From CLP representatives on Labour’s National Executive Committee supported by the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance.
Two meetings of Labour’s NEC took place in September 2020. Earlier in the month we met to reflect on the Review of the 2019 General Election, followed by the formal full NEC meeting on Tuesday 29th September. Subsequently the NEC Organisation Committee met on Tuesday 6th October.
The NEC formal September meeting opened with a Leader’s Report from Keir Starmer, and then from Angela Rayner as Deputy Leader. Keir reported back on some of the visits he had been able to make, despite restrictions, during the summer, then he summarised Labour’s priorities at Westminster. Keir also placed on record thanks to the staff for the support given to the Party’s recent digital event Labour Connected, of which a full evaluation is being prepared, including acknowledging there had been some problems. It was noted that 27,000 members had registered to attend, and far greater numbers had been able to watch keynote speeches through various channels.
Points raised by NEC members included: the need for a robust ethical code with regard to donations and fundraising, and a recognition that members were concerned if the fundraising strategy was to shift away from building and investing in a mass membership party, with key links to the trade union movement; various examples of problems across the country with the Conservative government’s response to the COVID crisis, particularly on failings in access to testing; better support for those working from home including revising and improving allowances for low paid workers; going forward it would be wrong to abandon all the positive polices and member engagement from 2019; concerns over lack of Front Bench comment on Belarus; confirmation of a continued commitment to the ten pledges made during the Leadership campaign, including whether the Green New Deal be at the heart of Labour’s plans going forward; and a need for alternatives to the Tories’ approach to the NHS to be outlined clearly. Several NEC members reflected the widespread criticism of the decision to sack three front bench members following the vote on the Overseas Operations Bill; and other issues raised included the internal market Bill and impact on devolved administrations; the impact of COVID in the Higher Education sector currently; concerns about the Union Jack social media ad on the day of Keir’s Connected speech; and the need for action in relation to the inappropriate public comment on a recent disciplinary case by Wes Streeting and other PLP members undermining Labour’s complaints process and making it more difficult for members to come forward with complaints.
In response Keir assured the NEC that a future discussion would be held on a fundraising strategy, agreeing there needs to be a clear framework, and giving an assurance that there was no intent to weaken links with trade unions; that additional resources and time commitments from PLP members would be going into the Scottish 2021 elections; that he would continue to be critical of those who pursue a ‘fire and rehire ‘ policy, and will address the situation in Tower Hamlets; that it was normal practice when MPs broke the Whip to remove them from the front Bench; that he would talk to Lisa Nandy about Belarus. Keir reaffirmed that policy going forward would include commitments around green recovery.
Angela Rayner reported on a large number of digital events at which she had represented the Party over the summer. Progress has been made with improving Dialogue and a new phone app will be piloted in November, which will improve phone banking. Various NEC members including MPs offered to help with phone banking, including in supporting the forthcoming Scottish local government by-elections. Angela confirmed her intent to stick to the pledges made in the Leadership and Deputy Leadership campaign, whilst recognising the new context. With regard to MPs and their use of social media, and the recent references to a disciplinary case, she confirmed this had been raised with the Whip. The Forde Inquiry continues, confidentiality is to be maintained, and a report will come to the NEC in due course. No date was given. It was also confirmed that any necessary disciplinary processes within the party were still being followed and would not be delayed.
The push to increase the diversity of Labour’s candidates in all elections, including on socio-economic background, requires more resource, but it was noted that the events on which Angela has been leading recently have been successful. CLP reps raised several concerns, including asking what checks and balances were in place regarding allegations that the rulebook was being too often ignored; and an urgency to deliver justice rapidly through the Forde inquiry. Angela stated her commitment to upholding the rulebook and suggested potential breaches could be reported to her office.
Moving on to the report from the General Secretary, David Evans covered briefly the Forde Inquiry, reporting to the ICO and the draft EHRC Report, where there is still no firm date for publication. The General Secretary defended the wording in the letter sent to CLPs which restricted what could be discussed locally. NEC CLP reps highlighted that this had generated an adverse reaction from many CLPs, and that a way must be found of listening to, and acting, on, members’ views, especially in the current situation with conference being cancelled. A definition of ‘competent business’ as decided by the NEC was requested. The NEC had previously raised concerns about the West of England Mayoral selection procedures, which the General Secretary reported had been addressed as far as possible. A verbal report on the complaints process was given, but it was agreed more detail was needed, in particular in cases where the rulebook is not being followed, and consistency of approach is sought. An assurance was also given that the mental health and wellbeing of staff was being given additional resource, working under the COVID restrictions.
