NEC Update, October 2016

The first full meeting of the new NEC is not until 22 November, but below is an update on subcommittee meetings in October. As always, questions and comments are welcome.

Disputes Panel, 18 October 2016

Usually Panel meetings last under an hour, with maybe 15 or 20 cases, but this was the aftermath of the leadership contest and needed full discussion before memories fade. NEC members received many complaints about the process as well as individual cases, and this was the first opportunity to share them.  Nearly 1000 members had been suspended by NEC panels, about 600 were excluded, and several hundred new members were rejected. The governance and legal unit were working with regional staff to review suspensions and more than 100 had already been lifted, usually with warnings as to future conduct. The aim was for all suspended members to be contacted by 1 November with interviews, where necessary, arranged as soon as possible thereafter.

Although the NEC and the procedures committee agreed general principles, including zero tolerance of personal abuse online and offline, I believe that in future the NEC should make explicit decisions on more of the operational aspects. These would include the extent of checks on existing members; whether suspended members could vote while their status was clarified (as they could last year); what constitutes “abuse”; active searching on social media as opposed to responding to complaints; and the involvement of local parties. I also believe that members should be sent the information passed to the NEC with their letter of suspension, to speed up appeals, and there must be adequate staffing to deal with appeals in a timely manner. I am currently arguing that members excluded for allegedly supporting another party should have the same right of appeal as suspended members: five years automatic exclusion with no appeal is disproportionate for social media comments alone. I am happy to continue taking up individual issues.

The Panel also considered reports on Brighton and Hove, Wallasey and Gorton and, with most members including Jeremy Corbyn present, endorsed all the recommendations without dissent, though naturally hoped that difficulties could be resolved as soon as possible. There will be updates in January.

Equalities Committee, 18 October 2016

The equalities committee continues to be concerned about the dominance of men as metro mayors and police and crime commissioners. Jeremy Corbyn has stated his commitment to all-women shortlists, but the law allows positive discrimination only for collective bodies such as councils and parliaments, and not for single positions. In addition very few women have even applied. The Jo Cox women in leadership programme has just been launched, and this will hopefully bring forward confident and qualified candidates for future selections. Shabana Mahmood reported that she and Kate Osamor were working on engaging with BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) members, and the committee agreed that Labour should also increase representation of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and disabled people.

The boundary review is likely to affect a number of women MPs. Procedures for selecting candidates for new constituencies do not allow preferential treatment at this stage, so I have argued that Labour’s commitment to achieving 50% women in the next parliament should be met through all-women shortlists in as many seats as necessary where Labour MPs are standing down, or which are clearly winnable.

While the NEC agreed most of the recommendations of Shami Chakrabarti’s report into anti-semitism and other forms of racism, her proposals regarding disciplinary and complaints procedures were referred to the equalities committee for detailed consideration. It was agreed to hold a separate meeting on this, and also to invite a representative of the Jewish Labour Movement to join the committee.

Organisation Committee, 18 October 2016

Combined authority mayors are proceeding in a haphazard fashion, but there will be several elections next May. Candidates may self-nominate by 2 November,with CLP nomination meetings and shortlisting interviews from 3 November and individual members balloted between 28 November 2016 and 3 January 2017. Following complaints about the lengthy qualifying period for the last batch, members joining up to 18 April 2016 would be able to vote.

The committee agreed to drop the requirement that CLPs must nominate a woman if any apply. Liverpool’s experience showed that this undermined the only woman standing because CLPs resented being forced to nominate her. However the shortlisting panel can interview women and ethnic minority applicants even if they have no nominations, and can increase diversity at this stage. At Alice Perry’s suggestion Labour groups would be able to make supporting nominations. There were continuing concerns about how mayors would be accountable to members, and about allowing spending of up to £5,000 plus 50p per member.

The boundary review steering group reported on analysis of the commission’s initial proposals and development of alternatives. Like other NEC bodies this continues to expand, with Jon Trickett MP and Shabana Mahmood MP now added to the existing seven NEC members and assorted others, and the new chief whip Nick Brown taking over as Chair from Rosie Winterton. Last time round, in 2011/2012, there were just three NEC members, none of us MPs, working with our in-house experts.

Shami Chakrabarti’s report drew attention to constituencies in “special measures” and the perception that these tended to be in areas with high ethnic minority populations. Measures may include extra membership checks and loss of the right to select candidates. Despite the rule requiring reviews every six months, some have been restricted for decades and the original decisions are lost in the mists of time. It was agreed that the disputes panel would receive a report on the 12 CLPs affected, including the reasons, the nature of their special measures, and clear roadmaps for how they can return to normal functioning.

Leadership 2016: Learning the Lessons

For the leadership election, the breakdown of results showed that turnout was 82.5% among members, 95.9% among registered supporters, and 55.4% among affiliated supporters. For the NEC elections earlier in the year turnout was 48.7%, with 373,443 ballot papers issued, 182,037 votes cast (132,202 online and 49,835 by post) of which 2,533 were spoiled and 179,504 valid.

After last year everyone breathed a sigh of relief, thinking “thank goodness we don’t have to do that again for ages”, and no proper review was conducted. I am keen to do better now, and raised two areas which would need rule changes. The first is whether to keep registered supporters at all. Up to July most members wanted them out. If they stay, the fee should be indexed to membership subscriptions which, based on this year, would be equal to the reduced rate. Bouncing from £3 to £25, and from registering up to the last minute to a 48-hour window, lays the NEC open to charges of fixing. Similarly a cut-off date for membership should be stated in the rulebook. There is a six month wait for most internal selections which the NEC waived for leadership contests in 2007, 2010 and 2015, by which time it had become seen as the norm. Personally I support a qualifying period, which allows the normal eight weeks for any objections to membership, and emphasises that joining a political party means more than a single tick in a box. But again, whatever the decision, the NEC should not be seen as moving the goalposts to benefit particular candidates. Unless we settle this now we are storing up trouble for next time, however far away that is.

Another aspect of unfinished business is the 25 motions submitted to conference, some of them relating to the leadership election, and ruled out of order by the conference arrangements committee. These will all come to the next organisation committee in January, together with other resolutions relating to anything which is about organisation rather than policy. Until then please keep copying them to me as well.

Future Conferences

The timetable leading up to annual conference 2017 was noted. Friday 23 June is the deadline for registering delegates and nominating to national committees.  Constituencies will elect two members of the conference arrangements committee and two members of the national constitutional committee, trade unions and socialist societies will elect to the NEC and the NCC, and BAME Labour will elect their NEC representative. The committee agreed to extend the term of CLP and local government national policy forum representatives to three years as the NPF had not met since they were elected in 2015. Looking further ahead, contemporary motions must be submitted by Thursday 14 September and emergency motions by 12 noon on Friday 22 September 2017.

Women’s Conference Planning Group, 25 October 2016

Annual conference agreed to grant new decision-making powers to the women’s conference, and I called a meeting of NEC members and other stakeholders to take this forward. For 2017 the women’s conference will again be immediately before annual conference, but aiming to start with an informal social event on Friday evening. For 2018 onwards some favoured a free-standing conference in spring, and we are consulting on whether this is practicable for the party organisation and affordable for CLPs.

The group agreed that each CLP would be entitled to one voting delegate, with affiliates to determine the basis for their representation, though the conference would continue to be open and welcoming to all women. Local parties and others would be strongly encouraged to ensure that ethnic minority, LGBT and disabled women were represented, Although voting by show of hands would be the norm, a mechanism for card votes would be needed as a backup. Further meetings would consider this in more detail, together with how much time to allocate to debates and how motions should be submitted and prioritised.