NEC Meeting Tuesday 19 May 2020

After a couple of special meetings called to discuss the party’s response to the leaked report, we finally held the first full NEC meeting under Keir Starmer’s leadership. Although this meeting was not due to discuss the appointment of a new General Secretary, following the sad departure of Jennie Formby, the long-listing for this post by NEC officers had taken place that morning and the Chair, Andi Fox, began by expressing her disappointment that the names of the 9 candidates who had been successful at this first stage had immediately been leaked to the media. 

The Chair also informed us that Carol Sewell, the NEC BAME rep, who had been scheduled to join the NEC officers in conducting the shortlisting for the General Secretary post, was now unable to take part and the Chair therefore proposed that one of the CLP reps, Huda Elmi, take Carol’s place. This opened up a lengthy discussion where various NEC members sought not only to propose alternative candidates to Huda but also to reopen the question on the number and composition of the shortlisting panel. When the Chair quite rightly ruled that such proposals of the latter kind were out of order, she had to contend with some disgraceful barracking and general rudeness from certain NEC members. Following a vote, it was eventually decided that Shabana Mahmood MP should take Carol’s place. 

Keir then gave his first report as leader, concentrating mainly on how he had been holding the Tory government to account on its failures in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, particularly in relation to testing and PPE, as well as the disturbingly high death toll within care homes. Keir also voiced the widespread concerns about Boris Johnson’s speech in which he had begun to relax the lockdown restrictions in England without apparently having given this adequate thought beforehand. The Immigration Bill was another cause for concern, given the government’s appalling treatment of NHS and care workers from other countries. Finally, Keir talked about the outreach work that the party was doing in communities where people had turned away from Labour in 2019 and cited in particular online public meetings held with people in the north of England and in Wales. 

In questions on the leader’s report, concerns were raised over a number of issues, including the membership of the panel investigating the leaked report, the apparent shift in the party’s position in relation to Kashmir, the rather cautious stance taken over rent relief for tenants in the private rental sector and the hostility voiced towards the teaching unions by certain Labour figures. Mick Antoniw MS also highlighted the different approaches being taken by the four national governments within the UK over Covid-19 and the need for Labour to factor this experience into its thinking on constitutional reform. Keir responded that the inquiry panel had been agreed by the whole NEC (although it was subsequently pointed out that we hadn’t had the opportunity to research the proposed members beforehand). He also said that his letter on Kashmir followed closely the line taken in a similar letter from Ian Lavery MP under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and reassured the NEC that the party would take a strong line on any human rights abuses; NEC members highlighted the alarming deterioration of the situation in recent months and the importance of the party clearly condemning the actions of the Indian government. On rent, Keir said that the taxpayer would have to pick up the bill if tenants were relieved of the responsibility to pay. He offered support for the position of the teaching unions and said that schools should only be reopening when it was safe to do so. Keir also acknowledged Mick Antoniw’s point about devolution and said that he was in constant contact with the Welsh and Scottish Labour leaderships. 

Angela Rayner then gave her first report as Deputy Leader and began by paying tribute to the work of Jennie Formby. She said that she was working with the trade unions in their efforts to boost membership, a campaign that had been inadvertently boosted by Boris Johnson’s flagrant disregard for the interests of workers. Angela made a few comments about the enquiry into the leaked report, saying in particular that the standards expected of staff needed to be absolutely clear in the future and that she hoped and expected that the issue of the misuse of finances in relation to parliamentary seats was properly examined, along with the other matters that had come to light. She acknowledged that there had been some differences recently on a number of issues such as those about which Keir had been asked, but she hoped that consensus could be reached on these matters without any return to factionalism. She also highlighted the importance of the party investing sufficient resources in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections in particular, given the high stakes involved. 

We then moved on to consider a number of papers on pressing matters arising from the Covid-19 crisis and the need for the party to adjust our plans accordingly. There was a wide-ranging paper entitled ‘Local and Regional Democracy in Lockdown.’ The first part of this looked forward to the council, mayoral and devolved parliamentary elections due to take place in 2021 and set out a timetable and revised arrangements for the selection of candidates. Much of what was proposed was sensible and pragmatic, but there were concerns about the potential implications for democracy of one or two of the proposals. A couple of amendments were agreed that improved on the original proposal; the first of these allowed for party branches to continue to conduct local government selection shortlisting in England (rather than this being taken over by the LCF assessment team and branch officers) and a second amendment deleted a proposal that the transition from LCFs to Local Government Committees should be ‘paused’. 

