Jeremy Corbyn spoke first, highlighting Tory chaos over Brexit. He recognised the continuing debates within Labour, but the party could unite around the six tests and a way forward which prioritised jobs, living standards and the environment, aiming to bring Remain and Leave voters together. The government could collapse at any time, and Jon Trickett was overseeing preparations for the first hundred days of a Labour government, with a special shadow cabinet before the summer recess.
Since May he had visited most trade union conferences and the Durham Miners Gala, an assertion of community values, and said that at LabourLive there was as much interest in politics as in the music. He had celebrated the 70th anniversary of the NHS in Nye Bevan’s birthplace and campaigned in marginal seats around the country. He was reaching out to sister parties, including the party of European socialists. He said that in the wake of the banking crisis, support for austerity had damaged parties of the left and created a vacuum which was filled by the far right. He had heard first-hand the terrible experiences of Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Finally he commended the party democracy review as an opportunity, not a threat. While some local parties were welcoming and inclusive others were less so, and the culture had to change.
All NEC members regretted that a handful of Labour MPs voted with the Tories, apparently believing that propping up Theresa May was in the best interests of their constituents. The importance of continuing strong relations with our European colleagues was emphasised: if Labour did come to power midway through the Brexit process we would need every ounce of support. Others raised teacher shortages and the government’s civil liabilities bill, which would make it harder for those injured at work to pursue claims.
Home and Abroad
Moving the local government report Nick Forbes said that councils were being further squeezed. There was no point in putting more money into the NHS without also funding social care, and he thanked Jeremy Corbyn for raising the issue. The local government association was compiling a cross-party green paper, including proposals from past reviews, current challenges, and possible solutions.
European leader Richard Corbett reported on the tireless efforts of Labour MEPs on protecting the pay and conditions of workers posted to other countries; acting on zero-hours contracts; stopping unfair trade practices such as dumping cheap Chinese steel; and responding to Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium. Other European countries had so far reacted cautiously to Theresa May’s Chequers proposals, but there were aspects which might be unworkable or undesirable. Richard invited Jeremy to Brussels in September when the city of Brussels will name a square in honour of Jo Cox. The NEC thanked European colleagues for continuing to work day and night despite the looming shadow of redundancy.
The NEC considered measures to tackle anti-semitism within the party. Few deny the gravity of the situation, and the appalling cases already referred to the national constitutional committee show the NEC’s willingness to act. The disputes panel would reconvene on 4 September to consider more than 50 cases held over from its last meeting, and measures to reduce delays and speed up NCC hearings are in hand.
Discussion again centred on whether the code of conduct agreed by the organisation committee on 3 July was stronger than the IHRA (international holocaust remembrance alliance) definitions, as argued by Jennie Formby, or weaker, as believed by the Jewish Labour Movement and many, though not all, representatives of the Jewish community. Contributions were detailed and thoughtful, and there is no basis for labelling the NEC, or the party, as institutionally anti-semitic. Selective tweeting in real time – there is no safe space for internal discussion these days – did not reflect the mood of the meeting
However we are trapped in an adversarial situation where one side has to be seen to win and the other to lose. As every negotiator knows, the effect is that we all lose. This is no longer about technical niceties, or who is wrong and who is right in a court of law, but about trust. My view is that the only way back from the brink is to rise above the trenches, reiterate our commitment to the full IHRA paper and, where necessary, elaborate its provisions within the code. No other organisation adopting IHRA has sought to separate the two-sentence definition from the examples, and it is hard to explain why Labour, alone, has to do so. The examples are just examples, and Labour’s own NCC would interpret them within their context.
Eventually the NEC agreed without a vote to uphold the code of conduct, but in recognition of the serious concerns expressed, to formally re-open development of the code, in consultation with Jewish community organisations and groups, in order to better reflect their views. I hope that this is enough to make progress, but if not, it will continue to be impossible to convince our own members and supporters that we stand with them, and harder to defend the rights of Palestinians and criticise the actions of the government of Israel.
