Labour’s NEC met on 21 March. Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson and the NEC agreed that party unity and the upcoming elections are the key priorities for all of us. The NEC endorsed Jeremy and Tom’s joint statement on party unity. We are committed to moving forward together, focusing on addressing the issues that matter most to the public and achieving the best possible results for Labour in May’s elections.
Jeremy Corbyn reported on Labour’s reaction to the budget and his meeting with the Federation of small businesses in Torquay. He also spoke about Brexit and the triggering of article 50, the importance of retaining tariff free access and membership of the customs union and preparations for forthcoming elections. Jeremy thanked the many, many members from across the party who campaigned in Copeland and Stoke Central. There followed a discussion on a number of topics including reaction to the Stoke and Copeland by-election results, the role of social media in campaigning, taking on UKIP, the Conservatives and SNP, possible visits to South Asia and/or the Caribbean, Brexit and the role that local government and devolved governments in Scotland and Wales should play in the negotiations, as well as Labour’s own vision for the UK outside the EU.
Labour’s reaction to a second independence referendum in Scotland
Jeremy Corbyn was clear that Labour does not support a second independence referendum in Scotland and is committed to defending the union and Scotland’s important place within the UK. Jeremy said it was clear there is no credible case for a second independence referendum and that the case for Scottish independence is not economically credible, particularly given the fall in oil prices. Jeremy reminded the NEC that the SNP “talk left in Westminster” but their own record in government does not match their rhetoric.
Deputy leader’s report
Tom Watson gave an update on the Scottish Labour Conference and the local government conference. He talked about the important role Councillors play demonstrating the positive difference voting Labour makes. Tom also talked about the Future of Work Commission. Tom is working with Usdaw to survey their members about the impact of automation and wearable technology in their workplaces. Tom is meeting with Matthew Taylor to discuss his review into the Gig economy. Both Jeremy and Tom look forward to campaigning together across the country in the run-up to important local government elections in May.
Reaction to the Budget
John McDonnell joined the NEC to discuss Labour’s reaction to the budget. He shared the PLP post-budget briefing and talked about the impact of Tory cuts on communities. John McDonnell reiterated his support for Labour Councillors, saying Labour Councillors deserve “nothing but praise.” John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have been very clear in rejecting calls by fringe groups for Councillors to set illegal budgets. There followed a discussion about cuts to the NHS, social care and other valued public services and how austerity measures disproportionately affect women. Concerns were raised about Tory cuts to school budgets, the impending funding crisis and the damage this will do to generations of young people. Questions covered topics like Brexit, tax justice, banking reform, bogus self-employment and how Labour’s policies will be funded.
Local government report
Nick Forbes introduced the Local Government report, including updates on business rates and the local governance finance bill, the need to a fair funding system for Councils and the urgent social care crisis. The NEC condemned Surrey Council’s sweetheart deal, revealed when the Leader of Surrey Council accidentally sent a string of text messages to the wrong Nick (aka Nickileaks). Nick Forbes passed on the good news that Mayor John Biggs has overseen Tower Hamlets Council being brought out of special measures. Nick and I shared copies of the fantastic LGA Labour Group publication which details 100 innovations Labour Councils have made, showcasing fantastic work by Councillors across the country. Nick and I also mentioned some of the highlights of the Local Government conference, including a session with Unison, Unite and GMB that I Chaired on working with trade unions, as well as a really interesting session on the implications of Brexit for local government.
Preparing for elections
Andrew Gwynne and Ian Lavery joined the NEC to give an update about preparations for the local government elections and a possible snap General Election. The Labour Party is conducting an audit of marginal constituencies to establish their campaigning and resource requirements ahead of an early General Election. If an early General Election is called there will be an emergency NEC meeting to determine the process for things like candidate selection and agreeing the manifesto.
There are key elections taking place in May, including 33 English County Council elections, 8 English unitary elections, 22 local authority elections in Wales, 32 local authority elections in Scotland (using STV), two Council Mayoral elections and six City Region/Combined Authority Mayoral elections. 2017’s elections are currently the top priority for the Labour Party. Labour will be looking to mobilise members from areas where there are no elections to join campaigning in the key regions. Labour will also be using phonebanks, virtual phonebanks and digital campaigning to supplement traditional doorstep campaigning. There are new tools for activists including the new voter ID app. Andrew Gwynne has agreed to meet Nick and I to discuss election plans so please do get in touch if there is anything you would like us to feedback.
Labour party membership
Labour currently has around 520,000 members. This includes 40,000 members who have lapsed within the last six months. Membership is expected to continue to decline from the historic high last July and this has been built in to Labour’s financial planning. Despite the decline in membership, Labour remains one of the largest political parties in the world.
Glenis Willmott gave the European Parliamentary Labour Party report, which focused on the difficult negotiations ahead of the triggering of Article 50. She noted concerns that the perceived threats and intimidation for the UK government is building hostility amongst our European partners. There is a fear that this makes it harder to build the alliances necessary for the UK to secure a good exit deal. Glenis and Jeremy talked about the importance of retaining tariff free access and membership of the customs union. Failure to secure this has particularly worrying implications for Northern Ireland. Labour does not want to see a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Staffing for the leader’s office
Jeremy Corbyn set the record straight about a bizarre rumour that the Labour Party is withholding resources for the Leader’s Office. Jeremy wanted to make it absolutely clear that this is completely untrue. There are more staff employed in Jeremy Corbyn’s office than Ed Miliband had employed in his office at any time during the last parliament.
The very best of luck to everyone standing for election in May. Please do get in touch if you have any questions. You can sign-up to receive my mailing list or read reports from previous NEC meetings on my blog.