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Standing up for Labour’s Grassroots – #GrassrootsVoice 5 NEC Report

“In the context of 120,000 people dead from Covid-19, & the attacks on people’s jobs & living standards through renewed & harsher austerity imposed by the Tories, we are asking for much bolder opposition from the Labour frontbench.”

Full NEC Meeting – 11th February 2021 – Report from Gemma Bolton, Yasmine Dar, Nadia Jama, Laura Pidcock & Mish Rahman

Leader’s Report

The NEC received a report from the Labour leader, which covered: universal credit, cladding, airports relating to job losses and plans for the local election campaign.

Keir was questioned on his lack of support for the National Education Union and how often he has seemingly supported the government rather than calling out their gross cruelty. Keir reminded us that the party has been using opposition motion days to work on action over cladding and Universal Credit cuts. We welcome action on these deeply important issues. However, in the context of 120,000 people dead from Covid-19, and the attacks on people’s jobs and living standards through renewed and harsher austerity imposed by the Tories, we are asking for much bolder opposition from the Labour frontbench.

We raised concerns about the consistent addition of the Union Jack flag to all of the party’s branding. Black GV5 member Nadia Jama recalled racist abuse around the flag such as being told “there’s no black in the Union Jack” when younger. For many of the communities Labour hopes to represent, and which we often rely on for a large percentage of our vote share, the flag has negative connotations that the party is neither considering nor doing anything to address.

Keir was asked why the PLP had been whipped to abstain on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources bill, which would enshrine into law the ability of undercover agents to break the law without proper limitations and safeguards. We feel this is deeply dangerous and undermines a fundamental principle that the law must apply to everyone equally. We feel strongly that the Labour Party should have opposed this bill robustly. Keir Starmer defended his actions, saying it was the right decision to abstain on the bill as national security would have been weakened had this bill not passed.

Finally, Keir was reminded that the NEC meeting took place 3 months after the decision not to restore the whip to former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, despite his being re-admitted to party membership by a democratic sub-panel of Labour’s NEC. When the decision to not restore the whip was taken, Keir said the matter would be kept under review. NEC members received (and continue to receive) thousands of emails from members calling for the whip to be restored. In the name of democracy, respect for the party’s processes and party unity, and in the context of us embarking on a local election campaign with a starkly-split party and disgruntled membership, it is time this sorry business was put behind us. Jeremy is a Labour member and a member of parliament; he should also be a Labour Member of Parliament.

Deputy Leader’s Report

Angela gave the NEC an update on her work as deputy leader and Party chair. She reported back on her work to ensuring diverse candidates, specifically mentioning successes in bringing about greater diversity among the Police and Crime Commissioner candidates. Questions were asked with regard to ensuring those diverse candidates were also standing in winnable seats.

Angela further talked about her commitment to community organising despite multiple staff members of Labour’s Community Organising Unit losing their jobs in the middle of a pandemic due to the unit being entirely scrapped. David Evans later argued this was lack of finances but this doesn’t seem to hold true given that the party is hiring for a number of new roles. Biden’s victory in the United States, particularly in places such as the Georgia, shows how political parties can win by deep organising in the communities it wishes to represent. For Labour to win back areas we have tragically lost in recent years, community organising is essential. In light of this, it is of deep regret that the Community Organising Unit is being abolished. The whole situation smacks of an attempt to remove a unit that is simply deemed to be an imposition from the previous leadership. We also believe it was the most diverse unit in the party.

General Secretary’s Report

i) Forde Inquiry Update

The NEC was supposed to receive an update on the Forde Inquiry into the ‘Labour Leaks’ report, which alleged: factional mis-handling of antisemitism cases; abuse and harassment of party members and Black MPs by party staff, as well as internal sabotage of the party’s 2017 General Election campaign through the misappropriation of funds.

We were disappointed to be told by the Forde Inquiry that they had taken the decision to further delay the publication of the report as a result of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigating a potential data breach related to the leaking of the report. Forde argues that such publication of the report could prejudice the ICO investigation.

The publication of the report has already been extensively delayed – we echo this statement from 9 black MPs on the subject. Party members deserve the truth and justice for what went on.

ii) EHRC Implementation 

The EHRC action plan was approved by the EHRC in December. Setting out a framework for required stakeholder engagement, an advisory board and engagement group to sit below the advisory board. The education and training programme is also underway.

iii) Membership

The NEC received an update on Party membership. We were greatly concerned to hear of a swift decline in party members, especially amongst those who are young, Disabled and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. Labour members are our party’s greatest asset, and are a campaigning army to deliver seats and wins for Labour. We will pursue the party to regularly update the NEC on the work it is doing to win back members.

iv) Suspensions

The NEC received an update on suspensions from the party. We stated that suspensions should never be used as a form of punishment. This is an abuse of our procedures. We were told that the cases are now being processed but we are concerned that this is happening so slowly. We are keeping this under review and are asking questions at every opportunity.

v) Staffing

Alongside explanations as to why the Community Organising Unit was being removed, General Secretary David Evans reported that we now have equalities staff networks for women, disability, and more. There has also been the implementation of a prayer room and quiet space. There are now also free sanitary products at the offices and a menopause policy. The party is about to appoint an ‘Executive Director for People and Talent’. Clarity is yet to be obtained on what this role actually entails! There will also be ACAS inclusive training and training on Trans Rights from Gendered Intelligence.

