Selections, disablism code of conduct and BAME Labour – Labour NEC report

Ann Black

The meeting opened with tributes to Steve Swift, Tommy McAvoy, John Tomlinson, Ruth Henig, Alistair Darling, Ronnie Campbell, Roy Roebuck, Hanzala Malik and Tim Brighouse.

General secretary David Evans said the date for calling a general election on May 2nd had now passed. This was disappointing, but staff could now focus on council, mayoral and police and crime commissioner contests and the Blackpool South by-election, which would probably be on the same day. Given the fragile state of the Tory Party and the possibility of sudden collapse, Labour had to remain on full alert.

Security for MPs, councillors and activists was a growing concern, and he had written to roleholders with guidance on organising events and safe canvassing. Cybersecurity measures were being strengthened.

Selections, membership figures and women’s conference

I apologise again to Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) who are still awaiting a parliamentary candidate or who feel that they have had insufficient choice. With support from other representatives, I repeated requests for regular communication with the “non-battleground” seats.

Some CLPs discovered their candidate through social media, others were informed of shortlists 12 days after the candidates. Shortlisting panels were proud of having arranged a diverse group of candidates, but the NEC must then take responsibility for supporting them and building connections with local parties where necessary.

Members are loyal and will understand the pressures on staff, the impact of sudden by-elections and the need for stringent due diligence checks, but only if they are trusted with the facts. Other parties and the media are keen to exploit any vacuum.

If the general secretary wrote regularly to all 211 CLPs, it would save time for the regional staff and NEC members currently fielding dozens of individual queries and complaints. David hoped he would be able to improve communications soon. After the election, he promised to look after candidates who did not win despite their best efforts, and this is welcome.

Total membership stood at 354,891 with a further 11,713 in arrears, and around 30% donate on top of their subscription. David enthused about the lottery, which is already raising hundreds of thousands of pounds, and if local parties persuade their members to sign up, they get to keep half the income. Perhaps it should include a special jackpot prize where a CLP can win the candidate of their choice.

I followed up on motions to women’s conference, because if “contemporary” criteria are combined with the deadline of August 21st 2024, women would have to meet in the first half of August to submit valid motions. David said he would see if the dates could be shifted.

Finally, David agreed that Tory changes to electoral processes amounted to voter suppression, from requiring National Insurance numbers for postal votes to photo ID at polling stations.

Campaigns update and overseas voters

Deputy campaign co-ordinator Ellie Reeves and campaign director Morgan McSweeney gave updates on key mayoral and council campaigns. The core messages continue to be that the country needs change, the Tories have failed, Keir Starmer has changed Labour and Labour has a long-term plan to stop the chaos and begin to renew.

The Tories are pursuing a scorched-earth policy, talking about £46bn in unfunded National Insurance cuts and wasting £500m on trying to send 300 asylum seekers to Rwanda, while personal tax is up by £870 a year. Their claims of extra spending on social care relied on council tax rising by 4.99% while councils were starved of funds and people were paying more and getting less.

Members asked about allocation of resources among the 150 must-win constituencies and co-ordinating with trade union support and about registering British citizens abroad, a campaign promoted by Labour International. These are now eligible to vote regardless of how long they have lived outside the UK, and they are not necessarily Conservatives. Canvassing them directly would be resource-intensive, but many members have friends and family around the world, and at my request, Ellie has agreed to include a note in a future mailing. The rules can be found here.

Leader’s report

Keir Starmer stressed the need to maintain focus and discipline. He welcomed the election of Vaughan Gething as Welsh leader and First Minister, the first Black leader in Europe, and thanked Mark Drakeford for his leadership through the pandemic.

Good results in May would set the mood and help to continue putting the positive case for Labour through the summer. We should do well, but were taking nothing for granted. Members noted that the mayoral voting system had changed to first past the post. Second preferences no longer counted, and messaging had to explain that every vote for another party risked letting the Tories in.

