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.