NEC Meetings, March/April 2019

This report covers the meetings of the Disputes Panel and Organisation Committee on 19 March; the full NEC meeting of 26 March; the extra Disputes Panel meeting on 17 April and the special meeting to agree the European Parliamentary manifesto on 30 April. 

Disputes Panel, 19 March & 17 April

As usual, the papers of the Disputes Panel were not circulated in advance, due to concerns about confidentiality. The first 45 minutes of the meeting was set aside for us to read through the relevant documents, which, on this occasion, came to 221 pages. To obtain these documents, we all had to give up our mobile phones and other devices, which is another agreed measure to guard against leaks. As the meeting began, however, it became apparent that the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, who does not normally attend Disputes Panel meetings, still had his phone on the table in front of him. The Chair reminded everyone of the measures that we had all agreed, and directly asked Tom Watson to give up his phone. He refused to do this, however, saying that he didn’t agree with the restriction that we had introduced and that he was expecting an urgent call. Several of us spoke to express our unhappiness with this behaviour, pointing out that there is an emergency number through which NEC members can be contacted and also that phones can be temporarily returned to members when they leave the room if they need to check urgent messages. This made no difference to Tom Watson’s attitude, however, prompting the Chair to ask him to leave the meeting. He refused to do this as well, however, causing the meeting to be adjourned while the officers considered the situation. Ultimately, there was nothing that they could do other than to ask that Tom’s non-compliance with the agreed rules be noted in the minutes. I do not normally comment on individuals’ behaviour in these meetings, but this episode was so outrageous, particularly given the seniority of the person involved, that it seems only right to acknowledge what happened (which has already been reported in at least one media source, in any case).

The argument described above caused considerable delay to the start of what would already have been a heavily loaded meeting, and it soon became clear that we would not have time to get through all of the business without hugely delaying the Organisation Committee meeting, which was due to follow directly afterwards. There was some discussion about how future meetings could be arranged to alleviate the pressure of time somewhat, specifically by not having the Disputes Panel and Organisation Committee on the same day as the Equalities Committee. I cannot comment on the cases that we had time to consider, because they relate to specific individuals, but we made it about half way through the scheduled agenda and agreed that an extra meeting should be held as soon as practicable. 

This extra meeting of the Disputes Panel took place on 17 April; unfortunately, only 12 of the 39 NEC members were able to attend, some no doubt having booked holidays for the Easter period. This time, we were able to get through almost all of the cases that we had not reached on 19 March, as well as a couple of new ones. There was also some discussion of the negative commentary in the media on the party’s handling of disciplinary matters, particularly reports that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was investigating complaints that they had received in relation to anti-Semitism. It was pointed out that the EHRC had not actually begun an investigation, but had merely asked the party to respond to these complaints and was deciding whether or not an investigation would be merited. In any case, the Disputes Panel cannot itself make any changes to the way that the party deals with these matters, so this would have to be dealt with by the full NEC or by the Organisation Committee. 

Organisation Committee

Following the incomplete Disputes Panel meeting of 19 March, there was a meeting of the Organisation Committee, which also had a fairly heavy agenda to get through. The first business related to the selection of parliamentary candidates; 5 new candidates were endorsed by the NEC, in addition to the 90 who had been endorsed previously. We also looked at the 9 seats where Labour MPs had recently resigned the whip, in most cases to become part of the new so-called Independent Group/Change UK. It was agreed that, in 6 of these cases, there should be an All Women Shortlist in six of these cases and an open selection in the other three. Five of the nine seats are currently held by women so this decision would mean a small increase in the number of female MPs, assuming that Labour wins back the seats at the next General Election. There was once again some discussion of the party’s relatively poor performance in selecting BAME candidates, and what could be done about this. The General Secretary said that all the party’s Regional Directors now had, as one of their key objectives, the pursuit of greater engagement with BAME communities. 

The next section of the meeting dealt with updates on the work flowing from the Party Democracy Review. This fell into a number of categories, the first of which related to CLP governance. Under this heading, we agreed to codify the custom and practice governing the conversion of single constituency to multi-constituency CLPs and vice versa; agreed to invite CLPs to pilot alternative methods of organisation to maximise participation – specifically, staggered meetings, electronic attendance and online voting; and took steps to make information about local party meetings available to members on an electronic platform. The second heading was rules for regional executive committees and regional conferences in England, where detailed changes were agreed to make the provisions more robust and consistent. Finally, there was a detailed paper on the rules for Young Labour, seeking to amend the existing rules in a number of ways, which are too complex to summarise, but the net effect of which (broadly speaking) to bring Young Labour into conformity with the principles of the Democracy Review and to empower young members. This paper was agreed but some further amendments proposed by NEC members, including the Young Members’ rep, were deferred to the full NEC meeting the following week.

We also agreed a paper aimed at improving equality and diversity in local government, which set out provisions relating to equality monitoring, training directed at underrepresented members and enforcement of positive action procedures. And we adopted a definition of Islamophobia, which had originally been drawn up in April 2018 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. The definition is quite succinct, as follows:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

This, along with an accompanying briefing note as to why this matter is so important and how the party should act on it, was agreed without dissent. 

These were the main items covered, with the exception of confidential papers on developments in local parties in St Helen’s and Enfield, which the NEC agreed but details of which cannot be disclosed. 

Full NEC meeting

The full NEC meeting took place on 26 March. The Chair began by acknowledging the message that we had all received, along with all other party members, from the General Secretary, Jennie Formby, relating to her diagnosis of breast cancer. The Chair and others paid tribute to Jennie and agreed that she needed to concentrate on her health and that the party should rally round to support her staff in ensuring that the important work of the General Secretary’s office continued to be done under these difficult circumstances. 

The first substantive item discussed was the series of obituaries of prominent members who had died since the last meeting, the first of which was Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West for nearly 32 years until his death in February. I spoke about the unique contribution that Paul had made to Labour politics, especially in Wales, the respect that he had won for his intellect, principle and independent-mindedness, and the consequent benefit to the party. 

Cllr Nick Forbes gave the Local Government Report, commenting on the recent Labour Local Government conference, at which, for the first time, a majority of speakers and panel members had been women. He said that there was a good story to tell about the achievements of Labour councils in difficult times and a new version of the booklet setting out some of these achievements was to be published. In the ensuing discussion, several speakers welcomed the party’s recent announcement on ‘in-sourcing’ local services; Nick pointed out that many Labour councils had never outsourced much in the first place. 

Richard Corbett MEP gave the EPLP Report, which, as usual, related mainly to the Brexit process. He also reported that the Party of European Socialists (PES) had agreed its European manifesto. There was some comment on the need to maintain relationships with other European parties through PES if the UK should leave the EU. There was also a query about the possibility of merger between the SDLP, Labour’s sister-party in Northern Ireland, and the Irish centre-right party, Fianna Fail. It remained unclear how likely this was, but if it were to happen, the SDLP would no longer be able to remain within PES. 

Jeremy then gave his Leaders’ Report, adding his own tributes to those covered in the obituaries section, including Paul Flynn, whose funeral in Newport he had attended. Jeremy reported on the many campaign visits he had continued to undertake around Britain, especially in the Midlands and Scotland. He said that cuts in local government were now worse than under Thatcher and that this needed to be made clear in the English local elections campaign. He had attended the Scottish Labour conference, which had been very well-attended and upbeat. Members’ assemblies were being planned across Scotland to help promote Scottish Labour’s policies and its challenge to the SNP. 

Jeremy acknowledged that Brexit continued to dominate everything that the party was doing; he had been to Brussels recently to meet the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. The Tories had passed a bill some time previously to empower David Davis, the then Brexit Secretary, to determine everything, but, thanks to Labour’s efforts, a lot of this had been pushed back subsequently. Labour had put its own 5-point Brexit policy to the House of Commons and, although it had been defeated, it had secured more votes than Theresa May’s deal. Following a series of important votes in the Commons, Brexit had been delayed until April or May, if the Government’s agreement with the EU were carried. Given the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing Brexit process, Labour was continuing to prepare for a snap General Election and Jon Trickett MP was leading on the party’s preparations for government. Jeremy also commented on the appalling atrocity carried out in Christchurch, which he said reflected the rise of the far right around the world and which made Labour’s participation in the annual UN Day Against Racism all the more important. He had been to see the New Zealand High Commission and laid a wreath, as well as contacting the country’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern to offer his support and commend her on her response to the attack. He had also attended a service at a mosque in his own constituency. Finally, Jeremy said that he had been shocked by Jennie’s cancer diagnosis and was sending her his love and support; he paid tribute to the continuing efforts of the staff at Southside and in his own office. 

