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.

NEC Away Day Meeting, Saturday 26th November 2017, Glasgow

This was the first full NEC meeting since UK party conference in September. There is always an ‘away day’ at this time of year to consider the party’s work over the year ahead and it was decided to hold this one in Glasgow, partly because the new Scottish Leader would have been elected by the time we met. Richard Leonard joined us at the meeting and it was good to hear his thoughts on the party’s prospects in Scotland.

Before we got on to the scheduled agenda, the General Secretary, Iain McNicol, made a statement regarding the very sad news that a member of party staff had taken his own life a couple of days before, a story which, unfortunately, had been covered by that day’s Sunday Times in a somewhat lurid fashion. Iain reassured us that the party was doing everything it could to protect the man’s family, which is why it had prevented his name from being released. Comments from a Labour MP that had been quoted in the article suggesting that the member of staff had been badly treated in relation to accusations against him were untrue and unhelpful.

The first major item of business concerned the National Youth elections, due to take place in 2018. On the previous occasion when these positions had been elected, this had taken place at the Young Labour conference, when there had been some controversy around the process. Subsequently, the Royall Review had recommended that, in future, there should be an online ballot. The NEC had to choose between two different options as to how these elections should proceed: the first would have involved extending the term of office of the incumbents in order to conduct the elections as part of the July ballots for NEC and other positions, following the outcome of the Party Democracy Review on these matters; the other option was to have the elections conducted early in the New Year, on the basis of a process agreed by the NEC in July 2017, on the understanding that, if the Party Democracy Review recommended a different process in future, that could be adopted further on.

There were strong views put for both options, with much emphasis given to the views of Young Labour activists. The second option was eventually chosen, on the basis that the party’s democratic processes should not be delayed unduly. In addition, it was decided that the electoral college that would choose the NEC Youth Rep should consist of only two sections: all Young Labour members; and affiliates, casting a vote on behalf of their young members. This removed a third section of the college that had previously been included, which would have given student Labour clubs their own section. In my view, this was the right decision, as the previously-agreed system would have given young Labour Students two votes. The decision also reflected the views of the majority of the current Young Labour National Committee.

We then had a joint session with the Scottish Executive Committee, beginning with a welcome to Scotland from the Scottish Labour Chair, Cathy Peattie. Jeremy then gave his Leader’s Report, beginning with some tributes to prominent comrades who had sadly passed away in the recent months, including former MP Candy Atherton; longstanding NUPE and UNISON leader, Rodney Bickerstaffe; veteran MP Frank Doran; and former Welsh Government minister, Carl Sargeant, who had tragically taken his own life and whose funeral Jeremy would be attending the following week. Jeremy congratulated Richard Leonard on his election as Scottish Labour Leader and his success in challenging the SNP over their implementation of Tory austerity.

Turning to wider matters, Jeremy commended Katy Clark and her team for their hard work on the Democracy Review. He reminded us that a majority of members had been in the party for less than two years and that it was therefore particularly important that we re-examine how we do business and ensure that Labour is as welcoming and inclusive as possible. Jeremy also congratulated NEC member Paddy Lillis on his election as General Secretary of USDAW and then talked about the continuing debate in response to the Chancellor’s budget, which had reinforced the Tories’ failure to tackle issues like homelessness and tax evasion or to present a credible approach to Brexit.

Richard Leonard then addressed the meeting, noting that he was doing so in the shadow of a bust of Keir Hardie, who had been Scottish Labour leader before going on to lead the newly-formed Labour Party throughout the UK. Richard said that there was huge support for Jeremy’s leadership within Scottish Labour and that there had been a big growth in membership, the challenge now being to turn members into activists. Richard also said that he wanted to build stronger relations with the Welsh Labour party. Finally, he commented on the work-in at the threatened BiFab engineering plant in Fife, which had been organised by Unite and the GMB, and had put pressure on the SNP government to put together a deal to protect jobs.

There was then a general discussion about the issues raised by Richard and Jeremy in relation to the challenge of turning around Scottish Labour’s long decline and taking the fight to the SNP and the Tories. NEC and SEC members commented on a range of matters, from the changing social base of the Scottish electorate to issues of party democracy and the relationship between the party and the unions. Jeremy, in summing up, suggested that a similar joint session with the Welsh Executive Committee would be a good idea.

Following the lunch break, Iain McNicol kicked off a wide-ranging session on organisational matters. He covered the party’s detailed plans to deliver its four key aims over the next year: becoming General Election ready; taking on the Tories; engaging and building the membership; and building a strong and professional organisation. Iain also presented the party’s draft revised policy on dealing with sexual harassment and safeguarding issues.

In the course of the discussion prompted by this presentation, a number of issues were raised, including the fact that the selection timetable for target parliamentary seats had slipped somewhat and also the need for a better system of enabling as wide as possible a range of delegates to speak at UK party conference.

One specific issue that was addressed related to an outstanding decision of the 2014 Collins Review and subsequent Special Conference, which had imposed a five-year transitional period within which an opt-in system of union affiliation would be introduced. As similar obligations had subsequently been imposed on affiliated unions by the Tories’ Trade Union Act, it was agreed that it was now unnecessary for the party to continue with its own implementation of this change.

We were then given an update on the growth and distribution of party membership, the overall figure of which was now 568,500, substantially more than the previous year and the highest year-end figure in party history. There had been increases in every part of the UK, except Greater London, with Scotland having had the largest rise. The average age of party members was continuing to drop, and the gender imbalance in favour of men had continued to decline. Like other NEC members, I was grateful to officers for the useful information provided, but asked for more detail on the regional breakdown, which the General Secretary agreed to provide.

