How Labour’s NEC row unfolded, and what is expected of Sunak’s spending

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We saw another dramatic day in Labour land yesterday as 13 members of the national executive committee (NEC) walked out of the first meeting held by the new ruling body. It was an ‘away day’, exploring internal governance, safeguarding and 2021 election preparations, but this was preceded by votes for a new chair and vice-chair. The Labour left were angry that the current system for choosing a chair was being overturned: they would have expected the FBU’s Ian Murray to be next, as he was vice-chair, but the leadership decided to restore the old system of seniority (the longest-serving NEC member becomes chair). This sparked the protest, described by one NEC source as a “complete overreaction to an inevitable change of control”.

The left thought the move was a “slap in the face” to trade unions, as Matt Wrack put it, and “another example of the leader promoting factional division”, according to their subsequent letter to general secretary David Evans. Keir Starmer securing control of the NEC chairpersonship comes after the Baker’s Union only last week announced it would consult its members on staying affiliated to Labour and after the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn (and readmittance and withholding of the whip). It is no surprise that yesterday’s decision caused fireworks. But with a quorate meeting going ahead without those 13 members, Margaret Beckett now heads the NEC along with Alice Perry as vice-chair.

The focus today will not be with Labour’s internal battles: following Prime Minister’s Questions at noon, Rishi Sunak will unveil his spending review. The government is promoting the one-year plan as being targeted at “jobs, jobs, jobs”, and it is expected there will be a £2.9bn ‘Restart’ scheme to help the unemployed find work, £1.4bn for Job Centre Plus and work coaches, as well as infrastructure spending. The commitments made by the geek chic Chancellor will probably be covered with lots of gushing comments along the lines of ‘ooh, isn’t he brave to be so unafraid of debt?’. Great efforts will have to be made to draw the conversation back to the reality of people’s lives and get some perspective.

Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has written a piece for LabourList setting out three things to look out for (expect the opposition to scrutinise the announcements on capital spending, a pay freeze and post-Brexit funding arrangements) and four things to hope for (retraining and reskilling workers, a green recovery, supporting the NHS and local services). This is a clear guide to Labour’s priorities on the economy, and well worth a read. The other row that may emerge is over foreign aid spending, with the government expected to break a Tory manifesto promise by cutting it from the 0.7% of gross national income enshrined in law to 0.5%. We’ll be keeping up with all the developments, so stay tuned.

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