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Pete Willsman’s Report for Labour’s January Executive

Inside Labour Willsman from NEC

National Executive Committee 26 January 2016

The executive was faced with a very heavy agenda for the meeting because not only was there the much-heralded arrival of Margaret Beckett’s Learning the Lessons taskforce report, but we were to hear from Alan Johnson who is masterminding our Labour In For Britain referendum campaign, and Kezia Dugdale, the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and her team.

Other major items on the agenda were a detailed document setting out proposed changes following the NEC Governance and Committee Structures Review. Several members of the NEC (including myself) had contributed to the review. In my submission I have proposed that there should be the following new committees: a staffing committee, a policy committee, and a youth committee. I also proposed that the annual women’s conference should have a delegate structure and policy-making powers which feeds into annual conference. Similarly I proposed that the party fully empower all our BAME party members in a fully-functioning BAME section of the party, also with an annual conference with a delegate structure and policy-making powers, which feeds into annual conference.

In relation to local government, I argued we need to restore proper governance arrangements for the party corresponding to local government structures, which would operate effectively and democratically, ensure accountability, oversee the operation of Labour groups in local government, their organisation and democratic functions, and review the operation of local campaign forums to ensure they meet the needs of both Labour groups and local parties. In my opinion, we probably do need a local government subcommittee including trade union and local government representation, which may be most appropriate as a subcommittee of the policy committee.

I also proposed, in relation to nominations to the House of Lords, that instead of leaving it to the leader, rather that the NEC should propose a list from which nominations are made.

Leader’s Report 

Jeremy reported that he has visited all parts of the country speaking at regional meetings, new members’ meetings, and trade union annual conferences. Jeremy had even found time to address the Young Labour National Committee (this may be a first in Young Labour’s history). Jeremy also makes a point of visiting churches, schools, mosques, in order to meet as wide a range of the population as possible. At the weekend he had visited the refugee camp in Dunkirk. Jeremy said that over the years he has visited refugee camps in many parts of the world but this was among the worst he had ever seen. The conditions were appalling. Some of those in the inadequate tents had British passports, but the new laws concerning the level of income means they are debarred. Jeremy said one of these passport holders is regularly visited by his mum (who lives in Stoke-on-Trent) to give him food. Also Jeremy attended the international climate change conference in Paris and addressed a meeting of some 700 people. Jeremy drew attention to the extent to which the reductions in public expenditure has badly affected our flood defences.

Jeremy then complemented his staff for the coping with the huge workload. Thousands of emails come in every day. Also hundreds of letters are received. Jeremy pointed out that a significant portion of the population are not on the internet and we must ensure that they are not treated as second-class citizens. For example, one MP estimates that only 30% of the population in her constituency are online. In Islington it is about 70%.

Jeremy drew attention to the parliamentary success over tax credits and preventing the reduction in police funding. In the Lords we were successful in getting the Trade Union Bill into a special select committee. He also drew attention to the defence review document from Emily Thornberry that is now out for consultation. Jeremy then outlined the issues which he had focused on in PMQs. He outlined how Labour had opposed the government’s attempt to scrap maintenance grants for working-class students, and had forced the government to put the issue to a vote, which they regrettably won. He then laid out his firm opposition to the abolition of the bursary for student nurses and his support for the BMA’s strike against Jeremy Hunt’s proposed junior doctors’ contract.

Jeremy also outlined Labour plans for opposing the ‘Gagging’ Bill which will affect campaigning by for example trade unions and charity organisations. Many points were raised in response to the presentation including the trade union campaign to expose the blacklisting scandal, the need to fight or resist the attacks on further education and its budget, and of the tacit support being shown by the government to China to the detriment of the UK steel industry. It has to be said that there was a strong feeling around the table that the continuing divisions in the party were being exploited by the press and media to the detriment of the party. The situation is not helped by the small number of MPs who constantly brief the press and media about matters that should remain internal to the party.

Jeremy also added that some three-quarters to one million votes have been lost to the register as a result of the hasty implementation of the Tory proposals on voter registration.