Democracy Going Forward
Katy Clark and Malcolm Powers had done a stupendous job in reading, digesting and amalgamating 11,425 submissions. The resulting 83 pages only reached us the evening before, and in any case there was no time to discuss every area. Instead we were invited to consult and to send comments by 10 August, with a special NEC meeting on 4 September to agree any rule changes for conference. The document is brimming with ideas, some fully formed, others needing further development, and I can only give a flavour here. Please contact me about anything not mentioned.
For electing a leader the minimum number of nominations would be 10% of the PLP/EPLP, or 10% of CLPs plus 5% of the PLP/EPLP, or 10% of trade unions representing at least 10% of the affiliated membership from at least three unions plus 5% of the PLP/EPLP. Party opinion, which opposed registered supporters in 2015, has swung behind them, and they will be included in the rulebook together with the fee. (I suggested pegging this as a percentage of the membership subscription, perhaps one-third of the standard rate.). People would normally have up to two weeks after agreement of the timetable to join as members or sign up as supporters, though elsewhere the paper says that new members would only vote in internal elections after the initial eight weeks during which their CLP is entitled to object.
The national policy forum would be dismantled in favour of a “people-powered policy process”, overseen by an NEC policy committee. It is not clear how 15-20 NEC members would communicate with 650 CLPs and 500,000 members without any intermediate bodies, whether policy commissions or something else, so there is a huge gap here. NEC members would regret the loss of the Forum’s deliberative role, but I am not surprised if the 99.9% on the outside feel otherwise. Some asked if the current ballot for NPF places could be suspended, but it is too late. Annual conference would return to a fully motion-based agenda, with contemporary criteria scrapped and rule changes debated in the year that they are submitted.
The NEC looks to be staying much the same, but with a new place for disabled members. This is proposed as a job-share, a principle which might usefully extend to other sections. I am not persuaded about holding new elections for every vacancy – in 2004/2006 three constituency representatives left at different times, with runners-up Peter Willsman, Mohammed Azam and Louise Baldock benefiting. That would have meant three extra OMOV ballots at £100,000 apiece. Indeed OMOV ballots are scattered through the paper like very expensive confetti. The exception is the new national women’s committee, where electing this at the women’s conference might exclude significant numbers of CLPs who cannot afford to attend everything.
Much has been said about members electing Labour group leaders, and pilots may be considered. As well as the politics there are practicalities. Group leaders cannot be elected before local elections as they may lose their own seats, and afterwards a ballot could take weeks, and leave Labour councils leaderless.
I still have reservations about the proliferation of committees, networks and conferences at every level, with motions going between them in every direction, and I asked again for a calendar and estimates of resourcing. There is a welcome emphasis on greater involvement of ethnic minorities, LGBT, young, disabled and women members. But the party must also encourage political diversity, within overall loyalty to Labour’s values, if it is to flourish and to create a truly welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.
As Chair of the national policy forum – while it still exists – I was able to report record levels of engagement with the consultation documents, despite the overlap with campaigning for the May elections. The website recorded over 70,000 visits, tweets were viewed 157,000 times, and events held in every region and nation.
A number of local parties had sent resolutions to the NEC criticising disciplinary outcomes, to which the general secretary had replied that individual cases were not competent business for them or for the NEC. Some members argued that where the facts are public, CLPs should be able to comment, to which Jennie Formby responded that she certainly didn’t know all the facts as she was not privy to NCC proceedings. I think she is right, though it would be helpful for CLPs to be informed before wasting time on such motions. I am disappointed that the disputes panel could not reconvene in July, but the NEC officers agreed, at my request, to look at whether cases where no further action was recommended could be dealt with by email.
The NEC also received the 2017 accounts, a report on women’s conference 2017, a draft timetable for conference, a finance update, and a paper on work with sister parties and organisations. Finally the general secretary had received a letter from nearly 3,000 members asking for an investigation of claims in the Sunday Times that party staff diverted campaign funds to purposes different from those agreed, and concealed this from the leadership. She assured the NEC that these were absolutely false, and said that staff were distressed at the attacks on their integrity. Fake news strikes again.
Ann Black, 07956-637958, firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous reports are at www.annblack.co.uk