The next item was the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson’s report, covering meetings and events that he had undertaken as part of his remit, as well as his presentation of some LBC phone-in radio programmes. He had also made a number of policy speeches on issues like TV licences, digital democracy and online gambling. He had spoken at the People’s Vote march in London the previous Saturday and had also set up the Future Britain group of parliamentarians in response to the departure of several Labour MPs to establish the Independent Group. He commented on the need to address concerns felt by MPs over issues like Brexit, anti-Semitism and the threat of deselection. In the ensuing discussion, several of us made some fairly robust comments on various of the issues that Tom had raised and asked some probing questions, especially in relation to the establishment of the Future Britain group, the precise purpose of which remained unclear, along with the governance arrangements that appeared to have been set up.  

We then had an International Report, covering Labour’s work with sister parties, such as the French Socialists, who are undertaking a process of renewal following some bad election results. There was also an update on the initiative agreed at a previous meeting to review Labour’s links with other progressive parties and movements around the world in the light of the widespread political upheaval that we have witnessed in recent years. This work was focussing in the first instance on Latin America, where there has been a worrying rise of the populist hard right, especially in Brazil. There was a lengthy discussion about this area of activity, considering questions like the implications of any new international relationships for our existing sister parties. 

The meeting also agreed detailed procedural guidelines for disciplinary cases brought before the National Constitutional Committee (NCC). These clarified and expanded the existing procedures, generally in very positive ways; for example, confirming that a member facing an NCC hearing would be entitled to be supported by a silent friend or represented by a lay person, such as a trade union official, and that the panel could also allow legal representation in certain specified types of case. 

There were further reports on items arising from the Democracy Review, including detailed consideration of some additional proposed amendments to the rules governing Young Labour – some, but not all, of which were accepted – and proposals for the online presence of local parties. In addition, we took further steps towards the establishment of a seat representing disabled members on the NEC, agreeing that this could be a job share. With both this seat and the seat representing BAME members, where, in future, the electorate will be expanded beyond members of the party affiliate BAME Labour, it was agreed that the elections would go ahead once sufficient equality data had been gathered to provide ‘a viable electorate’.

European manifesto meeting

On 30 April, a special meeting the full NEC was held to agree the party’s manifesto for the European Elections, which, it had by then become clear, we would have to fight after all. The rules laid down for the agreement of European manifestos are somewhat simpler than those that apply to general elections, and the necessary preliminary consultation had already taken place with TULO, the EPLP, the International Policy Commission of the NPF and the Shadow Cabinet, which had met immediately prior to the NEC meeting. Policy Director Andrew Fisher had, by common consent, done an excellent job in pulling together the party’s key policy priorities in relation to Europe in a very short space of time. In contrast to the 20,000 General Election 2017 manifesto, the European manifesto ran to around 2,000, most of which was uncontentious and based on previously agreed policy. 

There had, however, been intense media speculation about supposedly sharp divisions that would be exposed at the meeting in relation to a commitment to a second referendum, and indeed, all NEC members had received literally thousands of emails lobbying us on this matter in the week or so leading up to the meeting (although many of these were not from actual party members). The discussion in the meeting, however, demonstrated a surprisingly high degree of consensus in reaffirming a position in line with the resolution agreed at the Labour Conference in September 2018. As the published manifesto has now made clear, the agreed position was that Labour would continue to seek positive changes to the Tories’ proposed Brexit deal, in line with our own alternative plan; if such changes could not be agreed, we would retain the option of pressing for a public vote. Some NEC members did argue for a more emphatic commitment to a confirmatory referendum, but this was not ultimately the view that prevailed. It was nevertheless a comparatively harmonious and comradely meeting, which demonstrated that, contrary to widespread perceptions, there is relatively little disagreement within the party on the major principles underlying our policy. 

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, 6th April 2019 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

This meeting was a special one, dedicated entirely to preparations for the Welsh Labour Conference, due to take place the following weekend, and therefore the agenda was much shorter than usual. 

The first item was to resolve the one issue left over from the report on the Democracy Review discussed at the previous meeting, namely the question of electing the Welsh seat on the National Executive Committee. In response to concerns raised by the unions at the previous meeting, it had been established that we could allow members of affiliates to vote alongside full party members, but only on the same basis as they can vote in UK Labour leadership elections (i.e. they must first be registered as affiliated supporters) and the ballot would be conducted online. Although one or two of the union reps were not entirely happy with this proposal and suggested that a decision be deferred while other options were explored, but Chris argued that there had already been a full discussion and a solution had been arrived at that addressed most of the concerns; we should therefore go ahead and vote on it. The OMOV ballot arrangements proposed by officers were duly put to the vote, alongside an alternative proposal (put by one of the union reps) that the election be conducted via an electoral college at conference, and the OMOV option was accepted. 

The main item was to decide the WEC’s position on the various motions submitted by CLPs and affiliates. 26 motions had been accepted as valid and 4 ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee. For the first time, the text of motions deemed invalid by the SOC was published – as long requested by Chris – along with the reason for their rejection. Of those accepted, there were 5 almost identical motions on ending no-fault evictions, two very similar motions on child poverty and two broadly similar motions on women’s refuges. In each of these cases, the officers were seeking agreement from the bodies in question that the motions could be composited. In relation to the policy motions, Mark Drakeford said that Welsh ministers and special advisers were keen to see motions supported by conference wherever possible, even with qualifications, but outlined some practical difficulties with three motions and, in each case, the WEC accepted Mark’s arguments and agreed either to ask the moving body to remit the motion in question or to recommend that conference vote against. 

There were three motions on internal party issues, and the Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, gave a view on these, suggesting that, in two cases the WEC seek remittance but that the third be supported. These recommendations were adopted by the WEC. 

The only other item was notice of the draft timetable for conference, which was circulated for information, and the meeting therefore concluded much more promptly than usual. 

Meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee, 16 March 2019 (Joint Report with Christine Newman)

The meeting began with an update from the Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, on the Newport West by-election, which had been triggered by the sad death of the great Paul Flynn a month before. The election was obviously hugely important, as, although the party had an excellent candidate in Ruth Jones, we could not take for granted that the strong personal vote built up by Paul over many years would simply fall into our laps. In addition, it was clearly going to be a significant test of the leadership, both of Jeremy Corbyn and of Mark Drakeford, and at a time when the political atmosphere was particularly febrile because of the Brexit saga. Rhiannon offered reassurance about the degree of organisation and input from staff and volunteers into the election campaign. The TULO organisation of Labour union affiliates was to organise a big push on 23rdMarch. Darren suggested trying to get as many people to the constituency as possible on the final Saturday before the election; it appeared that the party was already thinking along similar lines. 

The next item was a report from the Welsh Labour leader and First Minister, Mark Drakeford. Mark once again provided a detailed written report of his activities over the previous month, which had included speaking at the Scottish Labour Conference the week before, seeking to protect Wales’ interests as the prospect of Brexit loomed ever closer, and acting on his campaign pledge to develop a social partnership bill in collaboration with the trade unions. His action on this last point won praise from trade union reps present. Darren commended Mark and Julie Morgan for the work that they had done in addressing the concerns of campaigners, who had sought to protect the Welsh Independent Living Grant; the additional funding and provision of an independent social work assessment, which had been agreed, had assuaged many of these concerns. Mark also commented on the terrible events that had taken place in Christchurch, New Zealand; he had written to the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to offer condolences on behalf of the Welsh Government, and had tried to provide solidarity and reassurance to Muslim communities in Wales, including by attending Friday prayers in a Cardiff mosque and also the vigil organised by the Muslim Council for Wales. 

