Covid voting concerns, membership, policy development – Labour NEC report

Alice Perry

Leader’s report

Keir Starmer joined the national executive committee (NEC) Zoom meeting from Heathrow airport, where he was working with Unite to tackle the practice of firing and rehiring workers on worse terms and conditions. 

Keir spoke about May’s crucial elections. These are the biggest ever set of elections outside of a national general election. There are Scottish parliamentary elections, Welsh Senedd elections, mayoral elections, police and crime commissioner elections and over 5,000 councillors up for election. Keir talked about how the Covid-19 pandemic changes the way we can campaign. He thanked everyone for recent efforts on the Dialogue telephone canvasing app and all the work and energy local parties are putting into elections.

Keir spoke at the forthcoming budget on March 3rd. The government has been slow, indecisive and plagued by cronyism. Keir said that the root cause of the UK’s horrific Covid-19 death rate, the highest in Europe, is a result of the UK’s deep structural inequality, exacerbated by a decade of Tory austerity. Keir talked about how Labour must articulate at alternative path – not back to the UK’s broken model at the start of the pandemic, but to a new, different, better future that addresses these structural inequalities. Keir made the point that Labour values of wanting to make the UK better than it is now, with better opportunities and standards of living for our communities, is a uniting, patriotic vision that we share.

Keir reported on the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) work on opposition day motions. Labour has been using opposition day motions to highlight key issues that expose the division and inaction of Boris Johnson’s government. Recent motions have included fire and rehire, Universal Credit and flammable cladding.

Keir’s report was followed by a discussion on a range of topics, including the importance of May’s elections, early voting, Labour’s messaging and communication, winning back Labour voters and rebuilding trust, the impact of the pandemic, school closures, long Covid, statutory sick pay, the importance of extending the job retention scheme, tackling maternity and pregnancy discrimination, local government funding, patriotism, proper pay for key workers, community organising and the Indian farmers protests.

Deputy leader’s report

Angela Rayner gave an update on preparations for May’s elections. Angela addressed the concerns from local government about the safety of holding the elections during the pandemic. The Conservatives have rejected many of the measures that could make the elections safer, including holding an all-postal vote election or voting on multiple days. The Tories have not engaged with or addressed concerns. Many buildings that are usually polling stations are currently testing centres or vaccination centres.

Angela talked about the importance of postal votes and reminded the NEC that Dialogue has a button you can press to send out postal votes and we all need to do everything we can register more postal voters. Angela spoke about the increase in phone canvassing activity, with over 10,000 contacts this week alone. 

Welsh NEC rep (and former First Minister) Carwyn Jones reminded the NEC that in Wales they wanted to have an all-postal election or voting over three days but were blocked by the Westminster government. Carwyn emphasised the importance of signing people up for postal votes. 

Angela also updated the NEC on her efforts to increase diversity in candidates. She has made a particular push to increase diversity in the remaining police and crime commission selections. This has led to more female and Black candidates being selected.

I raised concerns the safety of May’s election. I asked what advice SAGE have given the government about May’s elections and how to make them as safe as possible. I raised the issue of candidates needing to get nomination papers signed (some candidates require 100 signatures). I asked about the safety of staff and volunteers at polling stations or counts. I also raised the issue of it not being possible to register for postal voters online.

I asked Angela about her recent efforts to increase the number of women and/or BAME mayoral candidates. It is great to see we have a female candidate selected to be the West Yorkshire metro mayor and will select a woman to be our candidate to be mayor of Liverpool. While lots more needs to be done, this is positive progress. I also raised the issue of lack of parental leave for councillors.

General secretary’s report

David Evans gave an update on the Forde Inquiry. You can read more about the work of the Forde Inquiry on their website at fordeinquiry.org. David spoke about last week’s local government conference and the importance of working much closer with local government in future. David gave an update about election preparations. He updated the NEC on the internal review, that covered structure, resources and organisational culture.

David updated the NEC on the EHRC action plan progress. David spoke about membership suspensions. He updated the NEC with the latest statistics about recent suspensions. David updated the NEC on NEC delegated authority. The NEC delegates powers to the general secretary. The EHRC report clarified and codified the issue of agency. It is essential that agents of the party act appropriately, responsibly and in accordance with our rules. I asked for clarification and guidance to be given to Labour groups and LCFs (local campaign forums) so everyone could be clear about their responsibilities.

Membership

Labour currently has over 510,000 members. Membership has been broadly stable over the year. I have been reporting membership figures since the membership surge began in 2016. This figure always includes lapsed members.

Policy development review

Over 2,000 people made submissions to the recent policy development review. Issues raised include a transparency around the policy making process, the role of conference, how to make the NPF (national policy forum) and policy commission meetings more effective and democratic, improving the culture of debate within the party, the role of the shadow cabinet in policy-making and how to make policy development more inclusive.

Student structures

The NEC agreed a working group to review Labour’s student structures. The group will make recommendations to the NEC.

Armed forces covenant

The NEC agreed that Labour should sign up to the armed forces covenant.

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