This is a collective report on behalf of NEC CLP reps: Yasmine Dar, Huda Elmi, Rachel Garnham, Ann Henderson, Jon Lansman and Darren Williams from Labour Party National Executive Committee meetings taking place in June/July 2020.
30 June – Emergency NEC
This series of NEC meetings started with an Emergency NEC on 30 June to set the timetable for elections to various sections of the NEC that had previously been cancelled because of the pandemic. Why this was suddenly an “emergency” was never fully explained.
Chair Andi Fox welcomed David Evans to his first NEC meeting as General Secretary.
Keir welcomed David Evans to the team. He highlighted that the work across the Party and in parliament continued to be dominated by Covid-19 with the terrible figure of 65,000 people, having now died. The government had been very slow going into lockdown, slow with the provision of protective equipment to the frontline, slow on testing, slow with its support for local authorities, slow to track, trace and isolate.
Keir reported on some victories, including on the immigration health surcharge; free school meals for the Summer period; and remote voting on parliamentary business. He stressed that during the health crisis we have been shielded from impending economic crisis by the furlough scheme, even though there are gaps and failures in its implementation, but those communities and areas already struggling will be hit hardest.
Keir described some of the reasons why we were in this situation including the government’s lack of investment. Investment figures show seven out of the nine English regions have had a decline in investment over the last 10 years, some of the worse hit areas have been East Midlands, Yorkshire and South West. He stated the focus has to be on jobs, flexible furlough and back into work schemes. Keir reported on virtual visits and his face-to-face visit to Stevenage last week. He talked about regeneration there and had spoken to local traders.
Keir then explained in some detail the removal of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet, although his account omitted some important aspects of her account.
NEC members had the opportunity to ask questions and issues were raised about Tower Hamlets and strike action by Unison members; progress with the proposed constitutional convention; job losses at the end of furlough; the behaviour of British Airways; and concerns about a potential US trade deal.
CLP reps thanked Keir for the work Labour was doing to hold the government to account, which should be Labour’s priority. Keir was asked again about his strategy for unity, asking if he agreed with the quote from Harold Wilson that ‘the Labour Party needs two wings to fly’, and how he planned to engage the 44% of party members who didn’t give him their first preference.
Keir was criticised by several members for sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey, with the point made that this would not help address antisemitism in any way. CLP reps highlighted that it appeared that factionalism appeared to have been a significant factor. It was highlighted that these matters need to be dealt with through disciplinary procedures, conflict resolution, education, truth and reconciliation.
Keir was asked if he would take the opportunity to apologise to the black community in Britain and the rest of the world, for his interview on BBC Breakfast which reduced Black Lives Matter to a ‘moment’ and it was pointed out that this did nothing to alleviate the just concerns that the black community have about the police. It was stated that Keir’s comments emboldened the Far Right such as Nigel Farage, dishonoured George Floyd’s memory and those organising to eradicate racism across the world. The question was a request for a simple Yes or No answer to apologise in an attempt to rebuild trust.
Other points raised by the CLP reps included why we were not clearly opposing the government’s relaxation of lockdown against scientific advice.
Keir was asked, given that he was taking a zero tolerance approach in regards to antisemitism, whether he was going to continue to allow Rachel Reeves to serve in the shadow cabinet, after she tweeted and has not deleted that she would support a campaign to erect a statue to the notorious antisemite Nancy Astor.
A further question raised the strong views of many members in regards to the acts of aggression and oppression of the new Israeli government, particularly in relation to the annexation of Palestinian lands. In line with conference policy, that the Labour party must recognise that any just peace must be based on self-determination for Palestine with equality and human rights for all. Keir was requested to support the Palestinians and speak out against the further annexation of Palestinian lands.
More questions were asked about the furlough scheme, public sector jobs, the heritage sector, plummeting incomes, changes to society from pandemic, social distancing, Scottish Parliament elections, working with local councillors and unions, huge levels of unemployment, already seeing entire industries under threat, economic crisis, job protection, green jobs and recovery with meaningful policies for people.
