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.