South East Regional Executive Committee, 19 May 2020

Regional executive members gathered on Zoom for an informal update.  Like local parties we were not able to make decisions, but it was a useful opportunity to catch up and share experiences.  Most of us, including myself, expressed frustration on behalf of our members, and when councils, Labour groups and the NEC itself are meeting, it’s hard to explain why our internal democracy is still on hold.  Apparently NEC advice will be issued soon, hopefully including mechanisms for votes.  Some felt that Zoom was not practical for formal debate and were concerned about security risks and digital exclusion.  However in-person meetings can exclude disabled members and those with caring responsibilities or lack of transport.  We’ve held three online discussions in Oxford, and up to one-third of the participants have never come to a physical meeting.  Even when lockdown ends, I believe we should be combining all possible ways to engage members.

Annual conference and women’s conference have now been cancelled.  The south-east regional conference, pencilled in for early November in Oxford, also looks increasingly unlikely.  Before then the REC has to adopt the new model rules:  as I reported in February there will be 18 CLP representatives, one from the Co-op party, one from socialist societies, two councillors, 14 from trade unions, one each representing women, youth, LGBT, BAME and disabled members, and one MP.  The chair and two vice-chairs will also be elected at the conference.  However county groupings for CLP representatives and other details need to be agreed before CLPs can make nominations.   At the next regional conference our bespoke structure, with an inner steering group of the chair, vice-chair and representatives for unions, CLPs, the Co-op, young members, equalities, and socialist societies plus elected members will disappear.

If the NEC does postpone all regional conferences to 2021, there could be a virtual event in the autumn, with the advantages of being open to every member in the south-east, top speakers Zooming in from the comfort of their homes, no delegate fees, and no transport and hotel costs.

One member asked if policies from 2019 would continue in the absence of annual conference, because in a member-led party we couldn’t have new policies just popping up.  It’s debatable whether any policy is set in stone for two years, especially after losing a general election and now in a situation where the world around us has changed beyond imagination.  Fortunately the policy commissions have been meeting again and eight new national policy forum documents have just been launched, with consultation until 30 June 2020 – see https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/about/policy-process.  As NPF submissions tend to be notes rather than resolutions, we assume that branches and CLPs are allowed to meet online to talk about them.

Local Government on the Front Line

Councils across the region were facing huge financial challenges.  The government initially said they should spend “whatever it takes” but were now starting to mutter about “burden-sharing”.  There were particular concerns about how to continue helping homeless people when the money runs out, after many have begun to turn their lives around, and about supporting vulnerable people identified in the current crisis but not previously known to the authorities.  Volunteers should continue to be involved.  On the positive side, councillors were encouraged at the new era of communication between the national leadership and local government.

Ellie Buck, acting regional director, reported that elections were scheduled in May 2021 for all six counties, together with those rolled forward from May 2020 including all-outs in Buckinghamshire with 147 seats and Oxford city, elections in Reading, Milton Keynes and Slough, seven council by-elections, and five police and crime commissioners.  All candidates already selected for 2020 would continue as candidates unless they withdrew or were suspended or expelled.  Ellie would consult REC members by email on how we can campaign until something like normal service is resumed.

Some members believed that the 2021 elections would also be moved, and that the government might be planning to impose unitary councils across the whole of England.  Buckinghamshire’s district councils have already been abolished.  Previous attempts at wholesale reform have been derailed by Conservative councillors as well as other parties, so we shall see.  Legislation to revise parliamentary boundaries was also said to be imminent.  If this is on the basis of 651 rather than 600 constituencies the changes may be relatively minor, but I hope that a more up-to-date electoral register is used.

Rosie Duffield reported that MPs were going into parliament on a rota basis.  All eight southeast MPs had been allocated frontbench roles, and were working with the leadership to hold Boris Johnson to account.  Members raised the lack of BAME representation on the parliamentary women and equalities select committee, with Kim Johnson the only BAME member.  Rosie explained that MPs chose to volunteer for select committees and were not appointed by the party, but some argued that Labour should be more proactive.  [I have just checked and Bell Ribeiro-Addy is also a member, so two of the four Labour MPs are BAME, and it looks like none of the MPs from other parties.]

The L**k*d R*p*rt

Before the meeting REC members were given the same instruction as CLPs:  that “any individual who shares or distributes the report or its contents on an unauthorised basis will be immediately exposing themselves to potential significant civil and criminal liability.”  Nevertheless a few members repeated allegations as facts before the topic was closed down.  Without getting into the reasons for losing in 2017, it’s worth examining the claim that Labour was within 2,227 votes of power.  See for instance

https://ukandeu.ac.uk/the-2017-general-election-not-that-close-after-all/#.XqMX7VlOh40.twitter

which shows that using the same dubious logic the Tories were only 50 votes short of a working majority without relying on any other party.  If Labour had won 270 seats Jeremy Corbyn would have been in almost the same position as Gordon Brown in 2010, with 40 seats fewer than the Tories (and 50 fewer than the Tories plus the DUP) and having to rely on unanimous support from all the LibDem, SNP, Green and Plaid Cymru MPs to form a government.

Finally regional director Amy Fode is returning from maternity leave, and the REC thanked Ellie for keeping the show on the road through exceptionally challenging times.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.  There is no date yet for the next meeting, but it can be easier to arrange on Zoom than getting everyone to London for most of a Saturday.

Ann Black, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire CLPs, 07956-637958, annblack50@btinternet.com