NEC Update, March 2022

Below are notes on recent subcommittee meetings, leading up to the full NEC meeting on 29 March.

Equalities committee, 1 March 2022

This was the first meeting since November, and the committee elected the following officers:

  • Chair – James Asser
  • Vice-chair, women – Ann Black / Nadia Jama (job-share)
  • Vice-chair, disabilities – Ellen Morrison
  • Vice-chair, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members) – Carol Sewell
  • Vice-chair, LGBT+ – Nick Forbes
  • Vice-chair, youth – Lara McNeill

Anneliese Dodds, shadow secretary for women and equalities, highlighted the work being led by Doreen Lawrence on race and ethnic disadvantage, with fewer Black applicants accepted for the civil service fast stream and Black women suffering disproportionately during pregnancy and childbirth.  Keir Starmer has committed Labour to a new race equality act to tackle structural inequalities.  A year after Sarah Everard’s murder, violence against women and girls continues and the Tories had blocked Labour’s efforts to classify misogyny as a hate crime.  On LGBT+ rights the loopholes around “consent” in government proposals on conversion therapy were alarming.  Over a million disabled people were living in poverty, and Labour would cut £600 from their energy bills through a windfall tax on the energy companies.  Meanwhile the Tories were failing to tackle Islamophobia, even after allegations by their own MP Nusrat Ghani.

Members emphasised the differential impact of the pandemic on women, BAME communities and low-income families.  Disabled and immuno-compromised people were distressed by the headlong rush back to “normal”, and ending free Covid tests for carers would add to their living costs.  Working from home suits some employees, but for others it can trap them with abusive partners or affect their mental health.  The committee expressed solidarity with the women of Ukraine, as well as concerns about the plight of non-European nationals seeking to get home.  Anneliese and Preet Gill had raised these with the foreign office.

We continue asking for a code of conduct on transphobia but were informed that the party is awaiting the outcome of multiple legal cases. However party guidance can and should spell out the standards of behaviour expected of members.  Councillors stressed the need for information on the diversity of candidates and elected representatives.  Members also requested equality audits of staff and, following the restructuring, an organigram showing who is responsible for which areas of party activity.  Preparations for the national women’s conference were almost complete and Nadia and I look forward to welcoming delegates and visitors.  However a date was not yet set for the national BAME conference, though the general secretary is committed to holding this at the earliest opportunity.  A national youth conference is also overdue, and questions were asked about the Young Labour Twitter account.

Stakeholder Reports

The Jewish Labour Movement were continuing to roll out training on anti-semitism and their members reported increasing confidence in the party, with nearly 90% seeing positive change in the last 12 months towards a better, safer space.

The Labour Women’s Network reported on the Jo Cox women in leadership programme.  They were campaigning for long-term hybrid provision post-Covid under the slogan “Keep the Good Stuff”, and were concerned about how all the new standalone conferences and committees would be managed.  The party might have to reduce its ambitions or employ more staff.

Disability Labour were providing training on ableism for local parties, and stressed the importance of involving people with lived experience.  They hoped that when finances were tight the party would continue to fund reasonable adjustments, and disabled people would still be included.  They were already suffering because their benefits, unlike universal credit, were never raised by the £20 weekly uplift.

EHRC Update

The new complaints and disciplinary procedure agreed with the EHRC (equality and human rights commission) would be fully implemented from 1 April 2022, and reviewed after nine months.  There was a shared desire to widen training beyond anti-semitism to all protected characteristics.

The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller working group had agreed to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Gypsyism / anti-Roma discrimination and accompanying examples, making clear that these apply equally to GRT communities in the UK, including Irish Travellers. After formal sign-off by the organisation committee this would be publicised in the hope of ensuring that all local council campaign literature is compliant with Labour values.

Complaints and Disciplinary Sub-Committee (formerly known as the Disputes Panel), 8 March 2022

The committee received updated figures for complaints, membership appeals, investigations, exclusions, suspensions and national constitutional committee (NCC) hearings.  Encouragingly all complaints in the backlog have now been assessed, and either closed or assigned for investigation, so I expect to hear soon about mine, lodged in 2019.  Meanwhile hundreds of emails to the team continue to arrive every month, with a peak in February partly driven by issues around candidate selections.  About 80% of complaints involved social media, with explanations ranging from the lack of in-person meetings during Covid to the ease with which individuals or groups can trawl online activity.

Overall the volume of complaints is still too high.  More than half of those referred to NEC panels lead to no further action, a reminder of values or a reminder of conduct, and the team were seeking to triage incoming cases so that investigators could concentrate on those which were more serious and had a direct impact on individuals.   Sometimes it seems that everyone thinks they should be able to complain about everything, from party policy to their elected representatives to minor disagreements which could be resolved locally.  I entirely support this aim, but was worried about writing to members saying “we’ve had a complaint about you but we’re not taking any action” and keeping the letter on file.  Most of us would want to respond to allegations whether or not the party was currently pursuing them.  Hopefully appropriate wording will be found, and the culture will gradually change.  There was better news on sexual harassment, with positive feedback on the new process from complainants who found it quicker and more responsive.

NEC sub-panels continue to determine dozens of cases each month, with anti-semitism still the largest single category.  Since October 2021 these panels have also dealt with exclusions, many around newly-proscribed organisations and only a handful have been allowed to remain in membership (and no, I don’t know why these few escaped).  On suspensions the proportion spending more than 18 months in limbo continues at one-third of the total, and around 80 members are currently affected.  As suspended members cannot stand for internal positions or public office they are already being punished for years even if they are eventually cleared.  We were assured that all suspensions were reviewed regularly to see if they needed to remain in place.