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Christina Rees, echoed Mark’s comments about the tragedy in Christchurch and the need to protect the harmonious relations that we had sought to promote in our multicultural societies. She also reported on efforts that she had made to hold Welsh Secretary of State, Alun Cairns, to account over issues including mineworkers’ pensions and the questionable plans for the Felindre Parkway station. 

Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris, reported on a number of successful campaign days that had been held with materials tailored to the needs of Wales, and the development of Labour’s community organising strategy, highlighted by the recent event with Ian Lavery MP in the Vale of Glamorgan. She also referred to the importance not only of the Newport West by-election but also the council by-election in Merthyr, which could potentially enable Labour to regain control of the local authority. 

The next item was progress on the Welsh Labour Democracy Review. Officers had prepared a detailed report on the progress that had been made on Stage 2 of the review, which, subject to WEC approval, was to be presented to Welsh Labour Conference in Llandudno. Mark Drakeford and Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, presented this report to the meeting. As indicated at the previous meeting, less of the work encompassed by the review had been accomplished that we would have liked, and there had been a focus on agreeing some changes where there was general consensus. A table of responses included in the paper indicated that there had been a sharp increase in submissions, especially from CLPs, close to the deadline, although no indication was given as to common themes and priorities from those submissions. Despite the somewhat disappointing absence of major reform proposals, overall there were some important and positive steps forward in a number of key areas. These included a relaxation of the restrictions relating to motions submitted to Welsh Labour Conference, removing the “contemporary” criterion and the two-year rule, although not, unfortunately, the requirement that motions must relate to devolved matters only. In addition, there was agreement in principle that Welsh Labour Women’s Conference should become a motion-based event with voting delegates; the Women’s Committee had been asked to draw up appropriate arrangements. 

There were three items in the Democracy Review report that were more contentious. The first of these was a proposal to provide for the election by an OMOV ballot of the position representing Wales on the National Executive Committee. This post has been in the gift of the Welsh Labour leader since it was created in 2016, but there had been widespread support for it to be elected in submissions to the UK Democracy Review and Mark Drakeford had also made this one of his leadership campaign pledges. The proposal as presented would have allowed affiliates as well as CLPs to make nominations, but only party members to vote. The trade unions raised concerns about this and it was agreed that, although there were some practical difficulties (because the election had to be conducted by the UK party) an attempt would be made to accommodate their wishes for their members to vote and the matter would be brought back to the next meeting. 

A second controversial matter related to the rules for reselecting parliamentary candidates. The trigger ballot mechanism was reformed at the UK Labour Conference in 2018, reducing the threshold of votes needed to trigger an open selection, but it was widely assumed that this would apply only in England. There had since been clarification that it would apply to Wales and Scotland as well. The document acknowledged this, but said that Welsh Labour might wish to ask the NEC for a further rule change to allow Wales to have the option to determine its own rules. Some WEC members expressed support for this idea, with two even questioning whether the interpretation of the rules that we had been given was correct. Darren, however, argued that, while he supported devolution where it made practical sense, there was no obvious reason why selection of Labour candidates for a UK-wide Parliament should be different in each of the constituent countries and that we should therefore accept the status quo. It was agreed that the paper could stand as written as it simply acknowledged the current position and that we come back to it at a later date 

The final issue that provoked some controversy was in relation to the commitment to make WEC papers more widely available for members to see. This again was in line with one of Mark Drakeford’s pledges to promote greater openness and accountability within the Welsh party. It was agreed that Welsh Labour should seek to establish a password-protected section of the UK Labour website in which these papers could be published, subject to some exclusions for sensitive or confidential material, but there was a debate as to whether the obligation to publish the papers should be written into the standing orders or whether there should simply be a general instruction to officers that this should be done. At Mark’s suggestion, we adopted the latter approach on an initial basis with the aim of moving towards a more formal commitment once the new approach had been introduced. 

There was then a paper on electoral reform, which summarised responses to the consultation that Welsh Labour had undertaken on this subject. It was reported that, although there had been general consensus that the number of Assembly Members should be increased, there was no consensus about moving towards a more proportional electoral system and it was therefore agreed that we should conduct further discussions on this through the policy process with any resulting proposals to be incorporated in Labour’s manifesto for the next Assembly elections in 2021. 

The Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, reported that, since the last meeting, the Assembly Member and Police and Crime Commissioner trigger ballot processes had begun, that parliamentary candidates had been selected in Clwyd West and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, with Brecon and Radnorshire due to conclude on 30thMarch. In addition, an expedited selection timetable had been agreed for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and this was also under consideration for Ceredigion. In response to questions, Rhiannon said that the Assembly selections in Bridgend and the Rhondda would begin after conference and that it had not yet been decided which would begin first. 

Neither Derek Vaughan MEP nor Cllr Debbie Wilcox were present at the meeting, but both had circulated written reports. Jeff Cuthbert had also produced a written report on the work of the Police and Crime Commissioners and added some comments about the need for greater resources and a more coherent strategy to deal with violent crime, as well as criticising Theresa May’s denial of the link between cuts in police numbers and the increase in recorded crime. 

In response to the minutes, Darren sought a further update on the question of whether new rules on quorums, agreed at UK Conference, would apply in Wales, and was told that the party had confirmed that these would apply. There was one piece of correspondence from Dwyfor Meirionnydd CLP, which incorporated a motion seeking discussion of open selections at Welsh Labour Conference, and it was agreed that this could not be taken up in the way that the CLP wanted because the Assembly selections had largely concluded and we now knew that the parliamentary selections were bound by the same rules as the UK party, but CLP reps asked that the CLP be given a detailed response that fully acknowledged their concerns and clarified the position.  

NEC Meetings Jan 2019

The NEC held its first meetings of 2019 towards the end of January. The Organisation Committee and Disputes Panel met on 22 January (as did the Equalities Committee, of which I’m not a member) and the full NEC met a week later on the 29th. These were the first meetings attended by Mick Antoniw, the Welsh Assembly member designated as the representative of Mark Drakeford, the newly-elected Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister. Like Mark, Mick is a committed socialist and a consistent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and he made a very positive initial impression on the NEC with some typically cogent contributions. These meetings also saw another welcome addition, with Diane Abbott taking up one of the three Shadow Cabinet seats, replacing Kate Osamor.

As usual, I can’t say very much about the Disputes Panel meeting, as most of its business consists of confidential discussions of individual cases. I would say that the discussions are much more consensual and less politically polarised than they used to be. A more robust and consistent standard for investigations now applies; officers’ recommendations are generally balanced and proportionate, as for the most part, are the NEC’s discussions. Of course, most cases of alleged anti-Semitism are now dealt with by smaller panels of three-to-five NEC members, who have access to more detailed information, albeit anonymised. I haven’t yet sat on one of these panels and can’t therefore comment on how well they work. 

I do continue to be concerned about the large backlog number of members under administrative suspension and/or referred to the National Constitutional Committee for disciplinary hearings. Some of these cases came to the Disputes Panel at a time of heightened tensions in the party and would, I think, not have been dealt with so severely now. But, in all cases, natural justice dictates that the accused have their case dealt with as swiftly as possible. I know that our conscientious staff of the Governance and Legal Unit are working through the cases as quickly as they can and the increase in the size of the NCC last year should enable hearings to be held at more regular intervals, so we will hopefully see the backlog significantly reduced in the months ahead. 

Some of the most significant discussions by the Organisation Committee, which met just after the Disputes Panel, and at the full NEC a week later, related to candidate selections. We continue to make progress towards gender balance in the PLP: it was reported that women candidates accounted for two-thirds of those chosen in the first round of new selections and the NEC agreed to increase the number of all-women shortlists in the next tranche. It was disappointing, however, to hear that only four candidates out of 75 so far were from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds (when 37% of applicants had come from such communities). Admittedly, the party doesn’t currently have the legal option of imposing an all-BAME shortlist, even in particularly diverse constituencies, but more clearly needs to be done to ensure that any barriers to the selection of members from minority communities are removed and the party’s candidates reflect the people we aspire to represent. 

The General Secretary also promised to bring to the next NEC meeting proposals to initiate the trigger ballot process for sitting Labour MPs and to ensure that CLPs have some meaningful say even in the event of a snap election – unlike in 2017, when incumbents were readopted automatically. This seems particularly timely in light of the rumblings that have accompanied the recent mini-exodus.  

