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.

Welsh Executive Committee meeting, 22 July 2017 (joint report with Chris Newman)

This was the first meeting since the election on 8 June and the first substantive item was therefore a General Election Debrief, the main contributors to which were the General Secretary, Louise Magee; Wayne David MP, who had chaired the Welsh Labour Campaign Committee; and Carwyn Jones. All three reinforced the general view of the paper circulated on this item, that the Welsh party could take pride in the very pleasing election results in Wales, which were somewhat better even than those elsewhere in the UK, and saw three seats won from the Tories, along with ‘near misses’ in several others. This success was attributed to the harmonious campaign conducted by Welsh Labour, with Welsh MPs, AMs union members (co-ordinated by TULO) and rank-and- file party members coming together. The success of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership during the campaign, and the popularity of the UK manifesto, were acknowledged, with the Welsh campaign and manifesto seen as complementing their UK counterparts (rather than distancing Welsh Labour from the British leadership, as had sometimes appeared to be the case during the campaign). Particular mention was made of Corbyn’s ability to inspire and energise young people.

Most of those contributing to the discussion commented in the same vein but some concerns were raised about the limited resources allocated to marginal non-Labour-held seats and the possibility that even greater gains could have been made, had there been a more assertive campaign, a standpoint taken in a letter to Welsh Labour from UNISON Labour Link.  This point was echoed by Darren, who also commented that the failure to mention Jeremy at the Welsh campaign launch had provided the media with an opportunity to speculate on divisions within the party; that ordinary party members, including WEC members, had had no input into the Welsh Manifesto; and that the lack of adequate PA or staging had marred the open-air events with Jeremy in Cardiff and North Wales.

The next item concerned Election Procedures for the Leader and Deputy Leader of Welsh Labour and the Welsh Labour Rules Review. A draft consultation document had been circulated to the WEC, which was asked to approve it before it was sent out to CLPs and affiliates. Darren proposed the insertion of two additional questions in the section entitled, ‘Nomination Procedure-Welsh Labour Leader’ which stated that any candidate for the leadership must secure nominations from 20% of Assembly Labour Group – i.e. currently, at least 6 AMs out of 29. There was no consultation question on this point in the draft, suggesting that the current threshold was expected to remain in place, yet 20% seems particularly high, considering that only a 15% nomination threshold is required from MPs for the UK leadership candidate (and even this is widely seen as too high). The proposal to ask the party whether the nomination threshold among AMs should remain at 20% or be altered, was, however, heavily defeated, with Carwyn and others claiming that the Welsh Leader could not function properly in their role without the support of a minimum of 6 supporting AMs. A second proposed question, about whether nominations should be left to AMs or extended to CLPs, affiliates and MPs, was also defeated. A proposal from one of the Council reps on the WEC, to include the option of councillors (as well as – or instead of – AMs and/or MPs) being able to stand for the deputy leadership was accepted but a second proposal, from a CLP rep, to extend this to ordinary members, was defeated. The consultation paper, with that one amendment, was then endorsed for circulation within the Welsh party. Party units and affiliates have until 21 October to respond.

In the Report of Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister, Carwyn concentrated on the main issue that the Welsh Government faces which is Brexit. He said that Theresa May was presiding over a chaotic Tory Part: a party which is out of control, yet at the same time carrying on as if it had a majority in parliament. The Tory Welsh Secretary (and MP for the Vale) Alun Cairns is backing those aspects of the government’s Brexit plans that would involve Westminster taking devolved powers from the Welsh Government. Carwyn expressed his frustration at the Tories reneging on deals, such as the electrification of the Swansea to Cardiff rail line while failing to make a decision on such projects as the Swansea Lagoon. All this at a time when the Welsh Government are finding it very tough to attract investors into Wales, as the business sector want security in the market place which is not forthcoming at the moment. The Welsh Government is battling on two fronts at the moment: trying to ensure that powers due to Wales actually arrive, while also trying to stop the UK government ending all those protections currently provided by the EU. Carwyn also commented that the relationship between the Assembly Labour Group and the PLP was currently better than ever and that he was encouraged by the fact that the PLP had made Westminster’s power grab from the devolved administrations one of its ‘red lines’ on Brexit.

