A guide to Labour’s NEC

5th December, 2011 4:48 pm

The problem with agreeing to write a weekly column is sometimes you get absolutely stumped for ideas. That’s when the Editor, in this case our good comrade Mark Ferguson, picks a topic for you.

This week was one of those weeks so he’s asked me to do a little piece of political education about what Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is and does. I hope this will help members (and non-members) understand what we do on the NEC, how we get there, and dispel some misunderstandings.

First up, composition. The NEC has grown a bit over the years, and the percentage of seats elected by and from, or effectively by, the unions has fallen a bit as other stakeholders in the Party have become more important. The last major change to composition of the NEC was in 1997 with Tony Blair’s “Partnership in Power” rule changes which removed the separate Women’s Section in return for minimum 50% quotas for women in the other sections, and stopped MPs standing in the Constituency Labour Parties’ (CLPs) section in return for giving them other blocks of seats.

The current line-up of 33 voting members is therefore:

• Leader and Deputy Leader – elected by an Electoral College (1/3 individual members, 1/3 levy-paying members of affiliates, 1/3 MPs and MEPs) – Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman.
• Treasurer – elected by a different electoral college of 50% One-Member-One-Vote by individual members and 50% trade union delegates to Annual Conference – Diana Holland.
• 3 Opposition Front-Benchers – appointed by the Leader – Angela Eagle, Peter Hain and Tom Watson
• The Leader of the EPLP – elected by MEPs – Glenis Willmott
• Young Labour Rep – elected by Young Labour Conference which consists of 1/3 delegates from CLPs and Young Labour Groups, 1/3 from Labour Students clubs and 1/3 from trade unions and other affiliates – Callum Munro
• 12 Trade Union Reps – elected by the union delegates at Annual Conference – Keith Birch, Jim Kennedy, Harriet Yeo, Paddy Lillis, Wendy Nichols, Andy Kerr, Martin Mayer, Mary Turner, Jennie Formby, Andy Worth and Susan Lewis.
• 2 Socialist Societies’ Reps – 1 elected by the BAME Labour conference (Keith Vaz) and 1 elected by the delegates of the Socialist Societies as a whole at Annual Conference (Conor McGinn).
• 6 CLP reps – elected every two years by One-Member-One-Vote by individual members – Luke Akehurst, Johanna Baxter, Ann Black, Ken Livingstone, Ellie Reeves, Christine Shawcroft.
• 2 Councillors’ reps – elected by One-Councillor-One-Vote – Dave Sparks and Ann Lucas.
• 3 PLP/EPLP reps – elected by the PLP and EPLP – Margaret Beckett, Michael Cashman and Dennis Skinner.

The General Secretary, who the NEC appoints, serves as its non-voting secretary.

The Chair and Vice-Chair of the NEC are powerful positions during their year in office, and are usually filled according to length of service on the NEC. The current Chair is Michael Cashman and the Vice-Chair is Harriet Yeo.

Contrary to some perceptions, the NEC has not dealt directly with policy since 1997, though it all NEC members are also automatically members of the National Policy Forum (NPF).

Its powers relate more to Party organisation, campaigning and political management.

Clause II.1 of the Party rules says “There shall be a National Executive Committee of the Party (the ‘NEC’) which shall, subject to the control and directions of Party conference, be the administrative authority of the Party.”

This is then elaborated on in the Rulebook:

“The primary purpose of the NEC shall be to provide a strategic direction for the Party as a whole and to maintain and develop an active Party in the country, working in partnership with the Party’s representatives in Parliament, the European Parliament, devolved administrations and local government to secure the Party’s objectives.
The key functions of the NEC are to:
A. contribute to policy development
B. win elections and maintain the support of voters
C. maintain a healthy Party at all levels, engaged in the community upholding the highest standards in public life
D. ensure a high quality of service through a contract with Party members
E. fulfil its operational and constitutional responsibilities as defined in this clause
F. maintain a balanced partnership between all Party stakeholders
G. ensure the Party meets its legal and financial responsibilities in compliance with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and all other legislative requirements.”