Keir in his response said he would look into the Tower Hamlets situation; he said Labour will hold the government to account on trade deals; and that he was determined to unite our party and his strategy would be to engage with all parts of the party – we should all ask ourselves what one thing have I done today to reduce factionalism in the Labour Party.
Keir said that he has asked for a weekly report on disciplinary cases, to have a proper line of sight. He explained what he meant by a moment – an expression, a defining moment; but he didn’t want the police defunded in UK.
Regarding Rachel Reeves’ tweet about Nancy Astor, he said he was not going to discuss an individual member of the cabinet on a Zoom call (having already gone into detail about the situation with Rebecca Long-Bailey). He said the annexation in Palestine was wrong, unlawful and inconsistent with a two-state solution, and that he would call out human rights abuses wherever they took place.
Deputy Leader’s Report
Angela Rayner gave the Deputy Leader’s report. She emphasised confidentiality in relation to certain situations where she had been supporting with various processes in the absence of a General Secretary.
Angela reminded members that an administrative suspension is not a punishment and does not prejudge an outcome. She explained that we were restricted by legal requirements to maintain confidentiality and not disclose any information regarding any disciplinary matters.
Angela mentioned the ongoing work programme to review and make improvements to Party functioning, including online events, a new membership platform, a technology review, a Diversity and Inclusion Board in relation to staffing, and training programmes including unconscious bias.
NEC members welcomed the report and updates. Members asked questions about addressing member disillusionment, disciplinary matters and retention issues. A concern was raised about a quote from the Press Office apparently pre-judging issues being covered by the Forde Inquiry. A further concern was raised about the Forde Inquiry’s slipping timetable and the need for it to stick to its terms of reference, not pick and choose.
CLP reps asked for more information about the tech review and asked that members are kept informed as far as possible regarding the response to the report as there is a danger of demoralisation if the issues are perceived as being brushed aside.
Angela responded by stating she wants to be transparent and give as much information as she possibly could. She clarified that the content of the leaked report has not been removed from the remit of the Forde inquiry and there have not been instructions for that to happen. The timetable has changed and Angela agreed this should not drag on. She said that she shared the concerns and frustrations raised by the NEC.
General Secretary’s Report
David Evans made some general remarks, having only been in role a couple of days, and outlined a programme of engagement, including the need to speak directly to voters.
NEC members asked a series of questions covering devolved issues, young members, all- women shortlists, when a general election review would take place and a request for more information. Ann Henderson asked about extending the National Policy Forum consultation and the need to properly monitor equality data in relation to the membership. Left CLP reps pointed out that members are embedded in their communities and in touch with and speaking to voters all the time. David responded to the questions and it was agreed that the National Policy Forum consultation should be extended.
A finance report from Treasurer Diana Holland followed. Various questions were asked, including left CLP reps raising the issue of extreme underfunding of CLPs. The General Secretary promised to come back with proposals to address the issue.
The discussion of the timetable relating to the NEC elections started with the notification of a legal challenge as to whether it was within the remit of the NEC to take a decision to change the electoral system for the CLP section without referring to annual conference. A strong case was made in a letter that had been circulated on behalf of members. Left NEC members spoke in support of the challenge, arguing that as this was in essence a rule change, it was clear in the rulebook that Annual Conference should take such a decision. However, Labour’s Acting Executive Director of Legal Affairs Alex Barros-Curtis, who had previously worked on Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign, advised that his view was that the NEC could take such a decision. The vote on whether the discussion should go ahead was lost by 21 votes to 13, with the left arguing that such a decision should be taken by our sovereign Annual Conference, defeated.
The discussion moved on to the paper itself, and the NEC received an update on the roll-out of technology for the online meetings.
The first issue addressed was positions elected at Conference. It was agreed that the elections of Auditors, CAC General Section, NCC division I (Trade Unions) and NCC Division II (CLPs) due to take place at Annual Conference 2020 will now be deferred to Annual Conference 2021, with the terms of office of existing members extended as appropriate. The NEC further agreed that all elections originally scheduled for Annual Conference 2021 will be deferred to 2022 with terms being extended as appropriate. Such deferrals and terms extensions will continue up until the usual schedule for elections can be resumed (three year terms for the NCC and two year terms for all other national committees). No decision was made about the CAC CLP section, due to be elected by OMOV in 2021. A decision had already been taken in January 2020 to postpone elections to the National Policy Forum, originally scheduled for summer 2020.
