NEC Meeting 24th January 2017

The first full NEC meeting of 2017 was a fairly harmonious affair and, as with the November meeting, ran to the allotted time. The chair, Glenis Willmott MEP began by paying tribute to Margaret Beckett, one of the three Westminster backbenchers on the Committee, who was now the longest-serving woman MP; and to veteran full-timer, Mike Creighton, who was retiring after having worked for the party since 1990. There was also a minute’s silence for several members who had died over the previous couple of months.

Glenis also spoke to the EPLP report that had been tabled and responded to questions. Asked if MEPs would support a second vote on Brexit, she thought they probably would.

Ann Cryer gave a brief report in her new capacity as NPF chair, saying that each of the policy commissions was due to have its first meeting soon. Consultation with the wider party on the papers that had come out of the November NPF meeting was to begin with some events in March and the ‘Your Britain’ website was to be relaunched under a new name. Among the points made by members in the ensuing discussion were that the consultation period was beginning late, given that important elections were on the horizon, that the deadline for submissions needed to be pushed back as far as possible beyond 4 May; that it would be useful to know a.s.a.p. the date of the full NPF meeting planned for the summer; that the midweek evening time-slots for commission meetings were not very convenient for most people; and that papers should be shared with Welsh Government ministers at an early stage to ensure that the experience of devolution was factored into the party’s thinking.

The Local Government report was introduced by Cllr. Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle Council and Labour Leader in the LGA. He talked about the social care crisis, which was contributing to the problems in the NHS and had been exacerbated by the Tory government shifting greater financial responsibility to the councils. Many care providers were on the brink of bankruptcy or were talking about handing back their contracts. More positively, more than 200 councillors had registered for the party’s local government conference in February, which would be a useful platform for mayoral candidates. The local elections would be vital, with Labour within a hair’s breadth of taking control of the LGA. Many councillors were angry about their local Labour MPs attacking councils for the difficult decisions they had had to make because of the cuts in their budgets.

There was a lively discussion, in which points were made about the degree of control and patronage that council leaders and cabinet members have under the Local Campaign Forum system, compared to the old local government committees or county parties, where there was greater accountability; about the excessive salaries at the higher levels of local government; and about the problems of privatisation of the social care sector. Responding, Nick said there was inconsistency in the way LCFs operate, which could perhaps be addressed by regional board; that the ratio between highest and lowest salaries was lower in local government than in the private sector and even other parts of the public sector; and that councils were obliged by legislation to operate a social care market.

The General Secretary, Iain McNicol, introduced a written International Report, which listed several areas of common work between Labour and its sister-parties in other countries. James Asser of LGBT Labour then added some more detailed comments on the situation with regard to LGBTI rights in the former Yugoslavia, which vary a great deal, with some countries (e.g. Slovenia) considerably more progressive than others (e.g. Macedonia); he noted the role of the EU in the gains that had been achieved.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, then gave a Health Report. He said that the NHS was now going through the biggest financial crisis in its history, causing even Andrew Lansley to express concern. Moreover, the situation was about to get worse as a result of the STP (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) process. Brexit also posed serious problems, as 60,000 EU nationals were currently working in the NHS and the service would be in danger of collapse without them.

In the discussion, it was agreed that Labour should support the ’Our NHS’ demo in London on 4 March (Jeremy would be speaking) and we were told that many of the same problems that had been discussed in England were also being experienced in Scotland under the SNP government. I said that the party should make more of the positive experience with the NHS under Wales’ Labour government and added that it was frustrating that Welsh Labour’s progressive policies received such little attention – e.g. The Guardian had reported a move towards an ‘opt-out’ (presumed consent) system of organ donation in France, without acknowledging that Wales already had such a system in place and it has saved many lives. In his response to this specific point, Jonathan said that the Health Policy Commission would have to re-examine the issue of organ donation but he was personally agnostic about it, which I found disappointing, given the obvious benefits of the policy.

Jeremy then gave the Leader’s Report. After thanking Jonathan for his work in the Health brief and reiterating the importance to Labour of the fight to save the NHS, he addressed the issue of Brexit. He said that the Shadow Cabinet had watched the Supreme Court judgement (delivered earlier that day) and made an immediate response. The Tory government had wasted 82 days and a lot of public money appealing against the earlier decision by the High Court. Labour respects the democratic will, as expressed in the ‘Leave’ vote, but wants to protect the interests of the British people in relation to jobs, public services and the social protections presently covered by EU regulations. The Tories’ disdain for civil and employment rights was evident: that very day, one of their backbench MPs was introducing a Ten Minute Bill seeking to restrict trade union rights still further, with the likely tacit support of his party leadership (I was pleased to hear that my own MP, Kevin Brennan, was leading the Labour opposition to this bill and it was duly reported later in the meeting that it had been overwhelmingly defeated). He said that he had spent three hours in a GP surgery after Theresa May had blamed GPs for problems in the NHS. He had also joined Kezia Dugdale in Scotland the previous week and they had attacked the SNP for talking left in Westminster while making cuts in Scotland over the last ten years.

Alun Davies AM, who represents the Welsh Government on the NEC, said that, whatever people had thought they were voting for on 23 June, the Tories’ ‘hard Brexit’ had not been on the ballot-paper; the Welsh Government supports staying in the single market and customs union. He also said that he was glad to hear that the party would be holding one of its economic policy conferences in Cardiff and that the Welsh Government would be able to contribute to the policy development – for example, it was currently setting up a Welsh Development Bank.

The next item was the General Secretary’s Report, for which a lengthy document had been circulated, incorporating updates on the party’s work in each of the UK’s nations and regions. Iain McNicol highlighted the fact that the party’s HQ office was being expanded to take on another floor of the building and that the Leader’s office and the office of Jon Trickett, as Campaign Coordinator, would be accommodated alongside party staff.

A number of disparate points were made in the discussion, including on the very long freeze dates adopted for elections in 2018; some of the misleading media coverage of the previous week’s Disputes Panel meeting; and the apparent leaking of by-election canvass returns by an MP. One of my fellow CLP reps also asked what had happened to the Party Reform Working Group, about which little had been heard since conference in September; Iain replied that the Group was jointly chaired by Jeremy and Tom Watson and that he expected that they would ensure its work resumed soon.

A Conference report was given, during which one CLP rep highlighted the encouraging fact that the number of CLPs attending had been the highest for at least 14 years. This was followed by an Elections report. There was some discussion of the idea of ‘target constituencies’ and how it could be applied fairly. Several of us also raised questions that had been put to us in numerous emails from members in Newham, expressing concerns about alleged irregularities in the selection process for the party’s Mayoral candidate. The main issue seemed to concern the way certain affiliates had cast their votes. One of the full-time officers clarified the rules on this matter but the concerns of those who knew more about the details than I did were not allayed. The general secretary said that the situation had already been discussed by the London Regional Board and felt that it would set a bad precedent for the NEC to reopen the issue after the fact.

We were given a very detailed and informative Membership Report, which highlighted the fact that the party was now more than 543,000 strong (although this represented a slight decrease from the previous summer). There were now proportionately more women and more BME members in the party than before the last general election. 70% of the current membership had joined since January 2015 but a significant portion were currently in arrears. I asked about this and about what the party was doing to try and retain members and was told that a series of surveys of those lapsing or resigning were bung carried out and the information gleaned passed to local parties and MPs. Party officers were also working with the Leader’s office on a Membership Strategy.

