The main NEC subcommittees met on Tuesday 31 October 2017, starting at 11 a.m. and running through to 5 p.m. With a four-month gap since the previous meetings in July there was much to discuss, and now that most members attend they have become, in effect, a mini-NEC. Below are some of the main issues covered.
NEC Sub-Committee Meetings, 31 October 2017
When the meeting started the scale and seriousness of sexual harassment in politics, including in the Labour party, was not yet apparent. The committee agreed a code of conduct on sexual harassment and gender discrimination, a policy which enshrined a zero tolerance approach, and procedures for reporting incidents. Where informal resolution was not possible, complaints would be heard by a panel of three trained NEC members. Committee members stressed the need for anonymity, confidentiality and support. They also made the point that sexism and harassment were symptoms of wider problems in society, and educating everyone as to acceptable and unacceptable behaviour was a huge task.
Later that day Bex Bailey spoke publicly about being raped and the aftermath, and there were further allegations about MPs. Stronger action was clearly needed, and the party therefore agreed to appoint an independent specialist organisation to advise and support anyone affected by sexual harassment within the party. Karon Monaghan QC would investigate the handling of Bex Bailey’s allegations, assess party procedures for handling complaints, and make any recommendations that she considered appropriate. Until then everyone at every level is entitled to a fair hearing. As the suicide of Carl Sargeant tragically showed, every allegation and every incident may involve more than one victim.
Under the new procedure members can contact the head of complaints Sophie Goodyear directly, on email@example.com or 07595-432542. She is separate from the governance and legal unit, but whether this is sufficiently independent to rebuild trust is not yet clear. And I would add that abuse of power is not limited to sexual harassment. Members can be intimidated in other ways as well.
Jo Cox Remembered
Feedback from the first year of the Jo Cox women in leadership scheme was overwhelmingly positive, with all participants saying that it met or exceeded their expectations. Two graduates, Rosie Duffield and Preet Gill, were elected to parliament in June. Applications for next year are open until 26 November 2017, with decisions conveyed before Christmas and training events on 10 February, 24/25 March and 2 June 2018.
The interim women’s conference arrangements committee met newly-elected constituency representatives Teresa Clark and Jean Crocker to discuss the future shape of the women’s conference. Feedback from 2017 was limited, but 100% of respondents enjoyed some or all of the day. There were 414 voting delegates, well under two-thirds of CLPs, though with a total attendance of 1,337.
As with annual conference the framework is set by the NEC, but there was consensus on most issues. Because time is now too short for alternative arrangements, women’s conference 2018 will again be immediately before annual conference, on Saturday 22 September, but this time delegates will vote on motions, with one chosen to go forward to annual conference. Spring 2019 will see the first free-standing women’s conference for many years. All information about women’s conference must go to women’s officers as well as CLP secretaries, as it was clear that for 2017 this was not always passed on.
The only difference was over the approach to women’s engagement in the party democracy review, with some suggesting a one-day delegate-based event in May to discuss motions on proposed changes. I thought this impractical in terms of timing, travel, cost and staff overload, and the remit of women’s conference covers policy not rules. Besides who knows, we may have another general election. Instead I believe there should be maximum engagement of women at all levels, nationally and within regions, as the review progresses.
Over to You
Katy Clark, Jeremy Corbyn’s political secretary, outlined the timetable for the party democracy review. This is divided into three broad phases, with topics and response dates as below:
Phase one, up to 12 January 2018, covers
– the role of BAME Labour
– the role of Young Labour
– the role of Labour Party Women’s Conference
Phase two, up to 23 March 2018, covers
– the governance of CLPs
– the role of socialist societies
– improving diversity and gender representation
– strengthening the involvement and participation of members
– recruitment of members and harnessing the potential of social media
Phase three, up to 29 June 2018, covers
– the method of electing the party leader
– the composition of the NEC
– regional structures
– freeze dates
– the policy process including CLP motions
– local government
– local and national links with trade unions.
Members can make individual or collective submissions at
Contributors are asked to keep to 250 words per topic. I also had a long chat with Katy Clark, and am impressed with the open approach. There is no pre-set agenda and no documents which pre-empt the conclusions, and deadlines are fluid, with further thoughts accepted after the stated dates. I asked for all NEC members to be able to read the comments, but feel free to send me copies directly as well.
Members had received many representations over the expulsion of Moshe Machover. He had now explained the facts to everyone’s satisfaction and his good standing was restored, but the need for clarity and consistency in communications was emphasised. The panel then agreed unanimously all recommendations on individual cases, including a number of referrals to the national constitutional committee, and anyone who thinks these cases are trivial should read the obscene, racist, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-semitic sewage which we have to wade through. However there are still excessive delays in hearing membership appeals, preparing NCC cases and arranging hearings. Members hoped that extra staff would help to reduce and then eliminate the backlog.