Katy Clark gave an update on the Party Democracy Review, which is currently open for consultation. I suggested that it would be useful for the party to produce some simple guides as to how its structures and processes work at the end of the review, particularly for the newer members who are now the majority of the party. I also acknowledged that the Scottish and Welsh parties were not covered by the review for the purposes of those areas that had been internally devolved, but felt that these concerns also required consideration, citing some matters of party democracy in Wales that had given cause for concern, including the recent decision by the Welsh Executive Committee to reject OMOV in Welsh leadership and deputy leadership elections without taking this decision back to Welsh conference.

Turning to preparations for 2018 elections, we had a presentation from Ian Lavery MP and Andrew Gwynne MP, the joint campaign coordinators. The party was looking ahead to local government elections in 151 English local authorities, as well as 5 mayoral elections and possibly a city mayoral election in Sheffield. In the previous local elections, UKIP has made significant gains and its support was likely to go disproportionately to the Tories. Labour is seeking to win control of more councils, defend its existing seats and use the local elections to build momentum for the next General Election. In preparing for the latter, Labour was looking particularly to its prospects in Scotland, the work of selecting new candidates was underway and the continuing series of national campaign days were providing opportunities to involve members in an on-going process of engagement with the electorate.

Andrew Fisher gave an update on policy development and the work of the National Policy Forum. Andrew said that the experience of drawing up the last General Election manifesto had been very positive, with valuable collective input and a strong sense of common purpose. The Daily Mail had described the leaked manifesto as a ‘new suicide note’, which had obviously been falsified by events. Andrew said that he had given a presentation to Islington North CLP a few months before, at which only four people out of a hundred had understood the NPF process, and one of those worked in the policy unit at Labour headquarters. There is clearly a lot to do to improve our policy-making arrangements and Andrew and his team are working with trade unions and other progressive external bodies to develop policy.

In an update on strategy and communications, Seamus Milne reflected on how much had changed since he had last addressed the NEC in April, when there had been scepticism about Labour’s chances of closing a 20-point gap in the polls. Seamus gave an analysis of the factors that had helped to turn the situation around, including the more favourable election time broadcasting rules, the role of social media, the popularity of the party’s policies etc. The conventional wisdom about what can be accomplished in elections had been turned on its head, but we could not expect the next election to go the same way and the Tories will have learnt to be more cautious as a result of their setback in June. Labour needs to make full use of its expanded membership and particularly its sophistication with digital media, while also exploiting the Tories’ political weakness over falling living standards, Brexit and other issues. We need to consolidate the support that we won from younger voters, demonstrating that we are addressing their interests, attempt to build our support in the regions where we did less well in June and take full advantage of the government’s difficulties.

Finally, in an address on the economy and Labour’s response to the budget, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said that the Tories had attempted to manage public expectations over the budget, in light of poor economic figures, but Labour had seized the initiative with its call for an emergency budget based on five key demands: pause the introduction of Universal Credit; end the public sector pay cap; increase the funding for health, education, and local government; fund infrastructure projects; and undertake a massive housing programme. The Tories were relying on smoke and mirrors to disguise the inadequacy of their resources that they had made available in key areas, like education and housing. The Labour front bench was continuing the work of unpicking the budget and exposing the government’s deceptions. The debate over economic policy was reaching a key stage, where the previous neo-liberal consensus was coming under unprecedented challenge. Labour was making detailed preparations for government, looking at the implementation and costing of its key policies and rebutting the criticisms of sceptical commentators and stakeholders. This work was bearing fruit, with the party’s polling on economic credibility having significantly improved over the last six months.

Overall, we left the session in Glasgow with a strong sense that the party is taking every necessary step to prepare for the next General Election and the practical challenges of government.

 

NEC meeting, 19 September 2017 and Labour Conference

The NEC meeting on 19 September was the annual pre-conference gathering, dedicated primarily to signing off the motions and other business to be debated by the party the following week. Given the controversial nature of some of the rule change motions, in particular, there was originally an expectation that the meeting would be contentious and drawn-out. Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to secure support for his party reform agenda had been enhanced, however, by a number of factors. First of all, there has been a general acknowledgement by key critics of Jeremy’s like Tom Watson that his authority has been enhanced by the party’s excellent general election results in June. Second, the political balance on the NEC had been changed subtly but significantly by Kezia Dugdale’s resignation, with immediate effect, as Scottish Labour Leader, as her position, including her NEC place, has been taken up by her deputy, Alex Rowley, who is more inclined to support Jeremy than Kezia was. Finally, Jeremy had held talks with the major affiliated unions before the meeting, in order to secure their backing for a package of proposals that could be put before conference in the expectation of agreement (details of this below). As a result, the meeting was shorter and less argumentative than it might have been.

As Jeremy was running late, the Deputy Leader’s Report was taken first. Tom Watson commented that the Tories seemed to be struggling to hold things together even for the duration of the Brexit talks, given that the DUP had broken ranks and Boris Johnson had caused consternation with his outburst over Brexit. Given the evident opportunity for Labour to capitalise on this, Tom said that the discussion over candidates for key seats was vital, as we need to choose an appropriately diverse range of candidates, which would be assisted by initiatives like the bursary scheme for candidates from working class backgrounds. Since the election, Tom had spoken at a wide range of events, ranging from Sikhs for Labour to the Musicians Union. Among the issues he was dealing with were the Sky takeover, the growing problem of gambling addiction and the need to get more working-class people involved in the arts. He was also working with the GMB on a memorial service for Mary Turner, to be held in February 2018. In questions to his report, Tom was asked about New Labour’s short-lived promotion of super-casinos and about the need for greater unity in public statements on the EU.  He replied that the super-casinos in the 2005 Gambling Act had quickly been dropped but, in any case, the explosion of online gambling had proven a far greater problem than casinos. On Europe, Tom said that there were now no differences between the positions of shadow cabinet members, a situation aided by the “meticulous” approach of Keir Starmer, although slight presentational differences occasionally crept into media interviews.

