Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s National Executive Committee, 24th January 2017:
For the second time running, we had a very tranquil NEC. This may be down to the fact that there was very little on the agenda that was controversial. The most noteworthy issues had arisen at the Disputes Panel and Organisation Committee held on the 17 January. I cover some of these issues below.
Uniquely among Labour Party leaders, Jeremy regularly attends NEC sub-committees. Jeremy is almost always at the Organisation Committee. I have also noticed that most of our staff are ever more supportive of Jeremy. I have never seen the staff so determined to win two by-elections as they are in Copeland and Stoke-Central. I suspect most of the staff, like most party members, do not believe that an MP should be parachuted into a CLP one minute and then resign the next. Contrary to this, some of the writers in the dire Guardian have suggested that individual career prospects take precedence over loyalty to the party.
Jeremy came hot-foot from preparing Labour’s response to the Supreme Court decision against the Tory government. Jeremy took the NEC through all of the implications of this Judgement decision and of Labour’s response. He and Keir had made it clear that although Labour will respect the decision of the referendum, we will press firmly for all of our red-lines. Jeremy emphasised that Labour must speak to both sides of the referendum divide.
Jeremy drew attention to a Tory MP who that afternoon was moving a 10-minute Rule Bill on seeking to further restrict the rights of trade unions and trade unionists (it was defeated). Jeremy believes that this is an early move by the Tories to prepare the ground for a much more serious attack on the rights of workers.
Jeremy congratulated Jon Ashworth (Shadow Health Secretary) – who was present at the meeting – for all the work he had done building for Saturday’s Day of Action. Jeremy and Jon then outlined the serious crisis facing the NHS. The crisis has been building for years, since the Tories have been continually restricting funding. Indeed, next year and in 2019, the funding for the NHS will actually be reduced in real terms. This is at a time when the challenges facing the NHS are ever growing. For example, we are living longer, the major reductions in social care provisions are having a knock-on effect, there has been a major increase in the numbers of homeless people as a result of the government’s austerity policies, and there are always implications of the advances in medical science. Jeremy and Jon highlighted the particular crisis facing mental health provision. There has been a reduction of 600 nurses and a serious decline in the number of doctors as well. Jon drew attention to possible adverse implications from the trade treaty with the US that May is desperately trying to obtain. It would open the door to the avaricious and ruthless US health insurance companies that could accelerate the privatisation of the NHS.
Jeremy stressed that the NHS is the National Health Service for a reason. Part of its aim was to overcome inequalities between different regions, which was one of Nye Bevan’s main motivations. Jeremy also drew attention to the Defend the NHS demo on 4th March.
Jeremy took the NEC through the Copeland and Stoke-Central by-elections, which are due to be held on 23 February. Jeremy especially paid tribute to all of our staff who are working around the clock to make our campaigns as effective as possible. Many members are also responding to the party’s Call to Arms. Several NEC members (me included) will also be knocking on doors in Whitehaven and Stoke. Later, Margaret Beckett referred to the talk about a ‘progressive alliance’, which she said was somewhat rich given that it was only yesterday that the Liberals were in government with the Tories, where they carried out very reactionary policies. I added that the notion of such an alliance has been talked-up by the dire Guardian and groups like Compass, but has now been relegated to the history books – their beloved Tim Farron has categorically ruled-out any link-up with Labour. Presumably Farron wants to keep his options open so the Lib-Dems are free to jump back into bed with the Tories (in fact, Farron has said as much!).
In his Report, Jeremy also outlined our developing Industrial Strategy and its interrelation with our economic policy, e.g. a national investment bank with a regional focus, investment in infrastructure, and other key issues that had been raised at the NPF.
Jeremy rounded-up by commenting on Theresa May’s embrace of the new President of the US. He emphasised that the Prime Minister should challenge the dreadfully racist, sexist, and reactionary language of the President. Jeremy also paid tribute to the inspiring women’s marches that were held across the world following the Inauguration. Jeremy was in Copeland on Saturday, but his son had represented him at the London march.
In response to Jeremy’s report, Kezia Dugdale set-out the manipulative way the SNP are exploiting Brexit. Kezia emphasised that the response by the Scottish Labour Party will be based on the interests of the Scottish people. Alun Davies also briefly outlined the strategy of the Welsh Labour Party in response to Brexit.
Martin Mayer led a discussion on the setting-out of a clear definition of ‘free movement of labour’. It was accepted that this was a quite complex issue. Jeremy paid tribute to the trade unions for making extra efforts to recruit migrant workers in order to unite all groups against the exploitative bosses – who, as usual, are using the age-old ‘divide and rule’ strategy.