The second issue to be addressed was giving CLPs permission to meet online in order to make CLP nominations. At the May meeting, there had been general agreement that the right of CLPs to meet formally should be restored. However, the paper in May had specified that online meetings could take place for local selections and nominations for metro-mayors. Formal meetings of CLPs were excluded from that paper, and this exclusion was given as a reason given by the Governance and Legal Unit as to why the Party could not issue guidance for formal NEC meetings to take place. To avoid this happening again, Rachel Garnham moved an amendment to add wording to the paragraph that referred specifically to NEC nomination meetings to ensure that not only could NEC nomination meetings take place, but to ensure that the NEC made a formal decision in writing that formal CLP meetings could now take place. The amendment was designed to ensure that guidance could be issued without further agreement by the NEC. No member of the NEC spoke against the amendment, however the vote was lost by 18 votes to 17. Six CLP reps Yasmine Dar, Huda Elmi, Rachel Garnham, Ann Henderson, Jon Lansman and Darren Williams voted for the amendment; Two Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan voted against. There are only two possible reasons as far as left CLP reps can see that any member of the NEC would have voted against the motion – one is that they didn’t agree with enabling CLPs to formally meet, the second is purely factional – they did not want to support a left amendment.
The third discussion was about whether a timetable needed to be agreed for the elections at all at this stage, given the situation with a global pandemic and no reasons outlined in the paper why this was an ‘emergency’ and no risk analysis, in particular in relation to digital exclusion. Left CLP reps pointed out that the guidance currently available for online meetings was long-winded and confusing, there was great concern that members would be excluded from both the nomination process and the voting because of access to technology and the reality of pressures members are feeling from being key workers, home-schooling, grieving or unwell or with their jobs and livelihoods lost or under threat. There was no clamour for these elections to take place, it was the wrong priority and certainly not an emergency. Left CLP reps argued that it made far more sense to introduce the technology, allow formal online meetings to bed in and iron out any teething problems, work out ways of increasing accessibility and develop some decent guidance and only then should the NEC agree a timetable for NEC elections. It was also noted that in-fighting was not ideal at this time and in the lead up to crucial elections across our three countries in 2021. The only argument in favour noted was that ‘this is democracy.’ The vote to go ahead with elections was won by 21 votes to 12.
The fourth discussion was about whether Single Transferable Vote should be used for the CLP section for the NEC. A whole series of concerns were raised by left NEC members, including the most important of all that such a significant decision should be made by annual conference. Other concerns included the need for an equality analysis as the new system appeared likely to have a detrimental impact on representation, the lack of any detail about how the new system would work including the women’s quota, the potential impact on turnout given the new system could cause confusion, and a serious request for a proper argument in favour other than ‘in line with commitments made by the Leader and Deputy Leader during the recent leadership election’ it was pointed out that it was by no means a central plank of their campaigns, and most members would not even have seen any pledges made on this issue. As one CLP rep put it, the proposal appeared to be ‘another nail in the coffin of Keir’s commitment to Party unity.’ Nevertheless the NEC voted to approve STV for the CLP elections.
A fifth issue related to the election for the local government section and PLP section of the NEC. Those proposing STV were asked to explain why STV was so important for the CLP section but not good enough for these other two sections. It was suggested again that it was factionalism not principle that was driving the decision-making. Amendments from the left that would have provided consistency across the three sections were lost.
Finally, one of the left CLP reps proposed some changes to the timetable that would have enabled longer and more flexibility for members to put their names forward to be published on the portal, a deadline for getting CLPs set up for online meetings in advance of nominations opening, and an extension to the deadline for enabling CLP nominations. These amendments were lost. Once again only the six left CLP reps of the eight CLP reps present voted in the interests of member involvement.
After more than five hours of online discussion and debate, the meeting was closed.
7 July – Committees
Organisation Committee was cancelled but meetings of both the Disputes Committee and the Equalities Committee took place.
