Peter Willsman reports from Labour's March Executive - NEC Meeting March 20th 2018 Print E-mail
Friday, 23 March 2018 09:11

The main business of the meeting was to appoint our Party's next General Secretary. The very thorough interview process took place after the normal business meeting and is covered below.

At the very beginning of the meeting, Jeremy placed on record his own, and the Party's, lasting gratitude to Iain for all of the very effective and sometimes not properly recognised hard work for 7 years on behalf of our members and staff. Jeremy detailed the major contribution in many areas highlighting the fact that Iain had turned a huge deficit into a surplus that bodes well for the future. Jeremy also paid tribute individually to the work of each of the staff members that are leaving with Iain. Finally, Jeremy emphasised that the loss of these committed workers will leave a gap that will be a quite a challenge to fill. Many members of the NEC echoed Jeremy's heartfelt words. It was pointed out that every time there is a change of General Secretary a number of staff choose that moment to leave us. In fact, this time the number leaving is well below the average for these situations.

I pointed out that I had known Iain since he was a CLP agent in Brentford and Isleworth. He followed Larry Whitty as the GMB's Political Officer. On the day Iain became General Secretary I told him that he was going to be the best General Secretary since Larry. I informed the NEC that Iain had more than fulfilled this prediction. I also gave special thanks on behalf of the party to my friends Julie, Emily and Tracey. Over the years we have had many laughs. Hopefully, they enjoyed it as much as I did. I also told a very personal and funny story concerning Julie, Jeremy and I but to avoid embarrassment to the other two this must wait for another occasion.

I noticed that there was a very thin bloke sat next to Iain. He was introduced as Tom Watson, Deputy Leader. Tom told us that he has been on an arduous course to lose an awesome amount of weight. I have to say that Tom is a shadow of his former self. I am keen to establish whether this description also applies to Tom's political views.

Leaders Report

Jeremy told us that due to the need to give full attention to the appointment of a new General Secretary, his report would not be a normal omnibus edition.

Jeremy highlighted the tragedy in Salisbury and the serious international implications of this. Jeremy had condemned this outrage in the strongest terms and stressed that there was a need for a concerted response under international law together with a thorough investigation. In response, several NEC members due attention to the fact that the Tories and their lackeys in the press are seeking to recreate the jingoism of the late 19th Century. They may not yet have a Rudyard Kipling but they already have visions of Gunboats up the Moskva River. Of course, this is nothing but a pathetic smokescreen to hide the gutlessness of the Tories. As Jeremy pointed out, the Tories have been worshipping the Russian Ruble for years. Putin's mates have property all over Belgravia and laundered Russian money flows through London with a nod and a wink from the Tories.

Jeremy also took the NEC through the amendments being put down in the Lords in relation to the Brexit negotiations. Jeremy also outlined the many other key issues that the PLP are pursuing in both houses to expose the heartlessness that was, is and always be associated with Tory Governments (MacMillan may be a possible exception here, but of course, he did at one time consider joining the Labour Party).

Deputy Leaders Report

In delivering his report, Tom sat face on. Had he sat sideways, we would not have seen him because he is now so thin.

Tom highlighted the very positive contribution that his World of Work Commission has been making since its launch in 2016. Tom has been working alongside academics and experts in this field. A comprehensive Charter is being drawn up to cover all of the issues faced by those at work.

Tom highlighted the fact that the Government has taken the disgraceful decision to abandon the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry. When Leveson was launched and later published its report, there was total agreement on both sides of the House that this would be implemented in full. Tom is summing up all of his energy to challenge this latest disgraceful u-turn.

Tom outlined the campaigning that Jeremy and he are doing in relation to International Women’s Day and the rights of women. In particular, they are pressing for a statue to Mary Wollstonecraft There are over 900 memorial statues in this country but well less than 100 are of notable women.

Finally, Tom outlined all of his campaigning activity, especially regarding what he is doing with Jeremy.

