NEC Meeting, 22 November 2016

This meeting followed immediately after the national policy forum in Loughborough and maintained the outward focus on politics and campaigning, with a comradely atmosphere, no rule changes and no votes. Glenis Willmott in the chair also persuaded most of us to keep our contributions relatively brief. Whether the ceasefire is temporary or longer-lasting remains to be seen.

Jeremy Corbyn said that when travelling around the country he always made time to talk with members, and found them overflowing with talent, ideas and experience. Some local parties were better than others at welcoming them. The campaign against the 11-plus had been brilliantly successful and the NHS action day would be even bigger. The economic debate had come full circle, with recognition that the crash was caused by bankers, not by spending on public services. He had addressed the CBI on the need for greater equality, higher wages and training, with increased corporation tax and measures to tackle tax evasion and avoidance. The shadow cabinet was working collectively on Brexit, aiming to maintain worker and consumer rights, and liaising with the party of European socialists, who would meet in London in February. He and Debbie Abrahams had met with disabled people and carers, John Healey was doing great work on housing and John McDonnell would be holding regional conferences on the economy. Rachael Maskell was leading on rural issues, including poor transport and lack of affordable homes which meant that many people had to leave the area where they grew up. It was Labour’s responsibility to mobilise for real social justice, and to convince voters that there were alternatives to Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and UKIP.

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

General secretary Iain McNicol gave an organisational update. Most suspensions during the leadership contest had now been lifted and the others were being progressed. I have succeeded in getting auto-exclusions reviewed where evidence of support for other parties was flimsy, and hope that these will also be resolved soon. I covered the main areas of concern in my October report at

http://www.annblack.co.uk/nec-meetings-october-2016

and I promise that these will not be forgotten. The recommendations on disciplinary and complaints procedures in Shami Chakrabarti’s report would also be taken forward.

On a more positive note, financially anyway, Iain McNicol said that the levy of £300 a year for Euro-elections would be returned to constituency parties as we wouldn’t be needing it. I have also been arguing that constituencies should receive more than the current £1.60 per member, to help with servicing the surge in numbers, and hope to have further news on this soon.

Party Matters

The meeting agreed membership of NEC committees, where I continue on the equalities committee, the organisation committee, the disputes panel and the business board. There are now eight policy commissions, with the NEC co-convenors in brackets: Economy, Business and Trade (Jennie Formby), Foreign Affairs, Aid and Defence (Cath Speight), Health and Social Care (Keith Birch), Early Years, Education and Skills (Christine Shawcroft), Justice and Home Affairs (Alice Perry), Housing, Local Government and Transport (Jim Kennedy), Work, Pensions and Equality (Diana Holland) and Environment, Energy and Culture (Margaret Beckett). I am on Work, Pensions and Equality. Pete Willsman proposed that Ann Cryer, newly-elected Chair of the national policy forum, should be able to attend NEC meetings as an observer, and this was agreed unanimously.

Progress on party reform was reported, with most interest in the bursary scheme for candidates from working-class or low-income backgrounds, or with disabilities. The gender representation group, which I chair, has been focusing on arrangements for giving women’s conference decision-making powers. It is likely that for 2017 the women’s conference will begin on the evening of Friday 22 September and run through Saturday. Each constituency will probably be able to send one delegate with voting powers, with the unions and socialist societies also sending delegates, but the conference will continue to be open and welcoming to all women members. Procedures around motions have still to be developed, and for 2018 onwards local parties are being consulted on whether they prefer the current timing or a separate free-standing event in spring. Pete Willsman drew attention, again, to the imbalance on the NEC, with constituencies still represented by only six people while the trade unions have twelve plus the treasurer.

Labour’s Economic Vision

Rebecca Long-Bailey gave a comprehensive presentation. The referendum and Donald Trump’s election showed that people wanted someone to blame, with many in low-paid and insecure jobs, household debt at record levels, and inflation hitting living standards. She contrasted the harmonious partnership between Labour’s leader and shadow chancellor with the obvious tensions between Theresa May and her chancellor. The autumn statement would have to pass three tests: a credible fiscal framework, an end to austerity, and adequate investment. Labour would reward low-paid working people, reverse cuts to employment support allowance and guarantee adequate funding for public services. Our approach was now totally mainstream. Some members questioned whether Labour should support raising the 40% tax threshold when benefits were being cut, but others argued that in the south, £42,000 was not super-rich.

Warm Words

Party staff had worked incredibly hard and with little relief through the general election, a leadership contest, more elections, the referendum and another leadership battle, and the NEC welcomed plans to promote well-being, a better work-life balance, career development and diversity. On the latter, most of the day’s presenters were men, whether MPs, the leader’s team, or HQ staff, so a lot to do here. Jeremy Corbyn said that the Labour party must be a model employer, and supported confidential advice for staff who were worried or stressed. I added that staff should not be blamed for NEC decisions.

The Way Out

Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, gave an authoritative overview. The choice was between a hard, brutal Brexit and a collaborative, sensible Brexit, and currently Theresa May was on the side of the extremists, ignoring the 48% who voted Remain but also many moderate Leave voters. However, Labour had to respect the result. If Article 50 was defeated in parliament Theresa May could seek a general election and, despite fixed-term parliaments, Labour would obviously leap at the first chance to get rid of a Tory government. She would ask for a mandate to carry out the people’s will, and the LibDems would pitch for die-hard Remain votes. Labour’s position was more complex: most Labour MPs, members and voters backed Remain, but a majority of Labour constituencies chose Leave. However divisions within the Tory party were deep and serious, while Labour was working as a team, with leader, shadow cabinet, MPs and MEPs united in defending jobs and economic prosperity, and liaising with the unions and with business.

Some NEC members attributed the referendum result to never having had a proper discussion about migration, and Keir Starmer confirmed that this was indeed a top issue for many voters. Not listening, or suggesting that they were ill-informed and really worried about other things, did not go down well. My view is that we never promoted any benefits from Europe: I sat in NEC meetings through three sets of European elections, under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, and been told that we cannot mention Europe because it turns voters off. This was lost over decades, not the last nine months.

Be Prepared

Jon Trickett, national campaign co-ordinator, led a discussion on campaigning for May’s local, Scottish, Welsh and mayoral elections, and a possible general election. Labour would focus first on Tory failures, and then our alternative vision, mobilising our half a million members to take it into every workplace and every community. The challenges were formidable: we needed to win back one million people who voted Tory in 2015. While no-one wanted to bring back New Labour, some of the practical lessons applied as much now as they did then: rapid rebuttal of opponents and media lies, simple, punchy messages, everyone singing from the same hymn-sheet. Take Back Control was powerful and effective: what were our three words if the general election was called today? Answers on a postcard please.

Keeping it Legal

Finally I’ve had many enquiries about quorums for branch and constituency all-member meetings. The model rules specify 25% of those entitled to take part, or a fixed number agreed with the regional office.   I think 25% is fine for delegate-based general committees, executive committees or campaign forums, but daft where all members can attend and vote. I doubt if this has often been achieved – how many CLPs attracted 100 members out of a membership of 400? – but hugely increased membership has highlighted the issue. I am trying to get sensible and consistent guidance, and would appreciate your comments.