Jeremy concluded with an assessment of the May elections, and especially drew attention to the good planning and organisation being developed in Scotland and Wales.

Labour In For Britain Report – Presented by Alan Johnson 

Alan Johnson gave a perceptive presentation of the very effective campaign that is already up and running. He drew attention to the contradictions and weaknesses in those who want to float Britain off from the EU. Alan acknowledged that the population are not champing at the bit to rush to the polls to vote on this issue. We have a major task ahead to generate interest in what are sometimes rather obscure issues. Alan felt that one key argument we should make is “what will the UK be like if it is outside the EU.” Very little has been said by our opponents about what such a future would look like.

Labour’s Campaign in Scotland – Presentation by Kezia Dugdale and her team 

Kezia reported that our Scottish comrades are picking themselves up from the floor. There has been a considerable increase in new members and we are up for the fight in May. Kezia also outlined the key policies that Labour was intending to focus on. She stressed that although for instance Nicola Sturgeon is quite popular the Scottish Government’s policies do not enjoy so much public support. Kezia also emphasised that it is important that the Scottish Labour Party has a degree of autonomy from London.

I’ve been made aware of at least two proposals for autonomy. The first is that the Scottish Labour Party should become a sister party to the England and Wales Labour Party, but all under the umbrella of the National Council of Labour (which was always in the rulebook and consisted of representatives from the Labour Party, the TUC, and the Co-op movement). I pointed out this solution may be seen as too radical by some comrades.

A second option of a federal structure is much more likely. In her reply it was clear that Kezia would much prefer the second option. I also pointed out that the organisation committee has agreed that there should be a joint meeting of the NEC and Scottish Executive to move forward the issue of increased autonomy.

Jeremy is of course campaigning in Scotland at least once every two weeks.

Governance and Committee Structures Review

Given this is a very major item which has implications for the party for many years, it was agreed to take it as an early item on the next NEC’s agenda.

Review of party national structures and national policy-making

Tom Watson, deputy leader, reported on the work he has been doing to launch the two Working Groups covering the party’s digital strategy and looking at the party’s national structures. The first meeting to launch the working groups was held on the 12th of January chaired by Jeremy and Tom. It was agreed that the leader and deputy leader would write to all CLPs and affiliated organisations setting out the scope and timetable for the review of party structures. An event will be held in the South West, probably Plymouth, on 2nd April. The aim of the event will be to showcase digital engagement in order to increase the involvement with party members, there will also be policy discussions at the event.

Angela Eagle, Chair of the National Policy Forum, presented a paper covering the proposed review of national policy-making. The review will seek as wide a consultation process as possible with members and supporters. The aim is to create a more inclusive and effective process.

All members of the National Policy Forum are being asked which policy commissions they would like to serve on. The seven policy commissions are:

  • Economy: Building a productive economy
  • International: Britain’s security and defence priorities
  • Communities: Housing policy
  • Communities: Transport
  • Health and Care: Mental health
  • Childen and Education: Early years
  • Home affairs: Crime and policing

Oldham West and Royton By-Election

The NEC heartily congratulated the former NEC member Jim McMahon on his splendid result. The NEC also congratulated all of the staff and party members who played such a splendid role in our victory. The officers had prepared a detailed analysis of the election. I highlighted the key role played by regional director Anna Hutchinson and Andrew Gwynne MP. I pointed out that the press and media had all prophesied that Labour were going to do very badly, and perhaps might lose to a resurgent UKIP. I had campaigned in the by-election and pointed out that UKIP had made the election entirely about Jeremy Corbyn. They issued some six leaflets almost wholly focusing on attacking Jeremy. It was very gratifying to be able to point to the fact that in terms of the percentage of the vote, which is the most important factor, Labour had a better result than in 1997.

