Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s March Executive

Peter Willsman reports from the National Executive Committee

Tuesday 21st  March 2017

A useful NEC: dominated by the comprehensive and impassioned presentation (by our two National Campaign Co-ordinators, Andrew Gwynne MP and Ian Lavery MP) of our preparation for the wide range of local elections in the Spring.

Leader’s Report

Jeremy paid tribute to the unremitting and dedicated commitment of our two campaign teams for the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections. Both teams gave their all and their campaigns could not have done more. The result in Copeland was, of course, very disappointing (as I point out below, Copeland has recently become a marginal seat), but our victory in Stoke was very inspiring. The many flaws of the UKIP leader were ruthlessly exposed. Jeremy also thanked the many helpers from all over the United Kingdom that had given their time to help in both contests. We heavily outnumbered our opponents on the doorstep.

Jeremy gave an account of the many major events which he has attended since the last NEC. He particularly drew attention to our Scottish Labour conference on the state of the economy. Jeremy had attended for the whole day and was very impressed with the way that the conference involved a wide range of party members. Jeremy emphasised that if the SNP push for a second referendum then Labour will of course oppose it in the Scottish Parliament; but if the Parliament carries such a decision, then to continue to oppose it from London would play into the hands of the SNP.

Jeremy also highlighted the unique BAME media reception that he had hosted. Jeremy had also spoken at a major meeting of the Runneymede Foundation about the need to effectively address BAME concerns.

Jeremy also drew attention to the very important symposium on regions and nations that is being held in Cardiff next week. This involves representatives from Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties, senior local government reps, Gordon Brown, and Jon Trickett and others. This will begin to set out our strategy and policies for Labour’s approach to decentralisation.

Jeremy particularly thanked Unison for hosting yesterday’s very productive Shadow Cabinet Away-Day.

Jeremy also took the NEC through the many issues that we are challenging the Tories on, at every possible opportunity. These include the complexities and injustice of bogus self-employment/zero-hours contracts. Jeremy had recently visited a very large building site where every worker was a ‘sub-contractor’! Jeremy also briefly ran-through the issues that we are focussing on following the recent budget (but left the major arguments to John McDonnell who was speaking later). On the issue of the self-employed NICs, The Resolution Foundation have reported that typical real self-employed earnings are lower than they were twenty years ago, and on a like-for-like basis have fallen significantly since the 2008 financial crisis. It is therefore hardly the time to confront these workers with a tax-rise.

NEC members then made a range of points which Jeremy responded to in detail, issue by issue. I confess I was a little OTT in my severe criticism of Peter Mandelson for stating publicly that not a day goes by without him doing something deliberately to harm Jeremy. I said it was really shocking that Mandelson (and he is of course not the only one conducting this vindictive campaign), was able to make such a statement with complete impunity, whereas when I was on the NEC with Blair, if I had made such a statement I would have been expelled forthwith. There seems to be one law for the likes of Mandelson (given the absurd title of ‘Grandee’ by the lickspittles in the press and media) and another law for the thousands of decent party members who loyally support our democratically elected leader.

Ann Black also drew attention to a malicious report hyped-up in the press and media stating that our party H.Q. had held restricted the funding of the Leader’s Office. Jeremy responded that there was absolutely no truth in this nonsense. Quite the contrary was the case!

Several union NEC representatives explored the serious issue of bogus self-employment in more detail, giving concrete examples. Jeremy took all of their points on board and emphasised that this was a serious campaigning issue for us.

Deputy Leader’s Report

Tom also gave a full account of his recent activity and also of the joint work he had undertaken with Jeremy.

Tom emphasised that contrary to many press reports, yesterday’s Shadow Cabinet Away-Day had been very productive and enthusing. There had been several excellent presentations and some effective and detailed discussions of key policies.

Report by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP

John concentrated his report on the recent budget and took the NEC through the key points. In relation to the NIC increase for those self-employed, John pointed out that workers are being asked to pay more without any guarantee of improved social protections. For example, The Resolution Foundation is pressing the government to assist the self-employed with pension saving and/or maternity pay. Indeed, in November, Labour had set out five tests for how social security should be expanded to better protect the self-employed, without opening the door to unscrupulous employer practices. Labour has also announced a Commission, together with the Federation of Small Businesses, to develop a series of policies to better provide for the self-employed.

John concluded by saying that Hammond’s first budget is founded on unfairness and failure. The budget shows that the Tories have no answers to the challenges facing workers and their families. Despite Hammond’s claims that he is building the foundation of a stronger and fairer Britain, the truth is that the Tories have presided over the slowest recovery since the 1920s. Sluggish growth, soaring debt, and stagnating pay; that is the true legacy of Tory failure.