The General Secretary’s report included an update on preparations for the Women’s Conference in late February and early preparation for the main conference in Brighton, as well as for the English local elections and the possibility of a snap General Election. We were reassured that, contrary to media speculation, party membership remained healthy and well in excess of half a million, notwithstanding some cyclical fluctuations. New members joining the party in recent weeks had clearly outstripped those leaving, and the level of recent financial donations had been the highest achieved outside of a General Election. Work was needed, however, to retain members and involve them in campaigning. Similarly, in a presentation by the party’s Executive Director of Finance and Operations, the information that we were given was very much at odds with the speculation that had appeared in the media, which has sought to suggest that the party is facing a financial crisis. In fact, our finances remain healthy, but prudence is required to ensure that we are able to maintain our regular operations while also being ready for an early General Election. 

The only moderately contentious items on the full NEC agenda were three papers regarding selection procedures for Labour candidates: for Metro mayors, PCCs and the Greater London Authority. These all replicated the principle established by the reform to the trigger-ballot procedure agreed at conference in September 2018, whereby an open selection could be triggered either by a third of party units or by a third of affiliates with the electoral area in question. There was a push-back against this from some union reps and MPs, who wanted to stick to the previous 50% +1 of party units and affiliates combined, but the papers as proposed were agreed by a clear margin. 

There had been speculation before the meeting of a potential bust-up over Brexit but, although one of the MPs mentioned the ‘People’s Vote’ petition and suggested that at some point the party might want to consult its members on the issue, there were few differences of opinion expressed during the meeting. In his report from the EPLP, Richard Corbett MEP told us that the Party of European Socialists had decided to back Franz Timmermans for President of the Commission. Richard thought it likely that the other 27 EU states would support an extension of Article 50 beyond the 29 March deadline. If the UK’s departure were extended no further than 1 July, we would not have to participate in elections to the European Parliament, otherwise British political parties would have to campaign in an election for which no-one had prepared. He said there was unanimity within the party that we don’t want the UK to leave the EU without a deal, therefore the only options were either an alternative deal or to stop Brexit. An alternative deal would need Theresa May to split her own party and negotiate with the Opposition. Jeremy had been right to recognise her offer to meet the other leaders as a gimmick. 

In Cllr. Nick Forbes’ Local Government report we heard that the Local Government Funding Settlement had resulted in Tory households face a cut of £29 and Labour households a cut of £60 over the coming year. The Tories were trying to taker deprivation out of the mechanism by which the settlement is calculated and replace it with rurality and sparsity to suit their own political interests. Labour in the LGA was working on a big campaign against this, under the banner, ‘Stop the Stitch-up’.

While the meeting was underway, news came through of the sentencing of former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya; although her sentence didn’t require an immediate by-election, there was a commitment to allow members in her Peterborough constituency to choose a new candidate as quickly as possible.

In his Deputy Leader’s report, Tom Watson revealed that he had received well-founded information that the Tories were actively preparing for a General Election, reinforcing the need for Labour to take positive steps in this direction. Also, the recent Court judgment relating to the Tory MP for South Thanet had demonstrated that the current legislation is not fit for purpose as it places a very heavy responsibility on party staff and voluntary agents. Tom also highlighted the Government’s own predictions that 9 million jobs are likely to be lost to automation by 2030 and only a Labour government can respond adequately to this challenge by shifting the balance of power in the workplace back towards labour. He also said that Labour is committed to protecting free TV licences for over 75s in the face of the Tories backsliding on this issue. 

Jeremy was able to come along and give a brief Leader’s Report in a break from all the excitement taking place in the House of Commons, where there had been further significant votes in relation to Brexit. He talked about the wider international picture, including his concerns about the actions of the hard-right Brazilian President Bolsonaro and about the situation in Venezuela, where he supported a negotiated settlement and not external intervention. More positively, Jeremy had attended the inauguration of Mexico’s new left-wing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). Jeremy reviewed developments over Brexit in recent weeks, including the government’s historic defeat on the meaningful vote. Labour’s priority continued to be pushing for a General Election and Jeremy had been meeting unions to discuss policy priorities. In his speech in Wakefield, Jeremy had emphasised the shared interests of Leave and Remain supporters in the fact of austerity and the possibility of building unity in support of a change in government policy. He finished by saying that the socialist government in Portugal had achieved a great deal in a short time and should be an example to all of this. 

We were also given a detailed report on the work of the Procedures Working Group (PWG), which was set up to review the party’s disciplinary rules and procedures and their application. Arising from its discussions were some minor proposed refinements of the procedures for dealing with anti-semitism cases, most notably the introduction of a ‘reminder of values’ that might sometimes be useful even when there were no grounds for undertaking a formal investigation. I asked whether these changes would apply to other kinds of disciplinary case and was told that this was being considered. The proposals were agreed. There were also detailed proposals to update and strengthen the party’s sexual harassment procedures designed to provide greater support to complainants, including through the involvement of an independent investigator, who would act as a first point of contact and advise staff. These proposals were also agreed.

The PWG also set out its current and future work programme, including a review of guidance relating to administrative suspension of members in disciplinary cases, and exploring a possible mechanism for appeal or review of a decision by the NCC to suspend or expel a member. This latter idea had been recommended by the Chakrabarti Report in 2016 but not acted upon and there have been growing demands, including via CLP resolutions, for it to be addressed. 

There was also a report from the party’s Safeguarding Unit on its activities over the previous year. Acting on the advice of the NSPCC it had developed its previous Safeguarding and Member Welfare Policy into a Safeguarding Children Policy and Procedure and a Safeguarding Adults at Risk Policy and Procedure. Both of these documents, along with a new Safeguarding Code of Conduct, were presented to the meeting and unanimously agreed.

Finally, looking at the NEC’s schedule of meetings up to conference in the autumn, there was agreement that it would be sensible to try and schedule an additional Disputes Panel meeting at some point, and Jennie agreed to take this away and try to come up with the most practical solution. 

WEC Meeting, 26th January 2019 (Joint Report with Chris Newman)

This was the first meeting since the election as Welsh Labour leader and First Minister of Mark Drakeford (whom both of us strongly supported).  The tone was very positive and upbeat, with WEC members offering Mark their warm congratulations, regardless of whether or not they had supported him in the election itself.

In his Leader’s report, Mark acknowledged the challenges faced by Wales in relation to Brexit and reflected on the leadership election and the selection of his first cabinet. He also gave a welcome reaffirmation of his commitment to promote greater democracy, accountability and transparency within the party. He said that, even without rule changes, there is a lot that we can do to increase transparency and empower members and was pleased to report that WEC members are now listed on the Welsh Labour website for the first time. He said that he had asked party staff to find ways to make as many WEC papers as possible available online for party members to read. He reiterated his support for an OMOV election for the Welsh seat on the NEC and said that he wanted Welsh conference to spend more of its time debating policy. 

In response to questions, Mark echoed concerns about the impact of Brexit, which he said had already been felt within the Welsh economy for some time. He pointed out, however, that attitudes to the issue varied, even among Labour voters, with some frustrated that the party appeared to be trying to resist the people’s will. His own view was that we needed to be able to show that we had done everything possible in Parliament to mitigate the harm that Brexit could do, and at that point, we might legitimately be able to go back to the people and ask them to express a view once again. The overriding priority was that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal. Mark also talked about the importance of having a Cabinet minister with specific responsibility for North Wales, about his commitment to the cooperative economy and about the need for difficult issues in relation to crime and policing to be subject to oversight from the First Minister’s office.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Christina Rees, had circulated a written report but also gave a verbal update on the efforts that she and her parliamentary colleagues had been undertaking in Westminster to steer the Brexit process in a more positive direction, by putting amendments to the Government’s legislation. 

In questions to Christina, Chris highlighted media reports that a number of prominent industrialists had stopped funding the Tory party because of its Brexit policy and also queried whether the growing list of energy and infrastructure projects in Wales that had effectively been blocked by the UK government – Swansea tidal lagoon, rail electrification, Wylfa ‘B’ – reflected Tory vindictiveness. Christina echoed Chris’ concerns on this latter point and also highlighted the lack of agreement as to who would control the proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, intended to replace EU structural funding.  