Powers of the NEC include:
• “to uphold and enforce the constitution, rules and standing orders of the Party and to take any action it deems necessary for such purpose, including disaffiliation, disbanding, suspending or otherwise disciplining any affiliated organisation or Party unit; in furtherance of such duties it shall have the power to suspend or take other administrative action against individual members of the Party subject to the provisions of the disciplinary rules”
• To ensure there are Regional Boards, CLPs and Local Campaign Forums, Young labour groups and women’s groups operating
• To “issue guidance and instructions on the conduct of meetings and guidance and instructions on the implementation of quotas for women’s representation”
• To propose “amendments to the constitution, rules and standing orders” to Annual Conference
• To decide the timetable and procedure for internal Party ballots
• “to adjudicate in disputes that may arise at any level of the Party”

This isn’t an exhaustive list as there are a range of other powers relating to the smooth running of the Party listed in the Rulebook.

All the NEC’s powers can be delegated to its officers, committees, panels, or to Party staff – hence if you encounter an NEC “designated representative” at a selection meeting they will probably be a member of staff.

At a usual NEC meeting we hear reports from the General Secretary (focussed on organisational and electoral matters), the Leader and Deputy Leader (focussed more on a political review and forecast), the EPLP, the Local Government Association Labour Group, the Party’s International Secretary, and other staff with specific business to report.

The full NEC meets every two months for at least half a day, with an extended “Away Day” (actually held at Party HQ!) after Annual Conference each year to look at the year’s objectives. There are multiple meetings during the week of Annual Conference. During Conference week NEC members also chair conference sessions and introduce and respond to each debate.

In practice a lot of the NEC’s business is transacted in committees and panels, which usually meet in the months in between full meetings. This is essential as a 33 member NEC is too large to consider every issue in detail.

For instance, when you hear the press or blogs saying “the NEC” has interviewed and shortlisted candidates for a by-election, this actually means a panel of 3 NEC members has done this.

The current committees and panels are:

• The NEC Officers. This consists of the Leader, Deputy Leader, Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer, Chair of the Party, Chair of the Organisation Committee and NEC Co-convenor of the Joint Policy Committee (JPC). This body is sometimes very powerful as it takes urgent decisions between NEC meetings, if necessary by conference call.
• Equalities Committee (deals with race, gender, disability, LGBT and youth matters).
• Organisation Committee. This large committee, with about 20 members, deals with everything connected to elections, selections, membership and conferences.
• Audit, Risk Management and Compliance Committee.
• Business Board. Responsible for overseeing the business functions of the organisation including the management of the finances.
• Disputes Panel. Has the same membership as the Organisation Committee and deals with membership appeals; re-admission applications; party disputes and conciliation; minor investigations and local government appeals where referred to the NEC. It operates in a quasi-judicial fashion, conducting hearings and interviews around the country where necessary, usually conducted by panels of 3 NEC members.
• Special Selections Panel. This Panel has specific powers to determine which parliamentary seats will select candidates from all women shortlists or open shortlists to ensure Labour’s candidates are selected as quickly as possible.

There are a number of ad hoc panels and committees to deal with particular tasks, for instance I am serving on one about implementation of the Refounding Labour changes.

NEC members also serve on each of the NPF’s Policy Commissions and on the JPC, which has strategic oversight of policy development in the party through overseeing the rolling programme of Partnership in Power. The JPC acts as the steering group for the National Policy Forum. It is therefore a joint committee made up of NEC, Government and National Policy Forum representatives.

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  • Ian

    Luke, as a person of Labour and progress please justify how you could accept funding from Bell Pottinger ?


    “Personally, I enjoyed irony of what was then my commercial competitor paying for my drinks”

     Luke is this something you feel someone involved in the NEC should get involved with and accept free drinks from anyone especially those I consider our political rivals. Should anyone associated with Labour really take money from company such as Bell Pottinger or any associated ones ?

    • Anonymous

      I would say Ian, as the author of the piece you link, that Luke has been an outstanding NEC member who has behaved professionally with the interests of the entire membership at heart. Although I am diametrically opposed to his brand of Labour politics, I suspect that more unites both wings of Labour than divides them. As such, I would have no qualms supporting Luke’s re-election bid to the NEC.

