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.