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Peter Willsman’s report from Labour’s May executive

NEC Report Pete WNational Executive Committee, 19 May 2015

The central focus of today’s meeting of Labour’s executive was how to explain Labour’s defeat. The outcome was the creation of a taskforce to analyse the reasons for the result in order to learn the lessons.

Harriet Harman opened the meeting with her report which covered:

  1. fighting the Tories: an effective shadow cabinet front bench has been put together, Harriet reported. The parliamentary battle starts with the queen’s speech and will not be deflected by the leadership elections.
  2. analysing the general election result: we need to listen and learn from the experiences of candidates, activists, members and supporters. Harriet circulated a paper which proposed establishing a task force that will engage with all these participants in the campaign, thoroughly analyse the data and make recommendations for future campaigning. The task force will especially seek responses on why people think Labour lost, what issues were raised on the doorstep, what campaign themes worked and what didn’t, how effective were our opponents and what would bring greater success next time. The taskforce will report back to the national executive ( NEC) and to the new leadership team.
  3. leadership election: Harriet recognised that this will involve a rigorous debate which is welcome, but will take place within a framework of unity and stability, and all candidates should fight the Tories in parliament as well as campaigning within the party.

Trade union representatives then drew attention to the impending attacks on trade union rights. They stressed the need for a robust response from the front bench. And the defence of the human rights act was also highlighted, which might be a divisive issue amongst the Tories.

In welcoming the taskforce proposal, the importance of analysing results in Wales and Scotland was emphasised. The local government representatives (and myself) argued the need for also examining the council elections which have, up to now, been largely ignored – although staff argued that they largely mirrored the general election pattern. A full report will be circulated.

Many speakers drew attention to the false mantras that the Tories and their press allies constantly trotted out over five years. A key lesson is that these mantras have to be continuously challenged. Ann Black reported that she has already received several hundred comments from members which will be passed on to the taskforce. Harriet confirmed that the membership of the taskforce will represent all party sections and nations, will be gender balanced and include BAME representation.

Local Government

The local government representatives reported on Tory proposals in relation to Greater Manchester and the integration of the NHS into these proposals. I stressed that the implications of these radical and potentially risky changes need to be thoroughly scrutinised, which was acknowledged.

Trade union members drew attention to the need for councils to draw on best practice and consult widely about how best to confront the cuts of some 40% in central government funding.

European parliament

Glenys Willmot’s report welcomed the European commission’s new migration strategy but called for stronger action to rescue migrants drowning, tackle people smugglers, and provide pathways to legal, managed migration. She also reported that Tory and UKIP MEPs had voted against an EU crack-down on tax dodging.

General Secretary’s report

  1. Scottish leadership election: Iain is trying to dovetail the Scottish and UK leadership election procedures, which he’ll report on to party officers.
  2. UK leadership election: the timetable, codes of conduct and other arrangements have been put in place. Trade union members pointed out that the implementation group established to agree transitional arrangements for reforming the Party union link based on the Collins report had not yet completed its task. Consequently some practical issues affecting affiliated members have not yet been finalised and the procedures committee established last week will consider these concerns.
  3. Staffing and finance: steps are being taken to have an effective staff structure for the next five years – this will deal with the situation of the sudden departure of most of the party’s senior management at the election. In my view this problem demonstrates the serious disadvantages of integrating the party’s management with the leader’s office with some senior managers funded by Short money and subject to fixed term contracts.
  4. London Mayoral selection: the long-listing and short-listing process will be undertaken by three NEC members (Ellie Reeves, Andy Kerr of the CWU and Keith Vaz) together with three London regional board members.

Keith Birch of Unison reported  that the equality committee (which he chairs) is examining procedures for all-women shortlists (AWS) in the next cycle.  Several people (including me) argued for greater transparency in choosing which constituencies have AWS, perhaps randomising the selection. There was general acceptance that a fairer system is needed to lessen the hostility that sometimes arises when the process is not seen as just.

