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Ann Black’s report from Labour’s May executives

NEC Report AB

National Executive Committee meetings, May 2015

Ann Black reports on two meetings which have taken place this month.

Special meeting 13 May 2015

This was a special meeting, called to agree procedures for choosing the next leader and deputy leader. The Chair Jim Kennedy welcomed Hilary Benn MP, who replaces Sadiq Khan, and Peter Willsman, returning to the constituency section after Kate Osamor’s election as MP for Edmonton. Rachael Maskell and Conor McGinn are also now MPs, and their positions on the NEC will be filled at annual conference.

Tributes were paid to Ed Miliband’s dignity, decency and integrity, and I passed on supportive messages from members. Harriet Harman, interim leader for a second time, promised a full analysis of the results and their implications at the scheduled meeting on Tuesday 19 May. NEC members stressed that this must include the challenges in Scotland, the impact of UKIP who were runners-up in more than 100 seats, and the forthcoming Euro-referendum. She and others thanked everyone, including staff who worked way beyond their hours and job descriptions, and candidates, particularly in key marginals, who sacrificed jobs, families and security for Labour, who campaigned tirelessly for months, and who despite this did not win.

She highlighted the importance of taking on the Tory government from day one, and not allowing their narrative to dominate as it did in 2010. This was welcomed. Already the Tories were claiming to be the “party of working people” and this could not stand. The party also had to maintain stability and unity, and to establish why people who didn’t really care for the Tories did not come to Labour. NEC members regretted that ex-ministers from bygone eras were taking to the airwaves and causing further damage, but we cannot stop them. On a positive note, general secretary Iain McNicol reported that membership had reached 230,000, with 30,000 joining in just five days. Finances were stable, and Labour could and would rebuild.

A Lasting Legacy

When looking back on this period, Ed Miliband’s most significant contribution may have been to change the electoral college which made him leader to a form of one-person-one-vote which, uniquely among political parties, reaches beyond the membership to the wider public. The media still haven’t got a grip on this, but those entitled to vote are:

  • paid-up party members;
  • affiliated supporters (AS), who are members of a socialist society or members of an affiliated trade union who pay the political levy, who are on the electoral register, and who have signed up as an AS online or through their organisation. They do not pay any additional fee, and they are entitled to attend local party meetings without voting rights;
  • registered supporters (RS), who do not belong to an affiliated organisation, but are on the electoral register and have signed up as supporters and paid a minimum fee of £3.

Mischief-makers suggest that this might give the unions even more influence, as they have nearly three million levy-payers who could become affiliated supporters. This is unlikely because (a) only about 10% voted last time, even when they were all sent ballot papers, and (b) many of those who did vote will have been full party members, and under the new system no-one will get more than one vote. I expect individual members to be in the majority.

Slow or Fast?

The key decision was over the timetable. My feedback was evenly split between finishing at the end of July and running through to September, and that was echoed by others who had consulted members and MPs. Some of my correspondents wanted a full debate on political direction first, and others hoped that fresh candidates could emerge given more time, but, for better or worse, the contest was already in full swing and could not be stuffed back into its box.

Those who favoured July felt that in 2010 the lengthy process let the coalition establish the mantra that Labour caused the financial crisis. However Harriet Harman was clear that the leadership contest must not be separate from effective opposition; candidates should be judged on their performance in attacking the government, not in attacking each other. July raised practical problems, as MPs do not return to Westminster till 27 May, and then the Queen’s speech is debated through to 4 June. New MPs need to meet the contenders, and nominations should not take place at a time when every MP should be focused on holding the government to account. After considerable discussion we reached consensus on the following:

Monday 8 June – MPs’ hustings for leader

Tuesday 9 June – MPs’ hustings for deputy leader

Tuesday 9 June – nominations and supporting nominations open for leader and deputy leader

Monday 15 June – MPs’ nominations close for leader (35 nominations required).

Wednesday 17 June – MPs’nominations close for deputy leader (35 nominations required)

Wednesday 17 June – hustings period opens

Friday 31 July – supporting nominations close

Wednesday 12 August – last day to join as a member, or to sign up as an affiliated or registered supporter.

Friday 14 August – ballot mailing dispatched

Thursday 10 September – ballot closes

Saturday 12 September – result announced at a special conference.

This finishes two weeks earlier than in 2010, and allows the new leader one session of prime minister’s questions and time to appoint their shadow cabinet before conference.

