The main NEC subcommittees all meet on the same day, to save on travel and time off work. On 6 March we began with a subgroup of women members, charged with finalising arrangements for this year’s women’s conference. This will be on Saturday 22 September, immediately before annual conference, and we agreed, again, that each CLP could send one voting delegate. Allowing more than one would leave fewer spaces for trade union delegates and none for visitors. The deadline for registering delegates is 22 June, the same date as for annual conference. Each CLP and each affiliated organisation will be able to submit one motion of up to 250 words. The women’s conference arrangements committee will set the deadline, probably late July, and the criteria, which are likely to include relevance to women but not the artificial contemporary hurdles which apply to annual conference motions.
A venue has also been booked for the following standalone women’s conference, on the weekend of 22/24 February 2019 in Telford. The basis of delegation has yet to be decided: I like the idea of allowing CLPs to send a second delegate if this will enhance diversity: a young, ethnic minority, LGBT or disabled member. Estimating attendance is difficult because we do not know how many CLPs will send delegates, and I would expect fewer visitors at a winter weekend in Telford than on the eve of annual conference
Katy Clark gave an update on the party democracy review. There will be national consultation events for women, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic), LGBT+ and disabled members. I stressed that not all local parties could afford to send representatives, and asked for written submissions to be taken into account. We had hoped that BAME and disability status could be recorded on the membership system in the near future, so that these members could be contacted directly at local, regional and national level, but it seems that this requires significant development work.
Concerns were raised about Labour Students failing to follow their own decision to elect their officers by one-member-one-vote. However, as I reported last May, membership lists held by Labour clubs are very different from members recorded as students on the party system, and synchronising them is probably yet another task for our beleaguered IT staff. Ensuring that affiliated organisations are properly run is mostly beyond our remit, though Labour Students is a hybrid in that its three sabbatical officers are paid as party staff, so arguably the NEC does have a say here. A report was requested for the next meeting.
Keith Vaz and others expressed deep concern that so few BAME candidates had been selected in the priority parliamentary seats. Members argued, with justification, that calling for more training suggested that the problems lay with individual BAME applicants, rather than with a system which was stacked against them. Solutions are not obvious, but they must be found.
The Labour Too paper, detailing 43 allegations about sexual harassment within the party, was disturbing, and the committee looked forward to Karon Monaghan QC’s report. She has been commissioned
– to undertake an independent investigation into the Labour Party’s handling of the allegations made by Bex Bailey to the Labour Party;
– to make an assessment of the Party’s current procedures for the handling of complaints and make recommendations as to how, if necessary, they could be improved;
– to make any other such recommendations to the Labour Party as seem to be appropriate.
There are fundamental issues of trust: not only the NEC but the NCC (national constitutional committee) are seen as increasingly politicised, with members reluctant to come forward. And this does not apply only to sexual harassment, but to other forms of discrimination, bullying and unacceptable behaviour.
Finally I’ve had many messages regarding the position of trans women in the party. The NEC will agree a statement on 20 March, and until then I would urge tolerance and respect on all sides. The party is clear that discussion should never take the form of abuse or intimidation towards those with different views, a restraint which sadly has not always been observed, particularly online.
NEC members receive many representations from individuals, and some bring these directly to the meetings. I do what I always did as a trade union steward: check with others who might know the situation first, rather than read out the text as uncontested fact. There is rarely only one version of the truth. And it is easy these days to get 170 signatures saying that someone is a good bloke, but if none of the 170 is a witness to specific allegations this does not add to the evidence or establish innocence.
However we all share concerns about the time that some people have been in limbo. I have just rescued someone suspended in August 2016, and am happy for others to get in touch, but they should not have to rely on personal contact with an NEC member. It was suggested that we should not refer any more cases to the NCC until they can guarantee a timely hearing, but that would mean a four-month delay at the first stage rather than the second stage, which doesn’t solve the problem. We agreed that a working group would review procedures, and I think I may be on it, but after two hours I was not entirely sure.
The committee approved another batch of parliamentary candidates and reviewed the latest version of the selection procedures. I raised 17 issues which arose where I was the NEC representative, including whether candidates can have lists of members with postal votes, whether they can attend branch nomination meetings, whether full ballot results should be announced rather than leaked, whether emailing members is sufficient, how to handle changes in eligibility during the process, unsatisfactory model questions, and a number of detailed points. I was pleased to see an allowance for comfort breaks in what can be a long hustings: in at least one selection members were excluded on having to leave the room, while others have been handled more sensitively. The procedure has had bits grafted on through the years and would benefit from a complete rewrite, but there is never enough time.
After discussion the committee agreed that candidates should be allowed unlimited advertising on social media, as this costs much less than glossy leaflets and phone-banking, and helps to level the playing-field. Even so, working-class members continue to be at a disadvantage. The NEC has agreed a bursary scheme, with £100,000 available to low-paid candidates and £50,000 for disabled candidates, but it can only be accessed after someone has been selected. It was not known whether anyone has applied.
Free at Last
Birmingham Hodge Hill, Ladywood and Perry Barr had now completed their local government selections and special measures to control membership, some imposed decades ago, were finally lifted. Likewise for Oldham East & Saddleworth and Oldham West & Royton, where the regional board would review their selection process. A small number of other CLPs would be reviewed again in May 2018.
Among the motions circulated to the committee was one from Islington South & Finsbury which called on the NEC to
“instigate a review of the party’s disciplinary rules and procedures, including their application by the NEC and party staff”
This was supported, and the group agreed at the end of the Disputes Panel meeting will take this forward.
The organisation committee also confirmed that in line with NEC elections, candidates for the national policy forum no longer need to be nominated by their own CLP.
Only a Pawn in their Game
Looking back to the January Disputes Panel, Christine Shawcroft writes in Labour Briefing
“I decided to stand as Chair when I was asked to do it (I originally said no, but as you can see, they talked me into it)”.
Who “they” are was mysterious, as was the reason, when the leadership already had a clear majority on the NEC officers group. However this, and subsequent events at the national policy forum, suddenly made sense with the abrupt removal and replacement of general secretary Iain McNicol. For that “they” needed not just a majority, but total control.
However, this is nothing new. Previous general secretaries have been terminated at the whim of the leader, and Iain is the longest-serving of the seven postholders in my 18 years on the NEC. And we have made progress. Back in 2000 regional offices were told who should be elected to committees and expected to deliver, MPs were provided with identical letters warning members about dangerous lefties like me, and Tony Robinson was blocked when he stood for vice-chair of (guess what) the national policy forum. Over the years, under Ray Collins and then under Iain, the culture has steadily improved. The new general secretary, whoever she or he may be, has a responsibility to continue this trend towards neutrality and fairness to those of all factions and of none.
As usual please feel free to circulate and / or post online, and comments and questions are welcome.
Ann Black, 07956-637958, firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous reports are at www.annblack.co.uk