The second part of the paper dealt with internal party elections for various sections of the NEC along with auditors, the CAC, NCC and the Young Labour National Committee. A choice was presented, whereby either CLPs could be allowed to make nominations using an electronic platform; or CLP Executive Committees would make nominations; or, finally, all internal elections would be deferred, pending a further decision on appropriate timescales. In the end, the third of these options was overwhelmingly agreed, but it was agreed to hold a further NEC meeting in June, which would consider a new paper with further detailed options as to the timetabling of the elections. It was also agreed that English regional party conferences (scheduled for autumn 2020) would be postponed until the following year and that, in the absence of the normal workings of the National Policy Forum, the party’s policy and research unit would produce guidelines to support CLPs in engaging with the NPF process via electronic platforms. Mick Antoniw proposed that this be done with due regard to devolution, given that around half of the policy content of NPF papers now relates to matters that are devolved, and this was agreed. 

We then turned to a separate paper on annual conference and women’s conference; the options were either to plan for a full conference to go ahead, which would have required the procedures to be varied to allow CLPs to elect delegates using an online voting platform; or for conference to be postponed and replaced with an online policy event in the summer, which would not fulfil the constitutional function of the normal conference. Given the practical difficulties of organising a physical conference involving social distancing measures, even if it were possible for a mass meeting of this kind to go ahead at all, it was unanimously agreed to postpone conference. 

The only other substantial business was to fill some gaps in the party’s policy commissions and to take a report on local government from Cllr Nick Forbes, leader of the LGA, who highlighted the close working between the Shadow Cabinet and Labour’s leadership within the LGA and the growing financial pressure on councils and the need for this to be addressed. 

Under AOB, there was an attempt to reopen the agreed procedures for conducting the remainder of the General Secretary appointment, which unfortunately saw some of the same bad behaviour from certain NEC members as had been witnessed at the start of the meeting. I understand that strong representations have been made since the meeting about this and hope that we will see a more comradely and respectful attitude towards the Chair, in particular, in future meetings. 

Special NEC Meetings, 23rd April and 1st May 2020

The first scheduled NEC meeting that Keir Starmer would have attended following his election as party leader would have been on 19th May 2020. The leak of the internal report on the party’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints, however, resulted in a couple of special meetings being called. 

Keir and Angela Rayner had already announced that there would be an investigation into the substance of the leaked report, as well as the circumstances of its production and release into the public domain. The contents of the report had already been widely reported by the media and there had been widespread outrage among party members over revelations that senior party officials had apparently conspired against Jeremy Corbyn, undermining Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign and impeding efforts to deal with anti-Semitism complaints.

Along with all of my fellow NEC members, I received hundreds of emails expressing shock and revulsion at these revelations, and demanding that the party take robust action to address the behaviour sighted in the report and restore the confidence of party members. 

Shortly before the meeting on 23rd April, the NEC received draft terms of reference for the investigation from Keir. This document was not especially contentious, rightly acknowledging the concerns that many party members have felt on reading about the leaked report, and setting out the basis for an investigation to be overseen by a panel of four independent members. The proposed terms of reference fell into three categories: first, the truth or otherwise of the main allegations in the report; second, the circumstances under which it had been commissioned and written and those in which it was leaked; and finally, the structure, culture and practices of the party. 

The meeting on 23rd April was convened solely to discuss these terms of reference. There was also a brief report from Jennie Formby, General Secretary, in which she explained that the document had originally been intended for the party’s lawyers in the context of the EHRC investigation into complaints about anti-Semitism in the party. Jennie also detailed the action that she had taken since the leak, including contacting the Information Commissioner’s Office, launching an immediate internal investigation into the data breach and contacting all those named in the report. 