‘Learning the Lessons’ Taskforce Report 

Margaret Beckett presented an eighteen-page report that had been put together by her task force. It is a well-written report in that it has a flowing style and is not cluttered with jargon. The “economic narrative” is not earth shattering, which is hardly surprising since many Nobel Prize-winning economists are still struggling to understand the Great Recession of 2008. The report makes some key points which are sometimes overlooked as the hostile press and media attempt to paint as bleak a picture as possible. Labour gained votes in 2015 both in the UK as a whole and in England and Wales. There was a swing to Labour of 1.5%. This was the first election since 1997 when Labour’s share of the vote went up. Our vote gains were overshadowed by the impact on seats of the collapse of the Liberal Democrats. There is some evidence that Liberal Democrat voters switched to Labour tactically, as well as those who switched permanently. This tactical voting also took place in Lib/Con marginals which may have had the ironic effect of letting the Tories win. The British Electoral Survey estimates that up to seven seats were lost in this way.

Margaret’s presentation was followed by a lively and informed debate. There were those like me who draw attention to the positives but there were several who described it as a ‘disaster’. At the end of the debate Jon Ashworth MP made some very pertinent points. Jon stressed that the overall picture was very complex. Our vote went up by one and a half million. The Liberal collapse helped the Tories. Labour majorities went up in many seats we already held, but in many target seats we did poorly. Jon emphasised that much more groundwork in specific locations in order to get a fuller picture.

Annual Conference 2016 

It was agreed that Jeremy’s speech would be moved to the Wednesday of conference. This change will be reviewed for future conferences. The conference itself will open at 11am on Sunday the 25 September and close at 3.30pm on Wednesday 28 September.

Political Honours System

Jeremy is of course determined to make politics more transparent and relevant to the public. He has made it clear he is committed to reforming the honours system. It was felt that the NEC should have more of a role in deciding who should be recommended for honours. A detailed paper will be prepared for the next NEC meeting.

14 Comments

  1. swatantra says:

    Good Report from Pete, 10 x better than Alice Perry’s on Labour List.

  2. Rachel Lever says:

    I would like a future NEC to consider adding a section for older members, on the same terms as the Women’s and Youth sections. I see two main interconnected functions: one is to develop policy relating to older people, resulting in an Older People’s Manifesto; the other is more effectively to target and canvas older voters. The benefits should be obvious. I have drafted a model resolution (below) which I plan to promote, but it would be good to have some feedback from NEC members too.

    “We urge the NEC to set up and enable a new Section of the Party, involving and concerning our older members, on similar terms to Women’s sections and Young Labour.
    In time it will come to define its role and possibilities, but initially it might concentrate on two main interconnected functions:
    a) to establish policy for Older people, working towards an older people’s Manifesto for Local and Central government; and to collate all the Tory policies and actions that impact especially on older people to make sure that they are addressed and opposed.
    b) to organise, network and develop as a specialised older people’s electoral arm of the party with ongoing voter registration and canvassing and targeted materials based on (a) above.
    The Party nationally will set aside resources, staff, funds and research and publication facilities to enable this work to be done to a high standard.
    Policy will be established by, among other things:
    – examining international best practice;
    – input from charities and campaigning organisations;
    – feedback from local branches, working parties, trade unions and groups on a variety of areas, covering issues such as:
    * health, diet, mobility and disability, issues of sight and hearing;
    * continuing education, social/community inclusion, access to sports, exercise, creative activity and leisure
    * finance, benefits and pensions
    * specialised housing needs
    * self-help, post-retirement work and volunteering
    * family and carer support, transport, hospital discharge facilities
    * disability and dementia and end-of-life support

    1. maurice neville says:

      older members section ….this is an excellent idea

      1. Rachel Lever says:

        Thanks Maurice. Hope Pete or Jon will advise on best way to get this discussed, meanwhile will try it at my branch LP next week, but don’t even know if we can send motions direct to the NEC? A Facebook older “Corbyn supporters” group already has over 3000 members and very prolific Comments.

    2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Yawn………………………..

      1. Rachel Lever says:

        “Yawn…”: well, what were you doing out of bed at 6.02a.m.? Go back to sleep.

    3. David Pavett says:

      How many special interest do you think deserve separate representation?

      Does being represented mean that the person doing the representing has to be in the same group, or or the same physical type, as those represented?

