Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s emergency executive Print E-mail
Friday, 21 April 2017

National Executive Committee 19 April 2017

Following Theresa May’s breaking of her word on Tuesday 18 April, the NEC swung into action and had a meeting on Wednesday 19 April. It was a very upbeat and business-like meeting. Everyone was totally focused. A lot of work has already been done – the staff are really up for it. Andy Kerr was in the chair.

Leader’s Welcome

Jeremy was very enthused and has already hit the campaign trail. He gave details of that day’s vote in the House of Commons, with MPs overwhelmingly voting for a General Election. (The election in Gorton will now take place on the same day as the General Election.) Jeremy stressed that most Labour voters would have never understood a vote by Labour to allow a Tory government to continue in office for another 3 years, carrying out vicious austerity policies. He emphasised the importance of getting our key messages across to the public. Jeremy pointed out that the Tories are already on the defensive – May is running scared of any TV debates.

Jeremy highlighted his original 10 pledges (see the Labour Party website) and also took the NEC through all of the policies that we have announced over the last two weeks. These have been very well received by the voters. Jeremy highlighted the fact that during the General Election campaign, the media are obliged to give Labour a fair hearing. This will of course not apply to the hostile press, but then they have always opposed Labour because their owners want to keep their hands on their power and money, and therefore totally support the Tories.

Jeremy then apologised for having to leave the NEC, but he was hitting the campaign trail in south London where he was attending a key Campaign Function. Having known Jeremy for some 42 years, I am well aware that campaigning and meeting the public is Jeremy’s strong suit. The Tories and their lickspittles in the press and media have a shock coming. No wonder May is fearful of confronting Jeremy in the television spotlight.

Jeremy was given a very warm send-off by many NEC members, who emphasised the positives. I stressed that the “experts” are often wrong and will be wrong again. As Rodney Bickerstaffe always used to say to me and Jeremy, an ‘ex’ is an unknown quantity and ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure. We have excellent and committed staff, the largest party in Western Europe, and an inspiring leader. We will humiliate the doom-mongers and naysayers.

Kezia Dugdale emphasised the total support for Jeremy in Scotland. Kezia added that we should have no truck with any talk of a ‘progressive alliance’ with the SNP. Not only does this damage our candidates in Scotland, and indeed also South of the Border, but it is too much of a stretch to label the former Tartan Tories as ‘progressive’- despite the image that Nicola assiduously tries to present.

Several trade union reps highlighted the very exciting policies that have been announced recently, particularly the £10 Real Living Wage, large scale council house building, and enhanced rights for part-time workers, e.g. school meal workers.

Jeremy thanked the NEC for their enthusiastic support and confirmed that he had already met with TULO officers to discuss many of the issues raised by the trade union reps. As he was going out of the door, Jeremy reminded us all that the final registration day is 22 May. We need to make sure that all of our supporters, especially the young, are registered to vote.

Consideration of documents from yesterday’s NEC Officers’ Meeting

  • Procedures for the selection of candidates for the General Election.

 This document had been unanimously agreed by our Officers. Most of the details have already been widely reported. To summarise:

- Sitting Labour MPs: All those intending to stand again will be deemed to be re-selected, on the basis of the NEC’s endorsement.

- Seats where Labour MP is retiring: Applications will open on Friday 21 April and close at noon on Sunday 23 April. The NEC Officers will conduct interviews and impose a candidate. As a minimum, all seats that were held by women will be selected on the basis of All Women Shortlists.

- Non-Labour-held seats: Candidates who stood in the 2015 election (and who remain in compliance) will be contacted by their regional office, requesting that they seek selection in the same seat. These non-Labour held seats will be selected via panels (two NEC members and one regional board member). The panels will consider CVs and applications of all candidates on a seat-by-seat basis and make a determination of the best candidate for each seat. 2015 General Election candidates will be considered first for each seat. Then any new candidates who have expressed a preference for that particular seat will be considered where there are still vacancies.

- The panels will make these decisions between Sunday 30 April and Tuesday 2 May. The panels may make a majority decision and their decisions will be final and binding on all parties. The NEC will be formally asked to endorse all of the decisions by the panels.

- Scotland and Wales: The process for selecting candidates for Scotland and Wales is a matter for the Scottish Executive Committee and the Welsh Executive Committee. (The agreed names will also be on the list for formal NEC endorsement.)

- Qualifications: Any prospective candidates must have joined our party on or before 18 April 2016 to be eligible for consideration. In addition, (except in exceptional circumstances) every applicant must be a member of a trade union affiliated to the TUC, or be a member of a what is considered to be a bona fide trade union. They must contribute to the political fund of that trade union.

