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Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s March executive

NEC Report Pete WNational Executive Committee 15 March 2016

The main item on the agenda, referred from the January National Executive Committee (NEC), was to review and amend the NEC’s governance. This includes the NEC’s Terms of Reference, Subcommittee Protocols, and the NEC’s Standing Orders. John McDonnell was also down to attend his first NEC meeting. 

Leader’s Report

Jeremy outlined the themes of the speech he was making the next day in response to Osborne’s budget. He highlighted the threatened attacks on the disabled and on their benefits. He highlighted that the Tories so-called economic plan is becoming a bigger and bigger disaster. Jeremy stressed that this is our opportunity to fight back. Osborne is seeking to overcome the crisis created by bankers and financiers, at the expense of the low-paid, unemployed, homeless and disabled. Jeremy emphasised that we must use the platform provided by the budget to get our message across. Well over half a million of the public follow Jeremy on social media during PMQs, and we must maximise the effectiveness of this social media profile.

Jeremy reported that he has now met all of the shadow cabinet policy teams and discussed their work programs and the most effective ways of advancing them. In relation to the ongoing review of the party’s policymaking process, Jeremy stressed the high level of knowledge and experience amongst our members, affiliated members, and their trade unions, and registered supporters. We need to mobilise all our supporters around key demands. For example; Housing for all; Investment to create jobs; rights at work; the Tory threat to jobs and industries (especially the steel industry). Jeremy summarised the recent parliamentary victories that our party had taken a lead on. Most recently, the issue of Sunday Trading and the need to keep Sunday special. Jeremy congratulated all the MPs, party members and party staff who played a part in these victories.

Jeremy updated the NEC on the Regional Conferences and the many other regional events he had actively supported, especially the launch of the Brightside and Hillsborough by-election, the Keir Hardie memorial event in South Wales, and the anniversary of the magnificent Burston school protest and the women’s solidarity event in Dagenham – Jeremy pointed out that the Tory reductions in public expenditure affect women disproportionately. Jeremy has also had several meetings in Brussels with the EPLP. He had taken time out to congratulate the German and Greek sister parties for their government’s huge efforts to assist the refugees. Jeremy was also very pleased and proud to report he has been asked to promote the special event in Liverpool to honour the memory of Harold Wilson. Jeremy finally stressed the importance of other Labour events, such as the Tolpuddle festival and Durham Miners’ Gala.

Finally Jeremy outlined the effective contribution being made by party members and party staff around England, Scotland and Wales in the build-up to the many local elections we face in May, and the EU referendum in June. Jeremy highlighted the high degree of privatisation pursued by the SNP in Scotland. Jeremy stressed his commitment to the European vision and the need to work closely with all of our sister parties in Europe. He totally rejects the xenophobic agenda of many Tories and UKIP, who want to leave the EU.

A majority of NEC members then responded to the Leaders’ report with comments and questions. Our budget strategy was discussed and several trade union reps stressed the adverse implications for public sector workers. It was also stressed that Labour must clearly support the Junior Doctors in their efforts to defend their conditions of employment. Jeremy responded that the BMA had written to thank him for his personal contribution and for those of the party. He also reported that him and John McDonnell and the rest of the economics team had been given crucial advice by leading professional economists. I suggested that if possible Larry Elliott of the Guardian should be brought onboard, since he always gives a very clear critique of the Tory pro-rich, anti-poor agenda.

Larry Elliott keeps the red flag flying at the Guardian. But having read the Guardian for fifty years there is no doubt that it is now generally more right-wing than it has ever been. Almost every day it exposes its bias against Jeremy. For example, on the day after the Oldham by-election, Martin Kettle stated, ‘Labour had a lousy by-election result’. The incompetent hack had presumably written that statement before the result was announced. In fact, of course, it was a better result (in terms of percentage of the vote) than 1997. Kettle’s deep political understanding (for this read ‘total ignorance’) had led him to presume Labour’s result would be lousy.

Finally, Jeremy stressed he will not tolerate any form of abuse, anywhere, at any time.

Tom Watson, the deputy leader, was unable to attend the meeting due to personal circumstances, and so did not make a report. Jeremy said he would contact Tom and give him all our best wishes.