John concluded on a positive note. Our PLP team are arranging a get-together with the trade unions and others to address the serious concerns of the increased vulnerability of employees. Workers today are faced with bogus self-employment and a whole new range of large fines and restrictions by employers. This meeting will begin to draw up Labour’s policies for ending these injustices.

Elections 2017: Presentation by our National Campaign Co-ordinators

For over an hour Andrew and Ian gripped the attention of the NEC and took us through the specific battle plans for each of the spring elections. Areas to be targeted with resources were highlighted. Labour’s distinctive vision and policy pledges that will be particularly geared to each specific election were also outlined. Andrew and Ian set out the campaigning tactics and strategy that will be used and the way in the which social media will be employed to maximum effect. The NEC were very encouraged by the enthusiasm and dedication shown by our dynamic pair. Since this is a public document I am unable to spell out details. But our overall campaigning messages will be showcased on our party’s website. Many NEC members contributed to the debate on Andrew and Ian’s detailed report, particularly highlighting specific issues in their localities. I made a general point in relation to Scotland. I argued that the SNP may have miscalculated. They said there would be no referendum for a generation, then a few minutes later they are pressing for one. This looks like the mere playing of political games. Also Scotland has a GDP debt three times that of south of the border. The oil money is running out and the Scots receive a very generous deal under the Barnett Formula. Also, Spain is likely to veto any approach to the EU for an independent Scotland to join it. I pointed out that our Scottish comrades are nothing if not canny. They are not likely to cut themselves adrift without a paddle.

Local Government Report

Nick Forbes, leader of the Labour group on the LGA, took the NEC through the key issues facing local authorities. Above all there is the major threat to key services resulting from the massive reductions in funding from central government.

Nick also drew attention to the excellent Local Government conference. At this conference, the booklet ‘100 innovations by Labour in Power’ was launched, containing several hundred examples of best-practice by Labour authorities. For example, 89 Labour councils are now paying the Living Wage; Stockport Council has worked closely with their local NHS to develop fully integrated health and social care services. The Council and the NHS have pooled £200 million from their local budgets to ensure that patients get care in the most appropriate setting; Blackpool Council have steadfastly continued their breakfast scheme, which has helped to improve the health and well-being of the town’s young residents; Islington Council is set to deliver a further two thousand genuinely affordable homes by 2019.

Following Nicks Report, the NEC resolved that on all future NEC agendas, there will be a separate item for Scotland and for Wales.

Report from the Chair of the National Policy Forum (NPF)

Ann Cryer presented a detailed return report. The 2017 NPF consultation document, containing eight papers from each of the eight Policy Commissions was launched on the 16th of March. CLPs, unions, and members have until the 31st of May to make their responses. It is important that as many responses as possible are submitted in order to ensure that Labour’s policies are as effective as possible. All of the responses will be considered by the eight Policy Commissions and then the NPF document amended. In July, the amended document will be published and will be submitted to annual conference for agreement. Following conference, the Policy Commissions will draft new Consultation Documents focussing on different subjects. Ann’s report also contained an update of the recent work of each of the Policy Commissions. The Party’s appropriate website has been updated at considerable cost. There are of course the usual teething problems, but it is hoped that members will notice a significant improvement.

International Report

Our party’s international officer presented a written report. With Jeremy taking the lead, our party, together with the Party of European Socialists, hosted a two-day event in central London. Its purpose was to assess the impact of Brexit on both the United Kingdom and the EU. The conference was attended by 470 and Jeremy gave the key-note speech, along with Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES.

Our party was represented at the launch of the Alliance of Progressive Parties, in Berlin. Our General Secretary, Ian McNicol was elected to the board of this new organisation. Over 100 countries were represented at the launch.

European Parliament Labour Party (EPLP) Leader’s Report 

Glenis Willmott, EPLP leader and NEC chair, had magnanimously held back her report to give more time for the earlier items. Our MEPs have had a private meeting with the European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt. This, together with a meeting with MEPs from our sister parties, has given us a picture of what is on the table from our comrades in Europe. Unfortunately in Brussels there is now an increased hardening of attitudes and indeed some hostility. This is a very unfortunate result of the Prime Minister’s very negative negotiating stance. This is making it much harder to build the alliances we need to ensure a decent deal. Glenis’s report was complemented by Jeremy, who made a number of important points. Jeremy went through Labour’s key demands for the Brexit negotiations, which have been clearly set out by Keir Starmer MP. Jeremy has made a serious attempt to increase our links to our sister socialist parties and to the European Trade Union Movement. Finally, Jeremy drew attention to the threat of the far right in Europe and highlighted the quite serious situation in Hungary.