Keir said in presenting his draft terms of reference that he was sorry to be attending his first meeting under such circumstances and that it was necessary for the party to undertake such an inward-looking responsibility at a time of national crisis. 

A series of amendments to the terms of reference had been submitted, most from the left of the party, and these were discussed in turn. The general thrust of most of these amendments was to emphasise the importance of investigating the substance of the report as opposed to the lesser matters of how it come to be written and how it had been leaked. This focus reflected the concerns of the many members who had contacted us and sought to avoid an undue preoccupation with identifying the source of the leak. One of the MPs on the NEC suggested that anyone suspected of having been responsible for the leak should be suspended, but thankfully this suggestion was not adopted. Unfortunately, most of the amendments were defeated, reflecting the weakness of the left following the leadership and NEC by-elections. Those that were accepted acknowledged the legitimate concerns about relations between party staff and the membership, reinforced the fact that any chance to party structures would fall outside the scope of the investigation and finally highlighted the fact that an apparent racist and sexist culture within party offices had been one of the most alarming aspects of the report. 

The second special meeting on 1st May was called in order to seek agreement from the NEC for the people whom Keir Starmer wanted to appoint to the investigation panel. The NEC had not received these names in advance of the meeting and there had therefore been no opportunity to look into the record of the people involved. The nominee for chair was Martin Forde QC, a prominent black barrister who had provided advice on the Windrush compensation scheme. The other proposed members were Lord Larry Whitty (former Labour General Secretary and a member of the House of Lords since 1996), Baroness Debbie Wilcox (former leader of Newport Council and of the Welsh Local Government Association) and finally Baroness Ruth Lister (a well-known social policy academic and also a Labour peer). 

Keir said that he had considered asking Lord Alf Dubs (former Labour MP for Battersea and more recently a Labour peer) to join the panel, but considered that Alf’s strong support for Keir’s leadership campaign might cause his independence to be called into question. Jon Lansman argued, however, that it was a matter of concern that there were no Jewish members proposed for a panel whose subject matter would partially centre on the party’s response to anti-Semitism complaints and suggested that Lord Dubs be added as a fifth member. This was put to the vote and I was among those who supported the proposal, but it was narrowly lost. I also supported the suggestion that Andy Kerr, from the CWU and Chair of the NEC Organisation Committee, should serve as an NEC liaison with the panel, but unfortunately this again was defeated. 

There was some discussion about the members of the panel and about the process; Larry Whitty was probably seen as the most controversial choice during the meeting itself, due to his involvement in some of the factional struggles within the party during the late 1980s and early 1990s, although even some on the left felt that he was a figure whose judgement should be respected and it was pointed out that he had been removed as General Secretary under Tony Blair. All four nominees were overwhelmingly endorsed by the NEC, although some of us abstained at some cases. I voted to accept Debbie Wilcox, having worked with her on the Welsh Executive Committee and considered her to be independently-minded, but I have subsequently been concerned to see some of her tweets, which endorse strong criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and suggest a sympathy for right-wing factions within the party. 

During both meetings, some of us raised the question of administrative suspensions of those alleged in the leaked report to have been guilty of wrongdoing; one of the main concerns of those party members who had written to use was that no action was being taken against former and current officials who appeared to have engaged in very troubling conduct, yet many ordinary party members had been suspended pending investigation of often lesser offences. While there were no guarantees offered of action in this respect, Keir said that the progress of the investigation should not impede any disciplinary action against particular individuals and Jennie confirmed that the Governance and Legal Unit was examining the evidence to consider whether any action might be necessary. 

NEC Meeting 17 September 2019

This was the meeting that takes place every year in the week preceding party conference and which finalises whatever decisions the NEC might need to make regarding the conference agenda and other arrangements. It is normally, therefore, one of the lengthier meetings and this year’s was no exception. 

Jeremy began his Leader’s report by paying tribute to those prominent party members who had died over the summer months and for whom we had received obituaries, but also to Jennie Formby, who had continued to undertake the role of General Secretary with her usual fortitude and professionalism despite having to contend with her treatment for cancer. He also thanked the party staff in general, who had worked hard throughout a particularly demanding period. 