We also had a presentation on Labour’s Financial Strategy. The party had ended the previous year with a substantial surplus and expected this to increase in 2017 but there were some major expenditures to come – including funding increased staff costs and election campaigning – and there was a question as to the stability of the current membership levels and the resultant income. The party’s Business Board was also looking at increasing the share of membership revenue coming back to CLPs and at the possibility of a free-standing women’s conference in future years, which would have financial implications.

Welsh Executive Committee Report 5th November 2016

This was the first meeting since the end of the leadership election and the party conference in Liverpool. With Welsh conference and the local elections on the horizon, there was a very full agenda, as a result of which the last couple of items were dealt with somewhat hurriedly. Chris Newman was away at a Socialist Educational Association meeting, so I am reporting this one ‘solo’.

We began with a minute’s silence for Terry Thomas, a former NUM and GMB official who had chaired the WEC at one time and had passed away since the last meeting. Sophie and I were congratulated on her wedding and Jo Stevens was welcomed to her first meeting as Shadow Welsh Secretary – the third person to hold that position since I joined the WEC in February.

Carwyn then gave his Leader’s Report. The main issue affecting Wales continued to be the prospect of Brexit. He noted the court judgement earlier in the week, which had determined that the royal prerogative could not be used to overturn an act of Parliament. The Tories didn’t seem to think that they could succeed in challenging the ruling, hence the talk of an early general election. If they did win, there would be wider ramifications for Wales, inasmuch as the royal prerogative could also be used to interfere with the devolution process. Carwyn had attended a Joint Ministerial Council meeting with Theresa May, where he had asked her to rule out any deal involving tariffs. The Tories did not seem to have a clue as to their position. Should there be an early general election, the Wales Bill currently going through Parliament would be lost; despite the bill’s serious flaws, this would be a setback for Wales. Carwyn also reported on the legislation being taken forward by the Welsh Government in the National Assembly, including a bill to repeal the Trade Union Act in its application to the devolved public sector in Wales. Welsh Labour’s budget for 2017/18 also seemed assured of acceptance, following a deal with Plaid Cymru that had involved some uncontentious concessions.

Carwyn then took questions from WEC members, most of which related to Brexit and the risks to the Welsh economy, although the replacement of Communities First and moves to promote collaboration between local authorities were also raised. I asked him about two recent developments where the private sector appeared to be encroaching on public services in Wales: the announcement of four private bidders for the Wales and the Borders rail franchise; and the plan to build a private hospital in the grounds of Morriston hospital, by relocating the existing Sancta Maria facility. On the first point, he said that the current Wales Bill would prevent the Welsh Government from running rail services directly or from establishing a new public provider (which may be true but doesn’t explain why they couldn’t have promoted an alternative not for profit approach, in line with Welsh Labour conference policy). On the second, he said that he knew nothing about the proposal but would look into it.

The Shadow Welsh Secretary’s Report was then given by Jo Stevens, the third person to hold this position since I joined the WEC in February. Jo paid tribute to her immediate predecessor, Paul Flynn, who had made his mark during his brief tenure, and highlighted the significant contribution now being made by Welsh MPs to Labour’s frontbench, across several policy areas. Jo talked about Labour’s efforts to challenge the Tories in Parliament over their handling of ‘Brexit’, putting in 170 questions to represent the 170 days until Article 50 is triggered. David Davis had been avoiding answering any questions, while Theresa May had shown her misplaced priorities by putting immigration and border controls ahead of the economy in her talks with the EU. Jo also covered a number of other areas in which she and her parliamentary colleagues were currently active, including the prospects for the proposed Swansea tidal lagoon; the failings of the Concentrix contract let by HMRC to address tax credit fraud; the campaign for state pension equality for women; and winter pressures in the NHS. Jo was keen that, when issues like grammar schools came up, Wales’ positive record should be highlighted and Jeremy was very supportive of this. Jo emphasised the need for a united response to the Boundary Review, which was due to close on 5 December, and finished by highlighting the possibility of an early general election in the spring, which was likely to be challenging for Labour, given recent opinion polls an by-election results.

An EU Update was on the agenda but was not taken as our MEP, Derek Vaughan, had sent his apologies and the issue had already been aired under Carwyn’s and Jo’s reports.

We therefore moved on to the General Secretary’s report. Dave Hagendyk began with the update on suspensions that he had promised at the last meeting. 57 members in Wales had been suspended during the leadership campaign. 23 of these, whose cases were not deemed very serious, had had their suspensions lifted but been given a warning; the remaining 34 were subject to further investigation. Dave also reported that Michelle Perfect had been replaced by Joe Lock as North Wales organiser and that the press officer, Huw Price had left to become a Special Adviser to the Welsh Government. CLPs and affiliates were now able to make nominations for the Welsh Labour Best Practice Awards (closing date: 28 January). There had been mixed results in recent council by-elections, with Labour victories in Caerphilly, Denbighshire and the Vale of Glamorgan but seats lost to opponents in Cardiff and Neath Port Talbot.

Dave then put forward a paper setting out a proposed procedure for considering whatever changes to the Welsh party’s rules and standing orders may be necessary as a result of the devolution of certain responsibilities from London to Cardiff. The proposals seemed unduly complicated to me, with varying timescales for the different areas of the rules. Some changes that are judged necessary to be made immediately (e.g. recognising the position of Welsh Labour Leader, as opposed to just Leader of the National Assembly Labour Group), but which would apparently involve minor changes to the existing rules, would be presented to conference in March, while others (including, for example, the rules for the election of the leader and deputy leader, as well as selection procedures for candidates at all levels) would be considered afterwards and either implemented by the WEC (where it has the power to do so) or dealt with at a future conference. (In addition, a later agenda item sought to initiate a consultation on the Welsh Policy Forum process with a view to agreeing the way forward at conference in March.)

In the light of all this complexity, some of us welcomed the submission by Aberconwy CLP of a motion calling for a special rules review conference, which would enable all matters dealing with the party’s structure and governance to be dealt with together at a dedicated event. I moved that this be adopted by the WEC, with the regional secretary of Unison seconding the motion. Although Aberconwy had not specified a timescale, it was made clear in the discussion (after initial criticisms that a rules review conference would be a distraction from the local election campaign) that it couldn’t take place before the late summer and probably have to wait until the autumn. Nevertheless, it was, unfortunately, defeated by 12 votes to 9.

There were also three motions (from Cynon Valley, Preseli Pembrokeshire and Swansea West CLPs) welcoming the creation of a seat for Wales on the NEC (as agreed at the Liverpool conference) but calling for it to be elected by OMOV, rather than appointed by Carwyn (a branch in Dwyfor Meirionnydd had also passed a similar motion but this was discounted because it hadn’t gone to the CLP first). Dave Hagendyk advised us that these motions could not be considered because the Welsh party does not have the power to override a decision made by the ‘national’ party conference. Nevertheless, there was a brief discussion initiated by one of the other CLP reps, who argued that members had reason to feel aggrieved because they hadn’t been consulted about the basis on which the new NEC seat would be established. I spoke to support this point and pointed out that the WEC hadn’t actually discussed the extra NEC seat at any point in the time that I had been a member and that information from comrades who were members last year suggested that it hadn’t been discussed then either. I was then personally criticised (by colleagues who either hadn’t understood or didn’t accept what I had already said) for voting at the NEC against the “WEC position” and for defending my position in media interviews, before the chair brought things to a close, after giving me another chance to defend myself, and said that if members had concerns about particular individuals’ conduct, they should make a formal complaint, rather than indulge in personal attacks during meetings. (At the end of the meeting, a senior WEC member said that he would be making a formal complaint about my “behaviour”.)

