The NEC met in Glasgow, welcomed by the new Scottish leader Richard Leonard. After a reception on Saturday evening hosted by Unite we convened at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and congratulated Paddy Lillis on his election as general secretary of USDAW. The membership of NEC committees and policy commissions was agreed. I will continue serving on the equalities committee, the business board and the work, pensions and equalities commission, and Pete Willsman is joining the audit and risk management committee.
We moved on to the election of the NEC youth representative, due in February. Following ructions at the last youth conference the Royall report recommended balloting members rather than having delegates vote in person. In previous incarnations the NEC would have extended the term of the current representative by a few months and run the election alongside the NEC and NPF ballots in July. Also the party democracy review is expected to make recommendations for Young Labour in January and a short delay would have enabled an election by whatever method emerged. I supported this, but it was rejected by 16 votes to 9.
The NEC then considered whether to retain an electorate split into thirds: individual young members, Labour students, and young trade union members. In July the Young Labour national committee supported pure one-member-one-vote, but now favoured to halves, removing Labour students. I voted for halves, as students already get one vote, though the review may soon replace it with yet another system. That was carried with six against Finally I proposed that individual young union members should be balloted, and that was rejected by 18 votes to six. Instead each union will cast a single weighted block vote, with young members contributing through their union’s own internal democratic processes. We did, however, keep the cutoff age for the NEC youth representative at 23, not the 27 requested by the YLNC, which would have allowed young women to serve for up to seven consecutive terms, until they were nearly 30.
So instead of continuing to combine elections in a single OMOV ballot, we have three separate votes, with the extra NEC places and the youth elections taking significant staff time and costing around £50,000 each. For Young Labour this will be a continuing burden if a strict two-year timetable is carried forward. For comparison £50,000 is the total amount allocated to bursaries to support candidates with disabilities.
At 10 a.m. the NEC were joined by members of the Scottish executive. Jeremy Corbyn thanked party staff for their continuing work in difficult and distressing times. He talked about homelessness, the budget, challenging the government on universal credit, Zimbabwe after Mugabe, the war in Yemen and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and the plight of the Rohingya people. On Brexit he was working with MEPs and fellow European socialists to try to minimise the damage: two-thirds of Labour supporters voted to remain, but even leavers did not vote to lose their jobs, turn Britain into an offshore tax haven, or give up environmental and consumer protections. Jeremy Corbyn said, again, that local parties should take a hard look at their culture, so that new members find their first meetings happy, friendly and sociable. Though from my experience it is not that simple, and his kinder, gentler politics is not yet universal.
Richard Leonard then spoke of the challenges facing Scottish Labour in moving up from third place and winning back the young people who voted for independence. They wanted radical change, and Labour was pledged to oppose austerity, extend public ownership and redistribute wealth and power, building support outside as well as inside parliament and talking with voters as citizens, not just consumers. He was talking with Welsh Labour on areas of common interest and hoped that councils could do more than simply manage decline. Brian Roy, Scottish general secretary, added the need for more resources, another possible use for money spent on extra ballots. Scottish members stressed the need to reach into communities, strengthen links between councillors and constituency parties, and recognise Scottish and Welsh dimensions to policy-making. Alice Perry added that Labour should include a pledge to restore local government funding in the next manifesto, otherwise the Tories would continue to devolve blame for cuts.
The turnout for the Scottish leadership election was 62.3% of the 35,309 eligible voters. Richard Leonard gained 56.7% overall, winning by 51.8% among members, 77.3% among affiliated supporters, and 48.1% among registered supporters. Interestingly the contest attracted only 79 registered supporters paying £12 each, reinforcing the lack of enthusiasm for them expressed in rule changes at conference and in my inbox. Meanwhile Wales is still using the old-style electoral college to elect their deputy leader.
General secretary Iain McNicol said that Labour was preparing for a general election at any time, engaging with members, taking on the Tories in parliament, building a strong, professional organisation, and supporting early selection of candidates. Three had already been chosen, and more than 100 should be in place next year. I and others passed on the desire from all CLPs to select candidates as soon as possible. Peter Willsman said that working-class candidates were still disadvantaged and it shouldn’t be possible to buy a seat. Since the meeting not all selections have been going smoothly, and my comment that the NEC got fewer complaints when imposing candidates in all 631 seats is sadly proving true. Though I am not suggesting that we do it again.
Not Drowning but Waving
Annual conference was massive, with 1278 constituency delegates representing 579 CLPs, and sheer numbers meant that councillors and MPs were exiled to the balcony. NEC members agreed with Christine Shawcroft that jumping up and down and waving bizarre objects to catch the Chair’s eye made the party look ridiculous and discriminated against disabled members. She suggested a system of speaker cards, and I hope that the new conference arrangements committee will look at this.