A trade union member suggested that there be involvement by NEC members in the appointment of very senior staff. Iain responded that, in accordance with recent custom and practice, this was entirely a matter for him. I pointed out that this hadn’t been the case prior to New Labour.

All executive members were impressed with the psephological presentation by Executive Director for Elections Patrick Heneghan. His analysis of trends amongst various demographic groups will be reported in due course.

15 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    Peter Wilsman says “The central focus of today’s meeting of Labour’s executive was how to explain Labour’s defeat”. But instead of this meaning that the members of the NEC use their collectively political brain to produce that explanation it meant instead that they outsourced the process to a “taskforce” charged to “analyse the reasons for the result in order to learn the lessons”. We are not even told the composition of this task force or when it is required to produce its report by. Extraordinary.

    The terms of reference for the task force sound like they were produced by the same people who were are the heart of Labour’s awful election strategy (e.g. seeking responses on why “people” think Labour failed, “listen and learn” from candidates). This is more PR management-speak which guarantees that the report will reach the conclusions that the people writing it want it to reach. This sort of vaguely defined “listening” exercise only ever hears what its controllers want to hear.

    According to the Rule Book “The primary purpose of the NEC shall be to provide a strategic direction for the party as a whole”. So how is it that the NEC does not feel confident to produce its own analysis of the causes of Labour’s defeat and hands this job to a taskforce for which we are not even told the composition?

    No doubt it will be said that the NEC did not have the “full facts” before it and that it cannot itself conduct the necessary research into “people’s” opinions and those of candidates. But this sort of objection is exactly the sort of mine-numbing managerialism that has brought Labour to the point where it confuses political reasoning and psephological analysis. The reality is that even the task force will not have the “full facts”. The claim the taskforce will “engage with all these participants” (i.e. all “candidates, activists, members and supporters”) is evident nonsense. the As in all research the “facts” will be sought and selected on the basis of what is considered significant and that in turn depends on the political standpoint of those conducting the process.

    If the NEC has simply handed out the task of analysis to a taskforce on the basis that it will “thoroughly analyse the data and make recommendations for future campaigning” then it has shown a political naivety and acquiescence of stunning proportions. I can only imagine that being pushed around, confused and misled by Party apparatchiks has become such a way of life in the upper echelons of Labour that the people involved have lost the ability to see what is happening.

    It is not extraordinary that a body charged with directing the strategy of a party feels unable to make at least some initial assessment of the causes of a major defeat and hands the job over to a taskforce on terms which can only be described as management-speak and apparently fails to give any political guidance or advice as to the way the NEC thinks it should conduct its work?

    P.S. It is noticeable that the leadership candidates have not felt so shy about coming to conclusions about the causes of Labour’s defeat. They have felt no need to wait for the taskforce to gather all the facts, analyse them and then “report back to the NEC and to the new leadership”.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Why did Labor lose?

      Whilst I don’t agree with much of what he says Peter Mandelson summed up at least one important reason in an article for the New York Times.

      “It did not help that Mr Miliband himself is a well-off north Londoner, educated at Oxford and Harvard, someone with no firsthand experience of the lives of the people he was championing.”

      “Well off,” being euphemism for; a massively, (he’s a multi millionaire,) wealthy, American educated, property speculator, living a Downton Abby life, in in his £2.6 million London Mansion (one with 2 kitchens and, “staff,”) who, (like Blair before him,) used rent a thugs to exclude disabled delegates and other, “undesirables,” from his political consultation.

      1. David Pavett says:

        This is not a reply to any thing I wrote.

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          I rather think that it is; but even if not, it’s still pertinent to the article and particularly to the question, “Why did Labor lose?”

          I really fail to grasp what your point is?

          1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            Also of course, and say what you like about Mandelson, (love him or loathe him; I lean to the latter,) he was part of a massively successful team that actually won elections.

            So someone worth listening to.