The next item was Obituaries and warm tributes were paid to former MPs, Kevin McNamara and Nigel Beard and especially to Mary Turner, who had sat on the NEC for several years and had acted as its chair, towards the end of a lifetime of service to the GMB and the Labour party.

As Jeremy had now arrived, his Leader’s Report was taken next and he began by suggesting that we send a message of support to Tessa Jowell, who is seriously ill, and by thanking Kezia Dugdale for her contribution to the party and welcoming her acting successor, Alex Rowley. He reiterated that, while the Tories are in disarray, Labour is preparing for government. The Tories were using the EU Withdrawal Bill to transfer a great deal of power to themselves and had flouted parliamentary practice by placing their own MPs as chairs of the various committees. Labour was united around support for tariff-free trade with Europe, protection of the rights of EU nationals and defence of the rights and regulations that had come via Europe, often at the behest of trade unions, environmental groups and the like. Jeremy had asked Cat Smith to lead an inquiry into abuse of parliamentary candidates that had taken place in the election period, which had been completely unacceptable; Luciana Berger and especially Diane Abbott had been particularly badly treated. Jeremy had visited around 50 marginal constituencies over the summer, along with several foodbanks, community projects etc.

Jeremy said that the forthcoming conference was likely to be the biggest ever and we needed to ensure that delegates and visitors – many of whom would be attending for the first time – would be enthused by it.

He then outlined the package of measures that had emerged from discussions with the unions and other key stakeholders, which he was asking the NEC to put to conference. This included the compromise of a 10% nominations threshold from MPs for future leadership candidates, along with 4 extra seats on the NEC (3 for CLPs, 1 for unions), to be added a.s.a.p. after conference, and a wide-ranging review of party democracy and policy-making, to be led by Jeremy’s political secretary (and former MP) Katy Clark. The latter could well result in further changes to the nominations, as well as changes in the respective roles of the NPF and conference in making policy.  Although one or two NEC members complained that the review had been sprung on them without prior discussion as to its terms of reference, there was ultimately virtually no opposition to the proposals but a lengthy and fruitful discussion as to how the review should operate and what should be included. I was among those who spoke to welcome the initiative and commented that there is a long-standing democratic deficit in the party, which Jeremy now has a mandate to address; the rules and procedures are opaque and inconsistent and must be particularly confusing and off-putting to the many thousands of new members who have joined in the last few years.

Others contributing to the discussion asked how (if at all) the Scottish and Welsh parties would fit into the review; suggested that it should incorporate the various strands of the party review undertaken in 2015-16; should give particular attention to the operation of BAME Labour (about which NEC members had been lobbied before the meeting, following revelations that very few of the party’s BAME members had participated in the election of bits NEC representative); should consider freeze-dates for internal elections and candidate selections; and should address the accountability arrangements for the party’s local government work, especially in relation to the LGA. Tom Watson also made the reasonable point that if the nominations threshold was being lowered for leadership candidates, then the same should apply to deputy leadership candidates. In his response, Jeremy accepted Tom’s argument and most of the other points made. He said that he was not proposing that the review should look at Scottish and Welsh party structures, although some aspects would have implications for the Scottish and Welsh parties to consider and he would meet the respective party leaderships to discuss this. He said that he was asking the NEC to endorse the paper as it stood (which was duly agreed) but that all the points made would be taken into consideration and that he would come back to future NEC reports with short progress reports.

The next item was the report of the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) on preparations for the party conference the following week, presented by the CAC Chair, Harry Donaldson. There was a great deal of detail but the most significant point was that this was going to be an unprecedentedly big event, with up to 13,000 people expected to be present in once capacity or another, including as many as 7,000 party members; 1,500 were expected to attend the women’s conference on the Saturday. 120 contemporary motions had been deemed valid and would go forward for debate, subject to the outcome of the priorities ballot.

Also included under this item was a motion that I had submitted regarding the eligibility of certain elected CLP delegates to attend conference. At the special meeting held in April in response to the general election announcement, it had been push the deadline for conference delegate applications back two weeks, from 23 June to 7 July, to give CLPs more timer to fit this in, despite the disruption caused by the election. Delegates are required to have been party members for twelve months before the applications deadline but it had become clear over the summer that the freeze-date had been left as 23 June 2016, instead of being pushed back in line with the applications deadline. Harry Donaldson said that the CAC had decided to ‘uncouple’ the deadlines in April before the decision went to the NEC for ratification but that hadn’t been made clear to us at the time, as I pointed out when moving the motion. Moreover, the relevant section of the party rules makes it clear that the twelve-month gap between the two dates is set in stone. 65 delegates elected by their CLPs in good faith had been rejected because of the original decision and in seven cases, a CLP had been left without a delegate. Harry suggested that some sort of arrangement could be made for these seven CLPs but I insisted on putting my motion that the original decision be rescinded and, somewhat to my surprise, this was carried with very little opposition. I understand that, despite the short notice, 43 of the 65 affected delegates were able to attend conference a few days later as a result of the motion.

Following the decision to adopt Jeremy’s democracy review and immediate rule change proposals, the NEC had to consider its attitude towards the 12 rule change motions submitted by CLPs last year, which had been scheduled for debate at conference. These included the so-called “McDonnell amendment” to reduce the nominations threshold for leadership candidates from 15% to 5% of Labour MPs, as well as proposals to remove the hurdle that motions must be “contemporary” and the arcane practice of waiting a year before discussing motions. Although many of these were very worthy and would have been supported in principle by a majority of NEC members, those dealing with party democracy (the vast majority) were all addressed by Jeremy’s various proposals and it was therefore agreed to ask the CLPs or other bodies in question to remit them or, if they refused, to advise conference to vote against. A similar stance was taken in relation to two other motions, which were addressed by a separate NEC motion. The latter was, in effect, another compromise, which tightens up the disciplinary policy in relation to discriminatory behaviour or language. It therefore addressed issues covered by a motion promoted by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) which effectively sought to highlight anti-Semitism and to provide for it to be penalised more severely than other transgressions; and a conflicting motion that sought to establish that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. The JLM had been consulted on the NEC motion (drafted by Shami Chakrabarti) and agreed to remit their motion and were claiming that the latter gave them everything they wanted but in my view the agreed version was far less problematic, although I had residual reservations (also voiced by others) about whether the motion sought to penalise the holding of views rather than just their expression.