I asked about Labour’s child poverty strategy in light of the latest damning statistics, and the Middle East after the latest United Nations vote. Keir agreed that an anti-poverty strategy was essential from day one, even with all the financial constraints. The Security Council vote was a pivotal moment, and the UK position reflected Labour’s policy, endorsed by parliament despite wrecking attempts by other parties. A million people were trapped in dire circumstances, unable to move forward or back, and space was essential to bring the hostages out, get humanitarian aid in and work towards an eventual two-state solution. However, calling for a ceasefire was sadly not enough to make the fighting stop.

Trade union representatives emphasised that the New Deal for Working People must be delivered in full. It was popular and transformative, and comments by past Labour grandees were not helpful. Keir said he was absolutely committed to the Deal, first because basic protection was essential to the dignity of people at work and second because good terms and conditions were a precondition for productivity. He had told the TUC that Labour would partner with business and equally told business that Labour was pro-union.

Others raised skyrocketing rents, planning and housing reform, the absence of Boris Johnson’s 40 new hospitals, diversity at every level of the party and the WASPI women, who lost out when the pension age was accelerated to 65 without telling them. Keir said this was a huge injustice and an illustration of institutional failure, citing also the Post Office, Hillsborough and the contaminated blood scandal. Leaving the country worse off after 14 years in government was an appalling indictment. He declined to discuss individual disciplinary cases, but laid out the procedural complexities where an outcome was not clear-cut.

Deputy leader’s report

Angela Rayner was preparing to launch Labour’s local government election campaign. Tory ‘levelling up’ was a sham and had failed to reduce regional and sub-regional inequalities. In contrast, Labour would give councils sustainable longer-term funding, and also end no-fault evictions, promised by Michael Gove but now abandoned along with adequate leasehold reform. She was uneasy about his motives in talking about the very serious issue of extremism.

She would not water down the New Deal and was working behind the scenes to reassure employers that for instance they could still dismiss people, they just couldn’t dismiss them unfairly. She agreed that bringing back fees for employment tribunals was a retrograde step, as rights were worthless unless they could be enforced. Finally, she thanked members for their solidarity against the personal abuse to which she and too many other public figures are subjected.

Bernie Grant programme and code of conduct on disablism

The second cohort of the Bernie Grant leadership programme, designed for Black members, received 528 applications for a total of 30 places, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The NEC recorded thanks to the external relations team and everyone who contributed and hoped to see the graduates go on to succeed. The next cohort would aim to recruit from the wider BAME membership.

The meeting agreed a code of conduct on disablism and thanked NEC members Ellen Morrison and Anneliese Dodds and others involved in its preparation. The code applies to hostility or prejudice on the basis of disability and is built around the social model, whereby people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their own impairment or difference. It should be on the website soon.

NEC members stressed the need for practical guidance and support for local parties in making meetings, campaigning and other activities inclusive and accessible. I asked about the role of hybrid meetings in facilitating participation. Some CLPs are running these successfully, but hybrid meetings are rarely allowed where secret ballots are held, for instance at AGMs and candidate selections. This is a wider issue which needs its own analysis.

NEC members hoped that further codes, including an LGBT+ code, would follow, but it was stressed that prejudice based on any legally protected characteristic was against party rules whether or not there was a specific code, and no-one should be deterred from lodging complaints.

BAME Labour

There was no immediate consensus on proposals for reviving BAME Labour, which has not functioned properly for some time. Their last AGM was held in 2018. This has been of concern for years, so it was disappointing that the NEC only received the paper the night before the meeting.

There were conflicting accounts of the current situation, and the make-up of the interim transition committee was opaque. Some members asked for time to consult their constituencies. After listening to the debate, I agreed with those who said that far from failing BAME Labour, the NEC could fail them by rushing through unexamined proposals. This had to be accepted by all as a rescue plan, not a takeover.

The paper was deferred by 13 votes to 10 with some abstentions. I voted with the majority and am confident that in May there will be unanimous support. Finally, the NEC endorsed updates to Labour’s safeguarding policies.

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