Disputes Committee was unable to consider individual cases because of concerns around confidentiality, however it did receive an update on numbers of cases being dealt with by smaller panels. A series of issues were raised by left CLP reps, including the transparency and accountability of the panel process, the very long time that some members have been suspended for, and the application of administrative suspension, which anecdotally appears to be higher than ever. It was noted that members were seeking clarity and justice in relation to disciplinary procedures against those named in the leaked report, although it was noted no details about this could be shared.
Equalities Committees received an update on plans for the digital women’s event in September and for a full Women’s Conference in February. It also received an update from the working group looking at developing new BAME structures, as well as reports from its external stakeholders. There was a lengthy discussion about the approach to All-Women Shortlists, which all present felt should be defended as far as possible, although noting a difficult legal situation. Serious concerns were raised by left CLP reps about reports of falling BAME membership, and an update requested.
21 July – Full NEC
The July NEC meeting opened with the Leader’s Report.
After welcoming the re-elected NEC members representing the Parliamentary Labour Party (Margaret Beckett, George Howarth, Shabana Mahmood), Keir spoke briefly on the EHRC Inquiry, the Panorama BBC programme out of court settlement, and the work of the Shadow front bench team in Parliament with a clear focus on the economy, on jobs, and on the global public health crisis. It was confirmed that the EHRC draft report was with the Party and was completely confidential at this stage and would not be shared with the NEC. The Party would be preparing its response to the provisional findings, as required.
NEC members were in the same position as most members of the Labour Party, having only learned through the media about the settlement that had been reached with former Party staff. There were therefore several questions on this, with a number of NEC members clearly expressing the view that this decision should have come to the governing body of the Party for consideration and left CLP reps concerned about the use of members’ subscriptions. Members asked for sight of the legal advice, and also made clear serious concerns that the timing of the decision could impact on the work of the independent Forde Inquiry into the leaked report, and the Party’s responses on the EHRC report. There also had been no opportunity for the NEC to exercise any scrutiny over the impact of the settlement decision on the finances of the Party. [Note that the Labour Party statement in Court was made public the day after the NEC, so was not available at the time of the NEC meeting. The statement has failed to answer concerns expressed by NEC members the previous day.]
Other questions to the Leader covered jobs and the economy: including a focus on concerns in Wales with regard to the future of Tata steel; UK wide threats to the aviation sector and engineering; tax policy and whether Keir could reconfirm his leadership pledge to support raising income tax for the top 5% of earners (he didn’t); public sector pay announcement; ongoing issues with Tower Hamlets and redundancies; retail sector and high street regeneration; concerns over the Trade Bill and its impact on devolution settlement; acknowledging disproportionate impact of COVID19 on BAME communities; lines on China and human rights breaches; the green recovery plans; and discussions on constitutional reform and further devolution of power.
In response, Keir reiterated the PLP’s stand on a no-deal Brexit; agreed on the need for a sector specific response on aviation; concerns for Tata Steel, for the retail sector, and for local government; and referenced the previous day’s parliamentary debate on the Trade Bill, where all the amendments supported by Labour had been voted down, including on NHS, and on role of parliamentary scrutiny. Keir reiterated a commitment to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the trade unions with regard to workers’ rights and conditions, and to a progressive taxation policy which would be further developed in the run up to the 2024 election, but he did not currently wish to distract from the jobs agenda. Keir indicated that the current priority must be Labour’s ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ message. Lisa Nandy’s comments on China were referenced. Progress is needed on the constitutional reform and devolution discussions, and Keir indicated that he would be visiting Scotland during the Westminster parliamentary recess, along with Angela Rayner.
In response to the questions over the Panorama programme and the settlements, Keir reasserted his view that this will not affect the work of the Forde Inquiry, and that he made no apology for following through on commitments made during the Leadership and Deputy Leadership campaigns, clearly indicating his view that this was within the Leader’s role, as a political decision. The role of the NEC, and its responsibilities for governance of the Party, was not addressed in Keir’s response.
The Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, reported on the online events that had recently marked the Durham Miners Gala and the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival; highlighted the summer campaigning on jobs and tackling unscrupulous employers, noting that a toolkit and campaign materials for local activity would shortly be available; welcomed the arrangements now in place for the NCC to proceed with online hearings; and noted that CLPs had now been authorised to hold online meetings. Equality and diversity surveys are underway amongst staff and elected members. The Forde Inquiry will not be ready to report until later in the year.