Finally on the General Secretary’s report, another CLP rep raised concerns (which I share) about the suspensions that had been carried out and it was agreed that this issue would be discussed more fully at the next meeting.

The remainder of the agenda was fairly uncontroversial. There were reports from those WEC sub-committees that had met since the last full meeting, including the Organisation sub-committee, on which I sit and which had agreed, among other things, to conduct an audit of Welsh CLPs, to ascertain how healthily (or otherwise) these bodies are functioning. There was also the item referred to above, regarding a review of the Welsh Policy-Making Process, which will be conducted by consulting party units and affiliates in the period leading up to February 2017, with the conclusions presented to Welsh party conference.

Welsh Executive Committee Meeting, 3 September 2016 (Joint Report with Chris Newman)

In opening the meeting, the Chair, Donna Hutton, congratulated Darren on this election to the NEC and welcomed Mary Williams, who had taken up the Unite seat vacated by Hannah Blythyn when she was elected to the Assembly as AM for Delyn.

Report of Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister

Carwyn Jones AM began by expressing concern about the cancellation of an NEC meeting on party reform, which had been scheduled for 6 September, as one of the items this meeting would have discussed was the package of rule changes intended to devolve greater power over the rules in Wales to the Welsh party. He was concerned that this would mean that the proposed changes would not be put to conference and there would be a year’s delay. Other members echoed his concerned but Darren pointed out that there was still an NEC meeting scheduled for 20 September, which could, in principle, agree that the proposals be put to Conference. It was agreed to write to the General Secretary, Iain McNicol, urging the NEC to approve the rule changes. It was also agreed to ask the two leadership candidates to endorse the proposals.

Carwyn also announced a plan to hold a special “Welsh Labour Convention”, in order to facilitate greater involvement of party members in the future planning of the party’s long term policy development. Huw Lewis and Janice Gregory, both recent ex-AMs, have been asked to draw up a discussion paper on this topic for the WEC’s next meeting on 5 November.

Report of the Shadow Welsh Secretary

Paul Flynn MP raised concerns about the possibility of the Labour party losing 11 of its Welsh MPs due to the forthcoming Boundary Changes (as well as losing our one MEP to Brexit). These changes are seen as an act of blatant gerrymandering by the Tories and a legal challenge is being considered because the government have not taken into account the most recent data on the number of people in each constituency. Paul also reaffirmed the urgent need for the infighting within the PLP to stop. He felt the party should come together and unite to fight the Tories and not each other. His written report was noted.

Election of the Party Development Board (PDB)

Nominations were invited for the PDB, a sub-committee of the WEC that sometimes has to make key decisions between WEC meetings. In addition to the WEC officers, Assembly Labour Leader and Shadow Welsh Secretary, Karen Wilkie, Margaret Thomas and Mary Williams were elected to represent the affiliates; and Pam Baldwin, Ceri Reeves and Darren to represent the CLPs.

EU Update

Derek Vaughan MEP’s written report was noted. Carwyn said that the key issue was the need to have access to a single and tariff free market, in order to keep the manufacturing sector in Wales. However the EU would not accept this situation without the UK government paying for this arrangement, and us accepting free movement of labour and their rules. He felt that Article 50 would be triggered by mid-2017. In the meantime, Carwyn has put together an advisory group (which would have to include Brexiteers) and strengthen the appropriate section of the civil service, in order to offer much needed assistance to the Welsh Government. Assurance would have to be offered to wales’ key foreign investors. On the question of a second referendum he felt it was not politically acceptable. Any deal with the EU would have to be ratified by all 4 UK parliaments; any decision concerning devolved matters such as, fisheries, farming and the environment will require Welsh Assembly approval as well as Wales having direct negotiations with the EU.

General Secretary’s Report

David Hagendyk returned to the matter of the proposed rule changes for the Welsh party and secured agreement from the WEC that, if the changes were agreed by UK conference, there would be a wide-ranging consultation with Welsh party members as to what should be done with the new powers. On staffing, it was announced that Michelle Perfect, North Wales Organiser and Welsh Labour Women’s Officer, has resigned in order to work for Hannah Blythyn, AM for Delyn. Her replacement in North Wales would be interviewed shortly but Jo McIntyre was to be the new Women’s Officer. Under the newly-announced Organising Academy, training and training packages would soon be available for party members, with a particular focus on CLPs where UKIP is a threat; Fraser Welsh would be taking charge of this work. Details of the Boundary Changes for Wales would be published on 13 September and there would be a meeting on the implications on 16 September and begin to try and agree a common Labour position. These changes will have a big effect on the Party and raises the question of how we should respond.

Among the points raised in the discussion was the suggestion that mass voter registration should be promoted via the universities. Concerns were also raised about various issues arising out of the leadership contest, including the online abuse that had taken place and the anonymous criticisms that had been reported in the media regarding certain full-time staff. Darren raised concerns about the large number of suspensions of party members in recent weeks and asked Dave about the involvement of Welsh Labour staff in the process and the numbers of Welsh party members affected. Dave said that he did not yet have accurate data on the numbers suspended in Wales but understood that this was being complied by the party centrally and promised to pass on the information once received.

WEC Committees and Panels

Volunteers were enlisted for the Appeals panel; the Organisation Committee; the Local Government Committee; and working parties to take forward Welsh conference decisions on Making Gender Balance a Reality; the Welsh Labour Review of Policy Process; and School Term Time Contracts.

Labour Conference 2016

Arrangements were discussed, including the Delegates’ Briefing, Welsh Night and the scheduled debate on Wales. Chris remarked that it was unfortunate that Welsh ministers were not able to attend conference to talk about their respective policy areas, because the Assembly would be sitting at the time, and asked if anything could be done about this. Her frustration was echoed by others but it was reported that this was a matter for the Assembly as a whole and it was unlikely to change in the short term, give the political balance.

Local Government elections and September Event

The event planned for 17 September on next May’s elections was publicised.

Welsh Executive Committee report, 9 July 2016 (Joint Report with Chris Newman)

There was only one substantive item on the agenda for this meeting: ‘Implications of the European referendum result’. Just over a fortnight after the vote, it had seemed the best use of the meeting time to give detailed consideration to the implications of the decision. Undoubtedly, the ‘Leave’ vote was – and is – a hugely important issue for the party and for Wales but it seemed artificial to exclude all other topics, especially when the party was in the midst of a leadership crisis.

The First Minister, Carwyn Jones, explained the situation. The Welsh Government had already sent out a team to Brussels, for exploratory talks with EU officials, to see what side deals, if any, could be struck for Wales. Nobody yet seemed to know what was likely to happen. Wales could not depend on the support of Scotland because they are moving toward a position of independence. This would not be a viable option for Wales, even if it were politically desirable, as we don’t have the same economic resources as the Scots.

It is vital, Carwyn said, that Wales should retain access to the single market; that was certainly the view of major firms based in the UK, such as TATA, who do not want to pay a 5% tariff on their products – but the single market means free movement of labour which the ‘Brexit’ decision implies most voters don’t want.

Departure from the EU could cost Wales some £650 million a year. The Welsh Government cannot guarantee funding for the big projects promised in its recent election if they take more than two years to complete. The projects affected could include the City Deal, the Metro and the apprenticeship scheme. The funding provided to Wales under the Barnett Formula would prove inadequate compared to the support currently available from EU Structural Funds. Once we had left the EU, we would not be able to trust the Tories to make up the difference. Therefore the Welsh Government needs to press ahead with seeking more devolved powers from Westminster.

