Report from the NEC

The full Labour party National Executive Committee met on 17 July. The meeting was preceded by a meeting of the Organisation Committee and followed by one of the Community Campaigning Working Group so it was an eight-hour day of meetings!

At the Organisation Committee we asked staff to look at whether Women’s Officer should be reinserted into the rulebook as a core officer of all constituency Labour parties – it came out of the list as part of the Refounding Labour changes – and to come up with wording around putting a commitment in the rules to positive action in selections for under-represented groups (women, BAME, LGBT, disabled and people from working class jobs). We agreed a series of rule change proposals to take account of the creation of police and crime commissioners.

We agreed a paper from National Policy Forum chair Angela Eagle setting out the new policymaking process. This is unfinished business from Refounding Labour. Rule changes will now be drafted to go to annual conference. The key reforms are that party units will be able to submit textual amendments to NPF documents; an online ‘policy hub’ where members and party units can make policy submissions, track where they are in the process, and see how they are being responded to; a new policy ballot at conference to determine the priorities for the NPF for the year (not replacing but in addition to the current priority ballot and contemporary resolutions). All this is intended to make policymaking more traceable and transparent and encourage CLPs to re-engage in debating and formulating policy ideas. We had received representations about moving to a five-year term for CLP NPF representatives, to ensure the same reps are in place for the whole policymaking cycle, but we decided not to pursue this at this time. I felt it was unfair having only just moved to One Member, One Vote for these elections to then tell members they would only get to exercise their votes once every five years. Angela said the whole reformed process would be kept under review and amended if necessary.

We agreed a selection process for the European parliament elections in 2014. This is broadly the same as the process used for the 2009 elections. Sitting MEPs will go through a trigger ballot and then form the top of each regional list. Regional panels will pick the new candidates for the rest of the list. OMOV will be used to rank both the incumbent and new candidates. One of the top two incumbent places must be a woman, and the top placed new candidate in each region will be a woman (unless the only incumbent in the region is a woman), after which men and women candidates will alternate (known as ‘zipping’). The vote will happen in July-September 2013.

The full NEC opened with Iain McNicol’s report as general secretary. He said that the goodwill at the Aston NPF meeting needed to be taken and developed into tangible engagement in policymaking. He reported that a new Nations and Regions Board of the party regional directors and general secretaries was meeting and was ensuring integration of the work of the party regions.  A new organising model was being rolled out which, while recognising voter ID, was crucial in promoting community organising and engagement ie relationship building around campaigns on issues, particularly around local battles we can win even in opposition. The management review was still in process at HQ. Director of regional organisation Hilary Perrin had been seconded to work at the GMB.

Harriet Harman reported, saying we should feel good that we were being taken seriously as an opposition and it wasn’t just that the government was unpopular. To be seen as an alternative government we needed to set out policies. We also needed to tackle the remaining negatives about us. She said that while national polls were good indicators, we needed to win in 100 target marginals, and every frontbencher would be twinned with one of these seats. While the PLP is more representative than other parties in terms of women, BAME and working class MPs, our selections are not producing a PLP representative of the wider party. Harriet is therefore proposing that the Labour Women’s Network, TULO, and BAME Labour integrate their work on promoting candidates from less represented groups and focus the Future Candidates Programme on positive action. She stressed this shouldn’t override CLPs’ right to choose their candidates but should be about identifying and supporting good candidates so that CLPs get offered a strong choice and the PLP is strengthened and more diverse.

Tom Watson reported as campaign coordinator. He said the three streams of campaign work were:

1.    Embedding community organising techniques in how CLPs work.
2.    Getting the party into shape for the November PCC elections, which
are a springboard for the May 2013 county elections.
3.    Developing a general election marginal seat strategy.

There was now an NEC subcommittee on community campaigning, and 21 community organising pilots were running over the summer. A Community Organising Manual was being published. Arnie Graf was working with Tom to embed his community organising experience in the life of the Party.
A BAME engagement strategy was being formulated, learning the lessons of the Bradford West by-election. The Bristol mayoral selection had picked Marvin Rees, an excellent BAME candidate, and winning Bristol is vital. The PCC elections were difficult because of adverse boundaries, independent candidates and likely low turnout, and we should realistically only expect eight wins. One hundred non-Labour-held target marginal parliamentary constituencies have been identified. The key group of voters in these seats are people who switched to Tory from Labour in 2010 and feel ‘let down by Dave’.

Jon Cruddas reported on the policy review. He is working to integrate the reviews being done by the shadow cabinet with the party’s policy process, and get from 36 working groups to a focused narrative about rebuilding Britain (rebuilding the economy; rebuilding society; and rebuilding politics and trust). We have to contest the national story like we did in 1945, 1964 and 1997. Controversial policy ideas being floated like the military involvement in academy schools is not formal party policy but about stimulating public debate.

Ed Miliband gave his leader’s report. He said he enjoyed speaking at the Durham Miners’ Gala and assured us it won’t be another 23-year wait before the leader speaks there. He said the Tory problems included a sense they were standing up for the wrong people, their economic plan was failing, and they seemed out of touch with most people’s lives. We have to carry on with being an effective opposition, exposing them. But now, having posed some big questions about the future of the country, the policy review has 12-18 months to deliver some answers to those questions. We also need to address negatives about Labour on immigration, welfare and fiscal responsibility. We have to address the way we do politics so as to overcome the cynicism that the public have that ‘all politicians are the same.’ He wants to see CLPs rooted in communities. He will continue to challenge powerful interests as over banking and Murdoch.

It was important to only make promises we can keep. Our policies need to speak to the radicalism of the moment while being realistic.

Developing a policy agenda that shows that things can be different was vital, as a simple ‘time for change’ message does not work after only one term.

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Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here and blogs here

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Comments: 3...

  1. On July 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm Ben Cobley responded with... #

    Why do we have to insist on defining people by their colour and gender and manipulating everything in these terms? Why does Marvin Rees have to get called “an excellent BAME candidate” rather than “an excellent candidate”? It makes me very uncomfortable; also the specific measures of ‘positive’ discrimation completely contradict efforts to open up the party because they require (and play into a culture of) centralised control. This is not consistent with any idea of a grassroots revival. You’ve got to give people power where it matters and foster some sort of sense of excitement locally, otherwise those people will continue to drift away.

    Thanks though to Luke for posting this update – it may not be a very flattering light it sheds on NEC processes but at least it is a light.

    • On July 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm Dan Filson responded with... #

      The context is all. The context is that numerous groups of people are under-represented in the candidates who get selected and especially those who get selected to stand in winnable seats. In that context it is relevant to mention the BAME status of Marvin Rees. By the way, when did ethnic minorities become minority ethnicities, and why?

      • On July 19, 2012 at 7:19 am Ben Cobley responded with... #

        And here was I thinking the people who were meant to be represented by candidates were their constituents…

        On the flip side there is an issue here , but there are much better and more radical ways around it (I favour mandatory re-selections for example). Practising unfairness in order to create ‘fairness’ as measured on a spreadsheet is indicative of where Labour has been going wrong for many years, not least in government. Practising that unfairness on your own members makes it even worse, not least when many women and ethnic minority people feel offended at being deemed in need of ‘special measures’ (but the Women’s and BAME interest groups don’t seem to be interested in them).

        It is yet more indication of a hollowed-out party, run from the centre by those who I am guessing spend most of their time negotiating between the different (self-)interest groups. Trying to make real change in that context is very difficult (and if context is all, there you have it).

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