Next Steps

Further details will be worked out by the Procedures Committee, of which I am a member. Last time the sheer numbers of hustings were exhausting for candidates and for staff, and I asked that the party should record events and make them available online. Some of my correspondents suggested interviews by Jeremy Paxman and the Question Time panel, as in the general election run-up, to evaluate performance under pressure.

Finally, deadlines for constituency nominations for the National Policy Forum, the Conference Arrangements Committee and the National Constitutional Committee have been extended to 31 July from 10 June. The timetable for the London mayoral selection is unchanged except that the ballot will be held in August / September alongside those for the leader, the deputy leader, the NPF and the CAC. The £3 fee agreed for registered supporters will entitle them to vote in both the leadership and mayoral elections.

Meeting on 19 May 2015

Harriet Harman, as interim leader, reiterated her four priorities: effective opposition; unity and stability; analysis of the results; and electing a new leader and deputy leader. Looking ahead to the Queen’s speech, NEC members were particularly concerned about attacks on the human rights act and on trade union and employment rights, and welcomed her promise of robust defence.

The NEC agreed to establish a taskforce on learning the lessons from defeat through analysing the data and engaging with candidates, members, staff, affiliates and the public. It would consist of a Chair; general secretary Iain McNicol; Jim Kennedy as Chair of the NEC; two candidates from target seats; an MP; representatives from Scotland and Wales; and a black and minority ethnic member. Apart from Jim and Iain no individuals were named, nor was the Chair, and requests for explicit representation from constituencies, local government and unions were rejected. Terms of reference would be decided with the Chair, and the Chair would be endorsed by the NEC officers, who do not include any representatives from constituencies or local government either. The taskforce would report to the new leadership team, and hopefully to the NEC as well. It is unrelated to the review which Jon Cruddas has been talking about.

So I will concentrate on making sure that members’ voices are heard. I will forward – without identifying individuals – the hundreds of messages that I’ve received, and pass on the website address for online submissions when this is known. The main questions are likely to be:

  1. Why do you think Labour lost the election?
  2. What were the key issues being raised on the doorstep in your local area?
  3. What Labour campaign messages / themes and policies worked and did not work in your area?
  4. How well did Labour do at communicating its key campaign messages / themes and policies?
  5. How effective and active were your local opponents on the ground?
  6. How effective did you feel were the messages and themes of our main opponents?
  7. If you have been involved in a general election before, how do you feel this campaign compared in terms of
    (a) General organisation on the ground
    (b) Getting more people active in key seats
    (c) Having the best positive and attack messages in the campaign.
  8. What do you think Labour needs to do better to be more successful at the next general election?

Answers are clearly urgent, as 2016 sees elections for the Welsh assembly, the Scottish parliament, and the London mayor and assembly.

Local council seats will also be up for election. This year Labour gained five councils and lost eight, and is again no longer the largest party in the local government association. In Manchester, which has been given devolved responsibility for health spending, the unions are involved in negotiations over pay differentials between the NHS and local government for staff such as care workers. Other northern cities may accept elected mayors as the price for similar powers.

The Numbers Game

Executive director Patrick Heneghan gave an initial breakdown of the results. Headline figures are in the public domain, and are not good: Labour gained 12 seats from the LibDems and 10 from the Tories, but lost eight to the Tories, so a net gain of only two. Under first-past-the-post, 50% of the Scottish vote gave the SNP 56 of the 59 seats, while UKIP with 3.8 million votes and the Greens with 1.8 million won one seat each. London, the north-west and Yorkshire did best, with Wales and the south-west relatively worse, and overall Labour gained more votes in its “safe” English and Welsh seats than in Tory / Labour marginals where they were needed most. Contrary to previous assurances to the NEC, UKIP took votes equally from Labour and the Tories, while LibDem switchers also split equally between the two main parties. To win an overall majority of two in 2020 Labour needed to gain 94 seats with a swing of 8.7%, even before any boundary changes. Only 24 Tory seats have majorities under 3,000, and only two Scottish seats under 5,000.

The figures tell us what, but not why, nor where next. On tactics, I would like to see a full analysis of the effectiveness of the resources – money, materials and organisers – poured into priority seats, as anecdotally it looks as if there was little difference between neighbouring seats where one was a target and the other was not. Candidates, activists and staff worked their socks off to get contact rates up, and then found that on election day not all the Labour promises were voting Labour. Some MPs may have done more than others, but what impact did that have, particularly in Scotland where all but one were swept away? Can the “ground war” still overcome well-funded individually-addressed direct mails, this time with SNP scare stories, dropping just before the poll?