The other item discussed in relation to conference business was the matter of whether Sadiq Khan should be allocated a speaking slot at conference, by way of a Local Government Report. Different views were expressed but the majority view seemed to be that it was more important to maximise the opportunities for delegates to speak than to provide a forum for “big names” and that, if there were a Local Government speaker, there was a strong case for it to be Marvin Rees – apparently the only Afro-Caribbean mayor in Europe – rather than Sadiq, who already has a very high profile.

The final major item at the NEC meeting was the decision on which of the 76 priority non-Labour-held parliamentary seats in England should have all-women shortlists (AWS). There had been consultation with the CLPs in question since the selection process had been agreed at the July NEC meeting and their views had been taken into account by officers in drawing up a paper with recommendations on each seat. We worked through the list, constituency by constituency, accepting most of the recommendations but changing a few. The end result is that 46 of the 76 seats will be AWS, which is a really positive outcome, making it much more likely that we’ll achieve gender balance in the PLP after the next general election.

I won’t discuss the conference itself in detail, as most people will have seen the media coverage, even if they weren’t present in person. It is just worth mentioning, however, that the NEC’s recommendations in relation to rule changes were agreed by conference. All of the bodies that had submitted their own rule change motions agreed to remit them, with the exception of Brighton Pavilion CLP, who were seeking to abolish the “contemporary” stipulation and felt particularly strongly because of their failure to get the 2015 conference to discuss the then-recent and locally-significant Shoreham air crash; their motion was defeated, although two-thirds of CLP delegates voted in favour.

There were two NEC meetings at conference, one beforehand on the Friday evening and the other towards the end on the Tuesday evening, and both were very brief. The only significant decision made at the first meeting was to add to the rule change on NEC membership a change to the nominations criteria required of NEC candidates. The current situation was that a candidate needs three CLP nominations, one of which must be from their ‘home’ constituency and it was agreed to change this to five CLP nominations, without a requirement that their ‘home’ constituency be among them (this had been discussed at the previous week’s NEC meeting without a firm decision being made). The second NEC meeting at conference welcomed new members and said goodbye to those stepping down. Jamie Bramwell and Martin Mayer, both from Unite, were departing and were thanked by Jeremy and the NEC for their sterling contributions to the party. Ian Murray of the FBU, Mick Whelan of Aslef and Sarah Owen of the GMB (replacing the late Mary Turner) were welcomed as new trade union representatives. Andy Kerr of the CWU, who has been vice-chair of the NEC over the last year, was elected as chair for 2017/18 and Jennie Formby of Unite was elected vice-chair.

NEC meeting, 18 July 2017

This was the first full meeting since the general election and the Chair, Glenis Willmott began by congratulating Jeremy on playing an “absolute blinder” in his leadership of the election campaign. The next item consisted of obituaries for Joel Joffe, who had served on Nelson Mandela’s legal team in the 1960s, and former Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan. I said that Rhodri’s death had been a great shock to everyone in Welsh political life and that he had won respect and affection far beyond the ranks of the Labour party. We should remember that the party establishment had originally sought to block him from becoming Welsh leader but it was, in large part, Rhodri’s independent-mindedness and “off-message” tendencies that had won him so much respect throughout Wales. Jeremy described Rhodri as a “great friend” and recalled that they had been together when Jeremy came to Cardiff at the start if the campaign.

In his Leader’s Report, Jeremy thanked all those who had responded so well to the challenge of a genuinely unexpected election, working hard to turn around Labour’s position in the polls. We had successfully appealed to voters with a vision of hope, aided by a manifesto that had proven extremely popular and greater media exposure than usual for Labour’s policies, thanks to the election broadcasting rules. Jeremy was particularly encouraged by the result in Scotland. Labour had gained 47 new MPs overall and the PLP was now more diverse than ever before. There was a big effort coming up over the summer months to build on what had been achieved and prepare the ground for the next election, whenever it should come. Jeremy had visits to 21 marginal constituencies planned already. Party membership had continued to increase and it was important to welcome, involve and listen to the new members. Voter ID had, as ever, been important in the campaign but it needed to be complemented by conversations about policy. The big voter-registration effort undertaken by Labour supporters had played an important role and Jeremy praised, in particular, those who had gone around homeless hostels. On Brexit, Labour was challenging the Tories’ repeal bill, which was seeking to centralise executive power with the government and avoid parliamentary scrutiny, and Jeremy had gone to Brussels with frontbench colleagues to meet Michel Barnier. Labour had pushed the government hard on public sector pay, supported by all other parties except the Tories and the DUP. We now have to be prepared to repeat the effort of the election campaign, for the sake of all those who want the country to change direction.

Questions to Jeremy and contributions to the discussion about the election then followed. In his response, Jeremy committed a future Labour government to initiating public inquiries on case of the Shrewsbury 24 and the ‘Battle of Orgreave’; reiterated Labour’s support for ending the pay cap for all public sector workers; said that, in the light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we need a public inquiry into fire safety but also an inquiry into housing across the UK and that the NEC should send a message of thanks to all those who had given help and support to the victims of the Grenfell disaster; accepted that devolution meant that Labour was following slightly different policies in different parts of the UK and that close co-ordination was needed, with the UK party learning, in particular, from the achievements of the Welsh Government; said that the representation of ordinary members within the party needed to be reviewed and that he would bring proposals to address this to the September NEC meeting; and committed Labour to build on the big increase in support among young people, to bring electoral participation among younger voters up to the national average.

