The full NEC election results showed 506,320 eligible members casting 164,580 votes (118,594 by email and 45,986 by post) with 1,131 invalid or blank, giving 163,449 valid votes and a turnout of 32.5%.
The End Is Nigh
As I walked up from Victoria station to party HQ for the last time, my primary emotion was relief rather than loss, reinforced when I emerged some nine hours later. Alice Perry’s new baby daughter Rosemary slept peacefully for most of the time, though the rest of us were rather more fractious. Even so, several key areas were postponed to the meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, which at this rate will run till midnight. They include all the amendments submitted in 2017, plus reselection of MPs and leadership elections, so four more days of being deluged with Momentum’s demands. One per cent of members are swamping all other personal, work and constituency messages, so apologies if earlier messages have been buried in the avalanche.
We started off well enough. Jeremy Corbyn had attended Tolpuddle and the Durham Miners Gala and stressed their historic and current resonance. He had campaigned in 24 constituencies and outlined Labour’s strategy on media ownership at the Edinburgh TV festival. Labour was planning for government after a general election, including the operational aspects of taking power, and policy priorities for the first Queen’s speech. He thanked Labour MEPs for condemning the actions of Viktor Orban, the far-right Hungarian leader. On Brexit, Labour would not accept no deal, nor a bad deal which did not meet Keir Starmer’s six tests.
Annual conference would send the message that Labour will not walk by on the other side. The international focus would be on human rights, not cosying up to Saudi, and he hoped the debate on party democracy would be conducted in a decent and friendly way. A national campaign day on 29 September would be followed by black history month in October, an opportunity to repeat that Labour would not tolerate racism or anti-semitism in any form. Keith Vaz thanked Diane Abbott for scrapping the salary threshold for would-be immigrants, and called for more campaigning among EU citizens living in the UK.
Deputy Leader’s Report
Tom Watson thanked his shadow cabinet colleagues for promoting positive policies, and Jeremy Corbyn for endorsing his #nospaceforhate hashtag after he was engulfed in a Twitterstorm. This had restored confidence among the parliamentary party. Like Jeremy he had been speaking on media issues and also raising the profile of type 2 diabetes, which constitutes 90% of the 3.7 million cases of diabetes in the UK This already costs the NHS £10 billion a year, with numbers forecast to triple in the next 20 years, though half of those diagnosed can reverse the condition through diet and exercise. NEC members stressed that type 1 diabetes is completely different, not the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, and not reversible.
Local Government Report
Nick Forbes reported that five of the ten Labour councillors who chair Local Government Association policy boards are women and five are from ethnic minorities. Analysis of local government funding showed a massive and growing financial deficit, and the Tories were taking an interest now that some of their councils, including Northamptonshire, were facing problems. The LGA was developing its own policies on adult social care, because failure to deal with the crisis would have catastrophic effects on the NHS. The unions stressed the need to work closely with Labour councillors and MPs in challenging times.
Richard Corbett said that Brexit overshadowed all else, and he thanked the frontbench for continuing to oppose any deal which did not meet Labour’s criteria. Many local parties were calling for a people’s vote on the final outcome, and he hoped that conference would debate how to move forward together rather than engage in internal battles. Jo Greening gave the international report, highlighting the election results in Sweden. The social democrats were the largest party, though without a majority, but the rise of the anti-immigrant Swedish democrats was disturbing, mirroring far-right movements elsewhere in Europe.
General Secretary’s Report
Jennie Formby reported that targets for conference income were exceeded, and membership and donations were also above budget. A cross-department working party continued to monitor and review membership engagement, with 550,000 current members including around 50,000 in arrears. The party was now in a position to start collecting and recording equalities data, initially on BAME and disability status, on the membership system.
Jayne Taylor of Unite and Michael Wheeler of USDAW had been elected unopposed to fill vacancies in the trade union section of the NEC. Results for the CLP section had been published, and Jennie commented that the cost of £274,000 could have been reduced by £220,000 if voting had been online by default. However nearly one-third of votes cast were by post, and turnout was 50% higher than the previous ballot, where hard copy packs went only to members without email addresses. Democracy comes at a price.
The parliamentary Labour party had adopted the IHRA definition of anti-semitism including all 11 examples, and the NEC formally approved its incorporation in their standing orders. On boundary changes the government had indicated that plans for their implementation would be complex and lengthy, so no vote in parliament yet, but they have not gone away. She stressed that the party was preparing for a general election at any time. NEC members asked for clarification of the role of the new community organisers and digital community organisers, and how they fitted into local and regional frameworks.