I am still concerned about potential inconsistency across different NEC panels.  All panels have the same advisers, but some panels can and do impose more severe, or more lenient, penalties than those recommended.  I was also disturbed to discover that emails which the sender believes to be private are treated in the same way as public postings on social media.  So a word of advice:  if you get angry about repeated requests from “Keir” or “Angela” for money or support, watch what you say.  Your response will not be read by Keir or Angela but by staff, who may report it if you express unacceptable views, and you may be suspended or worse.  And so-called private WhatsApp groups are not private either.  You have been warned.  However anything mailed to me is, and will remain, confidential.

Organisation Committee, 8 March 2022

Local parties had been advised that they could now meet in person if they wished, and the results of a survey on members’ preferences for online / face-to-face would come to a future meeting.  Deadlines for conference motions, rule changes and national committee nominations, agreed by the NEC on 18 January and published in my January report, were sent to CLPs on 4 March 2022.

Local government selections were proceeding and there will be further updates, with the aim of a Labour candidate on every ballot.  I passed on concerns about delays, particularly in areas with all-out elections which could have planned much further in advance.   London is dealing with the highest volume of applications, appeals and selections, and like other NEC members I’ve received complaints about panel rejections, appeals being upheld or not upheld and flawed selection meetings.  While uneasy about some of these, there is no recourse beyond the region, and sheer numbers would make it impossible for the NEC to re-hear every case.  I’m also aware that sometimes I only hear one side of the situation.

Fallout

Equality monitoring statistics were not available because these were compiled using MemberCentre.  CLPs, local campaign forums and local government committees collect data from applicants but these figures are not centrally collated.  Also on the consequences of the cyber-incident the committee agreed that for everyone joining the party from 28 October 2021 provisional membership will be extended to eight weeks from 28 February 2022 to give CLPs a proper opportunity to consider applications.  Even now, local parties can only scroll through members 15 lines at a time on the Organise system.  Lists of joiners or any other group of members cannot be downloaded locally and must be requested from regional offices.

The party believes that renewals are now being processed promptly but that is not my experience as a CLP secretary, particularly for members who pay annually and were only reminded in late February.  Our council boundary changes from 2020 were never implemented on Organise, with members missing or in the wrong ward, the wrong branch or the wrong constituency.  AGMs, candidate selections and trigger ballots all continue to require time-consuming manual adjustment.

Towards the General Election

Thirty-three CLPs had completed trigger ballots, with all reselecting their current MP, and most should be completed by June.  The committee then turned to procedures for selecting new candidates and agreed that the £3,500 spending cap should not include the costs of travel, accommodation, childcare, accessibility provision for disabled candidates, or other personal expenses.  The main bone of contention was whether candidates should get full membership lists when they were longlisted, or only when shortlisted, with the interval between shortlisting and hustings extended to two weeks.  Some argued for longlisted candidates, as two weeks was too little time to contact every member in large CLPs.  I supported restricting access to shortlisted candidates.  Allowing five weeks would disadvantage candidates who cannot afford to take so much time off work, or spend to the £3,500 limit.  Others added that members would get fed-up with being bombarded by 15 or more candidates for weeks on end, and unsubscribe from all party mailings.  Another unintended consequence could be pressure for shorter longlists.

The committee voted by 16 to 11 to give membership details to shortlisted candidates only, with a review after the first round of selections.  The chair then ruled out of order a proposal to remit the issue to the next meeting to allow further discussion because a decision had already been made.  This provoked some pithy comments from the Zoom screens.  (Being in the room really is a more collegiate experience, and well worth travelling to London.)  But in any case the vote would have been exactly the same after a three-week delay.  The wording around diversity was improved to emphasise that, for instance, BAME candidates should be considered for every seat, whatever its demography.

Members then agreed the first tranche of selections, in Burnley, Bury North, Carlisle, Doncaster Central, Gedling, Huddersfield, Leigh, Milton Keynes South, Southampton Test, Stretford & Urmston, Stroud, Truro & Falmouth, Warrington South and York Outer.  There seemed no particular logic, with a range from a Labour majority of 32.8% to a Tory majority of 18%, and regional capacity doesn’t explain why four of the 14 are in the north-west.  I am concerned about less winnable seats going first as candidates will hang back and wait for nearby safe seats, and am interested in comments from those with local knowledge.

The committee approved minor changes to local government selection procedures and guidance on the new complaints procedure, and noted motions from CLPs.  These included objections to the NEC taking over longlisting for all Westminster selections, where I seem to be the lone dissenting voice.  Finally a roadmap back to normality for the few CLPs in special measures is expected at a future meeting.

Open Labour and NEC Elections

Nominations for the NEC and other national elections are now open.  I’m grateful to Open Labour members for supporting me again, alongside Katherine Foy for two of the nine CLP places and Jermain Jackman for the NEC BAME seat, and look forward to campaigning through the spring and summer.  To add a personal endorsement please use the form here – these will be posted at http://www.annblack.co.uk/endorsements/

A pdf version is available here.  As usual please feel free to circulate and/or post online, and contact me at annblack50@btinternet.com / 07956-637958.  Previous reports are at www.annblack.co.uk

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