      That said, there are some unanswered questions, and perhaps now is the time to mark a clean break from the past by Progress announcing they are no longer willing to accept Bell Pottinger cash. 

      • Ian

        Eoin I have great problems with anyone who was a lobbyist being involved in politics, does not matter whether left, right or centre.

        I have great problems after your revelations about Bell Pottinger donating to a labour cause given what the owner of this did to us, I do wonder if his plan was to draw us in closer to the right and pretend the centre was somewhere it is not.

        I watching the Life Sciences debate now and how many Life sceince companies donated to the Tories ?

        • Anonymous

          Ian, fair enough – your prerogative I accept.

          My small point is that Luke does not fit the criteria of a typical Progress member. 

          He has been loyal to Ed Mili from day 1 for example whereas others plotted and hoped for his demise. 

          • Ian

            Oh I fully accept that Eoin and happy to agree with you on that but the point is still there about Luke’s lobbyist past and now involvement in the party NEC.

    • Luke Akehurst

      Hi Ian

      I haven’t personally ever received funding from Bell Pottinger.

      I’ve attended a Progress event where they paid for the drinks reception so I had a couple of drinks at their expense.  As far as I know this is the limit of their “funding” of Progress. I am an ordinary member but not an officer of Progress so I have no knowledge of their finances beyond what’s in the public domain, and certainly no control over them, but it is a matter of record that they support me in NEC election campaigns, which I am proud of and grateful for.

      I am secretary of Labour First, a separate network, which has no income beyond a small number of standing orders from supporters, and almost no expenditure as emails are free!

      At the time of the drinks reception in question (and from 2000 until August this year) I was employed by a rival public affairs company, Weber Shandwick.

      Unlike Bell Pottinger, Weber Shandwick is a member of the APPC (Association of Professional Political Consultants) so all our clients were publicly registered and we were bound by a Code of Ethical Conduct that prohibits boasting about access in the manner reported, and enforces strict separation between your professional life and any personal political activity.

      As a councillor details of my employer and all other financial interests, including hospitality above I think £20 in value, are publicly declared on the council website.

      I think I’m as transparent as it’s possible to be, as I want people to vote for or against me based on the facts about who I am, what I do and what I have done.


      • Ian

        Thanks Luke.

        Look I think the influence of any lobbyist is the heart of our problems in politics. You attended a drinks reception held by progress where Bell Pottinger paid for it.

        Now you miss the point of what I said. 

        Bell Pottinger is headed and run by the guy who was a vowed political enemy of us, do you think it is right for any organisation within the party to be funded by them in any way ?

        What do you think he wanted by hosting this ?

        How comfortable do you feel we have a faction within the party happy to take money in effect from Tories ?

        As a former lobbyist do you not understand in your old trade that what they are after is indeed influence and policies designed for them and NOT the people who elects the politicans in this country ?

        • Luke Akehurst


          All public affairs companies employ people with backgrounds in all the main political parties (and people with no party alignment who just happen to know a lot about government and politics). Public affairs companies aren’t aligned to a particular party as, if they were, how could they provide balanced advice? 

          The fact that Tim Collins is a Tory isn’t really relevant to the story today other than that it lent credibility to his boasts about access.

          Tim Collins wasn’t at the Progress event.

          You would have to ask Bell Pottinger what they expected to get from sponsoring a drinks reception. My own former company didn’t.  I assume they thought they would gain a greater background understanding of the mood in the Labour Party so that they can provide clients with a forecast on where the Opposition’s policies might be heading.

          My old trade is about advising clients should be about how to communicate with political and governmental audiences, and helping them understand the political system, the players in it, how it will affect them and how they can mitigate this through communication. Lots of organisations seek to influence government policy – commercial companies, trade unions, NGOs, charities, campaigns, overseas countries, local authorities, groups of voters. Some of them do this in-house, some ask consultants for help. Some of what they want will be what some or most voters want, some might not be. Most of it is so technical, voters would not have an opinion. This is a feature of democracy and externally provided information and feedback can improve legislation or decisions.