I apologise to members in Northern Ireland for the delay in completing the review of whether Labour should stand candidates. This was held up for many reasons, including the UK general election and the suspension of the Northern Ireland assembly. Recent rumours of discussion between Fianna Fail and our sister party the SDLP, as well as the impact of boundary changes, mean that further consideration is needed after Paddy Lillis and I have left the NEC and therefore the working group. Jim Kennedy will chair a meeting of the Irish Labour Forum at conference, and we look forward to a lively discussion.
I gave my final report as Chair of the national policy forum. Pete Willsman kindly suggested that I should continue for the moment, but as of 26 September I am no longer a member of the NPF so that is outwith the rules. Katrina Murray, the CLP vice-chair, was also not re-elected, so there are two vacancies.
The NEC agreed to select candidates in the three seats where Labour MPs have resigned from the party. Sheffield Hallam will choose from an all-women shortlist, with Birkenhead and Barrow & Furness open.
The NEC considered the latest draft of the conference timetable. Scotland, Wales and Europe have been reinstated, and it only remains to give proper recognition to Labour councillors with a speaker from local government, as last year. Representation of ethnic minorities and women on all platforms was also important. Some members felt that half an hour was not enough to discuss rule changes, but others argued that conference was our showcase to Britain and the world, and after four hours on the democracy review on Sunday we ought to devote some time to highlighting Labour’s policy offer. And policy seminars are scheduled over lunchtime and at 8:15 a.m., not great for delegates staying outside the secure zone.
Harry Donaldson, Chair of the conference arrangements committee, joined us. He said that 183 motions, grouped into 17 areas, had been approved. A lot of attention had been given to disabled access in the light of previous issues. The first women’s conference to debate motions for more than 20 years will be held on Saturday, and I have the honour of chairing the opening session.
Democracy in Action?
First, some general points. Many members have complained that local parties will not see any proposals arising from the great review in time to advise their delegates. The NEC didn’t see most of them until 72 hours in advance, and new versions were tabled in the meeting. We were told that all proposals came from the consultation, but no summary of the 11,500 submissions has been provided, and some of the links seemed tenuous. The unions in particular were unhappy that as representatives of millions of affiliated levy-payers their collective views seemed to count for less than the accumulation of individual thoughts.
It is also clear that 90% of the work remains to be done, and that it will consume significant staff and NEC resources for at least another year. In an unprecedented approach, more than 20 “rule changes” consist of a reference to drawing up rules for a specified area and a statement that “the NEC may immediately incorporate these rules into this rulebook, subject to approval at annual conference 2019, when this sub-clause shall expire”. Some members thought these were similar to the Henry VIII clauses in the government’s EU withdrawal bill, with the NEC changing the rules through the year. However it seems that everything will come back to conference 2019 – on a yes/no vote on a whole new rulebook? – and the insertions seem to be saying that the NEC will do something but we don’t know what yet.
Some agreed that over-hasty change could lead to mistakes which would be regretted later, something which we found out to our cost in the 2016 leadership election. Others said that as a mass movement we must not lose momentum, and the CLP representatives covered a broad range of party opinion.
I am still not clear on the meaning of the new rule which says that
“all bodies subject to this rulebook shall without delay bring their rules and standing orders into compliance with rules created in order to give effect to the democracy review, and their rules and standing orders shall immediately be read as if such amendments as are therefore necessary have been made”.
The workload for local parties appears massive, and the general secretary said that a member of staff would be appointed to work with regions and CLPs on implementing all this. But eventually we moved on to details, and below are a few of the main decisions.
Members will be able to stand for election to national committees after twelve months (down from five years for the national constitutional committee), and as conference delegates after six months (down from one year) and after eight weeks for Young Labour. After eight weeks they may attend and vote at local party meetings, and vote in NEC and other national and regional OMOV ballots, which seems to be less permissive than now and lead to a situation where members can vote for the leader but not for the NEC.
The quorum for branch or all-member CLP meetings will normally be 5% or 75 members, whichever is lower, a level which some currently struggle to achieve. It will be easier for local parties to switch between delegate structures and all-member meetings, with a long argument about whether the notice period should be 28 days, 56 days, or the date of the next scheduled meeting. Further work will be done on equalities structures including the election of representatives of self-defining groups, and it would be useful to know how many young, women, BAME, disabled and LGBT officers are elected by the whole AGM or within their own section. The NEC will also draw up guidance on job-sharing for all posts.
I voted in favour of a minimum of eight meetings a year, influenced by personal experiences within Birmingham, and that was carried 17-12. The NEC was assured that this did not specify a particular type of meeting, and it could be any kind of event for members.