NEC Governance 

TULO had submitted a series of amendments to the NEC documents. In addition the General Secretary, Iain McNicol, had also tabled a range of proposed changes. Both the unions’ and Iain’s proposals were accepted. The unions wanted it made clear that, subject to annual conference, the NEC is the party’s governing body responsible for the administration of the party. The unions also wanted it made clear that the NEC is custodian of Labour Party policy. It will be expected that, as far as possible, new policy positions are only made following consultation with the appropriate policy commission(s) and with the agreement of the Leaders’ Office. It was also agreed that a member of the appropriate regional board will set on the appointment panels of Regional Directors. It was formally written into the Procedures that the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) is responsible for the oversight of the National Policy Forum and Policy Commissions in producing a rolling programme for submission to party conference. The work of the JPC will be reported to the full NEC.

In relation to the NEC’s standing orders where it says that resolutions on policy issues shall be referred to the appropriate policy commission(s). I proposed that it should also state that resolutions from the annual conference shall always be given full consideration by the appropriate policy commission(s). I argued that some motions carried by conference seem to somehow disappear. Unfortunately my proposal was a little too revolutionary for most of my fellow NEC members. I was assured that of course, all conference motions are always given full attention by every policy commission. I responded that I will be monitoring this issue very closely to see whether practice reflects theory.

Presentation by John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor 

John outlined the party’s anti-austerity campaign that is being developed and publicised. He drew attention to the many public forums that are being planned around the UK. John also outlined the strategy that the frontbench were adopting in relation to tomorrow’s budget. We would emphasise the terrible consequences of Tory austerity. John also set out the Fiscal Responsible Rules that will be the basis of our economic programme. Our campaign will focus on Tory failure and stress that austerity is a political, not an economic choice. Our message will be Labour Fairness; Tory Failure; Labour’s Economic Plan for the Future.

EPLP Leaders’ Report 

Glenis Willmott MEP presented a written report and focused on the EU Referendum in June. Labour is clear, Britain is better off in Europe; being in the European Union brings jobs, growth and improved rights at work. Our MEPs had welcomed the revision of the posting of workers directive ,but had warned that much more needed to be done to stop undercutting and exploitation.

During the discussion on Glenis’s report I asked for the latest update in relation to TTIP. Glenis responded that the final negotiations and agreement in relation to TTIP were a considerable way off. Our MEPs were working to protect public services and resist other threats posed by TTIP.

International Report

A written report was discussed. Jeremy had addressed the Party of European Socialists, in relation to the Labour Party’s position on the UK-EU referendum and on Cameron’s renegotiation plans. Jeremy had also hosted a reception for over twenty PES General Secretaries. At the subsequent conference, Alan Johnson had given a special presentation on the EU referendum campaign and representatives of the US Democrat Party had given a presentation on community organising. In relation to international visitors to annual conference 2016, Jennie Formby and I objected to the inclusion of representatives of Saudi Arabia. We pointed out that recently Saudi Arabia had been responsible for particularly vicious and inhumane actions. The officers will consult Shadow Cabinet members on this issue and a report and decision will be made to a future meeting.

Elections 2016 – Presentation by Jon Trickett, Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government and Nick Forbes (Leader of Newcastle Council and of the LGA Labour Group)

Jon gave a tub-thumping presentation outlining the key threats of the forthcoming local and national elections in May. He emphasised that TULO is fully involved, and that the whole campaign is supported by detailed data particularly in relation to public attitudes to the Tories and the NHS, the Tories and policing and crime, the Tories and housing, and the Tories and austerity.

Jon stressed the importance of developing the anti-austerity agenda in relation to the local elections. Local authorities have suffered by far the most from Osborne’s attacks.

Nick outlined the joint work that is being carried out between Labour councillors, the Shadow Cabinet, and the trade unions, to build a movement wide effective campaign for the local elections.

Local Government Report by Alice Perry 

Alice presented a written report, highlighting the campaign against the Housing and Planning Bill. She emphasised that at the same time as reducing the funding of local authorities, Osborne is forcing councils to increase council tax annually, by taking away funding for social care and asking councils to finance this reduction through a social care precept. This, “Osborne Tax” will force the poorest households in the poorest parts of the country to pay more in council tax.