      The idea that only a woman can represent women, only a black person can represent black people, only a disabled person can represent disabled people, only a young person can represent young people etc., etc. is very medieval and a long way from the ideas of representative democracy which should imply that a representative can understand and argue for interests which are not immediately his or her own.

      Looked at the other way round it is clearly not the case that a woman per se is going to be better at representing women’s interests than a man, that a black person per se is going to be better at representing black people than any white person …..

      If that were not the case it is difficult to see how we could elect representatives to deal with global issues which impact directly on us all (taxation, industrial policy, nuclear weapons …..).

      Who has special interests? More groups than could pack the NEC with just one representative each.

      There may be times when it is helpful to arrange for a boost for this or that group to gain representation, or more equal representation, but if we turn this into a doctrine of rights we corrode the concept of democracy, the value of debate, and the role of political ideas. In my view the idea of reserved places for interest groups is one that is currently lacking in any critical control. We need to ascertain the extent of its possible application and the limits of its usefulness.

      1. Rachel Lever says:

        It’s not primarily about representation (where, frankly, older people are very well served) but about input into policy and direction, and about practical engagement.

        With the massive intake of new Party members, the more options and choices there are, the more likely that more of these members, rather than fewer, will become active and engaged, their talents and time fully used.

        Most seminars and small conferences use break-out workshops to enable more involvement, more people to speak and contribute and a multi-sided conversation. Done well this can yield many more ideas and the participants feel they have had an effect. The same goes for sectional facilities for different age demographics in the political environment.

        When organised as self-defined components within the whole party body, any group can and should bring a wealth of its own experience into both policy making and campaigning.

        In the case of older people, for example, we are the generation that grew up within a now almost forgotten pre-Thatcher welfare state. We remember how beneficial and cohesive it was.

        For the party’s sake, maybe we are the best people to approach and to win back older voters who are caring for aged parents and worrying about how their children and grandchildren are going to survive cuts in services and rising costs of housing and education.

        An older members’ section is, frankly, a no-brainer.

    4. John P Reid says:

      Or More of those who live outside London

  3. gerry says:

    The most interesting part of this report back was that bit on voter registration – that maybe up to a million voters were/would be lost from the electoral register due to Tory shenanigans.The imp!ications for party strategy – JC has declared that we will target non voters as our prime electoral approach – are enormous.

    I would echo other commenters about the Margaret Beckett so-called report: it seems to be really shallow, obvious, and curiously a-political. And for Peter Willsman to “emphasise the positive” in the result is telling, and self-deluding. Our result in 2015, esp when we know that the Lib Dem vote collapsed from 23% to 8%…over 60% of the over 60s voted Tory or UKIP, over 60% of C2s voted Tory or UKIP, and barely 40% of DE voters (the actual working classes we are meant to represent!) voted Labour. So it was a disaster a la 1983, and 2010…and yes we had the worst Labour leader ever in Miliband, uninspiring and self serving.Why he didn’t resign earlier or why we didn’t kick him into touch in 2013 or 2014 when our numbers started tanking, should have been mercilessly analysed too.

  4. Tony says:

    Miliband was ‘the worst Labour leader ever’ according to Gerry.

    Really, what about Brown, Foot and Kinnock?

    They were all worse.

    1. swatantra says:

      Can they tie for ‘equal worst’?

    2. John P Reid says:

      Well Ed Miliband had the do the of getting ex left voters from the libdems to come over to U.S..,no Ukip,splitting the right vote,which again should have helped,

      But to Quote Ken Livingstone apparently despite Ed miliband spending the last 5 years denouncing Blairites, he was one himself,and the resin Ed miliband lost,was despite saying ‘the Country has swung too the left,so I’m gonna swing to the left,to win’ turns out, he lost as he was a Blairites and didn’t mean it.

  5. PETER WILLSMAN says:

    Rachel,please contact me via CLPD and we will progress this issue.
    Gerry,I try hard not to be ‘self deluding.’If I spoke to someone on a bus,and/or an Oxford professor,and said, some people describe an increase in vote of over 1mill.and that it’s been 20 years since we had an increase,as a ”total disaster”.Both would say ‘what planet are your friends on?’

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