The 2018 women’s conference will again be held on the Saturday immediately before annual conference, but in discussion with the newly-elected women’s conference arrangements committee it was agreed that CLPs and affiliates should be able to submit motions rather than statements, and that one motion should go forward to the annual conference agenda. I have asked for information about delegates and deadlines to be sent directly to women’s officers as well as secretaries, and for secretaries to be reminded to pass it on to their women members. For 2019 a stand-alone women’s conference is planned.
Membership and Money
Membership began to slide after the vote on Article 50, but picked up again when the general election was called. The end-of-year figure is likely to be 568,500, including around 50,000 in arrears. Of these, 43% are renewing their membership if asked, so well worth following up. Because membership is volatile, particularly when there are no national elections, financial planning has to err on the side of caution.
Back in 2014 the Collins review required union members to state explicitly, by 2019, that they wished part of their political levy to be used to affiliate to the Labour party. However this had been overtaken by the government trade union act which requires all new union members to opt in to party affiliation, and will eventually affect all members. The NEC therefore agreed that the Collins recommendations on collective affiliation had, in effect, been implemented. This will lead to a decline, over time, in income from union affiliations, another reason for prudence.
The NEC development funds, established under Refounding Labour in 2011, are open for bids for local campaigning and for enhancing democracy and diversity, with a deadline of 28 February 2018. In recent rounds there have been few bids, with some of those from previous applicants or those with inside connections, and little sharing of good practice. These funds include part of the subscription income that was formerly returned to local parties, and I am interested in whether CLPs would prefer to continue with this system, or to have the money distributed directly to them, on top of the central payment of £1,400 for fixed charges (Euro-levy, election insurance, Contact Creator and conference pass) and the £2.50 per member.
A Voice for Members
Katy Clark gave an update on the party democracy review. Thousands of comments had already been received, most from individuals, and making sense of them all will be a Herculean task. The review covers almost everything, though it excludes Westminster selections and complaints and disciplinary procedures. On the latter there is continuing and justified concern about delays in investigating cases and arranging hearings by the national constitutional committee. I am still rescuing individuals who were excluded or suspended over a year ago. More personpower is being assigned to this and I hope will finally clear the backlog. It can be done: on sexual harassment six NEC members have already been trained and heard several cases.
The review will also have to decide what to do about the national policy forum (NPF). It was reported that even in lslington North only four out of 200 members understood the system, and a manifesto written in three weeks was more successful than those constructed over three years. Meanwhile, as under previous leaders, shadow ministers have their own groups developing policy without involving members. However, after a six-month break the policy commissions are now meeting again. On 17/18 February the NPF will agree documents for consultation from March to June (yes I know we will be in election mode for most of that time). Since the NEC meeting the joint policy committee has decided one priority for each commission: I’ve listed them below but, as always, members should discuss whatever is most important to them.
Early Years, Education and Skills – Towards a national education service
Economy, Business and Trade – A fair deal at work: the future of work
Environment, Energy and Culture – Leading richer lives: a greener Britain
Health and Social Care – Healthcare for all: tackling health inequalities
Housing, Local Government and Transport – Leading richer lives: giving people the power to shape their local communities
International – A global Britain: achieving sustainable development goals
Justice and Home Affairs – Safer communities: protecting our communities and turning lives around
Work, Pensions and Equality – Equality for all: addressing in-work poverty and working-age inequalities
Elections Past and Future
The NEC agreed aims and objectives for 2018, including plans for the next general election, building a unified organisational strategy, empowering members and supporters, maintaining financial stability, and giving staff an exciting and inclusive working environment. The NEC heard of a programme for women in leadership positions, support with mental health issues, and networks for women and black, Asian and minority ethnic staff members. Jon Trickett was leading a transition team on preparing Labour for government.
Campaign co-ordinator Andrew Gwynne ran through the elections to be held in May 2018. Reviewing the June results Seamus Milne said that according to conventional wisdom non-voters don’t vote, campaigns cannot shift intentions by more than 2%, manifestos don’t make any difference, and parties cannot win without mainstream media support. Labour tore up all those rules. However the Tories would not repeat the same mistakes next time. We had to keep our June vote, especially among young people, and gain support from northern and working-class communities. Ian Lavery wondered why older people continued to vote Conservative even when they were kicked in the teeth by their own party.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell led the final session. Amid Tory faction-fighting, Philip Hammond’s budget failed to mention social care, public service pay, council housing, or anything important really. Labour would continue to resist austerity and to campaign on the issues which have such a direct impact on so many people’s lives. After brief questions Andy Kerr, chairing his first NEC meeting, finished within minutes of the scheduled time of 5 p.m. Perhaps because many of us had planes to catch, but welcome nonetheless.