          The key thing is it needs to be transparent so that voters know if the government has had its stance shaped by any third party, and so that conflicts of interest are declared rather than exploited.

  • How do people who want to stand find out about how to stand? There’s no information on membersnet and first I knew of the timing of this set of elections was when you announced your slate?

    • Luke Akehurst

      The broad procedure is set out in the Rulebook.

      Notice and the full timetable gets sent by the Party to all CLP Secretaries so they can put it as an agenda item at GCs or All Member Meetings. Nominations haven’t opened yet and are opened when the notice gets sent out. This will happen in the next few weeks.

  • Rachelstalker

    If someone is interested in standing on a “slate” how would they go about it? And what mechanisms are in place to ensure the CLP section represents a cross-section of CLPs from across the country?

  • Bob Piper

    My Labour Party Branch cannot recruit members. You see, apparently our CLP is in ‘Special Measures’ although I have never been given that information from Regional Office or anyone else, nor given any explanation as to why we are in these measures, nor what is particularly special about them. Apparently the CLP Secretary gave a mumbled explanation a couple of years ago, but I can’t find anyone who can tell me what it was.

    So although we can talk to people on the doorstep, persuade them of the merits of supporting and joining Labour,  and give them an application form…when their application gets through to wherever it goes to, their torture begins. They get a letter back telling them their constituency is in ‘special measures’. And a real welcoming boost to new applicants that is. Would you send your kids to a school when your welcome letter told you the school was in special measures?

    Then they have to prove they are who they say they are. They have to prove they live where they say they live, and provide a utility bill (really difficult if you live with your parents, for instance) and photographic evidence (errm, why? The people you are sending it to don’t know what you look like anyway). 

    By this stage most applicants -well, we did get one who had the patience to bother to prove who they were and why they were prepared to pay 40-odd quid to the party – give up and say, forget it.

    But we can’t help them because we don’t know why we are in special measures, when we went in to them or when we will come out of them. The great communications machine which is the Labour Party hasn’t told the members anything, I wrote to Regional Office but apparently they couldn’t afford a stamp or know how to operate e-mail because I got no reply. 

    I’m Desperate…Dan! I’m reduced to asking questions on a blog site, god help me!

    Which part of the NEC supervises Special Measures, please?

  • Luke Akehurst

    Hi Bob

    Organisation Committee oversees this. Special Measures are applied where there is evidence that a person or faction a CLP has been involved in “recruitment of large numbers of ‘paper members’, who have no wish to participate except at the behest of others in an attempt to manipulate Party processes” (usually this means someone has tried to pack council selection meetings by recruiting paper members who only join to vote in the selection).

    In each CLP affected they are reviewed by the Compliance Unit at HQ every 6 months, as the sooner they can be lifted the better, for the reasons set out.

    The rules concerning this are in Appendix 2 of the Rulebook.


  • Luke Akehurst

    Hi Rachel, slates or tickets are organised either by candidates just agreeing to back each other or by organisations announcing they are backing certain candidates. So the answer is to talk to candidates or organisations you have political views in common with.

    There has been a debate about regional representation in the NEC section but at the moment it’s up to members when voting to take geography into account if they want to – alongside other obvious criteria like political stance and experience of candidates. Calls for regionalisation haven’t got anywhere (yet – they may do in future) because there are more regions + nations than CLP seats, and once you take into account gender balance you would need to enlarge the CLP section a lot, at which point the balance of the sections on the NEC gets altered, which would be politically contentious.

    The results last time were particularly skewed towards London because the 2 candidates for London mayor ran for NEC as well and their profile was such that people in all regions voted heavily for them.

    Under the current system the six of us are elected by the whole country and try to represent all members, not just the ones from our own region. Obviously I live in London but I’ve been a member in the two other regions when I was younger, and also a parliamentary candidate in two other regions, so I try to use this experience plus CLP visits, online comms and personal contacts round the country to ensure I reflect national concerns, not just those from the area where I live.

  • Pingback: What would an NEC role require of ‘Six-Job Ken’? | Boris Backer.()


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