General Secretary's Report

i) Decisions by the NEC on 12th March

The officers have set up the Disputes Panel Working Group consisting of 7 NEC members. In accordance with earlier decisions by the NEC, this working group will consider a level-playing framework in relation to accusations of anti-semitism. It was pointed out that the Disputes Panel had accepted the resolution from Islington South CLP which had called for a wider review of disciplinary procedures. It was agreed that the working group will take this on board. I pointed out that a major reason for the long delays in cases referred to the NEC is the fact that the NCC only has 11 members and you have to have a panel of 3 for each case. I emphasised that we need a rule change to address this matter. It was also emphasised that there is a lack of adequate staffing to carry out the very thorough investigations that are needed in each case.

ii) Nations and Regions Report

Iain presented a very detailed 9 page report. This was Iain's last report as General Secretary. He paid tribute to the major contribution that all our staff have made over the last 7 years. Iain had total confidence that the dedicated effort and success would be even greater in the future.

NPF Matters

NPF Chair's Report

NPF Consultation 2018

The consultation will be launched week commencing 19 March and run until June 24 2018.

NPF Meeting 2018

A two-day meeting of the NPF was held on the weekend of 17 and 18 February in Leeds. There were plenary sessions on the NHS, Brexit and the Party Democracy Review.

Policy Commissions

Early Years, Education and Skills

The Policy Commission considered the Reference Back carried at Annual Conference. It was noted that the ongoing work of the Commission, including the future consultation, should address the issues raised by the Reference Back.

Economy, Business, Trade

The Commission has agreed a programme of work which will include the following questions:

What are the current weaknesses of the economy and what are Labour's key policies for addressing these?

What is the current state of those sectors a Labour Govt would seek to develop?

Environment, Energy and Culture

Issues under consideration are:

The impact of Brexit on environmental regulations, a just transition to a low-carbon energy system and the issue of poor air quality. In addition, the need to put tackling fuel poverty at the centre of Labour's energy policies.

Health and Care

The Commission has discussed the successful "reference back" at Annual Conference. It was agreed that the specific wording in the Report at conference was no longer the agreed position and would not be used in other documents. The Policy Commission has highlighted that the continuing Social Care crisis was a prime example of where the impact of privatisation is having a significant impact.

Housing, Local Govt and Transport

The Policy Commission has had detailed presentations by Andy McDonald on future Labour transport policies and from John Healey on his social housing review. The Commission has emphasised the need for better training and support for Councillors and potential Councillors.

International

The Policy Commission noted that Brexit was the topic with the most submissions.

Justice and Home Affairs

The Policy Commission has been discussing key issues such as prison, probation, sentencing, policing and counter-extremism. The Commission is planning to take evidence on relations between BAME communities and the criminal justice system.

Work, Pensions and Equalities

The Policy Commission has been discussing key issues such as Universal Credit, falling living standards and the inadequacy of the so-called National Living Wage, support for disabled people and how to strengthen the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Commission also received evidence from the Adviser to the Pensions Shadow DWP team. This covered key issues including auto enrolment, pension freedoms, the state of Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution pension schemes, the British Steel Pension Scheme and the lack of transparency of costs and charges for private pension schemes. The Policy Commission will hold a special meeting in Gateshead in June where Universal Credit has been substantially rolled out and thus can be subjected to critical scrutiny.

Proposed Timetable for NPF Chair Election

The ballot will be administered by Electoral Reform Services. Members of the NPF will be emailed on March 23rd with details of the procedure and timetable together with an invitation to self-nominate for Chair.

Ballot papers will be dispatched on April 9th and the closing date for receipt of ballots is midnight on April 26th.

Several of us raised the fact that the NPF elections are currently under way. It would therefore make sense for the new NPF to elect the Chair rather than the tail end of the old NPF. There was very little support in the meeting for this proposal.

Party Democracy Review Interim Report

Katy Clark introduced this item.

The closing date for the 3rd tranche of the Democracy Review is June 29. This includes the following subjects:

Policy Making

The issues which the Review is looking at include a) how we address the disconnect with CLPs, activists and members with the policy making process b) how we ensure that any documentation reflects discussion, debate and agreement within the policy-making process c) how we improve diversity.

Annual Conference

The Review is attending the CAC and discussing the many improvements that can be made in relation to all the many practices and procedures related to Conference.