Carwyn acknowledged that some people were raising the question of a second referendum. He certainly felt that all four UK parliaments would have to ratify the final deal, once we know what it looks like. We would have to reject it within the next twelve months if it is unacceptable. Clearly the public have been lied to. We need to start campaigning for greater social justice and the need to improve workers’ rights, to combat racism and end exploitation of workers especially as about 150,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on the EU.

Derek Vaughan MEP likened this period to a state of bereavement. The outcome was the result of a complex mixture of factors such as the influence of the right wing media, which – together with pro-Brexit MPs – had told lies and played the race card, plus the failure of Labour MPs to talk enough about immigration issues. For example Labour did not stress the fact that there are a similar number of UK citizens living in the EU as there are immigrants living in this country. The Tory Lobbying Act had also played its part by gagging charities and trade unions from speaking out on inequality matters prior to the 2015 election. It left the poor in our society feeling they had nothing to lose if we left the EU.

As a country, we need to change the way we deal with the EU but the EU is already fed up with the UK. The current situation has left us with the pound dropping in value, an estimated 750,000 jobs disappearing and businesses losing confidence in investing in the UK. In Wales, we need to ensure that EU funding for our major projects is spent by 2018 when the UK might leave the EU. Uncertainty about when Article 50 will be invoked was discussed. As for a second referendum, it may be possible to have one, as circumstances change and the final deal is shown to the people, whose views may change when they realise that they were lied to.

The discussion was then opened up to the rest of the meeting and a number of points were raised:

A question was raised as to how far we could currently quantify the likely impact of Brexit. Carwyn responded that 150,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on access to the single market and funding of apprenticeships would certainly suffer if EU funding were not replaced but Derek explained that full data on projects benefiting from the current funding programme was not yet fully available.

Concern was expressed about the damaging role that social media played in circulating racist comments. The Labour Party needs to educate its supporters against harbouring such ideas. For example in launching their local council election campaign, Newport Council had recently passed a resolution expressing pride in being a diverse city.

Chris argued that Labour needed to make the case for social justice and solidarity in response to the divisive and racist ideas of the right and to tackle the underlying causes of social division by, for example, repealing the Tory anti-union laws in order to allow unions more effectively to challenge unscrupulous employers who played off migrant and indigenous workers. Other WEC members said that we should point out that migrant workers often did the jobs that indigenous workers were reluctant to undertake and that Labour should campaign for a Living Wage and for more robust trade union recognition, as well as for the retention of the employment rights won through the EU, which would now be under threat.

It was agreed to send a letter of solidarity from the WEC, to a) Tudor Evans, Leader of Plymouth Labour Party, concerning the defacing by local fascists, of Michael Foot’s memorial in the city and b) to Jo Cox’s family; and to support a proposed remembrance day commemoration for those who had gone from Wales to fight fascism in Spain in the International Brigades.

Darren argued that Labour had failed to make a sufficiently convincing case for the EU over recent years and, in particular, had been too reluctant to acknowledge the neo-liberal drift of EU policy over the last twenty years and to set out a credible reform agenda. He pointed out that, despite the criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the ‘Remain’ campaign by the MPs who had challenged his leadership in recent weeks, some 63% of those who had backed Labour in the general election had voted ‘Remain’ – almost the same percentage as for SNP voters, for which Nichola Sturgeon had been lauded. Another CLPs rep picked up the point about the divisions opening up in the PLP and the potential damage that could be done to Labour’s ability to campaign on issues like Europe. She observed that the party had secured considerable additional revenue as a result of the large increase in membership over the last year and proposed the WEC take a position that more of this money should go directly to branches to assist their campaigning. The chair advised her, however, that we could not vote on this as it was not within the competency of the WEC.

Paul Flynn MP, attending his first WEC meeting since taking over as Shadow Welsh Secretary, reported on the very unpleasant atmosphere in the House of Commons and said that some Labour MPs were behaving unprofessionally. Such public disunity was having an adverse effect on the standing of our party. Paul reminded the committee that he had not supported Ed Miliband in the 2010 leadership election but did not criticise him while in office, unlike the current situation where some Labour MPs seemed to think it was time for a free-for-all against Jeremy Corbyn. This point was echoed by other Committee members.

Following the conclusion of the EU debate, the minutes of previous meetings were circulated, including those of the Party Development Board (PDB), a sub-committee of the WEC. Darren asked when the PDB would next be subject to election and it was agreed that this would be done at the next meeting.

Welsh Executive Committee Report, 14 May 2016

This was the first full meeting of the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) elected at the end of last year, which took office at Welsh Labour conference in February (there was a very brief meeting at the conference, to elect a chair and vice-chair and fill some other posts).

Election report

The main item of business was a report and discussion on the Assembly election campaign, the results and subsequent developments at Cardiff Bay.

Carwyn Jones said that Labour’s result had been better than expected and that the results in Cardiff North and the Vale, in particular, had been gratifying, but our overall vote had gone down and much of it had gone to UKIP. The latter had already split, in effect, into two groups in the Assembly. Plaid had done well in Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff West, as well as in the Rhondda, focussing mainly on local issues. There was little doubt that they had intended to take over the government when nominating Leanne for First Minister on 11 May and that Plaid AMs had approached the Tories and UKIP with this in mind. There had been strong public opposition to their manoeuvring, however.

Janice Gregory also gave her perspective as campaign co-ordinator. She said the campaign team had met weekly and had had big issues to contend with, like the steel crisis, which has had to be factored into the campaign. She praised the team in Transport House, whom she felt couldn’t have done more. She said that the result in the Rhondda had taken everyone by surprise.

The general secretary, Dave Hagendyk said it had been a very difficult campaign, with the Labour vote squeezed by Plaid and UKIP. Labour had undertaken four direct mailings in target seats and distributed three million pieces of print altogether, as well as using Facebook targetting. Across Wales, close to 300,000 people had been spoken to – more than anywhere else in the UK, outside London. Labour’s result in North Wales had been tremendous but recent elections had seen the party retreat eastward and we now needed to work hard to re-establish ourselves in the West and North-West of Wales. Welsh Labour would carry out a detailed analysis of the campaign and election results over the next couple of months and bring back a report to a future meeting.

There was a lengthy and thorough discussion of the campaign, some of the main points of which included: details of the campaigning tactics employed by Plaid in the Rhondda; the desirability in future of campaign messages tailored more specifically at North Wales; and the need to analyse the reasons for the big vote for UKIP.

In the context of a comment about the damaging effects of party disunity, there was some criticism (justifiably, in my view) of the circumstances of Stephen Doughty’s resignation from the front bench earlier in the year. Stephen, who was present as one of the two representatives of the Welsh PLP, defended himself, saying that he had resigned in writing prior to the contentious BBC interview on the matter and – notwithstanding his criticisms of the reshuffle – had worked loyally with the party leadership throughout. His explanation was accepted by the chair.

