NEC Meeting, 17 May 2016

National Executive Committee, 17 May 2016

Jeremy Corbyn thanked everyone involved in the various elections. London had emphatically rejected the divisive and racist Tory campaign in choosing Sadiq Khan, and Bristol, the former capital of the slave trade, elected a descendant of slaves. Labour held two parliamentary by-election seats, kept control in Hastings, Crawley and Southampton despite media predictions of doom and gloom and continued as the largest party in Wales, where a majority of Labour assembly members are now women. However, Scotland would be a long haul back. Many hundreds of people had attended his rallies, and he urged local parties to develop a participatory culture and to mobilise the new members. He was reaching out beyond the base, speaking at a recent Progress event as well as at many trade union conferences. Later in the week he would launch the Workplace 2020 initiative and take part in John McDonnell’s conference on the economy.

David Cameron had performed yet another U-turn in dropping plans to force all schools to become academies, but the Queen’s speech would bring fresh attacks. Cuts in council grants were wrong in principle and wrong in that they hit poorest areas hardest. He thanked Labour peers for amending the trade union bill; now, only new recruits will have to opt in to political funds, still likely to lead to a slow decline in campaigning strength and Labour affiliation, but better than falling off an £8 million cliff. He was making the case for Britain in Europe, encouraging young people to register and to vote, and convincing workers that Europe was essential to safeguarding their rights. Finally he had met Michele Bachelet, president of Chile, who thanked Labour for solidarity through the dark years of the Pinochet dictatorship.

NEC members spoke about Scotland. Labour had failed to dent the dismal SNP record, with fewer GPs, longer waiting lists, privatised ferry services, council cuts and policing in crisis, and must be unequivocal in supporting the United Kingdom. Jeremy Corbyn agreed that the SNP were a walking contradiction on workplace rights, as if wrapping themselves in national identity solved every problem. Others raised unfair treatment of carers who were not paid for travelling between appointments, and school support staff paid only during term-time. Jon Trickett was thanked for attributing blame for swingeing cuts to the Tory government, not local councils. Within the local government association Labour was now only a hair’s-breadth behind the Tories, though there was concern that one of very few Asian woman councillors in Oldham had lost her seat. I passed on a member’s analysis of police and crime commissioner results which showed Labour six per cent ahead of the Tories in England and Wales.

Be Positive or Keep Quiet

I also passed on appeals from members of all shades of opinion and all parts of the country that MPs and senior figures should start attacking the Tories and stop undermining their own leader and their own party. Most MPs work hard and keep their thoughts private, but candidates and activists who spend hours knocking on doors are thoroughly fed up with the grandstanding minority. Councillors and even grassroots members would be suspended if they showed such indiscipline, and if we do not make progress, then these people will be held responsible. Pete Willsman submitted a resolution on this theme, arguing that Labour can win if we all pull together. The NEC asked chief whip Rosie Winterton and Chair of the parliamentary party John Cryer to convey these sentiments, though I fear it may be water off a duck’s back.

On welcoming new members, I pointed out that local parties are run by volunteers, doing the best they can with limited resources. I am not convinced that holding meetings at midday or 5-6 p.m. as Jeremy Corbyn suggested, or moving from Friday nights so that shift workers can attend, as proposed by Tom Watson, will bring the masses flooding in, and it would be useful to share experiences and good practice. Constituency secretaries still cannot contact other secretaries, nor, for instance, can women’s officers communicate with other women’s officers. It also became clear that the surge in numbers is unevenly distributed, with little growth in Wales, Scotland and some English regions, and this deserves further examination. We have to build membership and activism in those areas which are key to regaining power.

Young Labour

Baroness Jan Royall reported on the Young Labour conference. She concluded that the election of the NEC youth representative was sound, despite complaints from both candidates about breaches of the code of conduct. She pointed out that no candidate in any internal election had ever been disqualified, and this reinforced my view that our codes are ultimately impotent. There is no penalty between a slap on the wrist after an advantage has already been gained and the nuclear option of excluding a candidate entirely. Though perhaps, like speed limits, simply having a code prevents more serious violations.