Discussion the election campaign and results continued with the Elections 2017 Report, with detailed analysis presented by Patrick Heneghan, the party’s Elections Director and the joint campaign co-ordinators, Ian Lavery MP and Andrew Gwynne MP. Among the key points were an recognition that Labour had not won the election but had won the campaign and that the campaign had changed public opinion to an extent not seen in recent memory. The two-party system had re-emerged and the biggest swings from Tories to Labour had come in London and in areas whose socio-economic make-up resembled London, while Labour had done worst in those areas where UKIP had done particularly well in 2015, especially in the Midlands. Labour had ‘won’ in the 18-44 age groups, while the Tories had polled better among those aged 45 and older (although their lead in those groups seems to have been eroded somewhat during the campaign). There had been a swing to Labour in the ABC1 socio-economic groups while the Tories had done better among C2DEs. Labour had won among ‘Remain’ voters and those who hadn’t voted in the Referendum at all, while the Tories had won among ‘Leave’ voters. And Labour had halted and begun to reverse our long-term decline in Scotland.

It was acknowledged that the campaign had begun defensively but argued that, at the time, there had been no basis for doing things differently and no time to recruit additional organisers. The campaign had changed public opinion because of the manifestoes, the leaders’ debates, the contrast between Jeremy’s open, engaging campaign events and Theresa May’s cautious and heavily stage-managed itinerary and the momentum that developed in the final stages of the campaign. There was good reason to suppose that, if the campaign had gone on for another two weeks, we would have won. Labour had also invested in social media, making good use of a new tool called Promote, linked to Facebook, and Snapchat, which had a particular impact among younger voters. The party had also raised £5 million in small donations during the campaign – we need to continue fundraising in anticipation of the next election. Theresa May had sought to make the election about her own leadership, I contrast with Jeremy’s but that had backfired, due in part to a disastrous Tory campaign. In the hung Parliament, the government ha bee desperate to avoid votes and had therefore caved in on everything from education funding to the contaminated blood inquiry. It is now important for Labour to keep up the pressure and hold the Tories as a party to account, even if they get rid of Theresa May.

In the ensuing discussion, several NEC members argued that the party could have gone on the offensive with its campaign at an earlier stage and unhappiness was also expressed about the fact that some MPs hadn’t publicly backed Jeremy’s leadership and had effectively sought to campaign solely on their own record. In response to a question, the General Secretary, Iain McNicol rebutted the accusation made on the ‘Skwawkbox’ website that some constituencies had been selectively funded (or not) on the basis of their candidates’ politics. There was some discussion specifically about how to build on the Labour’s progress in Scotland and it was also suggested that the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’ now seemed less credible, given the way that the smaller parties’ vote had been squeezed.

In his Local Government report, Cllr. Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle Council, commented on the disappointing local election results and the closeness of the mayoral results, in which Labour had won two contests and come close to winning two more. After Grenfell Tower, many councils were now making big efforts to check the safety of their tall buildings and offer reassurance. Nick said that the tragedy reflected, in large part, the impact of deregulation, including the deregulation of building regulations, as well as a decade of austerity and central government’s failure to provide funding for fire prevention. There will be important local elections in 2018 for which the part must prepare.

Amidst a number of brief and uncontentious items, the NEC considered an important set of papers setting out Selection Procedures to get parliamentary candidates in place for the next general election. The procedures focussed mainly on the 75 most marginal non-Labour-held seats in England (with the Scottish and Welsh parties left to make their own arrangements) and the proposed timetable for completing these selections runs from July to mid-November, beginning with a consultation within each region over which seats will need to have all-women shortlists in order to help deliver gender parity within the PLP. Less marginal seats would be selected after the first 75 have been completed, while those with sitting Labour MPs will go through the usual ‘trigger ballot’ procedure – currently, after the government has brought forward the next stage of its boundary review proposals (although it is recognised that these could now be dead in the water, following the election, which means that trigger ballots could be brought forward). There was general consensus in support of the proposals, with the only controversy arising over a proposal for each of the 75 CLPs to elect a ten-member Selection Committee to oversee the process at a GC or all-member meeting. There was a proposal to delete this provision on the grounds that it would simply lengthen the process by adding an unnecessary additional stage and that CLP Executive Committees should be entrusted either to act as the Selections Committee themselves or to appoint a Selections Committee. I voted against this amendment, however, as I felt that allowing members to elect a Selections Committee would strengthen democratic accountability in a way that is particularly important, given the fact that members played no role in selections for the June election. The amendment was defeated and the original proposals adopted.

A paper regarding Rule Changes at Conference had been tabled, containing 13 constitutional amendments submitted by CLPs and affiliates last year and deemed valid by the Conference Arrangements Committee. The first of these, from Kingswood CLP, sought to delete the category of registered supporters from the rulebook. One of the NEC’s union reps moved, however, that the current status of registered supporters had been established by the wide-ranging Collins Review, which had looked at a number of issues like the role of affiliated unions, and that art would be unwise to unpick one aspect of the post Collins-settlement without looking at the whole picture. It was agreed, in principle, that the NEC should initiate a review of the respective rights and responsibilities of party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters and potentially ask Kingswood to remit their motion, pending the outcome of this review. As several of the other motions touched on similar issues, consideration of all the amendments was deferred until the September NEC meeting, when some definite proposals for the suggested review would be presented.