Forthcoming boundary review 

A detailed paper was considered. This re-endorsed many of the key principles relating to the process of making submissions to the Review. Also it re-confirmed the arrangements for selections of sitting MPs ahead of the review.

Among the key principles to be followed when making submissions to the review are:

  • To work in the collective interest of our party and ensure that our chances of returning a Labour government in 2020 are maximised.
  • To support Labour MPs in the Boundary Review process

National Policy Forum 

Angela Eagle, Chair of the NPF, presented a paper covering the ongoing review of the policymaking process. As agreed by the NEC, a booklet has been produced to aid discussions. This booklet sets out how policymaking currently works and explains how members and supporters can get involved in the review.

All seven of the policy commissions have now held their first meetings. A report was given of the initial discussions of each Commission. Each Commission will produce short discussion documents that will be published after oversight by the JPC. There will then be a consultation period where party members will be encouraged to submit their views. Each commission will then report to a full meeting of the NPF in the summer and reports will be made to annual conference.

Development Fund

A report was given of the NEC Development Fund Panel. CLPs are encouraged to make bids to this Fund to support local initiatives and innovations. It was noted that the number of applications was quite low and CLPs will be encouraged to make much more use of this NEC Development Fund.

General Secretary’s Report

Iain reported that unofficial moves had been made in Northern Ireland with a view to the Labour Party standing candidates. Iain reported that our party had formally objected to this and he pointed out that a delegation from the NEC was about to visit Ireland on a fact-finding mission.

Iain also drew attention to the serious threat from the Tories to our Short Money. This could have serious implications and is completely undemocratic and dictatorial.

Iain also outlined the serious threats to the party’s funding set out in the Trade Union Bill. This attack is also very undemocratic and partisan, it highlighted, once again, why we need to build maximum resistance to this vindictive government and to build for their eviction in 2020.

10 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    It is good to have rapid feedback like this.

    It is timely that Jeremy C has made the point of the large amounts of expertise on specific issues that remain unused in the Party. It is ludicrous for example that the Socialist Education Association does not have a seat on the Education Commission.

    It is good to see signs of internationalism that goes beyond mere declarations of being an internationalist. Let’s have more of this.

    I agree about the Guardian. Most of its leading journalists have been appalling in their unreasoned hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – although lately that seems to have come down a notch or two.

    The issue about consideration of Annual Conference motions is not clear to me. On the one hand it is said the NEC was not ready to agree that they should be given full consideration by the Policy Groups and on the other hand that this is already the case.

    It is good that a booklet has been produced on the policy making process. Is it going to be made available to all Party members? It should be. Good to that the Policy Commissions will produce discussion papers but one has to hope that they are better than some of the very poor stuff some of them produced under Ed Miliband’s leadership (e.g. on Education).

    The discussion of the EU referendum seems to have been very muted just like Labour’s current efforts on this question. The Party website on the EU is a bit of a joke. When is it going to get its act together? There isn’t much time. CLPs are being asked to appoint EU campaign organisers but where are the materials on which to base such a campaign? Where are the analysis of the current state of the EU, its achievements and its problems? Where are the specific proposals for reform? It appears that none of this was raised. If so then that is rather worrying.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Without being unduly facetious, I still find it all rather more than just, “rather worrying.”

      That “Jeremy congratulated all the MPs, party members and party staff who played a part in these; victories,” seems far beyond unbelievable.

      These people simply are not living on remotely the same planet as anyone that I know.

  2. Chris says:

    Being on the left means supporting absolute free speech no matter the cost. If you delete comments, you’re no socialist.

    We didn’t fight a war against fascism to get censored at home.

    1. John Penney says:

      Utter liberal nonsense, Chris. Have you never heard of “No Platform for Fascists” ? Or the very solid socialist reasoning behind this long established principle ? Apparently not.

      “Absolute” unconditional freedom of speech , is a fantasy of naïve liberals (and impossible anyway in any civilised society with libel laws – never mind laws prohibiting racialist or other forms of discriminatory threatening language) .

      The old caveat on ” unconditional free speech” , that “No-one has the absolute right to shout out “FIRE !” in a crowded cinema” applies particularly at present, when demagogues and rabble-rousers are always keen to stir up prejudice against ethnic and religious and other minorities.