General Secretary’s Report

  • Manchester Gorton By-Election. This CLP has a very diverse community. Some 40% are BAME. The NEC congratulated our by-election panel for choosing a shortlist that is wholly BAME candidates.
  • Copeland and Stoke Central By-Elections. A detailed breakdown of both by-elections was circulated. This contained voting patterns in each of the wards, and also voting figures back to 1983. The report raised the issue of some working class voters being attracted to the Tories. I pointed out that, something like a 1/3rd of the working class, have always gravitated towards the Tories. Indeed, Disraeli called them ‘angels in the marble’. Having spent four days in Copeland and four days in Stoke, I endorsed what Jeremy had said and added my congratulations to the brilliance of our two teams. I also commented on the high quality of the investigative journalism by Michael Crick (Channel 4). Not only was there the brilliant expose of Nuttall’s so-called Stoke address, but the Tories are now in serious trouble following Crick’s scoop of the dodgy Tory election spending declarations. I also pointed out that nowhere in the press and media’s hostile reporting about Copeland having been Labour since before Second World War, was it noted that Copeland must now be described as a marginal. About seven years ago a huge chunk of the Lake District was added into the constituency. If a large chunk of Surrey was somehow added to Camberwell and Peckham, it would no longer be a safe Labour seat. There is also the point that because Nuttall was so discredited, a number of UKIP voters went to the Tories. Without Nuttall, UKIP would have probably done better in Stoke, but our Pinocchio leaflet featuring Nuttall did the business.
  • Share of individual membership-subs to be allocated to CLPs. Thanks to an unremitting campaign by my CLP’s secretary (Ann Black), the General Secretary announced that no less than £2.50 per member will be allocated to CLPs. This may need to be reviewed if our party’s membership ever falls below 250,000.
  • Minutes of NEC meetings and subcommittee meetings. Under the minutes of the Organisation Committee, Diana Holland pointed out that the schedule of the codes of conduct is not yet totally complete. There are other codes of conduct yet to be finalised and approved.

Our H.Q. now has the builders in as our office space is to be considerably expanded. The NECs room was needed for another meeting and thus instead of taking six hours, we were ejected after only four!

  1. I think this interpretation of the meeting gives the impression we still have top-down politics minutes. Jeremy Corbyn excepts that he is an equal part of the executive-. The impression being he was like a headmaster talking to the sixth form, perhaps a report back from one of the trade union members might give a more balanced view

  2. I have several observations. I can see no progress but passive aquisience by those NEC members we were persuaded to vote for. What I want is for somone to actually move that Mandelson be suspended from membership of the party.

    Stoke yes we won but did we? We now have yet another MP hostile to Corbyn so where is the victory in that? UKIP did actually come second so far from humiliating.

    Manchester Gorton By-Election. Failure by the left to get our candidate elected having been once again outmanoeuvred.

    I think David referred to the NPF after all this time policies if you can call them that which most political parties could own. No actual proposals as to how these are to be achieved or willing the means.

  3. I always appreciate the NEC report backs from Peter Willsman and Ann Black produce. They give us organisms lower down the political food chain some idea of what our leaders are doing – or not doing.

    Nevertheless, I have a problem with reports like this: they cover too much ground which means that really important issues are dealt with in a few words leaving the reader with virtually no information about the reality behind those worlds. Thus

    (1) we are told that the Shadow cabinet had a “very productive” away day. There were apparently “several excellent presentations and some effective and detailed discussions of key policies”. Isn’t this something the rest of us should be able to find out about? Can the presentations and discussions not be shared with those wrestling with the same issues?

    (2) We learn that “the Party of European Socialists, hosted a two-day event in central London. Its purpose was to assess the impact of Brexit on both the United Kingdom and the EU” but no information is given and no references are provided. Isn’t this something that contains important material for all of us?

    I could go on with such examples but perhaps this makes the point. The solution is not, in my view difficult. In each case where substantial materials are referred to we should be given access to those materials so that we can assess them for ourselves? I have every respect for Peter but even in his case I need more than just his say so.

    Peter’s report tells us that “the booklet ‘100 innovations by Labour in Power’ was launched” but gives no reference. Here it is. This is an example of what I mean by making information easily accessible.

    I was interested in the section dealing with the NPF where Peter says “The Party’s appropriate website has been updated at considerable cost”. The “appropriate website” is I have often wondered if Labour was being rooked by the providers of its none-to-impressive websites. This comment makes me almost certain this is the case. The “appropriate website” in questions is truly awful. It has poor search facilities, reviewing contributions is so cludgy as to deter all but the most intrepid of searchers. If significant changes have been made recently they escape me. So what has the “considerable cost” done for us?