The following change appeared out of the blue, and I am still pondering the implications. On 4 September the NEC agreed in principle that the executive committee should provide written reports to CLP meetings, and to clarify relations between ECs and all-member meetings / general committees. All absolutely fine, but this had turned into the following, where the underlined words will be inserted
“The management of this CLP shall be in the hands of the General Meeting. The decisions of the General Meeting shall be put into effect by an Executive Committee which shall be appointed by and report to an Annual General Meeting of this CLP and to other such meetings as required by the CLP rules and procedures.”
with executive committees required to report all decisions in writing to the General Meeting for approval.
I agree that the EC should be accountable to the GM, with the minutes as the best channel, together with full debates on major organisational and strategic issues. But this rule would require meetings of maybe more than 100 members to exercise new levels of micro-management. For instance, currently the budget is approved at the AGM. Will the EC be able to plan fundraising events, book venues, set ticket prices, and generally keep income and expenditure in line, or will the GM have to go through every line first? Locally we have had several by-elections, some urgent following unexpected deaths, and the EC has agreed timetables, interview panels, selection meetings. Would these now have to await a special GM?
There will also be an impact on the nature of meetings. Jeremy often speaks of the need for a welcoming and inclusive culture, particularly for new members, and putting the EC minutes at the top of the agenda may be less attractive than guest speakers and lively policy debates. I recall, some years ago, being invited to a meeting not a million miles from Islington on a hot August night and sitting through 90 minutes of argument about whether their contemporary motion for conference had been properly authorised …
However this entire chapter sets model rules only and, with NEC permission, CLPs are able to adapt them to their own circumstances. Hopefully commonsense and flexibility will continue to prevail.
Some members thought we agreed on 4 September that this entire section would be reviewed, and that decision was confirmed by 16 votes to 13, with the association of Labour councillors and the LGA fully involved. I supported this. I know that local campaign forums are not working, and am happy with restoring local government committees, but choosing between four different proposals for their structure and basis of representation after six hours was not sensible. Pilots for electing council leaders by OMOV seem to have gone away, but the proposal for the LGC rather than the Labour group to lead on the manifesto was still in. Hopefully the review will be a bit more positive about Labour councillors and their contribution.
Regional boards will be renamed as regional executive committees, but no detail on anything. I stressed the need for model rules for regional boards and conferences as there is currently such wild variation.
The youth representative may now be up to age 27 at the date of their election, rather than 23, allowing women (but not men) to serve for six consecutive terms. They will be elected by a college of 50% trade unions and 50% OMOV ballot of individual young members. A proposal to include the socialist societies in the affiliate section was defeated 16-15 (I voted in favour). The BAME representative and a new disabled representative will also be elected through electoral colleges, 50% trade unions and 50% OMOV ballot among members self-identifying in that group, with the disabled position open to job-sharing. All these places will be open to MPs, as the BAME place is now.
A new proposal for the socialist societies’ representative to be elected by OMOV ballots of their members was not pursued. Membership data is kept by 20 different organisations in different ways, those belonging to more than one society could get multiple votes, and it is not even clear if the party could enforce this.
The Scottish and Welsh representatives will be elected by methods decided at their own national conferences, and sadly the EPLP leader and all references to MEPs will be deleted when (and if?) we leave the EU.
Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold
For me the next decision was one of the most shameful that the NEC has made. Until now, any vacancy in the CLP section (and in the local government, PLP and socialist societies sections) has been filled immediately by the runner-up from the previous election. For twenty years this has benefited the left, including sitting members Peter Willsman (twice) and Darren Williams, and former member Mohammed Azam. I am sure that Tony Blair would have preferred someone other than Pete when he replaced Ruth Turner in 2005, but even Tony Blair did not change the rules because of the individual.
On 4 September the NEC saw a proposal to hold new OMOV ballots for vacancies. I criticised this as expensive – £70,000 a throw – and as leaving places vacant for months. I suggested using STV for future elections which would allow slates to run more than nine candidates, and keeping the status quo until then.
That alternative had vanished and two brand-new options appeared. The first would allow the remaining members to co-opt a person of their choosing. The #JC8 would clearly consult #JC on his preference and we would have moved from one-member-one-vote to one-leader-one-vote in one fell swoop. Not a good look. That was withdrawn the night before the meeting as “a mistake”.
The other new option was to seek nominations and co-opt the person with the highest number, rather than moving to a ballot. Arguably this violates rule 4.III.A.i.c which specifies that CLP representatives are elected by OMOV, and in any case nominations only correlate loosely with ballot results.