Jeremy then reminded us of the challenge that we would soon face to secure a government that would represent ordinary people. Boris Johnson had been elected by a mere 92,000 Tory votes, he was making a series of unfunded spending commitments and had the temerity to say that austerity was now over when this was clearly not the case. Jeremy continued to campaign all over the UK and had paid a visit to Whaley Bridge, to see the damage done by the flood and the work that had been put into deal with it and protect local people. The community had been full of praise for the emergency services and seemed supportive of the local Labour MP. The Tories were still committed to leaving the EU by 31st October but didn’t seem to have any new proposals. They had tried not to publish the Yellowhammer report but it had come out two days after parliament was prorogued. Legislation had been passed to avoid a no-deal Brexit, thanks to Labour MPs and peers. 

The Prime Minister was under pressure to say whether he would abide by the law as passed. There was also a court case underway on the question of whether the prorogation had been legal and Shami Chakrabarti had attached herself to the case. Jeremy had reached out to other opposition parties to prioritise ruling out no deal and this had proven effective. He said that we shouldn’t promote either a referendum or an election until no deal was off the table. The government no longer had a majority, having lost 21 Tory MPs. If Boris Johnson were defeated on the Queen’s Speech, this could lead to an election; otherwise Labour could potentially table a vote of no confidence. The alternative to Labour’s approach would be Johnson taking the UK into the arms of Trump’s USA. Labour was determined to campaign on all issues during an election including poverty and austerity. In the meantime, we would be having a full debate at conference on Brexit and Labour’s plans for a Green New Deal among other issues. 

In the ensuing discussion, several NEC members congratulated Jeremy on his handling of the Brexit issue in parliament and there was criticism of Jo Swinson for her attempt to avoid working with Jeremy and the LibDems commitment to revoke Article 50 without going back to the people. 

The next item should have been the Deputy Leader’s report but Tom Watson was not present and had not given apologies, so we had to move on to the subsequent item. This was the local government report, where Cllr Nick Forbes said that the LGA had unanimously adopted a Labour motion on the climate emergency. He was also promoting Labour innovation in local government on a special website, which would be a useful resource for the party. Andrew Gwynne MP had said that local government was an important delivery agent for 44% of our manifesto. Nick was also delighted that Debbie Wilcox, previously Leader of Newport Council and the WLGA, had been elevated to the House of Lords. 

The International Report was presented by John Hilary, former Director of War on Want, who had recently moved into this role and wanted to ensure more political content in the NEC’s discussions of its relations with parties and other organisations abroad. Kashmir and Yemen were among the pressing international issues raised under this item. 

We then had the General Secretary’s report, with Jennie ringing in for this item. This covered many of the organisational issues that required consideration. Jennie reported that the EHRC were still working on their investigation. The party has also stepped is planning for a general election, which had been underway since 2017 and subject to regular review, with funding now made available for specific quantities of election materials. The party had recently opened up applications for aspiring parliamentary candidates and had received 1200 of these before the deadline. The Governance and Legal Unit had been carrying out due diligence checks. Trigger ballots for Labour-held seats were currently the priority. 

There was lengthy discussion covering a number of the points that Jennie had raised, including concerns about the procedure undertaken to fill vacancies for candidates in seats where the MP was retiring or had defected to another party- some of these selections had begun only to be abruptly halted and had yet to be recommenced. There was clearly a pressing need for the party to have candidates in place in these important winnable seats as soon as possible. 

Jennie asked the NEC to agree that the party should continue to prioritise trigger ballots, but ask officers to come back with a proposal for a truncated process for new selections. The NEC agreed, but asked for a detailed proposal to be brought to the eve of conference meeting the following Friday, despite Jennie expressing reservations as to whether this would be achievable, given the pressure of conference preparation work. NEC members also expressed concern about the continuing absence of a date for the next Women’s Conference- Jennie pointed out that other conferences had been cancelled but gave assurances that the Women’s Conference would definitely take place in the New Year, albeit that it was currently difficult to be more precise because the events team were preoccupied with the main conference. 

