Party Democracy Review, 30 June / 1 July 2018
I was privileged to attend the national consultation events for BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) members on 30 June, and for women on 1 July. Katy Clark provided draft documents listing issues where there seemed to be consensus. Discussion was intense, and participants’ views would be added to the 10,000-plus submissions already received. Katy would bring detailed proposals to the NEC on 17 July.
BAME members were united in demanding an effective voice within the party, rather than being taken for granted. Currently they have to pay an extra £5 to join BAME Labour, which elects their NEC representative, and this excludes the vast majority of BAME members. There was a strong desire for BAME identification to be recorded on the central membership system, and for this to be available to local parties, and there was agreement around annual regional BAME conferences.
For women, sweeping structural changes were emerging, with annual regional women’s conferences sending motions to regional women’s conferences and to annual women’s conference, and new regional and national women’s committees, though no proposals yet for how these would be elected.
National events for disabled and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) members had been held as well. Disabled members also wanted their status recorded with their membership. Work on the technical side is well advanced, but there are data protection issues around who can use the information.
The papers include much that is positive, and my questions centre on practicalities. Some regions struggle to organise a regional conference every two years. Adding annual regional BAME and women’s conferences and new committees and networks would require significant extra resources. Sending motions between conferences suggests a fixed timetable for all regions and nations. Costs, including for CLPs, will be substantial. And for those who do not understand the way that the party is currently organised, these proposals may be right, but they will not be simpler.
And the acid test is at the grassroots. Will the changes attract more women and BAME members, create a welcoming atmosphere in their local parties, draw them into campaigns, encourage and support them in becoming party officers, candidates, councillors, MPs? The focus should be on activity, not just meetings.
NEC Subcommittee Meetings, 3 July 2018
For some of us meetings ran for nearly eight hours, and only ended because members wanted to watch the football. Below is a very abbreviated account.
Women’s Conference Working Group
The women’s conference arrangements committee (WCAC) had spent many hours discussing this year’s women’s conference on Saturday 21 September 2018. Because this immediately precedes annual conference there are constraints on time and space. The rulebook clearly defines WC as policy-based, and CLPs and affiliates were therefore advised to submit policy motions, though some WCAC members argued that anything not explicitly prohibited could be allowed, including motions on organisation and rules.
For the standalone WC on 23/24 February 2019 in Telford, and in the light of the democracy review, more radical change would be possible. The working group agreed that each CLP should be entitled to send one delegate, and a second delegate if she enhanced diversity through being BAME, young, LGBT or disabled. Votes would be based on a 50 / 50 electoral college. Within the CLP section, voting would be weighted according to the number of women in the CLP, mirroring card votes at annual conference. Affiliates would base their votes on their membership, and ideally on their female membership.
Finally the group agreed to meet the whole of the WCAC, to make progress for 2019. I hope that an outline timetable and advice can be provided at this year’s annual conference so that CLPs can plan ahead.
Following serious instances of sexual harassment in the party, Karon Monaghan QC was commissioned to investigate the party’s handling of Bex Bailey’s allegations, to assess procedures for handling complaints, and to make recommendations on how they could be improved and on any other relevant matters. Her report was now complete, but judged too confidential for the NEC. While understanding that it may contain sensitive information about individuals, many of us pressed to see at least the recommendations, in secure conditions. Women are still nervous about reporting harassment as they do not trust the independence of party channels, and we have little with which to reassure them. The NEC panels had dealt speedily with allegations, but none had yet gone through the national constitutional committee (NCC) and the NCC’s fitness for purpose, particularly under such heavy demands, would itself be reviewed.
The statement on trans women within the party seemed to have struck the right balance and vitriolic exchanges on social media had largely subsided. The government was now consulting on the wider position of trans women within society, and Alice Perry invited members to contribute to the justice and home affairs policy commission. Submissions can be posted at https://policyforum.labour.org.uk/
Claudia Webbe was elected unopposed as Chair. The heroic efforts of staff in investigating complaints over the four months since the last meeting had generated 68 pages circulated on the previous evening and a further 38 pages of tabled papers. We got through new applications to join or rejoin the party, and some of the more urgent cases, but the rest were deferred to a future meeting. I was willing to stay for as long as necessary, or at least to clear those where the recommendation was for no action, or for a warning, but the Chair closed the meeting and the NEC is leaving people in limbo for further weeks, or even months.
Some members argued that we should defer all allegations of anti-semitism until new procedures were in place. I disagreed. This would push them into the autumn, and some were so appalling that the need for action was not in doubt. And there were several other disturbing aspects of the meeting:
First, leaks. Some decisions were circulating on social media within seconds, and I would not like to be in the culprit’s shoes when they are found out. Second, under current procedures members who are expelled may apply to rejoin after two years. We agreed that where the CLP was supportive, and the regional office did not object, this would not usually require an NEC interview. However one member then argued for readmitting someone after 21 months, on the grounds that the original expulsion was probably suspect. Accepting this would mean no minimum wait, for anyone. If this is desirable, it should be done through changing the rules, not ignoring them. And third, several members were allowed to make allegations against a named applicant which were unrelated to the reason for their exclusion, in a large meeting which was being broadcast live on social media. Someone has to get a grip.
The final meeting began with documents from the anti-semitism working group, covering recommendations, a programme of education and training, and a code of conduct for members. General secretary Jennie Formby hoped that these would assist in rebuilding trust. The policies demonstrate progress, but I think the party would be in a better place if we kept our commitment to the full IHRA (international holocaust remembrance alliance) paper, including illustrative examples, as agreed by the NEC’s equalities committee in December 2016 at Jeremy Corbyn’s request. The paper has been adopted by the British government, the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly, and it is hard to explain Labour’s objections. It should also be noted that disciplinary action can be taken against members who bring the party into disrepute through behaviour which is grossly offensive, whether or not specific charges of anti-semitism are proved.
The committee endorsed another batch of candidates for key seats, with the exception of a few who had run into trouble on social media. CLPs were asking how the party could vet hundreds of thousands of supporters during leadership elections, but fail to carry out effective checks on a few hundred would-be parliamentary candidates. I passed on requests from non-target constituencies who want urgently to select their candidates as well. However boundary changes are back on the agenda, and pressing ahead may mean having to re-run selections for affected seats. Also some priority seats are finding it difficult to attract candidates, particularly women, with one unable to select even after two rounds of advertising.
There was continuing concern at the very low percentage of ethnic minority candidates, especially as 40% of applicants identify as BAME. Anecdotally some apply to multiple constituencies outside their area, but the party cannot easily collate this information and adjust for double-counting. Of course the NEC itself blocked several male BAME candidates from 2017 from standing again by imposing all-women shortlists.
The timetable for a trigger ballot for the London mayor was agreed, with the incumbent reselected if he wins a majority of affirmative nominations from affiliated organisations and CLPs within the London region. Members can participate if they joined the party by 3 January 2018, affirmative ballot meetings will be held between 6 August and 30 September, and the result will be announced shortly afterwards.
Three final announcements: first, the working group on whether to stand candidates in Northern Ireland would report to the NEC in September; second, the Chair of the organisation committee would talk with the London regional board about implementing decisions of the London regional conference regarding elections by OMOV; and third, complaints regarding the situation in Enfield would be investigated.
Ann Black, 07956-637958, firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous reports are at www.annblack.co.uk