NEC Update, August 2018

by Ann Black on 05.08.18

There will be a special NEC meeting on 4 September to discuss the democracy review. Some candidates in the NEC election are saying that Jeremy’s plans “hang in the balance” and could come “down to a single vote”. In fact existing NEC members will decide, as newly-elected representatives only take their positions after conference. So as always I am asking for your views in advance. Below are some key areas:

Electing the Leadership

The review proposes that candidates would require nominations from 10% of MPs/MEPs, or 10% of CLPs plus 5% of MPs/MEPs, or 10% of trade unions representing at least 10% of the affiliated membership from at least three unions plus 5% of MPs/MEPs. I will support this.   Where there is no vacancy, challenges still need 20% of MPs/MEPs. There are no suggestions for ensuring women’s representation in the leadership team, an area of much concern when Jeremy Corbyn’s first election was celebrated by an all-male platform.

In 2014 the most leftwing NEC representatives voted against registered supporters, and after the 2015 leadership election many members, left, right and centre, objected to “the £3 people” having an equal say.  Party opinion has now swung in their favour and the review proposes including them in the rulebook, with a specified fee. I am suggesting that this should be a percentage (33%?) of the standard membership rate. Affiliated supporters will continue as before, as they generated little controversy.

The six-month qualifying period for members in 2016 – which I voted against – caused widespread anger. In future the cutoff date would normally be at least two weeks after the date when the timetable is set, during which people could join as members or sign up as supporters. I agree with this, though there must be sufficient staffing resources to handle large numbers of applications within a short time.

Members’ Rights

However the section on members’ rights recommends that local parties should still have eight weeks to object to applications, during which applicants could attend meetings but without a vote locally or in regional or national one-member-one-vote (OMOV) elections. So members would be able to vote in leadership elections, but not in NEC elections running at the same time. I am not sure if this is intended.

Otherwise, the membership requirement for delegates to annual conference will be reduced from one year to six months, a welcome change, and will remain at six months for taking part in selecting candidates. Twelve months’ membership would be needed to stand as council or parliamentary candidates, or for national committees, and trade union membership would be mandatory. There are no plans to enforce the rule which says that each individual party member must, if applicable, be a member of a trade union.

Regional and National Frameworks

Regional structures vary widely in their rules and constitutions, and Scotland and Wales have delegated powers, so more consistency is welcome.  The review proposes that every region should hold, every year, a regional conference, a women’s conference, a youth conference and perhaps a disabled members conference, all motion-based and with all CLPs and affiliates able to send delegates. In addition to the regional board (renamed the regional executive committee) there would be regional women’s, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and YL (Young Labour) committees, with networks for disabled and LGBT+ members. Some of these would send motions, or elect representatives, to other regional and national committees and conferences. I am concerned about the costs for both regions and CLPs.

At national level annual BAME and disabled members conferences would be added to annual conference, women’s conference and an annual Young Labour conference, as well as women’s, BAME, disabled members and YL committees. There seem to be internal contradictions: for instance the YL conference would be held in January/February and send motions to the national women’s conference, also held in spring but which requires motions to be circulated 40 days in advance. And I would prefer the women’s committee to be elected by OMOV, as many CLPs may be unrepresented at the women’s conference.

National Executive Committee

The NEC would remain broadly the same, though if and when the UK leaves the European Union there would no longer be a leader of the EPLP. Scotland and Wales would decide themselves how they elect their representatives. I support adding a place for a disabled member, perhaps as a job-share, though I think this would require legal approval under the Equality Act. If elected by OMOV it also needs disability status to be held on the party’s membership system. This is work in progress, along with data on BAME status. LGBT+ members currently do not wish to be identified on party systems, but for other groups it should underpin self-organisation at every level, including CLP-based forums and networks.