The Deputy Leader, Carolyn Harris, said that, while Mark would be focussing on policy, she would continue to devote her energies to campaigning, and highlighted a number of dates over the coming months that had been designated as campaign days. She also talked about campaigning around Holocaust Memorial Day, gambling and alleviation of poverty. 

Darren asked for some clarification on Assembly selections. Welsh Labour want all the trigger ballots for seats with sitting Labour AMs (other than any who may have signalled an intention to step down) to be completed by 29 March. With regard to the Labour-held regional list seats, it was explained that there are no ongoing selection procedures in rule and that we therefore have to agree the procedures anew every time this comes up (while this may seem an odd position to be in after twenty years of devolution, it does at least give us the opportunity to improve on the procedures used in the past). This won’t be done at the same time as the trigger ballot for constituency AMs, however, not least because the only region with Labour list AMs (Mid and West Wales) currently has several parliamentary selections to take care of.  

The WEC agreed that, in future, aspiring election candidates should receive a local party membership list free of charge as soon as they’ve submitted their application for selection, rather than having to pay £30, as in the past, or waiting till they’ve been shortlisted, as in England. This will remove a barrier to candidates on low incomes. We also agreed that, where a CLP, particularly in a rural area, wanted to organise an expedited parliamentary selection process, where not many applications were expected, the General Secretary should be empowered to authorise this. What this would mean in practice is that, in the event of there being up to six self-nominations in total, all applicants would be automatically shortlisted (subject to probity checks) and be considered by an all-member selection meeting. 

We confirmed that both of the ‘new’ Assembly selections being treated as priorities, Bridgend and Rhondda, should be all-women shortlists. This had been our expectation at the previous meeting, but in response to a request from Bridgend CLP, we had agreed to defer a final decision until such time as the CLPs had had an opportunity to discuss the matter. Bridgend had, in the end, opted to have an all-women shortlist but Rhondda CLP had stated a preference for an open shortlist. In discussing the submissions, however, WEC members recalled that we had a clear policy of prioritising all-women shortlists for any winnable seats that might become newly vacant and had agreed that it would take a very strong argument to persuade us to make an exception. The WEC was unanimously of the view that we had not been presented with such an argument and that we should uphold our established position, a view that both of us spoke to support. Chris said that it had taken a long series of battles to win Welsh Labour to its current commitment to meaningful action in support of gender balance and the WEC had a political responsibility to take a strong lead in ensuring that this policy was adhered to.

We then moved on to the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review, and agreed, at Mark’s suggestion, that, in view of the vast number of issues left to be addressed by the Welsh Democracy Review and the relatively low engagement so far from party units and affiliates, decisions on any resulting changes would have to be split between this year’s and next year’s conferences. It was also agreed to extend the deadline to allow more CLPs to respond to the party democracy review consultation document. 

We next considered a paper giving a technical debrief on the recent leadership election. Among other things, this reported that more than 750 members had attended hustings meetings; the total electorate had been around 175,000 members and affiliated supporters; and the turnout had been 53.1% for members and 5.7% for affiliates. Darren asked whether further information could be provided, such as a breakout of support for each candidate between the two categories of voter; a similar request was made by Unison, who said that it would be particularly useful to have a breakdown of voting between affiliates, to assist in efforts to drive up turnout in future elections. The Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, said that it would not be possible to provide a breakdown of further voting between each candidate, because this had been a single section OMOV ballot, but she was aware that some affiliates had approached the balloting agency, ERS, about individual union turnout and she understood that it might be possible to provide this. 

Rhiannon had also circulated a written report covering the leadership election, campaigning and visits by leading party figures to various parts of Wales, the Future Candidates programme and staffing changes. There were also written reports from our MEP, Derek Vaughan, Debbie Wilcox (leader of the WLGA) and Jeff Cuthbert (representing the Police and Crime Commissioners). 

Lastly, Darren asked once again for an update on the position regarding the applicability (or otherwise) to Wales of rule changes relating to CLP management agreed at the Liverpool conference in September (most notably on quorums for CLP meetings). We had previously been told that discussions were underway between Welsh Labour and party HQ to establish an agreed position on the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions. Welsh Labour have apparently continued to pursue this but are still awaiting a definitive response. In the meantime, Welsh CLPs have been told that their pre-existing arrangements still stand.  

WEC Meeting 10th November 2018 (Joint Report with Chris Newman)

This was Carwyn’s last meeting, as the election to choose his successor would have taken place by the time that the WEC next met. He said that he had done 330 sessions of First Minister’s Questions over the last nine years and he felt that his proudest achievement was that he had been able to fulfil Welsh Labour’s manifesto commitments in a time of austerity. If Wales’ block grant from Westminster had continued to increase after 2010 at the same rate as before, Wales would have had an extra £4 billion to spend on public services. The final budget for 2019-20 would be put before the Assembly in January; the extra money from the UK Government only amounted to £6 million in revenue and £2.6million in capital spending. The Welsh Government had decided to use the extra resources to provide more of a cushion to local government. Carwyn added that the Welsh Government was going to place bus transport under far greater control than before now that it had the power to do so, as with the railways, and was working towards a better integrated transport system. Carwyn finished by saying that, despite different views on the WEC, the committee had always worked together well and had avoided public argument, as everyone was united in working towards electing a UK Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn.

WEC members then paid tribute to Carwyn for having provided robust and dignified leadership and having defended the interests of Wales through some difficult times.

The first item of business requiring a decision was a draft questionnaire for CLPs and party units on the second stage of the party’s consultation on electoral reform, in response to the proposals in this area that had been put forward by the National Assembly. The document had been produced by a working group made up of WEC members and was largely factual in nature, avoiding taking any position in favour or against any one system but pointing out some of the implications of possible decisions that could be made. It was therefore approved with some minor tweaks and a closing date of 13 February was agreed for responses.

There were then a number of short papers relating to selection procedures for parliamentary and Assembly seats. Firstly, it was agreed that the parliamentary selection in Clwyd West (the last of the six priority target seats in Wales) would recommence as soon as possible following the breakdown of the previous process, and would then be followed in the New Year by selections in the remaining six parliamentary constituencies, three of which would be All Women Shortlists. A last-minute addition to these plans following Paul Flynn’s announcement that he would be stepping down, was that the parliamentary selection in Newport West should also be prioritised early in the New Year and should be an All Women Shortlist. Paul’s departure, while understandable in light of his worsening health, is sad news given his long and impressive contribution to Welsh politics as one of the most principled and independent-minded MPs of recent times. 

Turning to Assembly selections, it was agreed that re-selections in Labour-held seats should begin as soon as possible and that any open selections resulting from trigger ballots in seats with sitting women AMs should be All Women Shortlists. Selections for seats not currently held by Labour, or with retiring Labour incumbents, should proceed later in 2019 on the basis that initially 50% would be All Women Shortlists. It was agreed that Bridgend, where Carwyn would be stepping down in 2019, and the Rhondda, which we hoped to win back from Leanne Wood, would be prioritised, and the Gender Equality Working Group and the Party Development Board had both recommended that these seats should be selected using an All Women Shortlist. Bridgend CLP had written, however, to request that a decision on its own selection be deferred to give local members the opportunity to discuss the matter. It was agreed to accede to this request, albeit pointing out that there would be a presumption in favour of an All Women Shortlist. We also signed off arrangements for the All-Wales Panel for Assembly and Parliamentary selections, which had been agreed at the previous meeting, and noted that any of the arrangements that we had agreed would need to be changed if there were an early General Election or if Parliament agreed any boundary changes. 

The next item was a revised set of standing orders for the National Assembly Labour Group, which had been updated recently, after not having previously been reviewed since 2001. Under the party rules, the WEC had to approve the changes. Although a fairly thorough job had been done by the Group, with the assistance of party officers, Darren raised concerns over a couple of points; for example, there was no clear commitment to bring any proposal to form a coalition government back to the WEC for agreement, let alone convene a Special Conference (as happened when we went into coalition with Plaid Cymru in 2007). We were told, however, that it was not possible for the WEC to make any amendments, only to agree the document as it stood or refer it back to the Group for further changes. As the new standing orders were largely acceptable, it was agreed to approve them but to highlight to the Group those areas that had prompted questions and ask that they be revisited at the earliest opportunity. 