Harry Donaldson, Chair of Conference Arrangements Committee, then gave a report on how motions would be dealt with at conference- 398 had been submitted, 9 of which had been ruled out of order due to excessive length, 23 were on organisational matters and had therefore been referred to the NEC. The remainder had been grouped into 53 different subject areas. The issue of organisational issues not being considered a valid subject for conference motions is a controversial one as there is nothing in the rulebook to support this approach and it has simply become custom and practice since the Blair era. In the next item, which was acceptance of NEC Officers’ decisions, Jon Lansman moved that the officers’ decision on whether to allow organisational motions should be reconsidered, which I supported, but this was lost by 18 votes to 11. 

The next item was the report from the long-running review on Labour’s policy on organising in Northern Ireland. Jim Kennedy, who had chaired the review panel, presented a paper. There were a number of complex considerations regarding Labour’s links with the SDLP, which currently remained a sister party even though it had taken steps towards closer relations with Fianna Fail, which might yet result in merger. There were also questions to consider regarding the implications of any change in Labour’s position for the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which was currently in a more sensitive state than it had been for some time as a result of the Tories’ crude politicking in relation to Brexit. The overwhelming view of the NEC was that the report was a sensible, sober response to complex issues and should be accepted, although some of use, myself included, expressed the hope that we would not be closing the door to a potential change in policy in the future and that we needed to acknowledge the aspirations of the many Labour Party members in Northern Ireland who wanted to be able to play a more active role. 

We then turned to rule changes to be debated at conference both from the NEC and from CLPs. Most of the NEC rule changes were fairly uncontentious and represented attempts to address practical issues and to take forward the work of the democracy review. There was a lengthy debate on a motion regarding efforts to promote the selection of a greater number of BAME candidates, the result of which was that it was agreed that there should be more targeting of our efforts in this regard towards particular areas. By far the most contentious NEC rule change was the one seeking to give the NEC the power to carry out fast-track expulsions of members accused of particularly egregious conduct in relation to discrimination issues, where there was clear evidence of their guilt. Along with a couple of other NEC members, I strongly opposed this proposal, as I had done when it had been first raised, on the grounds that it was not necessary to improve the efficiency of the party’s disciplinary procedures but was rather an attempt to demonstrate to the media and the wider external audience that we were ‘getting tough’ on anti-Semitism. There was no clear definition offered as to what would constitute a sufficiently egregious case nor what kind of evidence would be considered prima facie. In addition, the change would blur the distinction between the role of the NEC as investigator/prosecutor and the quasi-judicial role of the National Constitutional Committee. These objections were, however, dismissed by the majority of NEC members and the rule change was accepted. None of the constituency party rule changes secured NEC support, which was unfortunate as a couple of them proposed very sensible and reasonable changes. 

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

NEC Meeting 22nd May 2018

This meeting took place a couple of weeks after the English local elections, in which Labour significantly increased the number of seats it held, although not to the rather exaggerated extent predicted beforehand, both by the party and by some more excitable media commentators. Jeremy was not present, as he was attending a tribute to the Manchester Arena victims, but rang in for part of the meeting. This was also Eddie Izzard’s first meeting, after taking over the CLP seat vacated by the resignation of Christine Shawcroft.

The first item was a vote as to who should replace Jennie Formby as Vice Chair, following her appointment as General Secretary. There were two candidates, both very experienced female trade unionists, Andi Fox from the TSSA and Wendy Nicholls from UNISON. I voted for Andi, who has been more consistently supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the direction in which he has tried to take the party, but Wendy won the election by just one vote. Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, dialled in to take part in the meeting and there was some confusion and consternation over this, as the NEC had not been officially informed that his appointee, Alun Davies, had resigned; moreover, those who had been told were expecting another Welsh AM, Jeremy Miles, to have taken over, rather than Carwyn himself. With regard to Jennie Formby’s vacant seat as a trade union rep on the NEC, we were told that the slot would not be filled until party conference.

We then moved on to the obituaries of prominent Labour figures who had died in recent months, and particular tributes were paid to Tessa Jowell. Special mention was made of her role in securing the 2012 Olympics for London.