I am not persuaded that the BAME, Young Labour and disabled members’ NEC representatives should be chosen through an electoral college with the unions casting 50% of the votes and members balloted for the other 50%, as 500,000 individuals can be outvoted by half a dozen general secretaries. In the conference arrangements committee the five “open” seats invariably go to the unions. Which is why a separate proposal calls for the CAC to be balanced, with half the places elected by CLPs, and half by the unions.

I also oppose by-elections for vacancies in every section of the NEC. There are already 14 separate proposals for OMOV ballots. These could be scheduled together to save money, but vacancies in the CLP section arise unpredictably, and on past history could cost £100,000s and leave seats empty for months. In fact the left has gained from promoting the runner-up: Peter Willsman and Mohammed Azam both came on in 2005, and in 2016 Darren Williams immediately took Ken Livingstone’s place. Some members have suggested that single transferable vote would give more legitimacy to the fastest loser. Meanwhile the unions, who can fill a vacancy in hours at nil cost, could have their own arrangements.

Job-sharing and Local Organisation

I support the principle of job-sharing at local level. The only exceptions are the treasurer and Chair / deputy treasurer, who have legal responsibilities to the electoral commission, and secretaries, where party systems need a single contact. All equalities officers and youth and trade union officers would be voting members of executive committees, as would a new mandatory policy officer. Staggered meetings, rules for multi-constituency CLPs, dual membership for students and others with two “home CLPs”, technology for remote participation (for instance Zoom, pioneered by Labour International) also have potential.

The review mentions relations between affiliated organisations and local parties but I am not sure if it will look at situations where one union affiliates dozens of branches to a single CLP.  For £6 each union branch gets a vote in trigger ballots for MPs, same as a party branch with 200 members each paying £50.

I cannot do justice to the many proposals for enhancing engagement with under-represented groups, and not all need rule changes. There are questions around whether LGBT Labour and BAME Labour should retain their independent socialist society status, or operate as sections within the overall membership. Labour Students has had problems because Labour club lists do not match members recorded as students on party systems, and measures will be introduced to verify student status. Young Labour feel under-resourced in comparison with Labour Students, who have three paid officers working out of HQ.

People-Powered Policy-Making

The review proposes dismantling the national policy forum in favour of an NEC policy committee, with members consulted on papers “prepared nationally”. There are no intermediate structures, and I cannot see how 20 NEC members will communicate directly with 650 CLPs and half a million members. So I will only vote for this when I am convinced that the NPF will be replaced by something better.

Annual conference would return to a motion-based agenda, with contemporary criteria scrapped and rule changes debated in the year that they are submitted. CLPs would still have to choose between a motion and a rule change, though I would support allowing both. The recommendations say the three-year rule will be abolished, but I do not know if this means repeating the same arguments every year. More transparent ways of choosing speakers will be trialled in Liverpool, and electronic voting will be investigated.

Local campaign forums have never really stuck, and local government committees will be restored. But as with LCFs, individual circumstances must be taken into account. Areas with two-tier councils should avoid the same people being tied up in three separate sets of meetings, and requiring them all to organise annual conferences if there are only a few Labour councillors seems over the top. As does a Yes/No OMOV ballot on Labour council manifestos, something which Tony Blair did before the 1997 election, and which cost a fortune. And apart from the expense, OMOV ballots for Labour group leaders would take longer than the period between the declaration of results and the election of a council leader.

Paying the Bills

Finally, though funding for CLPs was not within Katy Clark’s remit, the number of representations led her to recommend a full review. I support this. Before Refounding Labour in 2011 CLPs received about 25% of subscription income, but they had to pay for the Euro-levy, election insurance, contact creator and the lead delegate’s conference pass, amounting to over £1,400 and now paid centrally. The balance, after returning £2.50 per member to CLPs, is used to support local organisers in key seats, disabled delegates at conference, and other initiatives which enhance diversity. The review also appears to include other unfunded spending commitments, and all these areas have to be considered together.

If I’ve missed anything, please contact me at annblack50@btinternet.com or via www.annblack.co.uk