Carwyn alluded to the events surrounding Ken Livingstone’s comments about Zionism and the cancellation of Jeremy Corbyn’s planned visit to Wales. He criticised Ken for detracting from the positive messages of the campaign, saying that a day had been wasted, and reiterated that he had not stopped Jeremy from coming to Wales: the decision had been made by mutual agreement. While agreeing with Carwyn about the unhelpfulness of Ken’s comments, I expressed concern about his call for Ken to be expelled, as I felt that any disciplinary penalty should await the outcome of the party’s investigation. I also said that, notwithstanding the explanation he had given about Jeremy’s visit, the comments in the Western Mail attributed to a “party source” had been damaging, as they had implied that Jeremy was an electoral liability. Carwyn said that the media coverage had been “unfortunate” and Janice added that it was difficult to prevent people lacking any real authority from preventing themselves in the media as anonymous “Labour sources”. Andy Richards of Unite said that his union backed Carwyn’s position on the Livingstone issue.

I also commented on the Plaid campaign in Cardiff West, which had been very negative and focussed entirely on local government, rather than Assembly, issues, and I endorsed another Committee member’s comment that it was a shame that the Welsh Labour manifesto had been published so late.

Report from Nia Griffith, Shadow Welsh Secretary – Nia talked about the series of issues over which the UK Tory government had been forced to back down recently, including their plans to force all English schools to become Academies, as well as aspects of the draconian Trade Union Bill. The Queen’s Speech was due to take place in the coming week and the proposed legislation to tackle extremism was likely to be particularly controversial, in the light of the disgraceful Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan. Nia also commented on the implications of the Tories’ proposed parliamentary boundary changes, which would reduce Wales’ representation from 40 seats to 29. Stephen Doughty observed that the partial success of the campaign against the Trade Union Bill showed that the Tories can be defeated. Dave Hagendyk added that thanks were also due to Labour’s representatives in the House of Lords, including Eluned Morgan, who had now been elected to the Assembly.

European Referendum – Dave reported that printed campaign materials had now been delivered. The campaign needed to engage both with those voters who needed to be persuaded to vote ‘yes’ and with those already inclined to do so, who needed to be encouraged to turn out. Many loyal Labour voters were unconvinced of the need to remain in the EU and so much of the party’s efforts would be focussed on ‘heartland’ areas, rather than election marginals. There was a discussion, covering a number of points, including: the need to get the student vote out; the varying attitudes to the EU in different economic sectors; and the need to counter UKIP’s appeal to disaffected voters. Margaret Thomas of Unison said that her union had registered as a third-party campaign for the referendum, having consulted members, who’d been overwhelmingly supportive of a ‘yes’ vote. I said that Labour needed to have a distinct message from the official ‘IN’ campaign, emphasising the need for reform of the EU, to avoid repeating our mistake in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when we were seen as too close to the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign.

General Secretary’s report – Dave said that the Welsh party’s policy consultation work now needed to be refocussed on UK-wide issues, via ‘Your Britain’. He also reported that Welsh Labour would be left with just two organisers after the referendum: Michelle in North Wales and one (to be appointed) in the South.

Party Reform update – The chair, Donna Hutton reported that a ‘Party Reform’ exercise was being led by the NEC, with a number of strands, including one concerning the relationship between the party centrally and its Welsh and Scottish organisations. Andy Richards had been representing Welsh Labour in discussions about areas of party activity in which responsibility could be devolved to Wales. Any proposals would be put before the party conference in September, after which the Welsh party would conduct its own, detailed review of its rules and processes, which would culminate at the 2017 Welsh conference. In response to a question from Catherine Thomas (Mid & West Wales CLPs), it was confirmed that this would include agreeing a more consistent approach to gender-balanced representation.

Welsh Labour Conference 2017 – It was confirmed that this will take place in Llandudno, 22-26 March.

Welsh Representation on the NEC- A Personal Statement

There has been widespread media coverage of the decision by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on 20 September to grant additional powers (subject to conference approval) to the Scottish and Welsh parties. I have personally come in for a fair bit of criticism for voting against one aspect of this – the proposal to give Scotland and Wales seats with voting rights on the NEC – so I just wanted to explain my position.

The proposals that were agreed formed part of a wider ‘party reform’ agenda that has been overseen by the NEC over several months (for the most part, before I joined the NEC at the beginning of July). This includes sections on women’s representation, on young members, on local government, etc. The section on devolution was largely driven by Scottish Labour and the Scottish Executive Committee (SEC) carried out an extensive consultation with members and party units. By contrast, the consultation in Wales seems to have begun and ended with the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) before I became a WEC member in February.

The WEC was told, at the first full meeting that I attended, on 14 May 2016, that discussions with the NEC on greater devolution for the Welsh party had been taking place, with Andy Richards (Unite regional secretary) representing the WEC. There was general agreement that any increase in devolved powers offered to the Scottish party should also be offered to the Welsh party but otherwise not a lot of detail, although some examples were given, including (I believe) devolved control over selections and formalisation of the position of Welsh leader. Certainly, nothing was presented to the meeting in writing. The official minutes make reference only to the control of Westminster parliamentary selections, which the Scottish party had requested but which had not been in the original Welsh Labour submission. The minutes record that it was agreed, nevertheless, to follow Scotland’s example in this respect. The minutes do not mention the possibility of Welsh representation on the NEC and I certainly do not recall any mention of this, which I think I would have done, given its evident significance.

After I joined the NEC a few weeks later, the first meeting I attended, on 5 July, was of two sub-committees, the Disputes Panel and the Organisation Sub-Committee. The latter was presented with a progress report from the various strands of the party reform discussions. The summary for Scotland mentioned the NPF acknowledging and resolving policy differences between the devolved parties and wider UK party; clarifying SEC control of Holyrood selections and possibly adding Westminster selections; confirming Scottish Labour responsibility for local government; and formalising Scottish party’s responsibility for CLP management. The bullet-points relating to Wales were essentially the same (albeit reflecting Welsh Labour’s currently slightly weaker degree of autonomy) but add formalisation of the role of Welsh leader and establishment of the post of deputy leader. There was no reference to representation for Scotland and/or Wales on the NEC.

Nor has there been any detailed consideration of party devolution by the two subsequent WEC meetings: the meeting held on 9 July was given over entirely to a post mortem on the EU referendum campaign and the meeting on 3 September expressed concern about the cancellation of a ‘party reform’ away-day and the potential implications for the proposals for Wales, without going into any details of the latter.

I should make it clear at this point that I have always supported the principle of the Welsh party having greater control over its own affairs. In particular, Nick Davies and I commented, in our 2009 book, Clear Red Water, on the anomaly that, at a time when the Welsh Labour government was diverging significantly from New Labour orthodoxy, the Welsh party’s full-time staff were accountable only to the general secretary in London. Our arguments that the significant degree of political autonomy that already existed within Welsh Labour should be mirrored by a similar degree of organisational autonomy found little support within the Welsh Labour establishment – until recently.

I also supported a proposed rule change put forward by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy a few years ago, which would have augmented the six-strong CLP section of the NEC by adding two seats, to be elected by Scottish and Welsh members, respectively (until I joined the NEC this year, there had never been a Welsh CLPs rep on the Committee, and Scotland had had only infrequent representation, since the current NEC structure was introduced in the late 1990s). Unfortunately, the rule change was not agreed.

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s original election as Labour leader in September 2015, there have been noticeable efforts by the Welsh leadership to distance the Welsh party from the wider British party. There has been an attempt to rebrand Welsh Labour – clearly to the left of the British party throughout most of the devolution period – as a bulwark of ‘moderation’. This point provides some context for the furore surrounding the proposal to give Wales and Scotland extra representation on the NEC.