The NEC recognised the enormous demands on candidates selected years before the election, and there would be no selections until constituency boundaries were clear. That would allow time to digest the Collins recommendations. Pete Willsman and others stressed the need for all-women shortlists to be assigned according to transparent criteria.

Digging Further

My correspondents overwhelmingly said that the seeds of defeat were sown in 2010 when we failed to rebut the Tory mantra that Labour caused the financial crisis. However there was no consensus on what changes of direction, if any, were necessary now. Some thought that Labour should have opposed all cuts and all austerity, some that we did not reach out sufficiently to the middle ground and had to rebuild a broader coalition, and some that the manifesto was in the right place but not well explained: policies on housing and student fees were aspirational. The dilemma could be summed up, simplistically, as too left-wing for England, too right-wing for Scotland. There were also comments on whether problems lay mainly with the message or the messenger. In Scotland the reasons dated back to 2007 or earlier, and probably any leader would have been doomed. Joining the Tories in the Better Together campaign had been disastrous, and I think this lesson has been learned for the Euro-referendum, to be discussed by the NEC in July.

Questions of Leadership

I’ve had a number of well-argued messages asking for the contest to be deferred, or for the threshold for nominations to be lowered. On balance I am not persuaded, though I may be wrong. First, candidates have been up and running since the day after the election. A twelve-month delay would simply extend the campaign from three months to more than a year. Second, all returning MPs have had the chance to impress through the last parliament, so no new stars are likely to emerge. The 2015 intake need some parliamentary experience before they could lead their fellow MPs and the party. And third, for those who would like to agree general principles before choosing a leader, there is no consensus, and a period of introspection would, I believe, widen divisions. Directions would be better determined through deciding between candidates with different visions. I’m aware that this depends on MPs, through their nominations, allowing sufficient diversity through to the members’ ballot, and I hope they will recognise that anyone elected from an artificially restricted field would not carry sufficient legitimacy or authority. The NEC cannot change the threshold in the middle of the process and, if we tried, it would be seen as fixing the selection for or against particular candidates.

Separately, the unions are still clarifying exactly how they can satisfy the Collins criteria for signing up affiliated supporters. This was all agreed by the implementation group for the London mayoral contest, and just needs rolling out to the rest of the country, particularly Scotland which will use the same system to elect their new leader. I’ve had some messages asking for pure one-member-one-vote, without including supporters. However constituencies and unions voted for the new rules at the special conference in March 2014, and they can only be changed by another conference decision.

Affiliated supporters – and we now have six in Oxford – must be invited to local meetings, and hopefully will revive links with the unions at branch and constituency level. Membership continues to soar, with more than 40,000 new or returning members, and the most immediate task for local parties is to welcome them, find out what attracts them to Labour, and involve them in campaigning and other activities. They are our best hope for the future.

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official record.

Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 07956-637958,


  1. David Pavett says:

    Special meeting 13 May 2015

    (1) “… with 30,000 joining in just five days”. That’s great but doesn’t it require some explanation? What is the main source of these new members? TUs? CLPs? Reasons for the surge?

    (2) The absurdity of “registered supporters” having full voting rights now seems to pass without comment. Rules is rules.

    (3) “I expect individual members to be in the majority”. That hardly settles the problems since this majority is clearly not of one mind which means the other voting components can be decisive.

    (4) “Those who favoured July felt that in 2010 the lengthy process let the coalition establish the mantra that Labour caused the financial crisis”. I think this can easily be dismissed. Labour at no point treated the voters as adults who could have the issues explained to them. On the assumption that they are too stupid for that Labour preferred to give in to the Tory narrative.

    (5) “candidates should be judged on their performance in attacking the government”. Really? Rather than offering a serious and compelling vision of what Labour should be about? Labour now lives on negativity. That’s what lost Scotland to the SNP. Who will be next?

    (6) “Some of my correspondents suggested interviews by Jeremy Paxman …”. What a bizarre suggestion: a Tory supporter interviewing Labour leadership hopefuls.

    Meeting on 19 May 2015

    (1) Harriet Harman suggested that a key priority is “effective opposition”. That certainly sounds like it’s worth a try.