Next, we had a report from the new Acting General Secretary, Rhiannon Evans, covering the major areas of Welsh Labour’s work over the period since the WEC had last met. Darren highlighted a few significant developments that did not appear to be covered, such as the recent Welsh Policy Forum meeting in Newport, the outcomes of the recent Welsh Women’s Conference and any information about the then-forthcoming Welsh Young Labour Conference, as well as asking for a progress update on Stage Two of the Democracy Review. Rhiannon agreed to provide this information in writing. 

Finally, under any other business, Darren queried the outcome of the discussions that had apparently been taking place between Welsh Labour and the UK party over the extent to which new rules for CLPs agreed at the Liverpool conference would apply in Wales, particularly with regard to quorums for CLP meetings. The Deputy General Secretary, David Costa, stated that these discussions were still underway and that, for the time being, any previously agreed arrangements would remain in place. 

NEC meeting, 18 September 2018

This was a nine-hour marathon – the longest meeting yet during my tenure – most of it being devoted to the outcome of the Party Democracy Review and the consideration of which of the resulting rule change proposals should be put to conference.

Before we got to that point in the agenda, we had the usual standing reports. Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson talked about the campaigning they had done over the summer and their efforts to hold the Tories to account since Parliament had reconvened. Cllr Nick Forbes gave a Local Government report focussing on the challenge of austerity and the LGA’s efforts to promote debate on adult social care and Richard Corbett MEP presented an EPLP report highlighting the party’s work in relation to Brexit.

In her General Secretary’s report, Jennie Formby told us that around 12,000 people were expected at the party conference in various capacities and that this, along with healthy membership growth, had resulted in Labour being well ahead of its financial targets. She had set up a taskforce to oversee membership engagement and was planning to launch a monitoring report, analysing the demographic make-up of the membership, at conference. Only 9% of members had voted by post in the recent NEC elections, in which everyone had received a postal ballot, as a result of an NEC decision. Jennie asked that we bear this in mind for the next such exercise and consider how much money we could save by having a mainly online ballot. She also told us that the working group looking at the party’s activity in Northern Ireland was nearing the end of its work and that election readiness work was proceeding under newly-appointed executive director, Niall Sookoo.

We then turned to the Democracy Review, which took up most of the rest of the meeting. Katy Clark’s original 83-page report had been boiled down, by the 4 September meeting, to a set of options for reform, grouped under the main thematic headings (in most cases, a ‘recommended’ proposal and one or more alternatives). Now we were presented with seven ‘bundles’ of draft rule changes (again, with alternative options included in some cases, but not as many as previously). By the time we’d spent several hours discussing and voting on these, I was left feeling deeply disappointed with how little remained of the exciting – but perfectly reasonable and practicable – set of proposals drawn up by Katy and her team. Certainly, some positive decisions were taken but what we are now left with by no means reflects the hard work and vibrant discussion that has taken place over the last year. The trade unions (including the normally pro-Corbyn ones) had evidently come to an agreed position amongst themselves and in many cases had opted for the cautious approach (to put it mildly), rather than responding to the clear desire among the mass membership for democratic reform and renewal of our party.

To go through each of the sections in turn:

  • Members’ rights: This was relatively uncontentious. We agreed a charter of rights, mainly revolving around shorter qualification periods for engaging in party elections and other activities (e.g. 6 months to be a conference delegate and to vote in parliamentary selections).
  • Local Structures: CLPs and Branches: We agreed a mechanism for delegate-based GCs to be converted into all-member meetings; prepared the ground for party equality bodies at local level; agreed to make BAME, Disability, LGBT+, Youth, TULO, Political Education, Comms/Media and Policy officers into Executive officers and stipulated that TULO officers must be in affiliated unions; and allowed for job shares. It was also agreed that CLPs must meet a minimum of eight times a year but an attempt to set a realistic minimum-number quorum for larger CLPs where a percentage figure would be unmanageable was defeated.
  • Local Government: this entire section – which would have seen dysfunctional Local Campaign Forums replaced by more robust structures of accountability – was kicked into the long grass.
  • Regional Structures: this was completely uncontroversial, with mainly superficial changes aimed at replicating the democratic structures that apply elsewhere.
  • NEC: We agreed to establish a Disabled Members’ seat on the NEC and agreed that the Welsh and Scottish NEC seats should be filled in a way determined by the Welsh and Scottish conferences (I proposed that these positions be elected by OMOV – which had been an option in the previous paper – but the Chair wouldn’t put this to the vote). We also agreed that any NEC seats in the CLP, trade union, socialist society or local government sections that might fall vacant should be filled by means of a by-election. Any changes to the party’s policy-making structures were, however, deferred until next year (despite the consensus that the National Policy Forum is dysfunctional).
  • National Conferences: We prepared the way for more democratic structures – including annual conferences – to be established for women, young members, disabled members and members from BAME communities. We agreed to scrap the “contemporary” criterion for conference motions and to increase the number of subject areas debated at conference to 10 chosen by the CLPs and 10 chosen by affiliates but a vote to abolish the “three-year rule” (whereby issues cannot be revisited for three years after a decision has been made) and the on-year delay before rule change motions are debated, was narrowly defeated. Also lost was a proposal to increase the size of the Conference Arrangements Committee and introduce parity between CLP and trade union seats.
  • Leadership elections: discussion of this section, dealing with the rules regarding nomination thresholds, was deferred to our eve-of-conference NEC meeting on Saturday.

Following the Democracy Review discussion, we considered further draft rule changes arising from the work of the NEC’s working party on disciplinary procedures; these aimed to increase the size of the National Constitutional Committee (which conducts disciplinary hearings) and set out more robust rules for its functioning and were largely uncontentious.

If all the positive proposals listed above are agreed by conference, this will represent some worthwhile progress, across a range of areas of party activity, but – to repeat – it falls far short of the expectations raised by the launch of the Democracy Review. The majority of the NEC has, sadly, proven itself too cautious and conservative to grasp the opportunity that the Review presented.

The pre-conference NEC meeting on Saturday will now consider two important matters. The first of these is the deferred issue of leadership election nominations, where the unions are apparently seeking to make the rules more restrictive than the status quo, which would suggest that nothing has been learned from 2015, when Jeremy almost failed to get on the ballot-paper but went on to win a decisive victory among party members among supporters. The other is the matter of parliamentary selections, where many rule change motions have been submitted, seeking either to reintroduce open selections or to reform the current trigger ballot procedure. The NEC seems poised to introduce its own rule change (which would take precedence over those from CLPs), making it easier to deselect ineffectual or out-of-touch MPs without going as far as reintroducing fully open selection. As a result of a Momentum e-lobbying campaign, I have received more than two thousand emails, urging me to do what I’m inclined to do anyway. While I applaud the sentiment, I haven’t had time to read most of the emails, let alone reply to them.

NEC meeting, 4 September 2018

This was a special meeting (actually, two meetings in one), which was arranged to do two things: to clear the backlog of disciplinary cases to be considered by the Disputes Panel; and to discuss the outcome of the Party Democracy Review carried out by Katy Clark and her team – but in practice, of course, it was dominated by the anti-semitism issue.

The disciplinary matters were considered in the morning. The July Disputes Panel had been presented with three times as many new cases as normal, due to a concerted effort to deal with all outstanding investigations in a timely fashion. There was never any realistic chance of getting through those cases in the hour provided (which is never long enough, anyway), hence an extra meeting had been scheduled. In the meantime, however, a number of the anti-semitism cases had been considered outside the Disputes Panel under new arrangements whereby a panel of 3-5 NEC members look at as many cases as possible; the cases are anonymised but far more detail is provided about the nature of the alleged offence(s), the evidence, the member’s response, etc. I had some reservations about this, as the outcome could vary depending on who sits on the panel. The anonymity and greater detail available are positive steps, however.