The last major discussion item related to the National Youth Policy Conference, which is due to take place on 14/15 October. We were told that there would be 303 delegates, a third of whom would come from affiliated unions and socialist societies and a third from student Labour Clubs, with the remaining third made up of individual young members. The method of allocating places within this final section was the main thing that we needed to decide. Up to 2015, places were allocated on a first-come, first-served basis (weighted by region according to youth membership figures in each case). The huge surge in applications last year resulted in a ballot of young members being conducted in each region, to choose delegates from among those who had applied. We were told that the ballot process had been unwieldy and off-putting, resulting in turnouts of only 4-5% everywhere, and asked to consider other options, including a return to first-come, first-served or a randomised selection from among the applicants. Different views were expressed about this, including from young members on the NEC. While accepting that the ballot last year may not have been ideal, I would have wanted to see some sort of democratic vote undertaken. I was also sympathetic to the proposal from one member that Labour Students not have a separate section, as they already have their own democratic structure and the vast majority can seek to attend conference as individual young members. It was suggested by some that the issues were too complex to resolve on the basis of the information in front of us, at the end of a lengthy meeting (the meeting ran six hours, rather than the scheduled four); as the next NEC meeting in September would be too late to make a decision, it was therefore proposed that the issue be left to the NEC officers to resolve. I voted against this, on the basis that it would have been more democratic for the full NEC to decide, but it was narrowly carried.

The final matter of note came up when we looked at the minutes of previous meetings. The decision of the Organisation Committee two weeks before to shorten the qualification period for members in Birmingham to vote in Council selections had been interpreted differently by officers from the way it had been intended. We were told that we had agreed a freeze-date of 1 January 2017, which meant that members would have had to join the party six months before that date to participate in the selections. The aim had clearly been that any member who had joined on or after 1 January should have a say but the discussion just seemed to make everyone more confused and the end-result, rather unsatisfyingly, was that the officers’ interpretation still stood.

 

NEC Disputes Panel and Organisation Committee meetings, 4 July 2017

I rang in to these meetings, rather than going to London, as I do normally, as I needed to attend important meetings in Cardiff both beforehand and afterwards.

As usual, there is little that I can say about the Disputes Panel meeting, because practically all of the agenda consisted of the confidential details of disciplinary cases involving named party members. Most items involved either the arrangement of an appeal hearing, whereby someone was seeking to challenge the rejection of their membership (often after a period of expulsion) by their CLP, or a member being referred to the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) for a hearing to consider imposing a serious penalty, such as expulsion. Unless one has been lobbied by the member in question, the decision has to be made on the basis of usually a brief paragraph or two prepared by the officers and most cases are therefore ‘nodded through’. One member in London on whose behalf a few of us had been contacted with extenuating circumstances, we failed to prevent him from being referred to the NCC but secured a commitment that this would not prevent him from seeking selection as a council candidate in the meantime.

There was also a paper on South Shields CLP, which had been under suspension for more than a year, following the alleged breakdown of relations between the MP and CLP officers – a case where I had raised concerns about the CLP’s treatment when we had discussed it previously. It was now proposed that, in view of more harmonious relationships having developed, the CLP should be unsuspended, subject to a series of conditions. Some of the latter appeared somewhat questionable but, having been given the paper only shortly before the meeting, it was difficult to take an informed view on these and I was glad that we did at least agree to lift the suspension – despite some members attempting to have it extended.

We were provided with lists of those currently under suspension, referred to the NCC or recently “auto-excluded”. Questions were raised about the excessive length of time for which some members had been suspended and about the large backlog of cases awaiting an NCC hearing (57 listed). Officers acknowledged that the current state of affairs was unacceptable and cited staff changes and the disruption caused the election as contributory factors in the continuing delays. We were assured that things would start to improve from hereon in, partly due to the introduction of a case management system that would allow cases to be tracked more thoroughly.

The Organisation Committee got through its business very quickly – ironically, with the exception of an item of “A.O.B” – partly because there was little on the agenda that was contentious. The meeting began with Jeremy Corbyn – attending his first meeting with NEC members since 8 June – making some brief comments about the general election campaign, in the course of which he reflected on the tremendous results achieved by Labour on polling day and thanked all those who had contributed to the party’s successes; he would say more at the full NEC meeting on 18 July.

It was reported that the party’s review of its policy of non-participation in elections in Northern Ireland, having already taken representations from a number of people and organisations, had been interrupted by the general election but was now re-commencing with the participation of the new Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Smith.

A paper containing a draft rule change from the NEC, explicitly prohibiting discriminatory language and behaviour, was agreed for debate at conference. An earlier version of the text had been circulated previously but it was agreed to make a minor change following discussion by the Equalities Committee (of which I am not a member).

There was also a paper on CLPs in Special Measures – of which there are several, mostly in Birmingham – giving an update to the effect that Birmingham, Hall Green has now been removed from special measures and that the Legal and Governance Unit is working with Regional Directors to put in place measures to allow the same to happen in relation to the other CLPs involved. One of my fellow CLP reps then raised (not for the first time) the fact that the Birmingham Board (the city’s Local Campaign Forum) had set a qualifying date for participation in local council selections that disenfranchises the very large proportion of members who have joined since 15 July 2015. She proposed that this be brought forward to 1 January 2017 and this was agreed.

Under A.O.B. one of the trade union reps informed the committee that he had originally asked for a paper he had prepared on parliamentary selections for the next general election to be discussed but had subsequently withdrawn that proposal after discussions with the Leader’s and General Secretary’s offices and an assurance that a paper o the same topic would be put to the full NEC meeting. There followed a fairly lengthy series of comments about this issue, somewhat pre-empting the scheduled discussion, which was not particularly easy to follow for those of us who had not seen the draft paper.

NEC Meeting 21st March 2017

The meeting took place after 24 hours of media coverage of divisions in the party, following Tom Watson’s dire warnings about the supposed threat posed by Momentum and its (supposed) would-be paymaster, Len McCluskey, with the result that Jeremy Corbyn was a little late arriving, due to the throng of journalists outside.