At the NEC meeting held on 20 September, and concerned primarily with business to be discussed at the forthcoming party conference, a further ‘party reform’ update was circulated, including rule changes that would need to be put to conference in order to give effect to the proposals recommended by the various working groups. The changes relating to Scotland and Wales reflected those set out in the paper circulated to the Organisation Sub-Committee in July but added two points: that the Scottish and Welsh party leaders should attend ‘Clause V’ meetings to draw up the party’s general election manifesto; and

“The Scottish and Welsh Labour Party each to be directly represented with voting rights on the NEC by a frontbench member of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.”

The Scottish and Welsh leaders can currently attend as observers and the Scottish leader, Kezia Dugdale, was at this meeting. She argued forcefully that agreeing the rule change would demonstrate the party’s acceptance of the changed realities of devolution and would undermine the SNP’s argument that Scottish Labour is merely a “branch office” of a London-dominated party. She made it clear that she would take up the Scottish seat herself if the change were agreed although it was acknowledged that Carwyn Jones, as leader of a governing party, would not be able to attend NEC meetings in person and would need to delegate this role to another representative.

I pointed out that Welsh Labour has only 29 seats out of the sixty in the Assembly and needs every vote; no Labour AM, therefore, would be able to attend NEC meetings in London on a Tuesday when the Assembly is sitting. I made this point twice in the discussion but it was largely ignored. My second objection to the proposed rule change – that Scotland and Wales should have NEC representation but that these seats should be subject to an OMOV ballot of all members in the countries in question – was also made by other NEC members. Nobody opposed additional representation for Scotland and Wales on principle but it was suggested that the proposal could be considered in more detail by a rescheduled ‘party reform’ away-day after conference, alongside other suggested changes to the NEC’s composition, and that these changes could be agreed by a special conference early in the New Year. When it was put to the vote, however, it was agreed by 16 votes to 14 to put the rule change to the Liverpool conference (the other rule changes relating to Scotland and Wales were uncontentious and it was unanimously agreed to recommend them to conference).

Much of the media coverage of the meeting has presented the vote on Scottish and Welsh NEC representation as a victory for Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents, who would supposedly be strengthened by the inclusion of ‘moderate’ Scottish and Welsh reps on the NEC. My vote against the proposal has, conversely, been portrayed as a reflection of my ‘Corbynista’ factional loyalties and readiness to disregard the interests of Wales and the Welsh party. Criticism on Twitter, led by former AM, Leighton Andrews and Stephen Doughty MP, has been particularly vitriolic: I have been described as “disgraceful” and accused of flouting the wishes of the WEC, on which I also sit, to vote against proposals to which I had failed to object when the WEC discussed them. My critics have shown little interest in my attempts to explain my position but I hope it will be clear from what I have said above that:

  • I have long supported greater autonomy for the Welsh party – and was happy, like the rest of the NEC, to support all but one of the rule changes proposed to bring this about;
  • I have also consistently supported the principle of NEC representation for Scotland and Wales;
  • I believe, however, that the most democratic way to fill the proposed additional NEC positions would be by a ballot of all party members in Scotland and Wales, respectively;
  • It is also clear to me that the proposal for Wales to represented on the NEC by a frontbench Assembly Member – or by any AM – is unworkable, as long as the NEC continues to meet in London on a Tuesday (not that a Wednesday or even a Thursday would be much better);
  • In voting against this proposal being recommended to conference, I was not seeking to quash the idea of NEC representation for Scotland and Wales altogether, but to refer the matter to an NEC ‘away-day’ on party reform and subsequently a special conference;
  • I was also not voting against a proposal to which I had acceded as a WEC member, as it has not been discussed by the WEC since I joined in February and, indeed, I have seen no evidence that the proposal was under serious consideration before this month, as it seems magically to have appeared on the shopping-list of devolution rule changes sometime between 5 July and 20 September.

NEC Meetings- UK Labour Conference 2016 (24-27/09)

The NEC met three times during the party conference in Liverpool. Although I wasn’t physically present, due to being away on my honeymoon, the wonders of modern technology meant that I was able to participate by telephone and cast a vote on the one occasion when a vote was called by the chair.

The first meeting took place on the Saturday evening before conference began. Jeremy took the opportunity to express his gratitude to party members and supporters for giving him a renewed mandate as Leader. He hoped that the party could now unite and return to the job of challenging the government and presenting Labour’s alternative. He was pleased to report that productive discussions had been taking place between his office and representatives of the PLP on the system that the party would adopt for choosing the Shadow Cabinet but some further work remained to be done. In relation to the decision that had been made the previous Tuesday, to ask conference to agree seats with voting rights for Scotland and Wales on the NEC, he asked that this be deferred to the party reform ‘away-day’ that was planned to take place after conference, so that the proposal could be discussed in the context of other proposed changes to the NEC. A number of members supported this request, and I reiterated my concerns about the viability of the proposal as it stood, but the chair ruled that a decision had already been made and that the proposed rule change would be put to conference for agreement.

The ten point programme on which Jeremy had campaigned for re-election had been circulated to all party members following his victory and it was agreed that the Committee consider putting this formally to conference as an NEC statement, along with the statement on international trade that Jeremy had tabled; a decision would be made on this at the next meeting. Finally, the General Secretary told the NEC that materials were being produced for despatch to CLPs in England for a campaign day on education – specifically, opposing the government’s proposals on grammar schools – to take place the following Saturday. It was agreed to look at doing some similar campaigning in Scotland and Wales in the near future.

The second meeting took place on the Monday morning, before conference began for the day. It was agreed to put the two documents circulated by Jeremy to conference with the backing of the NEC. The main discussion flowed from the Conference Arrangements Committee report, which indicated that all of the proposed rule changes endorsed the previous week would be presented to conference as a single package, to be agreed in its entirety. Several members argued – rightly, in my view – that the proposals covered a diverse range of issues and it would be bad practice for conference to be asked to vote for them on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. Others argued that those seeking that the changes be presented individually were simply attempting to derail the contentious proposal on NEC places for Scotland and Carwyn Jones – exercising his right to attend the NEC as an observer for the first time – emphasised how important this change would be. The chair did not put this to a vote but ruled that presenting the proposals as a package was consistent with the decisions made the previous Tuesday. This approach was challenged from the floor when the proposals were put to conference but the chair was again unyielding and the changes were carried.

The final NEC meeting at conference took place on the Tuesday evening and was the first occasion when newly-elected NEC members were invited to attend (alongside outgoing members): Claudia Webbe and Rhea Wolfson, in the CLPs section; Nick Forbes, representing Labour councillors; and George Howarth, representing backbench MPs. Carwyn Jones also joined the meeting by telephone.

Jeremy thanked the NEC for all its work over the previous year and looked forward to the work that it would be doing over the months ahead, including the campaign against the government’s plans for grammar schools. He said that the ‘away-day’ now planned for 22 November would present an opportunity to re-energise the party. He highlighted some of the challenges coming up, such as the by-elections in Batley and Spen and in Witney, the Council elections in May 2017, the Brexit process and the government’s assault on the Human Rights Act. He said that the party was now developing a ‘bottom-up’ approach to policy-making and that John McDonnell was working with Scottish Labour to set out a clear economic alternative for the Scottish people, exposing the inadequacies of the SNP’s approach.

Jeremy then paid tribute to those members who would leaving the NEC: Johanna Baxter and Ellie Reeves in the CLPs section; Ann Lucas in the councillors’ section; Angela Eagle, who had been a Shadow Cabinet rep earlier in the year; and his old friend , Dennis Skinned, who was stepping down after several years representing backbench MPs. All of these responded to Jeremy’s thanks and Dennis Skinner made some typically entertaining valedictory comments, ending with the need for the party to unite to defeat the Tories.