Subjects raised in questions to Carwyn included the parking fines at the Heath Hospital; Carwyn said that parking had to be some restriction on parking at the site, for safety reasons and there had been an amnesty on fines for a period recently; moreover, the press reports were not entirely accurate and the private provider’s contract expires in a year’s time. He was also asked if he could provide a briefing for members on the party’s position in Brexit; he said that virtually everything that he would want to say to members was already covered in the Welsh Government’s white paper. Chris raised the need for a national register of supply teachers, based on the Northern Ireland model, instead of relying on exploitative private staff agencies. It was confirmed that when teacher’s pay and conditions are devolved this matter would be addressed.

Christina Rees MP then gave her report as Shadow Welsh Secretary, enthusiastically setting out the work in which she had been involved, both in Wales and at Westminster, working hard on behalf of the WASPI women, challenging the UK government’s public sector pay cap, lobbying for Barnett consequentials for Wales and holding Tory ministers to account over their disgraceful decision regarding rail electrification. Christina also said that she’d been pleased to welcome the new Gower MP, Tonia Antoniazzi as her Parliamentary Private Secretary.

The main item in the General Secretary’s Report from Louise Magee was a paper on Parliamentary Selections in Wales. This set out the procedure to be followed over the coming months to get candidates in place in the seats considered the greatest priority in expectation of another early general election. A paper had been agreed for England at the NEC meeting the previous Tuesday but Wales and Scotland now have devolved responsibility for our own selections. With Labour having won 28 of the 40 Welsh constituencies on 8 June, the remaining 12 seats were divided into 6 “offensive” seats, considered the most winnable and therefore the priority for selection purposes, and 6 “majority” seats, seen as less of an immediate priority. Those in the “offensive” category are: Aberconwy; Arfon; Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire; Clwyd West; Preseli Pembrokeshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. There would be an initial consultation, leading up to 8 September, on gender balance in these six seats, to determine which ones should choose candidates from an All-Women Shortlist, then the selections should take place immediately in all six, using the established procedures.

Darren pointed out that, when the NEC had agreed procedures for priority marginals in England, this had included the election by GCs or All-Member Meetings of a Selections Committee to oversee the process, providing greater democratic accountability, which should help to address members’ unhappiness at their exclusion from selections for the June election. He proposed that this be incorporated in the arrangements for Wales, rather than simply leaving CLP Executive Committees to make their own arrangements, under the default procedures. This proposal was heavily defeated, however, and the paper was adopted as originally tabled. A vote was also taken on the question of gender balance and it was agreed, nem con, that the WEC wanted at least half of the six seats to have All-Women Shortlists. One of the CLP reps for Mid and West Wales asked about the timetable for selections in the 6 “majority” seats but was told that there are no definite plans at this stage.

Louise also reported that some new Welsh Labour leaflets, on various different subjects, had been produced, in time for the Royal Welsh Show and John McDonnell’s visit to Pembrokeshire (copies were handed around) and some party merchandise, featuring Aneurin Bevan, was also going to be available. Two members of Welsh party staff, Jo McIntyre and Alvin Shum, had moved on since the election, leaving eight full-timers currently based in Wales. Louise was negotiating with the General Secretary about the retention of one organiser who had originally been employed for the election and was also talking to HQ about the employment of a digital co-ordinator.

It was also announced that next year’s Welsh Labour conference will take place in Venue Cymru on the weekend of 20-22 April (a lot later in the year than usual).

By this point, we had almost exhausted the allotted time, leaving only a couple of minutes each for Derek Vaughan’s European Parliamentary Report and Debbie Wilcox’s Local Government report. Each of them said a few words and Derek added that he would circulate something in writing, but one of the other CLP reps made the point that it was unsatisfactory for such important business to be squeezed out and proposed that we make whatever arrangements might be necessary to ensure that we could extend the time in future, if required, and fit everything in. This was put to the vote and carried, nem con.