Glenis Willmott, EPLP Leader and our new effervescent Chair, had circulated a written report. Despite the major focus on Brexit, the important work of the European Parliament continues. In recent months Labour MEPs had welcomed European cooperation against aggressive tax avoidance. Labour MEPs voted against the compulsory opening up of railways contracts across Europe to private sector operators, because the new laws do not provide protection for rail workers’ terms and conditions. The Commission has made clear that workers employed on zero-hour contracts should have full employment rights as a result of EU law on part-time workers. Jeremy added that he had called together representatives of socialist parties in the EU and stressed the need to work together. He was pleased to report that following this meeting two of Labour’s MEPs were elected to important positions.
Local Government Report
Nick Forbes and Alice Perry had circulated a written report, and Nick took the NEC through it. The Annual Local Government Conference will take place in Warwick on 18 February. Over 200 councillors have already registered to attend. Jeremy is planning to address the conference.
In response, I highlighted a serious matter of concern that has been raised with me by many councillors and party members in relation to a matter of conflict of interest. This concerns the accountability of Labour councillors. This used to be ensured by Local Government Committees (LGCs), but with their replacement by Local Campaign Forums (LCFs), democratic processes and the accountability of councillors has diminished. In addition to this, there has been a development whereby directly elected mayors and council leaders can appoint councillors to major positions without any proper democratic processes. As I emphasised, this can create serious conflicts of interest, which, I said, must be addressed. The General Secretary nodded when I made this point, and therefore we can be hopeful that this unintended implication of the new LCF system will be addressed (indeed, at the 2017 Annual Conference in Brighton, there is a rule change to restore the separation of powers that existed under LGCs).
There was also a discussion of what, many of us saw, as the inadequacies of the recent Newham Trigger Ballot process. It was agreed that Ann Black and Alice Perry will visit Newham and report back to the NEC on possible improvements to the whole process.
Minutes of NEC Meetings and Sub-Committee Meetings
As I have already said, the most noteworthy were the Dispute Panel and Organisation Committee on 17 January. A report from officers was presented in relation to the allegations made against the Oxford University Labour Club. Our officers had carried out an investigation. Two students in particular had been singled out by those making the allegations. The investigation concluded that there was no case to answer in relation to anti-Semitism in relation to these two students. A separate accusation (unconnected to any question of anti-Semitism) had been raised regarding the two students and their general behaviour. The Disputes Panel discussed in detail whether a warning was appropriate in these two cases. It was agreed without dissent that no further action should be taken.
In relation to Wallasey, it was agreed that suspension would remain in place with a review at the March meeting of the Dispute Panel.
The Organisation Committee, considered 33 Contemporary Motions which the Conference Arrangements Committee had referred to the NEC. In addition, 38 motions submitted by CLPs to the NEC in relation to organisational matters were also considered. The main issue raised in the motions related to issues arising from the last leadership election. Many of the matters raised are already under consideration by Ann Black as chair of Disputes, Jim Kennedy as chair of Org, and senior officers, in order to learn the lessons and improve arrangements in the future. Each of the motions will be the subject of a substantive reply from the General Secretary. I congratulated our staff for bringing all of these motions to the NEC. This was always the practice before New Labour, but it had been allowed to fall by the wayside.
General Secretary’s Report
Iain took the NEC through the papers he had circulated on the major issues facing us. These included the series of local government elections taking place this year, the Richmond Park and Sleaford and West Hykeham by-elections, the forthcoming by-elections in Copeland and Stoke-Central, and an update on the party’s finance strategy. The General Secretary also presented a review of the Annual Conference arrangements etc. at Liverpool, and highlighted the lessons we learned that can benefit us at the 2017 Conference.
Iain and other senior officers presented a small booklet which analysed in detail the membership data. The membership at the 1 January was 543,645. This is the highest figure on Labour Party records. 70% of our current membership joined after 1 January 2015. Our membership is now younger, and comrades joining from BAME communities has increased. The gap between men and women has become considerably smaller. The biggest expansion of membership has been in the south, particularly the South West. The smallest increase was in Scotland. Five of our eleven regions/nations, have increased in size by more than 40%. In relation to people leaving, 77% of these joined after the general election 2015. Unfortunately, the (ever more) dire Guardian has moved into the ‘post-truth’ era. A recent editorial pronounced that the Labour Party is ‘disintegrating’. In fact, our party is now the largest political party in Western Europe.