Tom Watson gave his Deputy Leader’s report, highlighting the hectic schedule of campaigning that he and other frontbench MPs had undertaken in the English local elections and pointed out that, as well as the more obvious victories, the party had won the popular vote in the Tory-held borough of Wandsworth and its vote had increased in Barnet. He said that it was possible to take different views of the election results, depending whether one was a pessimist or optimist. He condemned the Tories’ betrayal of the victims of phone-hacking in relation to the Leveson Two inquiry vote, but said that the campaign would continue. There had been good news on the issue of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, with the intention to reduce the initial stake from £100 to £2, on which Labour MPs including Carolyn Harris had worked.

In the following discussion, some NEC members expressed their frustration about the negative comments made by certain prominent Labour MPs during the local election campaign. Tom Watson sympathised with these concerns, but felt that there were a dwindling number of politicians engaging in such antics. The party’s work on the Windrush scandal was also praised, as was its efforts on the Sainsburys-Asda takeover.

Katy Clark then gave a report on the progress of the Party Democracy Review. She and her team would be taking submissions until the end of June, and were seeking to maximise engagement and the geographical reach of the review. There were to be several national events covering issues including Women’s Committees, Disability, LGBT and BAME Labour. Katy was expecting a huge volume of submissions on Phase Three of the review, as the deadline drew closer. There had been lots of requests for different types of positive action, some legal, others not. There was a need to improve the party’s own data in relation to members with protected characteristics; the current system can capture information on BAME status and disability when people join the party, but not at any time afterwards. There had also been more than 100 submissions in response to the CLP secretaries survey. Pete Willsman said that the party needed an impartial ombudsman to deal with complaints and concerns. I reported that the Welsh Labour conference in April had agreed to undertake a Welsh Party Democracy Review to cover those areas of party life in Wales that were excluded from Katy’s review, as they were devolved to the Welsh Executive Committee.

The next item was the International Report. Labour was organising an event for our sister parties from 25 countries, and there was also bilateral work with the Australian and New Zealand parties underway. Labour was also helping the Italian and French parties with regeneration projects following serious electoral setbacks. Keith Vaz also urged the party to offer greater assistance to the Yemen Socialist Party, which was agreed.

Richard Corbett MEP then gave the EPLP report, which included news of the new Posted Workers Directive, which stated that Posted Workers must have the same pay as local workers. He said that Brexit continues to overshadow everything and it was still unclear as to what the UK Government was seeking to achieve in relation to many EU agencies. Labour had made clear that it would oppose any withdrawal agreement that doesn’t meet our six tests, and if the government were defeated, the options are either to renegotiate or reconsider. This could be a general election or a referendum. Jeremy and Keir Starmer hadn’t ruled anything out; it was clear that Parliament must decide what happens next.

The next item was the General Secretary’s report, which covered a range of different issues. The most attention was devoted to the arrangements for the NEC elections in late summer. The original intention was to conduct the election primarily online, except in the case of those members for whom the party does not have a valid email address. It was argued, however, that there should be a hard-copy mailing to all members, as this would probably promote higher turnout, although it would be considerably more expensive. In the end, a compromise was suggested, whereby members would be emailed first to ask if they would be happy to participate electronically, and those who responded positively would get only an electronic ballot, but those who declined or who failed to respond would receive a postal ballot. This was agreed overwhelmingly, but we were told that it could affect the planned timetable for the election.

There was a lengthy discussion of a report from the working group on anti-Semitism that had been established following the previous meeting. The report set out some of the problems in the current procedures, including lengthy delays in dealing with cases and a lack of consistency between the way the different members are treated. The main proposal was for cases to be dealt with by three-person panels, rather than by the Disputes Panel, which contains all NEC members. It was also suggested that cases should be anonymised, to reduce the scope for bias in the way that cases were handled. Although many of the proposals in the paper were clearly sensible, practical attempts to get to grips with problems that had impeded the party in its handling of these cases, some of us expressed concern over certain aspects, particularly the suggestion that cases be entrusted to such a small number of NEC members, reducing transparency and accountability. Some of us expressed the view that cases could have been handled better even under the existing arrangements, if Disputes Panel meetings had been given more time to consider cases and greater detail about the facts. I also asked whether it was intended that anti-Semitism cases should always be treated separately from others, or whether those with similar characteristics, such as allegations of Islamophobia, would eventually be treated in the same way. Moreover, there is a pressing need to reform the disciplinary procedures more generally and it is frustrating that efforts in this direction have preceded so slowly, with only anti-Semitism cases being accorded priority. The discussion on this issue took the meeting far beyond the scheduled finishing time, and unfortunately, I had to leave before the discussion had concluded in order to catch the last train to Llandudno, where I was due to attend Wales TUC Conference. However, I understand that no final decisions were made, and that it was agreed that a further paper be brought back to the July meeting, which would reflect the points that had been made by NEC members.