Left CLP reps raised the need to review and improve on digital access for CLPs, learning from the recent nominations process; and raised concerns about consistency across regions in advice given and in particular in adhering to the Rule Book. Questions were raised about when the 28 January NEC decision on publishing agendas and minutes on the Members website page would be enacted; where is the progress on the equality monitoring of the Party’s Complaints process; how the Democracy Review recommendations on equality structures are being resourced and followed through, noting that the NEC Equalities Committee has not had a fully prepared meeting since March; the importance of the NEC and its members fulfilling their non-exec roles; that good governance also requires the NEC Organisation Committee to be serviced and to meet; and the need to consider how CLP motions will be taken forward, particularly given Conference was cancelled. Comments were fed in about the ongoing internal organisation review, requesting clarity on the organisation as currently structured. The General Secretary indicated that the staff trade unions were fully involved in the review, and that the Staff Diversity and Inclusion board was up and running. Reports from the Directors in the Party’s offices in the nations and regions were noted.
Based on the General Secretary’s response, we expect to see further discussion on the process for CLP motions; greater attention to be paid to building the equality structures and implementing the democracy review; a review of Labour Connected; and a revisiting of some of the NEC governance questions, including on delegated powers and on a Code of Conduct for NEC members.
Specific agenda items were taken on:
Finance update. It was noted that the Annual Report which is being prepared will include the Annual financial statement as would usually have been presented to Annual Conference, and that the General Election 2019 campaign had been well supported financially, showing the support from members. It was agreed that communication with CLPs could be improved with regard to financial decisions, and that the current guidance on an ethical code for fundraising and donations should be circulated and confirmed at the next NEC meeting.
General Election Review update: CLP reps stressed the urgency of developing an effective digital strategy; and the need for a review of the selection processes which would allow concerns to be fed in from last year. The role of NEC oversight of election strategy was emphasised, and the need not to ignore 2017 and 2019 voters in a quest to reach new voters.
NEC suggested improvement: Suggestions from members invited in August focussed on improving transparency and accountability but no firm proposals were brought to this meeting. Other suggestions included improvements that could be made in the support for NEC members, and improved efficiency in sharing papers and implementing previous NEC decisions. Reminders were given of the role and responsibilities of NEC members, including to respect confidentiality when appropriate, and to abide by the Party’s Code of conduct on social media.
An update was given on Party membership, which is 560,000, and this will be further examined at the next meeting, with a request for more data on the demographics, and on leavers, joiners and those in arrears, where CLP reps asked for a robust programme of retention. The importance of collecting equality data at every opportunity, in line with previous NEC decisions, was stressed. Trade union links continue to be vitally important, and can also feed into the work to improve diverse representation at every level, for the Party.
A proposal for an NEC Gypsy, Roma and Traveller working group was deferred to the NEC Equalities Committee to finalise remit and membership.
The previous NEC meeting had clearly reaffirmed its commitment, with no dissent, to using positive action measures such as All Women Shortlists in selections at local government and parliamentary levels. The NEC had also asked for clear guidance to be given on all the options open to the Party to promote more diverse and representative candidates. A short report was given to this meeting, indicating that the limitations of the Equality Act 2010 as in clause 104 apply. (AWS may not be used where a (Labour) group already has at least 50% women members, and that clause 158 Equality Act 2010 gave guidance on some other measures that could be taken for BAME members or disabled members). This report left unanswered a number of questions, as different regions are interpreting the advice in different ways, which still needs to be addressed. It was also noted that the framework set by the July NEC meeting had not been followed through. The NEC meeting reaffirmed its commitment to using positive action measures, within the broadest possible scope of the Equality Act, and a motion was agreed which laid out more detail on diversity measures. No information was given regarding any advice for elections other than for 2021 local government in England and Wales
The NEC meeting ran for over 7 hours. Some items which should have been treated as urgent, such as the establishment of the new Labour Student structures and funding for CLPs, were deferred until late November, despite opposition from the majority of CLP reps, the young Labour rep, and some other NEC members. Although it would have made more sense to defer these to Organisation Committee the following week, and this was confirmed by staff as possible, the majority that has been in place since the new leadership took office, including the two CLP reps elected in the by-election, voted for a two month rather than a one week deferral.
Having voted not to defer it, an important discussion on moving to online Annual General Meetings (AGMs) for CLPS and Equality branches, was curtailed by NEC members including, perhaps surprisingly, one of the CLP reps – this then came back on 6th October to the NEC Organisation Committee.