Discussion on the Deputy Leader report included a request for clarification and reminders for the wider membership on the full remit of the Forde Inquiry, with an updated timetable, and it was confirmed that this would be provided. Whilst welcoming the extension of online meetings to CLPs to conduct ordinary business, it was noted that this would have been better to have been addressed prior to rolling out the arrangements for the internal elections and selections, which were still causing problems for a number of CLPs (as proposed by the majority of the CLP NEC reps at the previous NEC meeting).
Serious concerns were raised about the West of England Mayoral short-listing process, where the candidates receiving the most CLP nominations had not been shortlisted, despite the hours and hours members had taken on piloting the online nomination meetings. A proper update on the Technology review was requested for the next meeting.
The General Secretary’s report to the meeting picked up on the West of England Mayoral Selection concerns raised by left NEC CLP reps, and he indicated this would be addressed. He opened his comments with a reminder that adherence to the code of conduct required NEC members to respect confidentiality and accuracy within reports, and echoed the Chair’s remarks with respect to the unacceptable practice of leaks appearing on social media from the NEC meetings. David welcomed the conversations that he had so far been able to have with individual NEC members, and would be writing out to all NEC members to seek further feedback on how the working arrangements could be improved. An induction briefing would be arranged for the recently elected NEC members.
Noting a motion received from CLP NEC member Jon Lansman, General Secretary confirmed that a report would come to the September NEC on proposals for a Labour Students organisation. In response to a question from Ann Henderson, Chair of Equalities Committee, David confirmed that a programme of training on tackling sexual harassment training would be restarted. Also in response to repeated requests from NEC CLP reps, a membership report will come back to the September NEC which contains disaggregated data by region, nation; sex, race and disability, and tracks patterns across leavers and joiners. This commitment was welcomed. Current membership figures stand around 570,000. It was noted that some work on following up on collecting arrears had paused, as the COVID pandemic was at its most severe, but would likely be restarting.
The General Secretary also reported on some staffing changes and outlined an organisational review with a view towards the 2024 General Election, which would build on the work started by the previous General Secretary. This was being undertaken in discussion with staff trade unions, and with some external oversight. A report would be given to the NEC in September. It was expected to be complete by December 2020. Richard Leonard received assurances that the organisational review already undertaken by the Scottish Labour Party would be fully taken into account in Scotland.
The General Secretary’s report was supplemented by a brief report from Labour’s Acting Head of Legal Affairs, Alex Barros-Curtis, on the EHRC report, on the progress of the Forde Inquiry, and on the reports to the Information Commissioner. It was noted that it was likely the closing date for submissions to the Forde Inquiry would be extended from 24 July, and this was confirmed subsequently – closing date now 7 August. Over 250 submissions had been received to date. Yasmine Dar urged early clarity on the end date for this Inquiry, which had originally been expected to report in July, and highlighted members’ expectations.
The discussion on the General Secretary’s report confirmed NEC members views that clarification was needed on the use and functions on delegated powers. Rachel Garnham outlined the detailed concerns from CLPs over potential issues with online nomination meetings; the lack of guidance for engagement with those members not able to access the internet or without email addresses; the inadequate training; and the failure to have given clear guidance on the method of voting for CLP nominations, nor specifics for the use of STV in the final ballot stage. Picking up on the point that not all Party members use email, the General Secretary undertook to review the possibility of hard copy communication. The decision to come back in September with proposals on Labour Students was welcomed. With regards to the discussion on accuracy of NEC reports to the wider membership (and in the public domain), Darren Williams and Ann Henderson reminded members that the decision had already been made at the January NEC, that the Minute of the NEC meetings should be published in a suitable form, on the Party website. The General Secretary agreed to take this forward.