    2. Verity says:

      I agree about the characterisation of the managerialist approach. However unlike the usual Labour approach is was not ‘top down’ managerialism – a method favoured on so many other ‘more convenient’ occasions. Whilst of course a smaller number of people is better for substantiating detailed of points argument and consideration, the task of the NEC should be to provide areas of priority as well as aspects requiring special attention. It is a failure of leadership to be absent from providing the political direction. What is the point of the NEC if outsources one of its main functions?

  2. swatantra says:

    Great Report Pete, with very little bias in it!
    For the next 5 years Labour heartlands in the North like Manchester are going to have to work with a Tory Govt in developing that Northern Powerhouse, which may actually devolve power to the Regions.

  3. Robert says:

    OK the NEC I would have thought would be checking out the ways in which they can get enough people interested in labour and socialism, ok Labour then.

    We have the left which took power within the NEC or so we are told anyway, not sure myself.

    It fell for it’s own spin, people will rather us then the Tories because well we will save the NHS, and sadly that old chestnut has been done to death.

    Labour was willing to flog it not to long ago and people are not that stupid to think labour would not carry on with the third way the Progress way.

    Why did labour lose it did not speak to the working class, it spoke about buying your home, and middle class love affair carried on. It did not speak except to snarl at the working class poor, the sick the disabled , and those out of work including the retired, many of the unemployed which were put on the dole by labour no more boom and bust, best joke of the century .

    Trust nobody really trusted Miliband , none of the working poor were falling under the spell of Reeves a Progress right wing Drone who would be home in the third Reich, never mind the third way. Labour does not do welfare or benefits, so the welfare state was heading out the door with labour. we do not do council houses we want people to own houses a Thatcherite model of socialism.

    Labour become a third choice conservative party and why vote for the copy when the real thing was ready and willing and already doing what labour was offering.

    Labour did not offer hope to the poor or even just a slight glimpse of hope, and the offer of a short sharp austerity hit and then it will be over, nobody believed it.

    Why did labour lose, simple Trust, the Tories were trusted more, labour are again back to the old days win three lose four is my guess.

    People did not see Miliband as being leadership material they did with Cameron, or at least the middle class did and the working poor looked at UKIP and the SNP.

  4. Peter Rowlands says:

    There is a world of difference between using research staff and outside experts to compile data and to comment on relevant areas and in effectively handing over the direction of the enquiry to a body other than the NEC, as David Pavett points out. It is the NEC itself that must take responsibility.

  5. Patrick says:

    Why are AS and RS members being given the same L numbers, it is confusing my system.
    CLP Sec.

  6. Patrick says:

    When will HQ be sold off?

  7. PETER WILLSMAN says:

    The taskforce will include members of the NEC but it’s composition is not yet finalised.I failed to record that there was also a written International Report that covered elections in Finland,Israel,Nigeria and Poland.

    1. David Pavett says:

      @Peter Willsman

      Any chance of a response to my points? If they have substance then I would like to what, if anything you think is wrong with them. If you think they have no substance I would like to know why you think that. I am asking you as an ordinary member of the Labour Party in response to your NEC feedback. I would really like to have your response.

  8. David Pavett says:

    While waiting for Peter Willsman’s response to the points I made on his report I would like to comment on another aspect. He writes

    A trade union member suggested that there be involvement by NEC members in the appointment of very senior staff. Iain responded that, in accordance with recent custom and practice, this was entirely a matter for him. I pointed out that this hadn’t been the case prior to New Labour.

    Iain McNicol doesn’t employ the Labour Party, it employs him. It is outrageous that he should reply in this manner. He should have been told that “custom and practice” is not an argument and that if he didn’t like it then he could collect his P45 on the way out. Just responding that this isn’t the way we used to do things seems to me to be weak almost beyond belief. What is wrong with the people on the NEC?

  9. peter willsman says:

    David,we can talk on the phone 01865 244459

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