As members may know, Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes were elected to the conference arrangements committee earlier this year, on a turnout of 30% of the 538,606 eligible members.
Nominations for the three extra NEC constituency places are open until midnight on Sunday 19 November. The deadline was extended from Thursday 16 November at the request of CLP secretaries: a letter on Seema’s Facebook group, which provides practical and non-partisan support on all aspects of the secretary’s job, gathered signatures from 75 CLPs in 48 hours. This is still too short for normal democratic processes, but the leader’s office want the new people in place by the NEC meeting on 23 January. So the ballot will open on 30 November, and close at noon on Friday 12 January. To keep it affordable, hardcopy packs will only be posted to members without an email address, so please check that yours is up to date. The election was announced directly to all members, generating much interest, and though not all would-be candidates will achieve the necessary five nominations, there should be a wider choice than usual.
And Again …
The new CLP members, together with the rest of us, will immediately be up for re-election when nominations open for all nine places on 31 January 2018, closing on 22 June 2018. This is also the deadline for constituency nominations for
– the national policy forum, with four members plus a youth in each region and nation. The young members must be women in all regions except East of England, North, North West, and Scotland;
– one member of the national constitutional committee;
– treasurer, auditors, conference arrangements committee general places;
and for constitutional amendments. The deadline for contemporary motions would be noon on Thursday 13 September and, for emergency motions, noon on Friday 21 September. A summary of this information would be sent to CLP secretaries in December, with delegate entitlement and other details following at the end of January.
Christine Shawcroft proposed bringing the deadline for contemporary motions forward to 22 June, well before publication of the national policy forum report. Rather than circumvent the “contemporary” guidance, I would prefer to tackle it head-on. The criteria have always been bent for political reasons. The 75p pension tax rise and scrapping the 10p tax band were kept off conference agendas, and both subsequently led to embarrassing U-turns. And in 2003 leadership-friendly resolutions on foundation hospitals were accepted as contemporary because they referred to 2 August 2003 as marking the longest-serving Labour government in history, an event which (barring a successful modern-day Guy Fawkes) was so predictable that it reduced the concept to farce.
Parliamentary selections are getting under way everywhere except Scotland which will start after their new leader is in place. Most will not conclude until after Christmas. As I said, adding an initial stage for a general committee / all-member meeting to elect the selection committee does make the process longer, but after my first such meeting I have changed my mind about its value. Attendance was good, interest was high, votes were close, and it was all quite exciting. Arrangements for appointing the union representatives, inserted after the July NEC meeting, are less satisfactory, and some seats are running with vacant places. The organisation committee agreed that as last time, the NEC representative should not have a vote on the selection committee. Early selections should also provide a boost to membership as all those in arrears will have to pay up in order to participate.
Good news for some CLPs in special measures, including three in Birmingham, which will return to normal functioning after candidate selection for the 2018 elections is complete. Others would be reviewed in May. The committee also asked for disciplinary procedures agreed earlier in the year to be re-circulated, and for clearer statements on informing members of charges, timescales, and the right to be accompanied.
The longest discussion concerned the AGM of the Labour Party Irish Society. There was no advance notice and no papers. Only one NEC member had actually been present, but many others knew what had happened from blogs and individual complaints. Attendance was exceptionally high, boosted by a sudden interest in Irish matters and factional mobilisation on all sides, but elections were reported as carried out properly, and resulting in a politically diverse executive. Whatever the truth, the LPIS is an independent socialist society with its own rules and the party has no role in its affairs, any more than it does in internal trade union elections. Nevertheless the meeting voted 11-9 for the NEC to investigate their AGM. Details of how this would be done were referred to NEC officers, but if the vote goes the same way, with officers arguing that the party has not only the right but the obligation to disaffiliate organisations which do not abide by party rules, we are into murky constitutional waters. I voted against.
Various issues concerning Labour International, the CLP for British citizens living abroad, were raised, again with no supporting papers. They have grown from 600 to 3,500 members, and are conducting their own review according to NEC terms of reference. Following Jeremy Corbyn’s example, an open and non-directive process would seem most likely to build consensus. They are pioneering communication techniques to connect members around the world, and there may be ideas for rural and geographically dispersed constituencies in the UK as well. I represent the NEC at their co-ordinating committee meetings, and was able, with the governance and legal unit, to clear up some misunderstandings. Jon Trickett MP offered to provide friendly guidance, and we are meeting soon to discuss this over coffee.
Auto-Complete Strikes Again
Not much amusing this week, I’m afraid, but a couple of picks from today’s mail:
“I will defiantly be there on Wednesday” and “This is taking an inordinate amount of thyme to resolve”.
As usual, comments and questions are always welcome.