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Update on Labour’s national executive

Several subcommittees and working groups have met since the NEC awayday in November, and some notes are below.

Refounding Labour to Win

Peter Hain chaired the first meeting of the implementation group, and emphasised the importance of moving fast on registered supporters. Unless we reached 50,000 by conference 2012, the project would be seen as a fuss about nothing. Over 500 had already signed up through the national website, and tick-boxes will be included on leaflets for the NHS and other campaigns, with more names collected through petitions and street stalls. Peter would reassure MPs who keep lists of local helpers but do not want them swamped with national mailings and requests for money. Supporters must be on the electoral register, and their entitlement to vote for the party leader will be formally checked just before an election. We also need to recruit and retain paying members, and the winter challenge sent to all constituencies, with prizes including a visit from Ed Miliband and an iPad 2, reinforces this message.

Members of the group will work within their section of the NEC in assisting change and promoting good practice. Constituency representatives have been doing this throughout the year, and will continue by taking forward decisions agreed at conference. In some areas regional officers are visiting local parties, but if you would like to discuss anything further, please get in touch – I would be glad to ring, mail or visit.

There has been much interest in the new approach to funding, and secretaries and treasurers should have received a note on the likely impact for their constituency. A central fund has been set up amounting to £270,000 for 2012 and a panel, including four constituency representatives, will evaluate bids for money to support local campaigning and improvement, and diversity and democracy. Application forms will go out soon. The deadline for most bids will be 30 March 2012, though where the continued employment of a local organiser is at risk applications should be made by 27 January 2012.

Other questions have related to constituency organisation, replacing local government committees with local campaign forums (LCFs), and timetables. I believe the new rules will give more flexibility in choosing officers and deciding structures and ways of working. However with the looming boundary changes it makes little sense to revise the constitution for autumn 2012 and then do it all over again in 2013. So Oxford, with regional agreement, is holding its AGM as planned in March 2012, an inaugural meeting on new boundaries early in 2013, and AGMs moving to autumn from 2013 onwards. (I am still not sure whether the normal time for AGMs is considered to be June/July or October/November.)

I expect LCFs to be allowed the same freedom to adapt to local needs, though again there are timing issues. Designing a constitution and electing delegates for an AGM in May 2012 seems over-ambitious during an election period, and boundary changes may alter the basis of representation from 2013. If reasonable proposals agreed by all involved are encountering difficulties please let me know.

The party’s IT staff then presented plans for an overhaul of membersnet and other improvements to on-line communications, including facilities for managing registered supporters and volunteers. Finally I asked that outstanding areas of Refounding Labour, notably any changes to Partnership into Power and conference, should be discussed with all stakeholders and not just the unions, and this was agreed.

Equalities Committee

Within Refounding Labour this committee is responsible for working with black and ethnic minorities, disabled members and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members; supporting young members; and getting more women and under-represented groups elected as MPs and at other levels. The Future Candidates Programme has offered residential training to 120 people, of whom 52% are women and 19% from ethnic minorities. It is hoped that this will feed through into successful applications, though with the reduction in MPs new vacancies may be scarce at the next general election.

Three specific working groups were set up. The first, of which I am a member, will look at options for ensuring gender balance in the leadership team. The second, including Ellie Reeves, will review the party’s anti-discrimination and harassment policies and how they are promoted, and the third will develop a single model of local organisation for ethnic minorities within Labour.

The committee noted the success of the women’s conference, held on the Saturday before conference. I thought the atmosphere was excellent and, in contrast to the main event, women wishing to speak lined up at microphones and every one was heard. From now on it will be held at the start of every annual conference, so delegates should take this into account when booking.

Keith Birch was elected Chair of the committee, taking over from Norma Stephenson. The position now has NEC officer status alongside the other subcommittee Chairs, and the officers’ group comprises Michael Cashman MEP and five trade union NEC members, plus the leader and deputy leader. This is significant because with 27 out of 33 NEC members on the organisation committee, detailed discussions may recede into the smaller group. Also the local government working group includes the NEC officers and councillors’ representatives but no-one from the constituency section, and in areas with few or no Labour councillors, constituency members could play an important role.

Organisation Committee

The committee approved procedures for selecting candidates for police commissioners and agreed that Labour should contest all 41 positions: despite opposing the principle, they are now a fact of life, and we have a proud record on cutting crime. Nominations are opening imminently, and members have until early February to apply. An NEC panel will longlist from CVs, and shortlisting interviews will be conducted by panels with an NEC Chair and regional representatives, aiming to produce a list of two or three candidates including at least one woman. Because candidates must live in the police authority area, using all-women shortlists for some places was not considered practicable. The candidate for each area will be selected from the shortlist in an all-member ballot during May / June 2012.

This will run together with elections for the constituency sections of the NEC and the national policy forum, and for the treasurer if contested. The deadline for nominating to the NEC, the NPF, the conference arrangements committee and the national constitutional committee is 30 March 2012. One of the five NPF places in each region is reserved for a young member, with Eastern, South-East, South-West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber required to elect a woman, and the other regions open.

Annual conference 2012 will be held in Manchester from Sunday 30 September to Thursday 4 October, and delegates should register by Friday 22 June. The closing date for contemporary motions is noon on Friday 21 September, and for emergency resolutions, noon on Friday 28 September.

Parliamentary Selections

Eight of the 26 early selections were completed by mid-November, and another ten were cleared for take-off after consultation on all-women shortlists: these are Cambridge, Great Yarmouth, Norwich North, Watford, Basildon & Billericay, High Peak, Bristol North West, Bristol West, North Swindon and South Dorset. Minor adjustments will be made for this second wave in the light of feedback, including

  • scheduling applications for emergency postal votes within the procedure, with clear guidance;
  • stressing flexibility: the timetable was deliberately shortened to reduce pressure on candidates, but some constituencies found it too rushed;
  • asking candidates to supply a 250-word election address, to reduce postage costs in the ballot;
  • providing advice on seeking supporting statements from unions and other affiliates.

One constituency suggested a later freeze date to enable participation by new members, but it was agreed that this required more thought. Other concerns included the need for spending controls and the imbalance between male and female applicants which made it difficult to draw up gender-balanced shortlists of high quality in open selections, and produced some very short shortlists in women-only seats. This could indicate problems for women (and others without financial means) in campaigning for years away from home. However these constituencies are all opposition-held, and leaving it till the last few months would guarantee failure. Ideally early selection should favour good local women and men who would not have to uproot their lives. I supported Jim Kennedy, the new Chair of the committee, in asking for a full review including all stakeholders, as promised, after this round is complete.

Finally the committee agreed to consult further on draft model contracts for parliamentary and police commissioner candidates, and on revised standing orders for Labour groups. Key changes here are that nominations for council appointments will be made by the group leader, whether or not Labour controls the council, and Labour groups will draw up their own manifestos, though the need to consult with the local party and campaign forum is emphasised.

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