“Quite removed from the experiences and concerns of much of the membership”

Ann Henderson reports on Labour’s National Executive Committee

Since returning to Labour’s NEC early February, following Laura Pidcock’s decision to stand down, I have attended meetings of the NEC Equalities Committee, the NEC Disputes Panel, NEC Organisation Committee, NEC Development Panel, and participated in one Disputes Panel hearing. I also attended the full NEC meeting on 29th March.  It’s a time-consuming commitment, especially when unexpected. And it’s somewhat frustrating, as it appears to me that the decisions being taken at NEC level are quite removed from the experiences and concerns of much of the membership.

Many of the decisions of the recent NEC meeting have been reported elsewhere – with news headlines on the additional proscriptions on three left groupings and the move to consult with Party staff trade unions on ending the Defined Benefit Pension scheme. Other items included a report on the digital media strategy; an update on the new Independent complaints procedure;  the launch of the local government election campaign; reports on Party organisation from General Secretary David Evans and on the parliamentary work led by Keir Starmer and the Shadow Cabinet. Angela Rayner was not in attendance due to commitments in the House of Commons.  

Keir Starmer‘s report focused on the Party’s response on Ukraine; the reaction to the P & O Ferries dismissal of over 800 workers; and the Cost of Living crisis. Contributions emphasised the need for stronger lines on trade union rights for agency workers; on seeking firm commitments to support forthcoming industrial action in the public and private sector and workers fighting to maintain living standards; on challenging the Party to speak up for disabled people, and for those not in work; and questioning whether appearing to focus internally on those who had signed Stop the War petitions was the right priority. Keir reaffirmed the Party’s commitment to employment rights from day one at work, agreed the Party should be looking outward, and claimed to take on board the point on disabled people.

Membership figures were reported as around 400,300, with at least 30,000 in arrears. Also noted was the continued impact of the cyber security attack affecting the Party’s ability to track important information, for example on equality monitoring.  

The focus on the local government election campaigns across Britain is clear at an organisational level in every Party region and nation, and the campaign report was upbeat. For me, and other left CLP reps, there was little acknowledgement of the difficulties in getting activists out to campaign -only part of which can be attributed to the impact of Covid – and the delays and issues in selecting candidates in many areas.

Coming so soon after the UK Labour Women’s conference, held online 19th/20th March, it was disappointing to say the least, that there was no sense of how the policies and campaign strategy will represent the priorities from Labour women. Given that women form the majority of the public sector workforce and play a key role in so many community organisations at local level, it has to be hoped that Labour Groups take this on board at local level. Also long overdue is some serious analysis of where women are within Labour Groups, and why some women have decided to stand down after only one term of office.

There were very few papers brought to the NEC meeting, unlike under Jennie Formby’s time as General Secretary, so it was hard to analyse what’s happening with polling, with the membership, with the complaints procedure, or with Party finances. While an assertion has been made that there are virtually no outstanding complaints, with a special team having been brought in to clear the backlog, I know as a CLP rep that this is not what members are telling me.

Decisions were taken at the NEC to recommend significant changes to the pension scheme which affects over half of the Party staff members, on the grounds ‘it could no longer be afforded’ but a full financial report was not given.  The Party membership has dropped significantly since 2019, over £650,000 was spent in an out of court settlement to some staff in July 2020, which was not in the budget, and a major redundancy programme is being implemented. A lot has changed in a short time and some responsibility needs to be taken by the current leadership for that. On this point I again see a gap between the tone of the NEC meetings, and the questions being asked by members – in particular on the pensions issue – a gap between trade union demands elsewhere and how Labour’s staff are treated.

Despite much talk about the importance of looking outwards, and indeed, the recent Annual Labour Women’s Conference showed that members are doing exactly that – with passionate and committed speeches on supporting women refugees, on investing in our health service, on tackling violence against women and girls – the Party leadership made a priority of issuing further proscriptions and bans on what can and can’t be discussed by members. This means more internal focus, staff time used up searching social media, preparing case papers, handling appeals, and an ever- growing list of members who are finding themselves suspended or expelled ‘by association’ for having read an article online or listened to speakers at external events.  Another disconnect.  Along with four other CLP reps, Nadia Jama, Mish Rahman, Yasmine Dar and Gemma Bolton, I voted against all the proscriptions. The other CLP reps – Ann Black, Gurinder Singh Josan, Johanna Baxter, Luke Akehurst all supported the recommendations.

Meanwhile, the Forde Inquiry, which was expected to have given an initial report before I came off the NEC in November 2020, has still not reported to the NEC. This week we were advised it was nearly ready and would be brought to the NEC meeting on May 24th. A date for the diary….

Ann Henderson is Vice Chair of CLPD and a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (CLP section). She writes in a personal capacity.

Image: c/o Labour CND

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