailed presentation and led a very thorough discussion on the Autumn Statement (AS). Becky concentrated on setting out the Shadow Cabinet strategy in relation to the AS and complimented her staff, the party staff, and those from the Leaders Office who had worked very hard on this. Becky also reported on the efforts she has been making to contact leaders of Labour groups. Becky is putting together a dossier that would expose the very detrimental impact on local authorities of the Tory government’s policies. I pointed out that the Shadow Cabinet and party needs to work out as soon as possible the implications of Trump’s policies, e.g. increased protectionism, increased inflation, and the implications for the Brexit negotiations. During the discussion, Becky stressed that we want the whole population to be aware that the next Labour government will change lives for the better. We need above all to convince and enthuse our voters and potential voters. There was a very detailed discussion of the implications of the impact of the benefit changes, and of the proposals that the Shadow Cabinet is putting together. A further report on the latter will be given to a future NEC.
Keir Starmer MP, Shadow Brexit Secretary, then made a detailed presentation of the work that he is undertaking, followed by Keir leading a very thorough discussion. It was clear that Keir is already well in command of his brief. From the start, Keir emphasised our party must not try to subvert the decision of the British public (as the Liberals seem to be planning). This would play into the hands of the Tory government. We must focus on the tortuous negotiations process and seek to promote and protect our Labour commitments. We will put the defence of social and employment rights, as well as action against undercutting of pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour, at the centre of our Brexit negotiation agenda. Keir stressed that the Tories are already undermining good-will throughout the EU and beyond.
Keir highlighted the length of time that will be involved. In 2019 we will have a transitional agreement outwith the EU (which has to be agreed by the European Parliament), then many more negotiations will take place with the EU and the whole process is likely to last until perhaps 2024. Keir stressed the need for a serious and honest debate in the party about ‘free movement of labour’. During the discussion I stressed a point often made by Jeremy, namely that we must work closely with socialist parties in the EU. I suggested that we need a closer relationship with the Socialist International, since at the moment we only have ‘observer status’. Keir confirmed that he had taken this on board and it was part of his work programme.
Keir, Jeremy, and shadow ministers are building a collaborative approach throughout the party and extending this beyond, e.g. to the unions, community organisations, and business.
Preparation for Elections 2017, General Election, Campaigns and Policy Delivery
Jon Trickett MP, our National Campaign Coordinator, took the NEC through the whole gamut of future elections, including the possibility of a snap General Election in 2017 (which could not take place without the approval of Labour Party MPs). Jon was upbeat and stressed that our mission must be to instil confidence in, and demand for, a major progressive change. Labour has progressive policies and will deliver. Jon’s presentation was complemented by several senior officers at HQ, who provided the NEC with a full-range of appropriate data, including polling data, financial resources, and policy preparation. Jon set out the steps being taken to create the ‘architecture’ for an early General Election. The strategy and preparation was set-out in detail, including the extension of social media and other digital platforms. The associated financial strategy was also set-out in detail (for obvious reasons, all of this cannot be spelt out in a public document).
The NEC then draw up a provisional timetable covering the NPF and the Clause V (manifesto) meeting in the event of an early General Election.
Documents for Approval
· Every NEC member was allocated to a Policy Commission.
· NEC Sub-Committees 2016/17. NEC members were allocated to the following standing sub-committees:
o Equalities Committee – Keith Birch (chair);
o Business Board – Diana Holland (chair);
o Audit and Risk Committee – chair to be agreed. (No member of the Business Board can be a member of the Audit and Risk Committee.)
o Organisation Committee – Jim Kennedy (chair);
o Disputes Panel – Ann Black (chair)
· Developing and supporting staff. The paper set out a range of proposals for staff development. Jeremy wanted to record the hard work and commitment of our staff and the fact that they always go the extra mile for our party. Jeremy drew attention to the proposed Wellbeing Monthly Newsletter for staff. It will focus on different areas of wellbeing, such as mental health awareness, and keeping active at work. Each month the newsletter will have a different theme and this will help to create awareness of employee wellbeing across the whole of our organisation. Also the paper highlighted the Party’s Female Development Programme. As an employer, the NEC wants to see more women in senior positions. We will be implementing an internal female development programme. It will consist of two full-day workshops and five half-day workshops, covering a range of subjects, such as confidence, resilience, credibility, and career success. The programme will start in February.
· NEC Aims and Objectives. This document had been put together at a previous NEC and it was formally approved. I pointed out that the paper rightly emphasised the need to give more support for working class potential candidates and that indeed we are setting up a bursary to this effect. But we all need to keep in mind how dire the situation is. Our party was set up by the working class, and it is the party of the working class. However, 27% of our MPs emerged from the world of Spads, with only 9% emerging from the some 50% of the population making up the working class. I highlighted what had occurred in a recent process for selecting a Parliamentary by-election candidate. A manual worker was due to be interviewed by an NEC panel. Due to the short notice, he was unable to get time-off from the Tory council. He therefore had to pull his dust-cart over to the verge, and was interviewed down the phone by the NEC. I doubted whether Spads would ever be in this situation. Nevertheless, in their infinite wisdom the NEC choose the dust-cart driver as the candidate.
· NEC Terms of Reference. This agreed document was simply for formal approval. I took the opportunity to put down a marker that CLPs and members must be allocated more seats on the NEC. Elsewhere else in the party, it is 50% CLPs and members and 50% affiliates. Our membership has now nearly trebled to almost 600,000. So why are the CLPs only allocated 6 seats (before New Labour it was 7 seats), whereas the trade unions (good luck to them) have always had 12 seats? This also caused eyebrows to be raised.