      We didn’t fight wars against fascism, and also of course engaged physically and organisationally on the Left for generations to quite correctly suppress the “freedom” of fascists and sundry racists to spout their divisive hate-filled messages, to now give up that fight for some naïve abstraction of an unconditional “freedom of speech”.

      1. David Pavett says:

        John, don’t the “no platform” arguments worry you at all? Who decides that someone else’s views are so far beyond the pale that they should not be allowed to speak?

        When a view that some might label “fascist” or racist has popular appeal by far the best solution is confront those views in open well-organised public debate rather than trying to suppress them.

        Racist views, for example, would have far less hold on the popular imagination if racists were allowed to express their views only to have them pulled apart by knowledgeable anti-racist. I fear that the problem is that often it is difficult to find people who have made the transition from repeating anti-racist slogans to being able to carefully pick apart all the key elements of racist ideology.

        P.S. The appearance of Nick Griffin on Question Time a few years back did him no good at all, as far as I remember.

        1. John Penney says:

          Indeed, some “No Platform” positions are a real worry, David, For instance , in too many universities at present , people like Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell are apparently being “No Platformed” for expressing views on gender which breech current student opinion.

          “No Platforming” of fascists has been accepted by large sections of the Left for generations because of the specific features of fascism – as an intrinsically violent movement abusing free speech to sow hatred and dissent and create , via bullying and threatening mobilisations. stopping fascists organising to cause terrible damage to social cohesion involves trying to suppress the dissemination of their foul (but for many people , seductive) message. Griffiths was quite deliberately destroyed by the panel and chair , and holstile audience on the Any Questions show. A job well done – but NOT the typical forum in which fascists put over their dangerous poison. Debate about racism does not generally take place in the polite environs of good tempered debate, David. Its all a lot rougher out there when fascists are intimidating their opponents and pumping out their racialist poison though violence and marches.

          I don’t deny that “No Platforming” can be seriously abused , and can be got seriously wrong. My reply to Chris , was a response to his ahistorical and naïve claim that “absolute free speech” was a basic socialist principle. It isn’t – never has been – and in any society with libel laws and laws against racialist propaganda, cannot be.

  3. Chris says:

    No Platform is Nazism and anyone who supports it is a fake socialist, at very, very best.

    Who the hell do you think is entrusted with suppressing free speech? It’s not socialists – it’s the liberal/conservative state.

    Face it, fascism is dead, but liberals will gladly use “No Platform” and any other restrictions on free speech to attack the left (remember the PC liberal attempt to No Platform Tony Benn over his support for Julian Assange).

    1. John Penney says:

      “fascism is dead” you claim ,Chris. On exactly what planet is this ? You presumably are unaware of the quite recent, long , ultimately successful, campaign against the fascist EDL in the UK by tens of thousands of people ? And are presumably unaware of the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece – and sundry other fascist parties across Europe in recent years ?

      You need to be less naïve, Chris. Totally unrestricted free speech is a nonsense – all civilised societies protect citizens from some negative forms of expression – even if only via libel laws and laws against racist propaganda. Of course No Platforming and restrictions on Free speech can be reactionary and/or misguided. There are a number of ways that limitations on complete free speech are arrived at in societies. Some are decided by diktat by a ruling elite. In our bourgeois democracy the limitations are arrived at by a democratic process – and by mass decisions by those facing oppression by hate-stirrers. The Left generally has agreed that racism and fascism should not, wherever possible, be allowed a public platform to stir up intercommunal hatred.

      Do you disagree with the considerable legislation in the UK to outlaw racist publications and speeches, Chris ? Maybe you have never felt personally threatened by racist/sexist/homophobic propaganda, and the issue of “Free Speech” is all very abstract to you .

  4. David Pavett says:

    Why the discussion on ‘no platform’ stuff and not on the content of this long report on the last NEC?

    It would be great of a thread for once could focus on the content of an article that it is ostensibly a response to. There is much to discuss the report.

    1. PETER WILLSMAN says:

      David,the Confce.is our Party’s sovereign body so,of course,all res’s carried by Confce.should be taken on board by Pol.Comms.It was argued that this always happens.I’m not so sure, and to be on safe side I wanted it in the SOs.

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