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.