However, Young Labour is likely to align with the rest of the party and hold future elections through one-member-one-vote ballots. This would be included in the youth strand of the party reform project, which would also consider whether the current structure and age range of 14 to 27 is still appropriate. In addition the party must provide adequate safeguarding staff for residential events open to members under 18.

Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Racism

Jan Royall then reported on allegations within Oxford University Labour Club. She concluded that the club did not demonstrate institutional anti-semitism, but must do more to provide a safe space for all students to debate and to campaign. All Labour clubs should examine their culture, and have clear reporting lines for incidents of anti-semitism and other forms of racism, discrimination and harassment. Labour Students and the Jewish Labour Movement should organise training for club officers, and the party and the NEC should provide leadership and training on equalities issues, including anti-semitism, with office-holders at every level having access to materials and guidance. Individual complaints would be dealt with through existing procedures. She did not support a life ban for people excluded for anti-semitism, and as there is no automatic life ban even for murder or rape, this seemed reasonable.

She referred more general issues to the inquiry chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, who also spoke and responded to comments. Her terms of reference are at

http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/chakrabarti

and the deadline for contributions is 10 June 2016. These may be submitted online or mailed to inquiry@labour.org.uk. The report is expected by the end of June. Until then the NEC endorsed the code of conduct proposed by Jeremy Corbyn which commits Labour to combating and campaigning against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, and ensuring that Labour is a welcoming home to members of all communities. Discussion was thoughtful and wide-ranging, with agreement that there should be no hierarchies of prejudice, racism or oppression. All were wrong, and had no place in the party.

Think Before You Tweet …

Many highlighted the amplifying effect of social media, where people are far ruder than they would be face to face. I was part of the panels who looked at applications from would-be members or supporters during the leadership contest, and anti-semitism, racism, sexism, misogyny and sheer obscenity featured all too often. Tom Watson tabled draft principles for using social media. These will return to the next meeting, but definitions of unacceptability are difficult, and exhorting people to be nice to each other may not be enough. Disciplinary processes also need improvement in several areas: first, considering a pre-suspension phase; second, speeding up investigations, as members may be suspended for months and justice delayed can become justice denied; and third, looking at intermediate penalties. Currently there is nothing between an informal telling-off and a full hearing by the national constitutional committee.

Tom Watson also said that 90% of members now join online and expect better ways of engaging. Most do not understand party structures, and unless they feel valued many of our 200,000 new joiners will lapse. And current structures do not fully reflect the new landscape, with police and crime commissioners and directly-elected mayors representing areas above constituency but below regional level, and no clear chain of accountability. Neither is there an obvious way to improve the number of women in these positions.

Angela Eagle, Chair of the national policy forum, agreed that after 20 years members still do not understand policy-making processes. She urged everyone to try out http://labourislistening.org/ which is piloting new techniques, initially for discussing housing and small businesses. My view is that Partnership in Power, which established the forum system in 1997, worked better when Labour was in government and had some control over the political agenda, and we need more flexible ways of responding to events while in opposition. Cath Speight would take over from Ken Livingstone as co-convenor of the international policy commission, and the full NPF would meet on 2 July in Nottingham. I gained agreement that constituency representatives would be reimbursed travel expenses for policy commission meetings.

General Secretary’s Report

Iain McNicol gave an overview of the Euro-referendum campaign, where I asked for a three-word mantra to counter the Leave campaign’s Take Back Control. Rosena Allin-Khan was hoping to succeed Sadiq Khan in the Tooting by-election on 16 June, and members were urged to help. The business board was considering simplified membership rates, and proposals would be circulated before the next NEC meeting.

And finally, thanks for all the comments on whether McDonald’s should be allowed to pay for an exhibition stall at annual conference. These split equally for and against, with some undecided. Reasons for refusing included: anti-union / bad employers, followed closely by health issues, then tax avoidance, environmental damage and the McLibel case. Those in favour cited the need to stay connected with voters, good employment practices, no worse than other companies, using the opportunity to engage and influence, and loss of income. The NEC did not seek to overturn the business board’s rejection, but asked for clear criteria which balanced practical, ethical and financial issues to inform future decisions.

As usual please feel free to circulate this report, and to contact me with any comments or questions.

Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 07956-637958, annblack50@btinternet.com