With a section of the backlog having already been dealt with, the Disputes Panel was able to get through the remaining cases in the time available; some, but by no means all, of these related to allegations of anti-semitism. There was more detail provided than in the past and it was presented in a consistent and systematic fashion, which wasn’t the case previously. Although there wasn’t unanimity on every case and there were a couple of instances of members referred to the NCC for possible expulsion where I felt that a warning and training would have sufficed, the general tone of the discussion was more reasonable and less polarised than in the past. The penalty suggested by officers was reduced in a couple of cases and in one instance where the information provided was rather sketchy, we agreed to refer the matter back to officers for this to be remedied before we made a decision.

After the relative calm of the morning, the tension was ratcheted up when the ‘full’ NEC meeting took place in the afternoon. As usual, the deliberations of this session were all over the media before the meeting had even concluded and pundits were offering supposedly authoritative explanations of what had transpired. As a result of the persistent leaking of supposedly confidential discussions – culminating in the disgraceful recording and publication of comments made by Pete Willsman at the July meeting – it was decided at the start of the agenda that mobile phones and other electronic devices will not be allowed into NEC meetings from now on and those unable to attend in person will no longer be able dial in. It will be interesting to see what difference this makes to media coverage in future.

There had been weeks of speculation that the NEC was poised to accept in full the illustrative examples that accompany the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism. In common with my fellow members of the Committee, I received more than three thousand emails seeking to influence my vote on this issue – more than I’ve had on all other matters combined in my two years as a member – and the vast majority of these urged me to stand by the existing Code of Conduct adopted by the NEC in July and not accept the full IHRA examples.

This was the position I had intended to take, in any case. In my view, the party’s own Code of Conduct, carefully balanced and informed by a robust understanding of its legal implications, offered clear and precise commitments to eradicate anti-semitism in the party, while qualifying and contextualising the IHRA text in such a way as to protect free speech on Israel/Palestine. Alongside the launch of an education programme for activists and a clearer and more consistent approach to dealing with allegations of anti-semitism against individuals, this seemed to demonstrate a serious and proportionate response to the issue that has increasingly dogged the party in recent months.

Of course, for many commentators, including a number of our own MPs, this was not only insufficient to demonstrate our commitment to fighting anti-semitism but was actually an insult to the Jewish community; only complete and unqualified adoption of the full IHRA text (despite the doubts about its practical usefulness extending to its main author) would do. Suspicions that, for at least some of those making these arguments, no concession short of a change of party leadership would do, were confirmed by Margaret Hodge when she said, “the problem is Jeremy.”
Nevertheless, it is easy to understand why the party leadership felt it necessary to adopt the full IHRA document – albeit alongside a reaffirmation of the right to criticise the Israeli state – if the party was ever to move on from the damaging situation that had engulfed it over the summer. Jeremy and his frontbench colleagues want to able to concentrate their fire on the Tories over austerity and the Brexit process and set out the positive things that a Labour government would do and that is very difficult while this furore continues. Jeremy at least presented a careful and balanced statement offering strong protections for legitimate criticism of Israel. While a couple of us spoke against accepting “full IHRA”, it was clear that we were never going to secure a majority for our position and the leadership were more concerned about the right, who didn’t want to adopt any substantial caveats at all.

This is more or less where we ended up, albeit with a commitment to ongoing consultation on the Code of Conduct and, in the meantime, a very brief statement saying that “full IHRA” shouldn’t mean an end to free speech on Israel/Palestine. The fact that even this mild caveat was swiftly denounced by the likes of Margaret Hodge, Progress and Labour Friends of Israel confirms that, unfortunately, the issue has not yet been put to bed.
One of the frustrating things about this debate at the NEC meeting was that it left very little time to discuss the excellent ideas arising from the Democracy Review, which suggest progressive reform in a number of areas, from leadership nomination rules to the policy process and from the party’s local government structures to the make-up of the NEC itself. Following the presentation of Katy Clark’s initial report at the July meeting, NEC members had fed in responses and alternative proposals over the remainder of the summer and these were reflected in a summary document that was put to the meeting. We had time only to go through this paper and note the areas where there was consensus and those where further debate would be necessary. Unsurprisingly, more areas of the review fell into the latter category than the former.

We now have one further full-length NEC meeting before conference, at which this can be discussed in greater detail and I hope that, following this, as many as possible of the good ideas arising from the review can be presented to delegates in Liverpool.

Welsh Executive Committee meeting, 8 September 2018 (joint report with Christine Newman)

This meeting was a special one, dedicated solely to receiving and discussing Lord (Paul) Murphy’s report on Phase One of the Welsh Labour Party Democracy Review. The consultation period ended on 31st July, shortly after the WEC’s last meeting, but we did not receive the report until late on Friday 7th September, the day before our meeting; we were told that the delay was due to Lord Murphy undertaking on-going meetings with different interested groups up to the week before the WEC meeting.

The report itself was quite concise, detailing the background to the review and its scope: to deal exclusively with the electoral system to be used to elect our leader and deputy leader. The controversy at the end of 2017 is still fresh in people’s minds, when the WEC took the decision to retain an electoral college system, despite the majority of consultation responses favouring One Member One Vote (OMOV). Although Lord Murphy did not provide a precise breakdown of the responses, it was made clear that, this time around, CLPs and individual members (the latter via an online survey) favoured OMOV, as did Unite the Union, some smaller affiliate bodies and the majority of the members of the Assembly Labour Group. Other trade unions (including UNISON and the GMB) favoured a reformed electoral college system.

It was clear from Lord Murphy’s report that there is consensus against the continuation of the status quo, whereby the elected representatives (AMs, MPs and the one MEP) retain a third of the college (which, in the deputy leadership election, led to their votes being worth more than 400 times those of ordinary party members). There is also overwhelming support for the continued involvement of levy-paying members of affiliated unions and other organisations. However, there was no consensus over the electoral method that should be used and Lord Murphy therefore asked the WEC to consider two options:

  • OMOV (which he calls “OMOV Plus”, to emphasise that it would not just involve party members – the ‘M’ in OMOV – but also affiliated supporters); and
  • a reformed electoral college (wherein 50% of the college would be for party members and 50% for affiliated supporters).

The report contained draft wording of the relevant additions to the rule book to be added depending on which option was chosen, and contained a section on the workstream arrangements in place for Phase Two of the review, which is to consider all other aspects of party democracy devolved to the Welsh party.

The WEC therefore had to decide, on the basis of Lord Murphy’s report, what to put to the Special Conference (to be held on Saturday 15th September), where delegates from party units and affiliates will make the final decision.

The first discussion was therefore around whether or not both options should be presented to conference – as Chris and Darren, among several others, argued – or whether only one option should be presented. The latter view was put by most of the union reps who spoke (other than those from Unite), who wanted just the reformed electoral college option to go forward. Those of us who argued for the conference to be given a genuine choice argued that the confidence of members in the party’s process had already been damaged by developments over the last year and that this would be exacerbated if only one option were presented to delegates. Carwyn Jones made a significant intervention in the discussion, arguing that, although he personally favoured a reformed electoral college, both options should be put to conference; he added that this would not preclude the WEC from making a recommendation. When the vote was taken, it was duly agreed (by a margin of 21 to eight) to put both options to conference, which was a considerable relief and means that we will not simply be back in the same position in which we found ourselves last November.

It was then unanimously agreed that the WEC should make a recommendation to conference. Unfortunately, it was then narrowly agreed (by only one vote) that the recommendation should be for the electoral college. Conference will not, of course, be obliged to follow this recommendation – and, indeed, a WEC recommendation was rejected on more than one several occasion at the main Welsh conference in April. The main thing is that delegates from every CLP, affiliated union and socialist society will be able to participate in the crucial decision as to how we elect our leader and deputy leader in future.

The detailed arrangements for the Special Conference were not discussed at this meeting because they fall under the purview of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC), which will decide on such matters as speaking slots and voting arrangements.  A couple of significant points were made, however. It was confirmed that the decision will be taken by a card vote, with delegates casting a vote roughly proportional to the membership of the bodies they represent. It was also suggested in the discussion that, since a rule change was involved, the decision would have to carry a two-thirds majority to be valid; party officers were able to state definitively that this is not required by the rules. The unions that support a reformed electoral college also made clear that they wanted to restrict anyone taking part in future elections to a maximum of two votes: one as a party member (if applicable) and one as a member of an affiliated organisation (if applicable) – whereas some people (especially elected politicians) had as many as six or seven votes in the recent deputy leadership election, depending on how many organisations they belonged to. This had not been specified in Lord Murphy’s report, so the relevant draft rule change was amended to reflect the unions’ position.