    (2) “The NEC agreed to establish a taskforce on learning the lessons from defeat through analysing the data …”. I questioned this when Peter Willsman reported the same thing. The answer I eventually received was that most NEC members don’t have the time required to get their heads round the issues! Something wrong there surely. Now we are told that the NEC has even declined to set its own terms of reference for the task force. These will be “decided with the Chair”. Decided by whom with the Chair (itself a function without a named person)? And then to cap it all we are told that the taskforce will “report to the new leadership team” and only “hopefully” to the NEC as well. “Hopefully”? Who runs the Labour Party? It does not look like it is its National Executive Committee.

    (3) The “main questions” outlined for the taskforce to address strike me as giving every possibility that a mass of detail will enable the taskforce to come to whatever conclusion its members feel predisposed to take.

    (4) “It is unrelated to the review which Jon Cruddas has been talking about.” My God, we are not going to put him in charge of another “review” are we? Did his three years in charge of “Policy Review” actually review a single policy?

    (5) “Under first-past-the-post, 50% of the Scottish vote gave the SNP 56 of the 59 seats”. Did this incline the NEC to wonder whether FPTP is a system not fit for purpose? Is this something it intends to debate? Might it even initiate a Party-wide debate?

    (6) “Contrary to previous assurances to the NEC, UKIP took votes equally from Labour and the Tories…”. Who were the people who gave those assurances and are they involved in the election analysis taskforce?

    (7) “The figures tell us what, but not why, nor where next”. No amount of data accumulation is going to do the work of political analysis. We all know that Labour did not have a coherent message. All the “listening” stuff is basically subterfuge. When Labour knew that the majority of the public and the majority of its members wanted rail nationalisation and a return of schools to local authorities what did it do as a consequence?

    (8) “The dilemma could be summed up, simplistically, as too left-wing for England, too right-wing for Scotland”. No that doesn’t work because Labour made no effort to argue for a “left-wing” case in England and was often to the right of the general public.

    (9) “… there is no consensus, and a period of introspection would, I believe, widen divisions..”. In other words Labour is a party divided by irreconcilable views. Sounds like something the NEC should address in a future meeting. Alternatively Labour can continue its long historical tradition of fudging the issues, a tradition that served it so badly in the recent election.

    1. Matty says:

      “Who runs the Labour Party? It does not look like it is its National Executive Committee.”
      This has been going on since the days of Neil Kinnock. Too many left-wingers so the NEC gets marginalised (even more under Blair) and the trade unions let the leadership do this. You might think that were unions turkeys they would vote for Christmas. Though, to be fair many of them challenged John Smith’s reform of candidate selection but got defeated at conference.

      “… with 30,000 joining in just five days” there was a similar surge after the 2010 election, membership increased from 156,000 to 193,000. I was half expecting to find out that membership then fell back but it seems that it fell only a little – 187k in 2012, 189k in 2013.

  2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Much bafflement as to why Labor lost?

    Micheal Meacher has written an intelligent and perceptive article on his own web site entitled:

    Who will speak for those who lack any meaningful political voice?

    The first answer is self evident and clearly it’s not Labor.

    But looking past that perhaps I can help you all out.

    There’s something quite pitiful and more than a bit desperate about a bourgeoisie and politically far right Labor party now composed, (well certainly their well heeled hierarchy,) entirely of people whose principle concerns, (according to the Guardian,) are, school fees, dental care, health insurance, holidays, wine (fine), new cars, holidays and “cultural activities”

    People such as these; private school fees are paid by 7% of the population; private health insurance is taken out by 11%.

    (It’s shocking, (shocking I tell you,) that the price rises in all these areas have been astronomical – health insurance has gone up by 51% over the past six years, school fees by 40% – while over the same period earnings in the double-average-wage bracket have gone down by 0.8%.)

    These are same people who thought, (for reasons entirely incomprehensible to the rest of the country,) that; a far right and economically neoliberal; American educated; multi millionaire property speculator; living the Downton Abby, (“staff,” and nannies, etc,) life in his £2.6 million North London mansion, would somehow be a suitable leader of the Labor party and even a credible PM.

    It really had very little to do with, “economic policy.”

    Most people outside the Labor, “club,” took one look at Miliband and at his bother and fell about laughing. Is this supposed to be some kind of joke was a comment that I heard more than once.

    I still hasn’t really sunk in just how much the entire country has now rejected that fantasy.

    Hard to imagine what any of these people might have say to someone on the minimum wage, a zero hour contract or on benefits?

