Gemma Bolton’s Update from Labour’s NEC – 20th July

By Gemma Bolton

Labour’s National Executive Committee met on 20th July 2021 and ran late into the evening. Below is a report from the NEC and the key decisions made. 

Leader’s Report

Keir Starmer reported on his work as leader of the party, including the Batley & Spen by-election. I asked Keir Starmer about a Survation poll published on 13th July which put the Tory Party at 43% and Labour at 32% and whether he believed his strategy of attacking the left of the Labour party more passionately than he attacked the Tory party would lead to electoral success for Labour. He replied that he was in fact offering a robust opposition to the Tories. He also fielded questions on a number of other issues such as returning the whip to Jeremy Corbyn, his apparent failure to challenge a reactionary comment from a voter on the laziness of young people and the party being outflanked to its left by the Tory Party on NHS pay. 

Forde Inquiry

The NEC received a very brief update on the Forde Inquiry into the ‘Labour Leaks’ document, which suggested internal sabotage of the party’s disciplinary process and 2017 general election campaign. The report is now over 12 months late and CLP reps urged the General Secretary in the strongest possible terms to find a way for Martin Forde QC to publish it. My NEC colleague Nadia Jama asked that Forde be invited to the next NEC meeting so that we can receive an update, which David Evans agreed to look into. If this does not materialise, myself and other CLP reps will attempt to arrange a meeting with Forde. Autumn is the timeframe in which NEC members were told to expect publication of the most important aspects of the report, with only the aspects related to the leaking of the document delayed due to an ongoing investigation from the Information Commissioner’s Office.  

Membership, Staffing and Finance

The NEC were informed of a stark drop in party membership, and were given an update on the party’s current financial situation, which I regret to report is in an extremely concerning state. We were therefore informed that a significant number of staff would have to be fired and a restructuring of the staffing operation would be carried out. My solidarity is with party staff who work so hard to deliver a Labour government and who are facing unemployment in the middle of a pandemic. I note the party is currently hiring temp staff to investigate cases. The party denies that this leaves us open to attacks of engaging in fire and rehire practices. 

In general, the party’s financial strategy currently seems to be to alienate members and trade unions, drive them out of the party, and deal with the financial and staffing consequences later. An urgent change of direction needs to occur, in which party members and trade unions are valued, in order to reverse this worrying trajectory. 

Proscriptions

As widely reported, a paper was presented to the NEC that proposed a new process for proscribing organisations from the Labour Party, and recommended that four organisations be proscribed from the party. As detailed in a collective statement prior to the NEC, I and the other Grassroots Voice 5 CLP representatives voted against the proscriptions. We are anti-racists and are committed to tackling racism and specifically anti-Semitism wherever it may arise in our party. We are also steadfast against people supporting candidates that stand against the Labour Party in elections. We believe, however, that the party already has processes in place for dealing with members that fall foul of these rules and expectations. Instead, what this looks like is a signal from the Labour leadership to the public that the priority in the middle of a pandemic is to attack their own party. I reminded colleagues at the NEC that this strategy of attacking one’s own party more than the Tories didn’t win Kinnock a General Election and it won’t win us one this time. 

Annual Conference 

Labour Party Annual Conference is due to go ahead this year, and will be held from the 25th-29th September in Brighton. The current working plan is for the conference to be held in person, although the party is aware that this may change due to government Covid restrictions. The NEC also discussed plans for a hybrid conference (some delegates attending in person and some online) and a fully online conference, if necessary. Below is an outline of the different scenarios we discussed: 

Plan A – fully in-person conference 

Plan B – hybrid conference, in person and online

Plan C – online conference

I’m really looking forward to this year’s conference, which should be an opportunity for members and trade unions to assert a socialist policy agenda that opposes the Tory attacks on our jobs and living standards, and not an opportunity for people to cosplay Kinnock’s 1980s left-bashing, which convinced the public that Labour were too divided to govern the country. 

Independent Complaints Process 

A paper was brought to the NEC which outlined a proposal for an independent complaints process. It was proposed that an Independent Review Panel of external lawyers be established that would oversee and have a power of veto over decisions made by NEC disciplinary panels regarding complaints related to protected characteristics. An Independent Appeal Board (made up of 4 lawyers, 4 lay members and four HR or regulatory experts) would also be established to hear any appeals against these decisions, or any complaints that an NEC panel feels it should hear. 

I accept the EHRC recommendations outlined in its report on the party and am committed to the Labour Party rebuilding its relationship with Jewish voters and members. I did not support this paper, however, because in my view it does not present an independent process for dealing with complaints, something the EHRC report mandated the party to create.  

The paper proposed that the Independent Review Panel and the Independent Appeal Board outlined above would, in effect, be recruited by the General Secretary. In my view this does not represent an independent complaints process. As the chief officer of the Labour Party, the General Secretary would form part of the prosecution process. For the General Secretary to recruit these panels, in my view, is tantamount to the prosecutor recruiting the jury / judge. It undermines the independence of the panels and goes against principles of natural justice. 

The NEC will be presented with rule changes to establish this complaints process in September, which will then be voted on by delegates at party conference. 

Codes of Conduct on Islamophobia 

A Code of Conduct was passed by the NEC on instances of Islamophobia, following consultations with Muslim stakeholders. It is a code of conduct the party can be proud of and I hope that it will go some way towards tackling Islamophobic prejudice in our party. This positive step was somewhat undermined, however, by the recent reports that Trevor Phillips – who has repeatedly expressed vile Islamophobic beliefs – has been re-admitted to party membership before completion of the disciplinary process. 

Muslim NEC colleagues Mish Rahman and Yasmine Dar also pointed out that the meeting yesterday was held on Eid Al-Adha, meaning that Muslim NEC members were not able to celebrate this important religious festival with their families. This was extremely disappointing and shows that the NEC needs to improve its commitment to equality and inclusion. May I wish Eid Mubarak to all Labour Party members celebrating. 

Gemma Bolton is an NEC CLP Representative and Co-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.

This report also appears on the website of CLPD .

Image: Middle East Monitor, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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