The 6th October NEC Organisation Committee meeting agreed that CLPs and Branches (including Equality Branches) could now proceed with immediate effect to hold AGMs. The required notice should of course be given to all eligible members, and dates are to be advised to regional and national offices, although the reason for this was questioned by CLP reps given the lack of confidence in some regional offices. Correspondence has now been issued to all CLP Secretaries and guidance will follow shortly. Left CLP reps have been asking for this to happen for some time, so the progress is welcome. NEC members raised a number of questions, and further examination of the feedback from the NEC nominations exercise with online meetings has provided a good indication of some of the problems to be addressed.
Following an amendment proposed by Rachel Garnham, it was agreed that AGMs must be completed by the end of July 2021. Ann Henderson reiterated a proposal she had raised at the July NEC meeting suggesting that the General Secretary make written contact with all Party members for whom the Party does not hold email addresses, to flag up the increasing amount of business now being conducted online, to encourage participation, but also to recognise that all members should be kept informed, whether or not in receipt of emails. No progress has been made on this.
With regard to Equality Branches, Ann advised that as Chair of the NEC Equalities Committee, she had been receiving examples of variations in guidance from Regional offices, on the new Rule Book provisions, and it was agreed that the guidance for AGMs would be issued in a consistent format.
A report was given on changes to the Sexual Harassment complaints procedures, and this too will need to come back to the various committees for further progress.
The Democracy Review 2018 recommended a review of the membership fees allocation to CLPs and of membership rates and discounts. Proposals on this were deferred to the 24th November meeting of the NEC, although the majority of CLP reps argued for this to be taken as scheduled, or at the 6th October meeting, and were preparing to argue for CLPs to receive a higher proportion of funding.
The Democracy Review had also proposed an overhaul of the Policy Forum process. Despite repeated attempts over the last two years by the majority of CLP reps to take this forward, no progress has been made. A paper was discussed which will open up a new round of consultation with a view to bringing rule changes to annual conference 2021. A left amendment to add a commitment that any new policy- making process would be inclusive was agreed. Left CLP reps also asked for assurances that the Joint Policy Committee will not start meeting without elections to the CLP places, or at very least, NEC CLP reps in attendance.
Other business considered at the NEC Organisation Committee 6th October included the West Yorkshire Devolved Combined Authority Mayoral Selection process. Positive action measures were agreed and some slight strengthening of wording regarding taking account of CLP nominations. In light of the West of England Mayoral Selection debacle, where the candidate with the most CLP nominations was excluded by the selection panel for what appeared to be factional reasons, Rachel Garnham proposed two amendments to the process to strengthen the role of CLPs, including that any candidate with a certain number of CLP nominations should automatically be shortlisted subject to due diligence. These amendments were defeated, with only Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance CLP reps in favour, alongside left trade unionists; with the two NEC CLP reps elected in the by-election earlier this year abstaining.
New rules for some Regional Executive Committees were brought to the meeting for noting, based on the new Chapter 9B of the Rule Book. However the wide variation was noted, particularly for Eastern Region, whose rules seem to more closely resemble those that are now obsolete. It was agreed to defer these to a future meeting. Some progress with local authority candidate selections was noted; and there was a welcome discussion on how best to consider CLP motions when submitted for NEC attention, particularly as Annual Conference 2020 was cancelled. A paper was promised, taking on board a number of the points raised in discussion, for the NEC Organisation committee scheduled for 10th November.
The Chair of Organisation Committee, Andy Kerr, had requested additional initial reports on membership and on Disputes Panel hearings and membership appeals. NEC members welcomed both reports, accepting that the information contained at this stage should remain confidential, and the discussion identified areas where more information was required and should be brought back to the relevant NEC sub committees, and to the full NEC. In particular the need for equality monitoring was once again noted and Yasmine Dar stressed the role of education and raised concern that panel members had not received any training in respect of anti-black racism or Islamophobia.
Given the amount of business deferred, or awaiting further information, from the September and 6th October meetings, and arising from the March and July NEC Equalities meetings, a proposal raised under Any Other Business to cancel all NEC meetings until late November, seemed a highly irresponsible course of action.
Following a lengthy argument on this point, the proposal was narrowly defeated. The NEC meetings (NEC Equalities 5th November, and Organisation and Disputes Committees 10th November will go ahead. The 24th November meeting of the NEC is scheduled as an Away Day, where those winning the current NEC elections will take up their seats, but this now seems likely to also include very many NEC business agenda items.
Altogether, two deeply unsatisfactory meetings have demonstrated the depths to which the post-April majority on the NEC will sink to curtail discussion and dismiss the rights and concerns of grassroots members. It remains crucial to ensure that as many of the Grassroots Voice slate as possible are elected to fight for members’ voices to be heard.