There was then a lengthy debate about the issues raised in this document. I questioned whether the NEC should automatically endorse an MP who only a few hours ago had made very negative comments about our elected Leader. There was also the case of the MP who has been referred to the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) by the NEC on the basis of quite serious charges. In regard to the latter, our officers were consulted. They referred to possible legal implications and the matter will be considered further by the General Secretary and NEC Officers. The issue of some involvement by members/CLPs in selections was pressed by CLP reps during the long discussion on the paper. The point that the paper did not sufficiently address the need for greater BAME representation was taken on board and the document will be amended accordingly.

Finally, the Chair put the whole document to the NEC. It was carried by an overwhelming majority.  

  • General Election Procedures: Provisional Membership and CLP Activity 

This document proposed a temporary extension of the provisional membership period for new members. This was agreed.

In accordance with the Rule Book, during the General Election campaign all CLP meetings are temporarily suspended. Members may still meet to plan/arrange campaigning.

The document also made the very positive proposal that the closing date for notification of Annual Conference delegates, the submission of Rule Changes, and nominations for National Committees will be extended from 23 June to 7 July. This was agreed.

The investigations/appeals currently being undertaken will be postponed and resumed after the General Election. 

  • Manifesto Process and Timetable 

The Manifesto Team will meet with many party groups, including trade unions, socialist societies, MPs, MEPs, councillors, ALC, LGA, Labour Lords, BAME Labour, LGBT Labour, Labour Students, Disability Labour, Labour International, Labour Women’s Network, and meet with reps from the Scottish Labour Party, Welsh Labour Party, and Labour Northern Island. There will also be meetings with our sister party, the Co-operative Party.

National Policy Forum (NPF) Engagement: It was agreed that NPF reps must be closely involved in the Manifesto process. There will be conference calls of Policy Commission members, also an NPF engagement event to discuss the full NPF’s view on the challenges and priorities to be addressed. Through the NPF’s chair and vice-chairs there will be an input into the Clause V meeting.

Clause V Meeting: This Rule Book meeting signs off the Manifesto. It is chaired by the Leader and is made up of the following: the full NEC, the full Shadow Cabinet, the Parliamentary Committee of the PLP, the 8 trade union members of the TULO Contact Group, the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties, and the chair and 3 vice-chairs of the NPF.

Policy Work for the Manifesto

Steve Howell and Seumas Milne (from The Leaders Office) introduced a discussion on the development of the Manifesto. They took the NEC through each of Labour’s recent policy pledges. These policies have met with widespread support. It was noted that many small businesses had responded enthusiastically to the proposal that big corporations should be prevented from deliberately paying their debts to small companies as late as possible. Further major policy announcements are on the way in the next few days, especially key policies on the NHS and housing.

The officers outlined our core strategy for the economy, including increasing productivity, increasing investment with a National Investment Bank. As part of this, we will introduce enhanced rights for employees. We will focus on our positive policies, for the many rather than for the few. Nevertheless, we will highlight the extremist record of the Tory government – austerity, increased homelessness, cuts to benefits, falling wages, increased vulnerability of workers (e.g. zero-hour contracts), preparing for the full privatisation of the NHS, re-introducing grammar schools for the benefit of the well-off and to the detriment of those just about managing, behaving like a puppet for the trigger-happy Trump, and increasing complicity in the violation of human rights in order to benefit the sale of weapons of destruction. There will also be publicity focusing on May’s lack of leadership, not only has she broken several promises and commitments but she is running scared of debating with our Jeremy.

NEC members then made their own contributions and suggestions. I pointed out that the public are often more impressed by things in their daily life rather than leaflets. For example, under the Tories there is always a major increase in people sleeping in doorways – of course, one former Tory cabinet member callously described the homeless as “what you step over when you come out of the opera”. I pointed out that under Labour governments in the 1960s there were very few homeless, no pawn shops, and in the 1950s no betting shops either. People had proper jobs with a career structure – certainly not a zero-hours world. I also emphasised that a major reason for May running for cover is that a huge scandal is breaking out over the Tory’s dodgy election claims in 2015. May is well aware that this will massively damage the Tory party. Cath Speight added emphasis on my point by reminding everyone that the day after May announced the General Election it was revealed that no less than 30 Tory MPs are being investigated by the police.

It was pointed out that overall living standards are about to fall, and that this is a major factor in May’s decision to break her repeated promise. Finally, it was agreed that our campaign must have a consistent message, including a very clear Labour position in relation to the Brexit negotiations and the aftermath.

Drafting and agreeing the Manifesto

Finally, Simon Jackson, Senior Officer for Policy and Research, brought everything together by setting out full details of the timetable for the Manifesto process, together with giving more details for the arrangements of the Clause V meeting.

Some of us felt it would be appropriate to end the meeting with a rousing rendition of the Red Flag, but others said there wasn’t time because they had to join Jeremy on the campaign trail.