We began, as ever, with the sad roll call of those party stalwarts who had died in recent weeks –this time including Gerald Kaufman; the long-serving former MP Tam Dalyell; and former party chair, Margaret Wall – and tributes were paid by those who had known them (Jeremy also recommended the book written by Dalyell, a serial backbench rebel: The Importance of Being Awkward!)

The Leader’s Report began with Jeremy’s reflections on another high-profile figure who had died recently, Martin McGuinness, acknowledging the controversy over the Sinn Fein leader’s earlier years but paying tribute to the huge contribution he had made to the Northern Ireland peace process. Jeremy also acknowledged the previous day’s news coverage and referred to the joint statement that he and Tom Watson had put out, seeking to draw a line under the talk of disunity. He said that he was disappointed by the attitude of some Labour MPs, however, and that no other political gathering in the country would tolerate the kind of behaviour that was often seen at PLP meetings.

Jeremy also commented on the Tory government’s budget climbdown, under Labour pressure, over National Insurance contributions by the self-employed and acknowledged that Article 50 was expected to be triggered on 29 March. Labour would continue to push for tariff-free access to the single market and for the right of EU nationals to remain in the UK – and for the equivalent rights for British nationals living in EU states (Labour was asking sister-parties to support the latter). The so-called Great Repeal Bill, which would unpick the influence of EU regulations on UK legislation, was now expected to be a short bill but accompanied by another 6-8 bills on specific subjects.

In relation to Scotland, Jeremy wanted to clarify the position that he had set out, which was that it was not in the interests of the Scottish people to have a second referendum and that independence does not represent an economically credible policy. Labour MSPs would vote against Sturgeon’s proposal in Holyrood the following day but the party’s Westminster MPs would not do likewise if and when the issue came to Parliament, as it would only play into the SNP’s hands for Labour to be seen to be blocking the referendum. Jeremy ended by talking about the challenge of the forthcoming election and the need for Labour to get a clear and consistent message across.

Jeremy dealt with questions about his comments on Scottish referendum; about the Copeland and Stoke by-elections; about the New Economics conference in Scotland; he was praised for hosting a BAME media event in his office. Someone also asked him to rebut allegations that disloyal party staff were withholding ‘short money’ and thereby reducing the number of party staff who could be employed in the Leader’s office. Jeremy was bemused by this claim and Iain McNicol clarified that there are now more staff employed in the Leader’s office than when during Ed Miliband’s time in office.

Tom Watson then presented the Deputy Leader’s report, which was brief and uncontroversial, covering things like the party’s recent local government conference, the by-election campaigns and a study he was conducting into the way that automation is changing the world of work. He was asked for further information about the latter by several of the trade union reps. One of my fellow CLP reps raised the issue of the controversy that had occupied the media over the previous day, expressing frustration that it had deflected attention from potentially more positive stories and making a plea for the party to be more united as we move towards the elections. In his response to this question, Watson sought to justify his comments as a legitimate response to what he saw as dangerously divisive activities by Momentum, as highlighted by the recording of Jon Lansman speaking at a meeting. I then asked how he thought it would assist the situation to make inflammatory comments to an already hostile media six weeks before crucial elections; whether he had spoken to Jeremy before making his remarks; and what was the difference between Momentum seeking to increase its own influence within the party and other factions, like Progress and Labour First doing the same thing. He didn’t directly answer all my questions but reiterated his position and claimed that he had been deliberately misled by Momentum’s leadership. In the meantime, others had commented on the matter, both for and against Tom Watson.

John McDonnell joined us at this point to give the Shadow Chancellor’s Report. He reported on how Labour MPs had held the Government to account over its Budget – especially the inadequacy of the sums made available for Health and Social Care and for the so-called “industrial strategy”. The austerity measures announced in the previous year’s budget – in PiP, tax credits etc – were now coming into force. The UK was unique in having a growing economy but declining real wages, reflecting the unfair distribution of income and wealth. Moreover, 84% of the cuts were falling on women, with older women and those with caring responsibilities hit particularly hard. In addition, the present government had now borrowed more than all Labour governments put together – a startling statistic – and was set to borrow much more. And, while it was good that Labour (and Tory backbenchers) had forced a climbdown on National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, this had left a£2 billion hole in the Budget and Labour was demanding more details on how this would be filled.

In the discussion, points were made about the deeply unfair removal of child benefit for a family’s third or subsequent children; about the National Insurance debacle and bogus self-employment; about school budget cuts; and about the fact that the government was showing blatant favouritism toward Tory-run councils in the distribution of funding for social care. It was also pointed out that Government ministers were not subjected to the same scrutiny as the Labour frontbench over how their policies would be paid for. In responding to this point, John reminded us that all of Labour’s existing commitments had been fully costed and the party was developing a tax strategy that would enable a future Labour government to pay for policies that were currently more aspirational, like free childcare. Initiatives like the Fiscal Credibility Rule and its work with an independent panel of respected experts like Joseph Stiglitz had done a lot to protect Labour from the excessively hostile criticism of the media.

Condemnation of the Tory Budget was continued under the next item, the Local Government Report, presented by Nick Forbes, Labour’s Leader in Newcastle Council and the LGA. He said that the only extra money given to councils had been to cover the increased cost of paying the National Minimum Wage. The retention of business rates my council was a good idea in principle but the way it was being applied could lock in inequalities. Nick reported on a very successful Labour Local Government Conference. He reminded us that it is a very difficult time to be a Labour councillor (a sentiment I can endorse from my own experience) but circulated a booklet that the party has produced listing 100 positive achievements by Labour councils around the UK in this challenging time – a very welcome initiative. NEC members then made points about the need to keep the party’s internal divisions out of the local elections and about the need for some Labour councils to do more to address the issue of low pay and to support local government unions in the face of Tory attacks on facility time. Another member remarked that we should give greater prominence to local government matters at the NEC and also suggested that, in future, we have dedicated sessions in the devolved politics of Scotland and Wakes – certainly a suggestion that I would support.