Carwyn was asked if he intended to take up the full NEC seat now allocated to Wales. He said that he would but would send a representative when unable to attend meetings in person. The Chair pointed out that substitutes are not allowed under the rules, so Carwyn said that he would take up the place for now but that its long-term future would be resolved in the next 24 hours.

The meeting then moved on to the election of a chair and vice-chair for 2016/17. A question was raised as to who would be able to vote and the outgoing chair ruled that new, as well as old, NEC members were entitled to take part, despite strong objections from at least one very longstanding member, who said that this was not the normal practice.

Two members were nominated: Andy Kerr of the CWU and Glenis Willmott MEP. It was agreed that one should serve as chair and the other as vice-chair. The Committee then voted on which should be chair. I voted for Andy Kerr but he was pipped at the post by Glenis Willmott (18 votes to 17) after all votes, including Carwyn’s, had been cast.

The outgoing chair, Paddy Lillis, then handed over to Glenis, who thanked the Committee for its support and said that we would meet again for the ‘away-day’ on 22 November.

NEC Report 20/9/2016

This main purpose of this meeting was to discuss conference business, a few days before the party was due to gather in Liverpool. It had a somewhat strange atmosphere, however, as it took place just a couple of days before the end of the leadership election and virtually everyone present had already accepted (as several frankly acknowledged) that Jeremy Corbyn was going to be declared the winner. It also overran the four hours scheduled by another 4.5 hours.

The first substantive item was the Leader’s Report. Jeremy acknowledged that things had been said during the leadership election that were a matter of regret but now was the time to move on and reunite the party. He said that the abuse and anonymous briefings needed to end and that whoever was elected leader would be entitled to the support of the PLP. He also accepted as legitimate, however, the concerns that had prompted the PLP’s call for election to the Shadow Cabinet and felt that this could potentially be accommodated, to some degree, if it might help to heal the rift that had opened up in the party.

Jeremy suggested a procedure for this and other rule changes, whereby the NEC would take an initial view on a set of proposals; this would be explored in more detail at an ‘away-day’; there would then be a brief consultation with the wider party; the NEC would consider the responses and agreed a final package of proposals, which would be put forward for decision and implementation, perhaps by a special conference in the New Year.

Jeremy also highlighted the importance of the review that had been conducted by Shami Chakrabarti, the conclusions of which he wanted to be implemented in full, although some of it would first need to be considered in detail by the NEC’s Equalities Committee (the NEC unanimously agreed the Code of Conduct drawn up in response to the inquiry, committing Labour to “equality and combating and campaigning against all forms of racism and prejudice”). He said that Shami would be a real asset to the party in the House of Lords, given the government’s assault on human rights. He reported that he had met European social democratic leaders to discuss the implications of Brexit and also that he was pushing for public inquiries into Orgreave and the Shrewsbury 24.

Jeremy’s report was followed by two hours of questions and discussion, much of which consisted of the same points being repeated by different NEC members. Some members paid tribute to the hard work of party staff during the leadership campaign and expressed disquiet at the criticism that some had received, when they had been carrying out the decisions of the NEC. A number of members raised concerns about the online abuse apparently experienced by MPs who had criticised or voted against Jeremy and some highlighted the leaked dossier compiled by someone in the Leader’s office, containing a list of 14 MPs who were considered to have been abusive towards Jeremy. This was described by one MP as “an invitation to deselection” and was held up by others as an example of Jeremy’s supposed responsibility for the abuse endured by MPs; some fairly strident demands were made for him to use his authority to make it stop.

Along with a veteran left-wing MP and another Grassroots Alliance-backed CLPs rep, I attempted to restore some balance by pointing out that Jeremy had probably been on the receiving end of more abuse than anyone else in the party, much of it coming from the very MPs who were complaining about their own treatment (for the record: neither I nor anyone else in a position of responsibility on the Labour left would condone any abusive, obscene or intimidatory messages directed against anyone – but it is wrong to suggest that this behaviour is the preserve of any one section of the party).

One member also asked whether there would be an investigation into Momentum following the previous night’s Channel 4 “Despatches” programme and referred to a meeting that Jeremy had apparently attended at the Unite offices in Esher at which there had supposedly been a discussion about getting rid of Jeremy’s leading critics, including senior full-time staff and NEC trade union reps.

In his response to the discussion, Jeremy echoed the supportive comments made about party staff, whom he said should always be treated with respect. He reiterated that he absolutely condemned all forms of abuse and pointed out that, while “unkind” things had been said about him on social media, he had always refused to respond in kind. He said that he was “not into purges” and that employment of staff was the responsibility of the NEC as a whole, not just the Leader. With regard to the Despatches programme, he pointed out that the reporter had gone undercover to take a paid job with Momentum, drawing two salaries, and had illegally tape-recorded conversations. Jeremy was comfortable with the fact that there were different organised groups in the party and had even spoken at a Progress meeting. The meeting Jeremy had had in Esher had been about making his office more efficient; he had not been involved in the kind of discussions that had been reported.

The NEC next agreed a Safeguarding Code of Conduct, developed in collaboration with the NSPCC and designed to address the party’s responsibilities to its 10,000 members under the age of 18, and agreed some minor changes to the Social Media Code, which had been adopted at the previous meeting. The latter prompted some reflections from NEC members who had been involved in the panels considering complaints against party members and supporters. They all said that it had been a difficult task, both because of the unpleasant character of some of the abusive comments complained about and because of the need to try and exercise some discretion in relation to the age of the members involved; the presence or absence of a pattern of ‘offending’ behaviour; whether there was any threat involved, etc. Some also felt that there should be a wider range of penalties, including written warnings for less serious offences, rather than going straight to suspension. One trade union rep raised concerns about the situation in Bristol, where the suspension of three Labour councillors had resulted in the party losing our majority; she called for these cases to be looked at urgently.

Tom Watson then presented a report on the ‘party reform’ agenda that has been overseen by the NEC over several months, drawing together specific proposals arising from the work that had been done on gender representation, on local government, on devolution and on promoting political representation by people from working class and low-income backgrounds. An NEC ‘away-day’ set for 6 September and intended to work up some rule changes ahead of conference had been cancelled because of the leadership election and it had been suggested that the proposals might have to await a rescheduled ‘away-day’ after conference. It was agreed, however, that there were a number of proposals that were sufficiently uncontentious that they could be agreed without further delay and presented to conference for endorsement. These were:

  • Gender representation: NEC to establish a formal policy-making women’s conference.
  • Local government: Councils and Labour Group Executives should reflect the wider community and gender balance of the executive should reflect the group as a whole; members of Labour Group should not support any proposal to set an illegal budget; Combined Authority Mayors and PCCs to be accountable to CLPs, Labour Groups and Affiliates with regular reports to those unitd and to regional conferences; Combined Authority Mayors and PCCs to uphold Labour’s commitment to diversity and under-representation in any appointments they make; ALC [Association of Labour Councillors] levy payments to be made by regular direct debit.
  • Devolution: The Leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Labour Party to attend Clause V meetings [to draw up the general election manifesto]; Scottish and Welsh Executives to administer the procedures and selection of Westminster Parliamentary Candidates in Scotland and Wales [this was agreed after it was confirmed that the procedures themselves would continue to be those drawn up by the NEC]; Scottish and Welsh Executives to manage and administer selection of candidates for devolved institutions and local government in Scotland and Wales; Scottish and Welsh Executives to set procedural rules for the election of the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Scottish and Welsh Labour Party.
  • Bursary Scheme: The Labour Party to introduce a scheme to support members seeking selection to Parliament from working class and low income backgrounds.