National Policy Forum
The eight Policy Commissions are currently consulting on specific documents and questions. Following NEC Officers’ request, the closing date had been extended from 30 June, to 20 July. It was noted that roundtable online events had been held, and thousands of submissions had been received over the last few months. Following cancellation of Annual Conference, it has been agreed that an interim report will be produced, for further consultation, but a full Report will be prepared for amendment and decision by the 2021 Annual Conference. The NEC meeting discussed again the Democracy Review recommendations on reviewing the whole policy Forum process, and it was agreed to come back to this at the next NEC. Left CLP reps flagged up reports from members on the faults in the online voting and technical capacity on the NPF website pages, and staff agreed to investigate further.
All Women Shortlists
The General Secretary and the Acting Head of Legal Affairs updated the NEC on legal advice with regard to the application of the AWS measure in local authorities (or parliaments) where the Labour Groups already had 50% or more women members. There is an interpretation of the Equality Act which suggests that where a Group has reached 50%, positive action measures for women may then not be allowed. The NEC and the Party reaffirmed strong commitment to using positive action for women, including AWS, and that it was never the intention to stop at 50%, or to allow gains to be reversed. It was also suggested that further guidance be sought and issued, on the maximum options for positive action to advance BAME, disabled, and other under-represented groups – within the current Party Rulebook and legal frameworks – and for future legislative change. Decisions on AWS seats impacts on all the current local authority and parliamentary selections. Queen’s Counsel opinion on the current legal position has been sought urgently and will be shared as soon as possible. It was also agreed to take forward Party policy on extending the Equality Act provisions on All Women Shortlists, as it is subject to a sunset clause 2030.
Young Labour National Committee elections
A timetable was agreed which runs concurrently with the current elections for NEC CLP section and other elections. Clarification was sought that young members must be under the age of 27 at the close of ballot.
Autumn Digital Event
The Leader’s Office updated on the proposals for a three day membership engagement Digital event (20-22 September) which will replace Annual Conference. It is an ambitious programme to bring members together – discussing ideas, campaigns, training, special guests and also plenty of member participation. It will allow Labour to set out some of the COVID recovery priorities, and to build for our election campaigns in 2021.
A Women’s Digital event will be held on Saturday 19 September and content is being prepared in discussion with the NEC Women’s Sub Committee, the WCAC, and TULO. Disability Labour is providing advice and guidance on accessibility as the events are being prepared.
In both cases the timetable will be a mix of more formal and informal sessions, enabling members to dip in and out. There will be no requirement to be present at all of the events, and it is not a delegate- based event. Some sessions will be broadcast for the public and could be recorded for later viewing. The NEC members welcomed the work done so far, and made a number of suggestions to increase participation, and to record and evaluate the success of the events. It was noted that the NEC Women’s Sub Committee is a useful forum for discussion of the women’s event.
Annual Women’s Conference 2021
In line with previous NEC decisions, a paper was presented with dates and timelines for a full policy making delegate-based Women’s Conference in February 2021. (Harrogate 12-14 Feb). CLPs and affiliates are to be advised of timetable later in August. However, options do also need to be considered in the event of public health restrictions preventing a large event taking place, or a social distanced conference with reduced numbers, or on the venue not
being available because of alternative health service use. The NEC agreed to proceed with the proposal, and the NEC Women’s sub Committee will consider it further, as will the WCAC. A final decision will need to be made in early October.
NEC members are working with the Governance and Legal Unit in line with agreed procedures, to consider cases as quickly as possible, and to address any outstanding cases. Panels are meeting regularly. CLP reps did indicate that members remain concerned about long delays, and the impact of the COVID pandemic on procedures and on members’ well- being. Ann Henderson and other NEC members have asked for equalities monitoring to be developed across the complaints and disciplinary procedures.
Left CLP reps asked for a full update on the outstanding sections of this work, for the next meeting, which was agreed. Finalising the rule changes on BAME structures will come to the NEC in the autumn, and the work will start on the disabled members structures with a view to completing it early 2021. It was noted that the NEC Disabled members seat would be filled in November but that work should start on new structures, including stakeholder engagement, in advance of that. The importance of eligible members registering for that election was stressed.
The next NEC meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 8 September. An additional meeting is also expected to be held in September to consider a Review of the 2019 General Election, and various reports in advance of that, will be shared. We encouraged consultation with CLPs and their members, and asked for the inclusion of demographic reports in the Review.