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Lest we forget:

      In January 2009, Harman proposed a rule change to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

      Her parliamentary order aimed to remove “most expenditure information held by either House of Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act”.

      It meant that, under the law, journalists and members of the public would no longer be entitled to learn details of their MP’s expenses.

      Labour MPs were to be pressured to vote for this measure by use of a three line whip. Her proposal was withdrawn when the Conservative Party said they would vote against, and an online campaign by mySociety.

      The failure of the motion led to the disclosure of expenses of British members of parliament.

      In December 2010 it emerged that Harman was amongst 40 MPs who had secretly repaid wrongly claimed expenses between 2008 and 2010. In November 2010 Harman’s parliamentary private secretary Ian Lavery had blocked a motion designed to allow the repayments to be made public.

      1. James Martin says:

        JP, I know you like answering your own questions (odd as that is), but why do you continually do so by cutting and pasting Wikipedia entries – is it that you don’t really have much if any knowledge of the ‘Labor’ (*spit*) Party yourself perhaps?

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          First of all; I struggle with grammar and spelling so on a practical level divorced from their content my posts are a useful opportunity for me to practice my prose, (such as it is.)

          But on a far more serious note, I know as much as I choose to about the Labor party and reading these articles, (here and elsewhere,) regularly as I like to, about the current state of the Labor party is scarcely encouraging or edifying in that respect.

          Above all I believe in democracy and in a healthy, inclusive and vigorous 2 party system; something now all but defunct thanks to Blair’s innovations.

          As for cut and paste?

          It’s useful to cite factual sources for my many and valid criticisms of Labor, (such as the well attested graft of Harman and the others like her,) as opposed to simply going, for example; Bad bankers/bankers bad, GRRR, GRRR, GRRR, GRRR; which all that too much comment here too often amounts to.

          You don’t have to read it.

          More than anything else I like a lot of other people that I know intended to vote Labor but couldn’t find any trace of that party, or of it’s principles or traditions, anywhere during the last general election.

          So it’s not a fault that I don’t, as you like put it, know much about the Labor party; it’s the Labor party that’s completely lost touch with electorate and for some of the reasons that I have attempted to expand upon.

          There’s no need to thank me.

          Take it or leave it frankly.

  3. James Martin says:

    I realise that these Ann Black reports are mainly personal minutes of the meetings so we get a feeling of what passes for debate in the NEC, but every time I read them I really struggle to grasp any sort of socialist analysis in them – in fact the pandering to right-wing anti-union ideas in particular by her is getting beyond a joke.

  4. Ann Black says:

    Don’t shoot the messenger!!

  5. Peter Rowlands says:

    Like, I am sure, most Labour Party members I am very grateful for Ann Black’s detailed NEC reports, and she obviously has a right to express her own opinions. However, I commend David Pavett’s comment on her report, which I think succinctly summarises a number of concerns about how Labour nowgoes forward.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree with Peter. If all elected officials reported back as assiduously as Ann Black then, I believe, the world would be a different place.

      Having said that I would be interested in Ann’s answers to the points I made earlier and I hope she will take the time to provide them.

  6. John says:

    “… while LibDem switchers also split equally between the two main parties.”

    I would like to see the evidence for this.

    The main reason for the swing against the LibDems was because they were in a coalition with the Tories, why would 50% of people who changed then vote for the Tories? surely at the most 15% to 20%.

    Don’t forget Labour lost votes to the LibDems in 2010, if those voters stopped supporting the LibDems because of their support for the Tories, apart from the few voting for the Greeens (2% or3%) then the majority would have come back to Labour.

    The trouble is that although we picked up (the majority of) disaffected LibDem voters (the aspirational vote?) we hemorrhaged votes to UKIP. Unless the leadership contenders understand this, then nothing will happen to try and win those voters back.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Absolutely John, this needs to be rammed home,band is why Cruddas said this defeat was so bad

  7. David Pavett says:

    Ann said “Don’t shoot the messenger” and that is fair enough. But my remarks were not aimed at her, I value her assiduous reporting back, but at the message. It seems to me that there are many things in her report that indicate both the lack of real authority of the NEC and the lack of will of the NEC as a whole to exert authority.

    I would really appreciate a response to those points and hope that this is not yet another instance where the attempts of ordinary members to probe the problems of Labour Party democracy (or the lack thereof) are not simply given the silent treatment.

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