 

There was, of course, one further rule change proposal in the section on Devolution, which the NEC discussed:

“The Scottish and Welsh Labour Party each to be directly represented with voting rights on the NEC by a frontbench member of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.”

There has been widespread media coverage of the decision to endorse this proposal and I have personally come in for a fair bit of criticism for voting against it. I have defended myself at length elsewhere, so I will summarise my position as briefly as possible here. This proposal, and the whole section on devolution, was largely driven by Scottish Labour, with the Welsh Executive Committee (WEC) adopting the default position that any increase in devolved powers offered to the Scottish party should also be offered to Wales.

There has been no reference, however, to any desire for a ring-fenced NEC seat for Wales on the brief occasions when the question of intra-party devolution has been discussed since I joined the WEC in February. Moreover, when a set of proposals for increased autonomy for the Welsh party was circulated to the then members of the WEC for their approval in September 2015, there was no reference to NEC representation on that occasion either. And when, on 5 July, the NEC’s Organisation Sub-Committee was presented with a ‘party reform’ progress report, there was no reference to representation on the NEC for Wales or for Scotland. In other words, the NEC meeting on 20 September was the first time, to my knowledge, that this issue had been acknowledged – at least, over the last year or so.

My own longstanding support for the principle of the Welsh party having greater control over its own affairs is well-documented and I was enthusiastic about a proposed rule change put forward by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy a few years ago – unfortunately, without success – which would have augmented the six-strong CLP section of the NEC by adding two seats, to be elected by Scottish and Welsh members, respectively (until I joined the NEC this year, there had never been a Welsh CLPs rep on the Committee, and Scotland had had only infrequent representation, since the current NEC structure was introduced in the late 1990s).

The Scottish and Welsh Labour leaders can currently attend NEC meetings as observers and the Scottish leader, Kezia Dugdale, was present on 20 September. She argued forcefully that agreeing the rule change would demonstrate the party’s acceptance of the changed realities of devolution and would undermine the SNP’s argument that Scottish Labour is merely a “branch office” of a London-dominated party. She made it clear that she would take up the Scottish seat herself if the change were agreed although it was acknowledged that Carwyn Jones, as leader of a governing party, would not be able to attend NEC meetings in person and would need to delegate this role to another representative.

I pointed out that Welsh Labour has only 29 seats out of the sixty in the Assembly and needs every vote; no Labour AM, therefore, would be able to attend NEC meetings in London on a Tuesday when the Assembly is sitting. I made this point twice in the discussion but it was largely ignored. My second objection to the proposed rule change – that Scotland and Wales should have NEC representation but that these seats should be subject to an OMOV ballot of all members in the countries in question – was also made by other NEC members. Nobody opposed additional representation for Scotland and Wales on principle but it was suggested that the proposal could be considered in more detail by a rescheduled ‘party reform’ away-day after conference, alongside other suggested changes to the NEC’s composition, and that these changes could be agreed by a special conference early in the New Year. When it was put to the vote, however, it was agreed by 16 votes to 14 to put the rule change to the Liverpool conference.

(Had the vote gone the other way, it would not have meant the end of any idea of NEC representation for Scotland and Wales altogether, to which nobody present was opposed in principle, but the matter would have been referred, for more detailed consideration, to a rescheduled NEC ‘away-day’ on party reform and subsequently a special conference.)

The other major proposal in Tom Watson’s paper on party reform was on the much-publicised issue of the election (or otherwise) of the shadow cabinet. He had put forward two alternative models for change: one involving the election of the whole shadow cabinet by the PLP; and the other involving a third of the shadow cabinet elected in that way, a third appointed by the Leader, as at present, and a third elected by party members, as Jeremy had suggested. There was general agreement that some sort of compromise solution was desirable but a lengthy discussion ensued as to how this could be arrived at. One of the trade union reps proposed that talks between the Leader’s office and representatives of the PLP should take place and that whatever position had been reached as of the pre-conference NEC meeting on Saturday 24 September should be put to conference. Everyone agreed that the talks were a good idea but some of Jeremy’s strongest supporters argued – rightly, in my view – that these talks would need to take as long as necessary to come up with the right solution and that an artificial deadline should not be set. This view eventually prevailed and the motion fell by 16 votes to 15.

Less controversial was a rule change to clarify that an incumbent party leader (or deputy leader) should automatically be on the ballot-paper if challenged, which everyone agreed to recommend to conference, as the matter had (eventually!) been settled by the 12 July NEC meeting and subsequently defended by the party when challenged in the courts.

With the meeting already having gone on for more than seven hours, we finally got to the substantive item on Conference Business, introduced by the Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), Harry Donaldson. The main task here was to agree the NEC attitude on rule change motions submitted by party bodies (in most cases, a year before). I supported a proposal that the NEC back a rule change from Sheffield Healey CLP, seeking to allow conference to vote in parts on the lengthy policy documents brought forward by the National Policy Forum, which currently have to be accepted or rejected in their entirety. There was opposition to this, however, on the grounds that it might cut across the review of policy-making commissioned by the Leader and might also cause “confusion”. It was agreed by 16 votes to 15 to ask conference to remit or oppose the motion. More positively, it was agreed to support a motion from Ashfield CLP, calling for unions’ retired members’ branches (they had in mind the NUM, in particular) to be able to affiliate to CLPs in their own right.

The last significant discussion was under the General Secretary’s report, where some of us raised concerns about aspects of the leadership election – in particular, the large number of suspensions of members over public statements that had been abusive in nature or supportive of another party. A paper circulated to the meeting showed that 11,250 complaints had been received and, although 52% of these had not included sufficient evidence to be referred to an NEC panel, 3,963 had resulted in action being taken (usually suspension). I said that these figures were disturbing in their scale and that many party members had been living in fear of losing their membership rights over a comment they may have made on social media. From what I’d seen in a number of cases brought to my attention, many of the infractions committed had not been serious enough to warrant such a heavy penalty and there was a strong case for urgently re-examining many of the cases – although it was hard to see the Compliance Unit getting through such a heavy volume of investigations in any reasonable sort of timescale. I also raised concerns about the ‘collective punishment’ meted out to Brighton and Hove DLP and to Wallasey CLP.

Another CLPs rep, who raised similar concerns about the suspensions, also highlighted the fact that a substantial number of people (albeit probably a small minority of the total) had, for no apparent reason, never received a ballot-paper, despite repeated phone calls to the party.

In response, the General Secretary and a CLPs rep who had sat on many of the panels looking at complaints, broadly defended the process, albeit acknowledging that there had been some issues (te General Secretary said that the system had worked better than the previous year). In relation to Brighton and Hove, which had also been raised by a trade union rep, the General Secretary said that a report had been completed and its conclusions were awaiting endorsement and action.

I would have liked to have pursued these issues in greater detail but it wasn’t possible to do so at the end of such a long meeting. I am continuing to seek answers to my concerns via correspondence, however.

There still remained a number of items on the agenda and these were now whizzed through in record time. I hope that future meetings will stick more closely to schedule – however controversial the subject-matter – by restricting contributions when we reach the point at which the main issues have been aired.