One further issue that was dealt with after I had left was the statement on Gender Self-identification and All Women Shortlists. Like other NEC members, I had received a large volume of correspondence on this controversial issue, particularly from women concerned about the implications of trans women being covered by AWS. The statement that was put to the meeting, however, simply reaffirmed Labour’s existing policy that trans women are covered by AWS and, on this basis, it was agreed unanimously; I would have also voted for it had I been present. The wider issues relating to reform of the Gender Recognition Act will be subject to further discussion and consultation within the party, as is quite proper for such a complex issue, and will be brought back to a future NEC meeting.


NEC Meeting 23rd January 2018

This was the first full NEC meeting of the year and the first in which the three newly-elected CLP representatives and the one additional trade union representative were able to attend. It was also the last meeting for the Youth Rep, Jasmine Beckett, whose term of office was coming to an end, and she was thanked by Jeremy at the start of the meeting for her work over the previous couple of years.

There had been an expectation that the meeting would agree a statement on the party’s policy regarding the position of trans people, particularly with regard to All Women Shortlists, after this issue was discussed by the Equalities Committee the previous week. NEC members received a large number of emails from people on both sides of this debate in the expectation that we were due to make a decision. It was decided, however, that further discussion of this issue was needed and the matter was therefore deferred to a future meeting.

As usual, the formal business began with the sad duty of paying tribute to prominent party members who had died over the previous couple of months. On this occasion, the obituaries included the former MPs Jimmy Hood and Eric Moonman, the former Assistant General Secretary Cliff Williams, Jennifer Pegg, who had been an activist and Councillor in Oxford and Baroness Olive Nicol. Councillor Nick Forbes, one of the Local Government NEC representatives, said that two Council leaders, Paul Watson of Sunderland and Kieran Quinn of Tameside, had also died recently, and Iain McNicol paid tribute to Rich Green, a member of party staff who had tragically died at the end of the previous year.

Jeremy paid his own tributes to all those who had died at the start of his leader’s report, which was the next agenda item. He reminded us of the centenary of the Representation of the People Act (1918), which gave some women the vote for the first time, and said that he had done a radio interview about one of his own heroines, Mary Wollstonecraft, in connection with this anniversary. He was pleased to note that there were now more women than men on the NEC for the first time, that there was gender balance in the Shadow Cabinet and that this would hopefully apply to the whole PLP after the next General Election. He said that we need to have genuine diversity if we are to win the confidence of the people.

The crisis in the NHS in England had dominated the first Prime Minister’s Questions of 2018; despite the UK Government’s assurances that all was fine, nurses were treating patients in hospital car parks. Labour had done a party political broadcast on the subject in England the previous week and there was a big rally coming up at which both Jeremy and Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Heath Secretary, would be speaking. The NHS was a Labour creation and we would have to fight for it. The Carillion crisis had also broken in the previous week, and Labour was challenging the government’s ‘Private in Best’ ideology. Many people had lost their jobs as a result of the company’s collapse, including unknown numbers of subcontractors in the supply chain, and profit warnings had been ignored. Jeremy thanked the unions for their work on this issue. The EU Withdrawal Bill and other associated legislation had dominated the last few months, and Jeremy thanked the team that had been involved in the parliamentary debates. He assured us that Labour would continue to push for tariff-free trade and access to Europe. Jeremy also talked about the work that the party had been doing on Universal Credit and on refugees and the continuing ‘action Saturdays’ that the party was organising. He noted the forthcoming Welsh Assembly by-election in Alyn and Deeside, which he planned to visit. He then took questions on many of the items he had covered, particularly Carillion, as well as such diverse issues as the war in Yemen, violence against NHS staff and the UCU pensions dispute.