One other point needs to be mentioned in relation to this discussion. One of our fellow CLP reps proposed that there be a recorded vote on the decisions of this meeting, meaning that the names of the WEC members voting each way would be recorded in the minutes. This is something that was incorporated in the new standing orders that we agreed back in February, which say that there will be a recorded vote if at least two members request it. The chair (wrongly, in our view) opened this request up to discussion and then put it to the vote, and, as only eight of us supported it, she declined the request. In the course of this brief discussion, some WEC members suggested, rather questionably, that to reveal how members voted might expose them to abuse and intimidation. In our view, however, this is a question of accountability: most of us on the WEC are there not as individuals but as representatives of particular sections of the party, which have a right to know how we acted in their name. We would add that we rarely mention other WEC members by name in our reports and never in connection with anything controversial.

The only other item at the meeting was a brief update on the position of the Welsh Labour General Secretary. Louise Magee will soon be going on maternity leave and it was announced the Head of Communications, Rhiannon Evans would undertake Louise’s duties during her absence.

NEC Meeting 17th July 2018

The meeting began with a point of order about the designated representative of the Welsh Labour Leader, Carwyn Jones. A place had been set for the Welsh Assembly Member Jeremy Miles (although he wasn’t actually present), yet, at the previous meeting, Carwyn had dialled in himself. The point was reiterated that there are no substitutes allowed at NEC meetings and Carwyn could either, therefore, attend each meeting in person or appoint a permanent representative.

Before getting into the main business of meeting, the Chair, Andy Kerr, expressed disappointment that, once again, important papers had been leaked prior to the meeting, in this case, the draft recommendations from the Democracy Review, which was due to be the main item of business.

Jeremy Corbyn then gave his Leader’s Report, describing how the PLP had been keeping the Tory Government under pressure over Brexit. He outlined the bizarre scenes over the White Paper, which had not been distributed to MPs ahead of the discussion. Any Brexit deal would be assessed according to Labour’s Six Tests (as outlined by Keir Starmer on Labour List). Unfortunately, three Labour MPs had voted with the Tories the previous night, allowing the Government to win key votes. The party needed to be prepared for a General Election whenever it may come, and John Trickett MP was leading on this. The Shadow Cabinet would be meeting the following day to discuss preparations for government and would be seeking to develop detailed policy proposals over the summer recess. Jeremy had spoken at several trade union conferences and at the Durham Miners’ Gala, and was due to attend the Tolpuddle Festival the following weekend. He had also spoken at various events commemorating the 70thbirthday of the NHS, including in Tredegar, birthplace of Aneurin Bevan, as well as the major UNISON demonstration. Jeremy also talked about his visit to a refugee camp in Jordan and welcomed Janet Daby’s victory in the Lewisham by-election. Jeremy finished by saying that he hoped that the Democracy Review would make the party open, democratic and accountable to its members and that it would change the culture in CLPs that are sometimes not as welcoming as they should be.

In his Local Government Report, Cllr Nick Forbes said that the Government was due to produce a paper on adult social care but had ‘kicked the can down the road’. Any extra money put into the NHS had been undermined by the failure to address the problems of social care. The LGA was now producing its own Green Paper on the issue, pulling together various proposals made over the years. The financial gap faced by councils just to carry on with they are already doing now amounted to £7.8 billion up to 2025, emphasising what a difficult time is faced by local authorities.

In his EPLP report, Richard Corbett MEP talked about the work underway to challenge the Tories’ Brexit plans, but also touched on the current legislative agenda and the choice faced by the Party of European Socialists in deciding which candidate to support for the Presidency of the European Commission.

Jennie Formby then gave her General Secretary’s Report, which, as usual, covered a range of disparate items, taking up a large section of the agenda. She summarised all of the work underway, including preparations for conference and for a possible General Election, and thanked her staff for their hard work and commitment.

Jennie also presented the meeting with a series of documents summarising the party’s efforts to address the issue of anti-Semitism. This was the longest discussion in the meeting, and the one that attracted the most media commentary afterwards, albeit not necessarily very accurately. There was a revised version of the paper setting out a new disciplinary procedure, an earlier version of which had been discussed at the previous meeting. There was also a proposal for a detailed and comprehensive education programme for party activists, which could be rolled out over the months and years ahead. The third document was the Code of Conduct, which has been widely discussed. This was the result of a lot of hard work and careful consideration on the party of party officers, including our new in-house Counsel.

Contrary to the way it has sometimes been described in the media, it includes the entirety of the definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and almost all of the accompanying examples. It also, however, incorporates a discussion about the need to balance our responsibility to fight prejudice in our own ranks and show solidarity with the Jewish community with the need to protect the right to legitimate criticism of the state of Israel. Hence, the only part of the list of IHRA examples not included virtually word for word is the reference to the Israeli state being a racist endeavour. In my view, the Code of Conduct represents a balanced and principled position and, in fact, nobody in the debate seriously suggested otherwise. The discussion revolved around the way that the party’s approach to anti-Semitism has been perceived, particularly by the Jewish community, and several NEC members felt that it was necessary to adopt the IHRA document in its entirety in order to win back trust in Labour by the Jewish community. In my contribution, I said that this would not only be a mistake, but it may not even succeed in its objective if the party was seen to be changing our position under pressure rather than out of conviction. Ultimately, it was agreed to confirm our decision to adopt the Code as drafted, but to re-open discussions with the main Jewish organisations with a view to exploring their remaining concerns.

We then moved on to the discussion on the Democracy Review. Katy Clark and her team had prepared a lengthy draft document, which had been circulated to NEC members the day before, summarising the conclusions of the Review. This paper had, unfortunately, been leaked to the media, as a result of which the General Secretary indicated that, in principle, there is no further obstacle to NEC members circulating and discussing its contents more widely. I therefore attach some of the most interesting sections (I am not circulating the whole document, as it was sent to us as 23 separate PDFs, but if anyone wants to see other sections, based on the summary of recommendations, please let me know). There has been a summary on Labourlist, along with some commentary, but I would like to highlight the following:

  • it is proposed that the nominations threshold for future leadership elections allow CLP or trade union nominations to count in place of those from MPs but that a candidate must also always securesupport from a minimum of 5% of the PLP (this is a compromise but one that makes it significantly easier than at present for a broad range of candidates to get on the ballot-paper);
  • it is also proposed that the proportion of NEC members who are directly-elected be gradually increased over time but, for now, the only concrete change in composition would be the replacement of the EPLP rep (assuming that Brexit goes ahead) with a disabled members’ rep. It is also suggested that the Scottish and Welsh seats be filled in a way to be determined by Scottish and Welsh conferences, respectively, rather than continue to be in the gift of the Scottish and Welsh party leaders, and that there be by-elections in the event of a vacancy.
  • the failure of the National Policy Forum (NPF) as an effective means of making policy is recognised and it is proposed to sweep it away – although the suggested alternative process seems rather undeveloped so far. The NPF elections are going ahead but it may be that the successful candidates will have nothing to do.
  • Local Campaign Forums – another unhappy initiative from the New Labour period – are also potentially on the way out, with a proposed move back to something more like the old Local Government Committee/County Party set-up.

NEC members have been asked to reflect on these draft proposals and feed back any suggested changes ahead of our next meeting on 4 September (discussion on the day being limited by the fact that few people had the chance to digest the document). After 4 September, something will be presumably be published officially to the wider party.

The last substantial item was a paper considering our work with sister parties, proposing that we look at developing relations with other parties with whom we do not have formal organisational links, but with whom we have worked over issues of mutual interest and concern, due to our shared political perspectives, an example being Syriza in Greece. It was agreed to set up a working party to consider how these relationships could be taken forward without undermining the existing arrangements that we have with our long-standing sister parties.