The NEC voted 16-13 to fill any vacancy by an OMOV by-election if and when a practical opportunity arises, so perhaps even longer than the six months for which Christine Shawcroft’s place would have been empty. It is an odd way to argue for greater CLP representation. But the Momentum members, with 60% of the vote, now control 100% of the seats, and the message to the other 40% is that they do not deserve a voice. The constituency section accommodated a range of views through the Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband years, and that has been designed out of the system. As 13th in the latest election I would not be returning anyway, but the runner-up Eddie Izzard, with 67,819 votes, clearly speaks for many. And what he said was, passionately and forcefully, that he wanted all of us to fight the Tories, not each other.
The trade union representatives have the power to resist, when they choose to use it, and all agreed that policy-making structures should be reviewed and reformed, with final proposals coming back to conference in 2019. Peter Willsman added that the 55 newly-elected national policy forum representatives were excited and looking forward to being involved. The review was agreed 17-13.
The unions also kept control of the conference arrangements committee, with five places elected by an electoral college which guarantees that their people win, and two for CLPs, plus an additional disabled representative, also elected by a 50/50 electoral college. This was carried 19-11 (I voted with the minority for parity between unions and CLPs).
On motions, the NEC sensibly combined bits from various alternatives and agreed to delete contemporary criteria and prioritise 20 topics for debate, 10 chosen by unions and 10 by CLPs. It was suggested that the priorities ballot, and maybe compositing, should be organised in advance, so as not to waste the Sunday session. I thought we agreed to drop the one-year wait for debating CLP rule changes, recommended by the review, but apparently not. The delay is supposed to allow the NEC to give thoughtful consideration, which is ridiculous when we will not look at rule changes submitted in July 2017 until the day before conference 2018. The three-year rule stays, on a 14-14 tied vote. I can see the need to avoid having the same debate every year, but do think that it is applied in too sweeping a manner.
[NB Peter Willsman’s report says that the 14-14 vote was on three different proposals taken as a block: allowing CLPs and affiliates to submit a motion and a rule change each year; debating rule changes in the year they are submitted; and scrapping the three-year rule. I supported the first two and it is unfortunate that separate votes were not taken. Nine-hour meetings with tabled papers are not the way to frame a rulebook for the next decade.]
All the work on national conferences and structure for women, BAME and young members remains to be done, an immensely complicated set of interactions.
National Constitutional Committee
As already agreed in principle, the NCC will be increased from 11 to 25 members, and the unions again used their majority to maintain the current balance, with 10 members from CLPs, 14 from trade unions and one from the socialist societies. Again I voted for parity between unions and CLPs and lost.
The NCC is elected by conference delegates and I believe that immediately after conference, CLPs will be asked to make nominations and 2018 conference delegates will be balloted. On the working of the NCC, caution was expressed about a commitment to resolve disciplinary actions within three months, as sometimes it is the complainant who causes delays. Finally, rules will be changed to allow for independent specialists to be involved in investigating allegations of sexual harassment. The danger of losing the confidence of women members is taken very seriously.
The To-Do List
On Saturday the NEC will reconvene to discuss all constitutional amendments from CLPs, local trade union affiliations, procedures for electing the leader, and attitudes towards selections and reselections. Deferral has meant that our inboxes are clogged with a tiny percentage of the half-million members, egged on by Momentum. I suspect that deals are being done in other parts of the forest and will see what comes forward, but I was surprised at the aggression generated by my piece at
This was about the practicalities, not the politics. There seems to be an impression that open selections involve a simple OMOV ballot between a Blairite traitor and a solid Corbynista. Open means open: every CLP has to elect a selection committee, advertise, read 50 CVs, longlist, interview, shortlist, organise meet the members’ events, postal votes and final hustings, all overseen by a regional officer and an NEC representative. Most respondents seem to think the process can be short-circuited if the MP is considered OK (considered by whom?), with a few saying that democracy is priceless and costs don’t matter.
The Times We Live In
But underlying the whole open/mandatory reselection argument is the fact that a significant number of members hate Labour MPs, individually and collectively, especially for trying to get rid of Jeremy in 2016, and would be happy to purge the lot of them. Just one of the Momentum mails, sadly not untypical, from member Sue Hyett (she is happy to be named) is headed Back Stabbing Fat Cats and says:
“There is no home in Labour for these incumbents we need reselection not jobs that allow you to stick your nose in the trough for the rest of your working career.”
The party constitution says, in Clause I, that :
“its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party”
and it is increasingly difficult to do both.
And finally a comment in support of an applicant for membership:
“Saying that your MP is a wanker and being generally critical of him in front of other party members may be disrespectful, but if everyone who insulted each other thus were to be asked to leave the party, there would be no-one left.”
This is not the kinder, gentler politics which Jeremy promised in 2015. The next report, after conference, will be my last as a member of the NEC, and it is now for others to find a way back from the edge.