    Labour was so afraid of losing in both Copeland and Stoke Central that scraping home in Stoke has been, apparently, converted for Jeremy Corbyn into an “inspiring” victory. The reality is that the Labour candidate in Copeland got 37.3% of the vote and in Stoke 37.1%. The difference in the result was down to the vagaries of the first past the post voting system. In Copeland the UKIP vote slumped by 9% whereas in Stoke, where Iain McNicol says “our Pinocchio leaflet featuring Nuttall did the business”, UKIP, despite the disastrous performance of its candidate, actually increased its share of the vote while that of Labour fell. Just which bit of that is an “inspiration” escapes me. Relief at avoiding disaster shouldn’t by confused with an inspiring victory.

    My general question (which I have asked many times before) is this: are the reports to the NEC in writing and if so cannot they be made available to all of us? Are the verbal reports and discussions taken down and if so can the rest of us not read them? What can we possibly mean by openness and transparency if such things are not done as a matter of course? We all understand that confidential matters are also dealt with and cannot be made public but that can only be a small part of such meetings. It’s the politics that the rest of use want to know about. So why the lack of information? Why the apparent secrecy? The age of email and the Internet requires a mode of working that is very different to the 19th century.

    So, is there any chance of supporting useful reports like this with links to where the detail of the things reported can be found? If, however, the materials that I suggest should be made available in reports like this are regarded as private/confidential and only for the people who attend the meetings at which they are presented then I think we should be told that.

  4. And Labour may need to work on its social media if claims that Cambridge Analytical are searching people’s facebook likes and dislikes and helping the Tories to reinforce people’s negative views?
    We need to more than match them but appeal to people’s kinder natures.

  5. I agree with David that the Policy Forum website is truly awful. In particular, the new sign-in system doesn’t remember who you are, so you have to log in every time you visit. Worse, it seems to time out quite quickly, so if you are writing a long response to something on there, after clicking submit you will be asked to log in again and lose all of your work. This happened to me once and would have happened again when I rewrote it, were it not for the fact that this time I saved a copy of what I wrote on my own computer. The form for submitting comments is poorly designed, occupying only about 1/3 of the screen-width and with the text being much too small. The email system letting you know of new comments is also very poor, sending out multiple emails for the same comment.

  6. Pete Willsman – there’s a golden opportunity to make a quick impact here. There are clear shortcomings with the ‘policyforum’ website, which if addressed would enable more members to become involved. The company who built the thing look capable – the difficult bit is them getting from the Party a clear idea of the purpose and method of involvement. Luckily for the Party there are many new members who do that middle-man role for a living and who would gladly provide their services for free. Just a little bit of tweaking will make a difference. Surely, you’re in a position to allow this to happen? How about it?

  7. “I also pointed out that nowhere in the press and media’s hostile reporting about Copeland having been Labour since before Second World War, was it noted that Copeland must now be described as a marginal.”

    Yes, how long a party has held a seat is not necessarily a reliable indicator of how safe it is.

    Copeland and its predecessor seat had been Labour since 1935.

    By contrast, Labour’s vote in Liverpool, Walton was a massive 81.3% and the majority was 72.3%. This is a seat that Labour has held continuously since 1964—a good deal less than the Copeland (Whitehaven).

  8. DP,re 1 and 2,I have given the reports we were given.There were no papers.You and I are hoping to speak to the staff re website,so all readers should pass ideas to DP.The Blairites took 20 years to bring in very restrictive rules and procedures.It will take some 10 years to turn the ship around and every step of the way we will need full support from over 50% of the TU vote at Confce.Many of the demands made on LFs are not achievable,given present balance of forces.Every reader should ensure that their Confce friendly.It would be useful if every comment was opened with report of progress made in the writers’ CLP. Then we would know that comrades were practising what they preach.Bill,given the balance of forces,to raise Mandelson at national level would just expose our weakness.Could you find out if any of the TU reps would support us.A better way would be via sending in a Contemporary Motion on this.Contact me in mid Aug.and I will help you draft a CM for your CLP.It would help if you could be chosen as the CLP’s Confce del.

    • OK Peter I will do that. I must admit that I have not attended the local CLP so far having rejoined the party after being a “Three pounder” to vote for Corbyn. I am now a full member. My local party has an overwhelming amount of ‘left wing’members that my physical presence is not needed.

      It is off topic but quite a lot of people do not attend meetings and not likely to. I have been attending meetings from 16 to 60 years so good experience of them. I think it is vital that the party continues to develop ways of talking directly to members. Maybe establishing ‘on line’ branches that people such as myself could join. I would say that most of what a CLP does could be done on line actually.

      • I forgot to thank you Peter for responding to what I and other members say on Left Futures 🙂

        • Bill,I hear what you say,but remember some 20/30% of members do not bother with internet,esp.elderly members.CLPD does not believe in creating two classes of members.Unfortunately it is happening in too many CLPs.I am very opposed to that and is against our basic principles.