We were then given a presentation on the forthcoming elections by Andrew Glynne and Ian Lavery, the two MPs who had jointly taken over from Jon Trickett the role of National Campaign Co-ordinator. Andrew began by addressing the speculation about an early general election. He pointed out it was already too late to hold such an election on the same date as the local elections because the Tories had missed the deadline to trigger the no-confidence vote required under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. This could, however, be done on 9 or 16 May to facilitate an election on 29 June. Party staff had circulated a number of election timetable scenarios and had prepared a guide for MPs in the event of a snap election. Work had also commenced on a constituency health-check – looking at the voter ID gathered, resources required, etc for every seat.

There are elections on 4 May, Andrew reminded us, for 33 English county councils; 8 English unitary authorities; 6 Metro Mayors; 2 ‘regular’ mayors; all 22 Welsh councils; and all 32 Scottish councils. The dates of the previous elections for each of these varied greatly, from 2012 to 2015, so it was difficult to work out a national vote share. Last time around, Labour had won outright control of ten Welsh and five Scottish councils, two English counties (Derbyshire and Notts) and two unitary authorities. There had been extensive boundary changes in Scotland and the STV system meant that the party wouldn’t field as many candidates as there are seats, to avoid splitting the vote. The devolution deals agreed for the various Metro Mayors varied considerably, with the greatest powers to be exercised by the Greater Manchester Mayor, encompassing health and social care; education; housing and the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner.  The West Midlands would be a major battleground, with Labour’s long-time base in Birmingham coming under concerted attack from the Tories; likewise Tees Valley.

Ian Lavery then talked about the content of Labour’s campaign and the importance of messaging. The Tories’ claim to be the party of ordinary people had to be demolished and Labour would be using the slogan, ‘Standing Up for You’. There would be a number of key themes, related to economic investment; health and social care; educational opportunities; safer neighbourhoods; and affordable housing. Each week of the campaign would highlight a different one of these themes. The strategy for communicating these messages would embrace the traditional (2.2 million items of campaign material had already been printed) as well as use of tools like Facebook to reach voters. There would be remote volunteering (members in areas without elections – such as London – being encouraged to travel to specific electoral battlegrounds); virtual phonebanks; mobilisation through SMS messaging; and a ‘town hall’ style event in London.

Responding to Andrew and Ian’s report, members emphasised the need to maintain a focus on the economy (which Andrew readily acknowledged) and to give due attention to the issues of NHS privatisation and council housing; the challenge of juggling our local election campaign with a response to Brexit, the proposed Scottish referendum and a possible early general election; and the need to reach out beyond our ‘core vote’ (Andrew agreed with this and sad that we have to reach out to ex-Labour voters and those who have never voted).

The National Policy Forum Chair’s Report was given by Ann Cryer, who told us that the eight policy commissions had all been meeting regularly and that the various papers were now out for consultation with the wider party, with a closing date of 31 May. The whole Forum would be having a two-day meeting on 1-2 July. One of the CLP reps most involved in the NPF said (quite rightly, in my view) that the closing date for responses to the policy papers wouldn’t allow sufficient time for party units to discuss and respond to the documents; some responses had started to come in but they were mostly from individuals giving their own personal views. Another CLP rep asked that any policy motions received from CLPs be considered by the relevant commissions; this was agreed by the full-time officer responsible, who also said that the party’s policy consultation website was now up-and-running, although there had been a few teething problems.

Giving the General Secretary’s Report, Iain McNicol thanked party staff for all their hard work on the two recent parliamentary by-elections. He reiterated that his team were doing detailed preparatory work for the eventuality of an early general election. On membership, he said that resignations and lapsing had increased, especially during the discussions on Brexit. The party still had a substantial financial reserve set aside, which would hopefully be put towards the general election campaign, although the effects of a more substantial dip in membership would have to be taken into account.

The question was raised as to how the party would go about selecting its candidates in the event of an early general election; this was not resolved but it was suggested by one member that those 2015 candidates willing to put themselves forward again should simply be allowed to do so (not a solution that I could support, as it would deprive party members of any democratic say over their local candidates). I asked for an update on current membership figures and for this to be included in all future meetings. I was told that the figure was still comfortably over the half-million mark but that a fairly substantial minority were in arrears. An update was also given on the (all-BME) shortlist for the Manchester, Gorton by-election; concerns were expressed about the fact that one of those shortlisted had tweeted some very hostile comments about Jeremy Corbyn and also about the composition of the panel that had made the choice: the fact that three had been parliamentarians was apparently against existing NEC policy.

One piece of good news was that the party’s Business Board has agreed that the portion of subscription revenue for each party member that goes to that member’s CLP will increase from £1.63 to £2.50 and will increase further in future as the subs themselves go up.

We were also told, when we got to the minutes of the Disputes Panel, that in future even the most sensitive papers for the Panel’s meetings would be available at HQ for members to read a couple of hours beforehand, so that we won’t have to continue making such rushed, ill-informed decisions. This is something I had requested (although my preferred option was that the papers be emailed out the night before, or on the morning of the meeting) so I was pleased that it had been agreed.

The last two substantive items – the International Report and the EPLP Report – were both rather rushed because the meeting was, by this stage, overrunning. The latter naturally focussed mainly on the situation on the eve of ‘Brexit’ negotiations, with our Chair and EPLP representative, Glenis Willmott, and other members lamenting the Tory government’s complete lack of any tangible commitment to protect the material interests of ordinary people in the UK.