Jon Trickett MP elaborated on the Carillion crisis, saying that two hedge funds had made profits of £40 million and £90 million respectively from short selling shares in the company and had the made donations to the Conservatives. The crisis had exposed the problems with outsourcing public services and Jon had outlined a clear political response from Labour, which would involve removing the presumption of outsourcing as soon as the party won the next election. There would need to be much tougher conditions applied to any public procurement and robust contract compliance. There was no evidence that outsourcing was ultimately any cheaper and the companies involved generally made their profits by attacking workers’ conditions.

Jonathan Ashworth then spoke in more detail about the NHS crisis, which had seen patients being treated in ambulances and hospital corridors. Nearly every hospital in England had unsafe occupancy rates and infections had been spreading. There were vacancies for 40,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors and 4 million people on waiting lists. At the forthcoming rally, he would be calling for an extra £5 billion for the NHS. The Lansley Act had been designed to drive privatisation and we had seen companies like Virgin Care profiting at the expense of patients and the taxpayer. Health inequalities were widening and Labour was determined to address these issues.

Cllr Nick Forbes then gave the Local Government report. There had been no extra money for local councils from the Conservatives, but there had been an increase in their responsibilities. He was glad that Jeremy had distanced the party from Chris Williamson MP’s suggestion about doubling council tax, which Nick believed would be disadvantageous to Labour local authorities. He then raised the controversial issue of the so-called Haringey Development Vehicle being pursued by the Labour council in that borough. NEC members had received representations from backbench councillors in Haringey requesting intervention against the administration’s policy, which involved outsourcing of housing on a massive scale. With regard to Jon Trickett’s comments in relation to our response to Carillion, Nick said that councils would need support with any change in the outsourcing rules.

The issue of Haringey’s policy was then discussed at length by the NEC, with concerns led by Jim Kennedy of Unite about the proposed transfer of council property which had not been included in the party’s local manifesto. Jim said that the policy was inconsistent with Labour’s national position on outsourcing and that 21 councillors had asked the NEC to intervene, because under these circumstances, we could not remain silent. Jim therefore proposed a motion under powers given to the NEC by the party rulebook, proposing that we insist that the contract be paused and not signed until after the May elections, after which it would be reviewed. In the ensuing debate, little support was expressed for the Haringey administration’s position, but there were different views about the importance of, on the one hand, maintaining a consistent policy in the interests of local people and, on the other hand, the need to respect the autonomy of elected local council leaders. Nick Forbes in particular suggested that informal representations to the Haringey leadership would be more appropriate.

It was agreed to have a short break to allow the key people on the two sides of this debate to discuss a compromise position, which was duly agreed and would involve mediation in the first instance, but left open more robust NEC intervention as a fall-back. This was unanimously agreed and we were asked not to report on the details of such a sensitive issue; yet, within minutes, journalists were reporting on it, having had the details of the discussion leaked to them. It was also disappointing in the following days to read the open letter in the Sunday Times by Labour council leaders condemning the NEC for intervening in this issue, particularly as one of the leading signatories was Nick Forbes, who had signed up to the compromise motion.

Richard Burdon MEP, the leader of the European PLP, then gave his report, focussing particularly on issues related to Brexit but also highlighting the action being taken by the EU on tax evasion and avoidance. Iain McNicol then gave the General Secretary’s report, which as always covered a wide variety of areas and took up most of the rest of the meeting. He said that membership was now around 556,000, but about 40,000 of these were in arrears. Priority parliamentary selections were progressing, with six of the ten candidates selected in 2017 chosen from AWSLs. The democracy review was also making good progress and there would be a session on this at the forthcoming National Policy Forum in Leeds. We were given a detailed review of the 2017 conference, which had involved an unprecedented number of delegates and visitors. Points were raised about the need for a better system for calling delegates to speak, as well as on the need for a review of the criteria for contemporary motions, among many other things.