Local Government

Local government democracy issues are raised repeatedly at the many Democracy Review events around the Nations and Regions.

Planning for the 2018 Elections - Presentation and Discussion led by Ian Lavery and Anna Hutchinson.

This is a private matter for party members and as this report is publicly available there is no report.

Local Government Report

Local Government Conference

The ALC/LGA Labour Group held a successful Local Conference. With over 300 attendees, around 60 of which were newly elected Councillors, the conference was one of the best attended.

2018 Local Elections

2018 will see elections take place in May in all 32 London Boroughs, all 36 Metropolitan Boroughs, 19 Unitary Authorities, 74 District Councils and Mayoral elections in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford.

Mental Health in Local Government

There was a session with Mind at Local Government Conference on the support we give to Councillors who might be experiencing mental health issues.

ALC training events and support for councillors

Training and support for councillors will focus in the New Year on areas with elections coming up in May in the form of regional training events and webinars.

EPLP Leader's Report

Jeremy's Coventry speech sparked significant interest across Europe about Labour's position, seen as being clearer and more realistic than the government's pronouncements.

Whereas UK ministers make often general and vague speeches on Brexit, the EU responds with precise and relatively clear documents. Over the last few weeks they have drafted a document putting the phase 1 agreement into legal form, and also set out their position on a transition and on how they envisage the future relationship with Britain, assuming we Brexit.

The government's negotiating position would fail to protect the workplace, consumer and environmental rights and standards that UK citizens currently enjoy. EU countries fear that the Tories will trigger a race to the bottom in such standards.

Johnathan Ashworth gave a speech to the European Parliament saying "the NHS would not function effectively if it was not for the thousands of European nationals who work in it", and that Labour would "guarantee the rights and status of existing EEA nationals".

International Report

Our Party hosted a day long Campaigns Managers network meeting in London for the Party of European Socialists (PES), on our digital election campaign. Over 30 delegates participated from across Europe and sessions were held on member mobilisation, social media, Promote, data and integration with offline campaigning. The Labour Party was represented at meetings of the PES Coordination Team and Presidency. Chi Onwura will take over from Jan Royall as PES Vice President.

Minutes of Meetings

The NEC had before it several sets of minutes for noting. Several important issues were raised in relation to several of the sets of minutes. For example, it was pointed out that the Procedures Ctte for the Trigger Ballot for Labour's Candidate for Mayor of Newham was almost wholly comprised of party members with a pecuniary interest in the result. This is totally unacceptable. Iain undertook to begin an investigation into this matter. It was also pointed out that in the recent Young Labour elections, Labour Students were sent an email, presumably by staff, using private party data. This went to some 30,000 students 2 days before the ballot closed. It was suggested that there was a partisan motive behind this action. It was expected that this apparent abuse would also be investigated.

Appointment of Our New General Secretary (To Be Ratified by Annual Conference)

2 excellent candidates had been shortlisted by the NEC Officers - Christine Blower (former General Secretary of the NUT) and Jenny Formby (Senior Unite Officer and one of Unite's reps on the NEC).

The NEC carried out a very rigorous interview process that lasted some 2 hours. It involved an identical set of very effective questions to both candidates. Both Christine and Jenny acquitted themselves superbly. Of course, Jenny has a much deeper knowledge of exactly what the job of General Secretary entails. This meant Jenny could often give a much more informed judgment of what is needed. Jenny had clearly spent hours thinking through the whole framework of what the job entailed. Jenny's commitment and dedication was apparent throughout the interview. It was clear to us all that, in Jenny Formby, we had another excellent General Secretary before us.

Postscript

Jeremy Corbyn said recently "I want the public ownership of water, Royal Mail, and energy, but I don't want it to be necessarily a huge state model. I'd rather there was a co-op principle in the way it is run" - Labour Briefing (Co-op), March 2018.

This quote and loads more are on the CLPD website (left-hand side, scroll down).

As you will see, the CLPD website has lots of useful stuff for members and CLPs, e.g. guide for new members. It also has an archive going back to the 1970s.