Policy Development Review Update 

In line with the democracy review, Labour has undertaken a review of the way in which the party develops its policy. It looks at the relationship between the National Policy Forum, Party Conference and the formulation of the manifesto. We believe that if the review goes ahead as planned, more power will be handed to members over the way in which labour develops policy.

Sandwell Update

Due to a variety of longstanding issues in the Labour-controlled borough of Sandwell, the NEC agreed to send two representatives to work alongside West Midlands Regional Executive Committee members in selecting candidates for the upcoming May elections.

Sandwell is an area with a large Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population and NEC CLP reps Yasmine Dar and Mish Rahman were suggested to form part of the panel. Two white NEC members were also put forward to be on the panel. Grassroots Voice reps and left Trade Union colleagues argued that in the interests of ensuring gender balance and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation in this diverse area, Yasmine and Mish should be appointed by the NEC on this occasion. It went to a vote that we lost, meaning that the NEC voted to send two white men as our representatives on this panel. This was an extremely disappointing outcome.

Labour Students

At an NEC meeting prior to Labour Party Conference 2019, the organisation formerly known as Labour Students was disaffiliated from the Labour Party, following a vote from the NEC. This was due to years of anti-democratic decisions and disenfranchisement of its own members.

The NEC was asked to agree a paper establishing a Labour Students Working Group to bring a proposal for the new structure to the NEC for agreement, the proposed makeup of the working group was:

NEC Chair

NEC Vice-Chair

NEC Treasurer

NEC Youth Representative

Young Labour Student Representatives

NEC CLP Representative

NEC Trade Union Representative

NEC Socialist Societies representative

Deputy Leader and Party Chair

It was agreed that Gemma Bolton and Luke Akehurst would jointly represent the CLPs and Michael Wheeler would represent the Trade Unions. An amendment was also moved that the 3 student reps on the Young Labour National Committee should be added as the only representatives in the party with a mandate explicitly from Student members of the party. This passed and was a win for party democracy.

The initial meeting of the working group took place on 12th March and there was broad consensus on the majority of issues. The group will meet again to formalise the agreements into a proposal and discuss the issues that did not reach consensus.

Letter to David Evans 

On December 11th, an unprecedented letter from 284 Party Chairs and Secretaries from over 180 Constituency Parties was sent to David Evans, expressing their concern over the guidance issued to Party Units restricting certain matters of political discussion, including expressions of solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn over his suspension and the restoration of the whip. A huge number of CLP Officers have been suspended following non-compliance with this guidance. CLP reps are working hard to rectify this situation. The Grassroots Voice candidates, along with our colleagues on the NEC, wrote to David Evans asking that his guidance be withdrawn and that he responds to these hard working volunteers. David has now responded and you can read his response, as well as the views of some of the CLP secretaries to his response here. You can read the original letter from the 284 Chairs and Secretaries here.

Organisation Subcommittee – 11th March 2021

EHRC Action Plan

In response to the EHRC report, Labour has drawn up an action plan, which has been accepted by the EHRC, in order to deal with the findings of the report. This includes making changes to the Social Media Policy code of conduct, the Confidentiality and Privacy Code of Conduct as well as creating Codes of Conduct on Anti-Black racism and Islamophobia.

Code of Conduct: Social Media Policy

In order to carry out the EHRC action plan, the Social Media Policy has been changed and we urge members to take a read of the document, which is available here. A key item of note is the addition that liking or sharing content deemed to be at odds with party rules and codes of conduct on fighting discrimination will now lead to disciplinary action.

We proposed multiple amendments in order to make sure all forms of discrimination were adequately and equally opposed within the party. All amendments passed.

We also sought assurances that after completion of the codes of conduct that are being drawn up on anti-black racism and Islamophobia, which are part of the implementation of the EHRC report, we would begin drawing up codes of conduct on all other forms of discrimination named within the rulebook and current codes of conduct in order to adequately define what constitutes a rule breach. This should mean codes of conduct are forthcoming on forms of discrimination such as Ableism, Transphobia and Homophobia.

Code of Conduct: Confidentiality and Privacy

A paper on Confidentiality and Privacy was presented for consideration. A number of concerns were raised, including the importance of elected representatives reporting back to members and those they are accountable to about NEC meetings. The paper was referred to a future meeting of the Organisation Sub-Committee so that more time could be given for consideration of its proposals.

Development of an Islamophobia Code of Conduct and an Anti-Black Racism Code of Conduct

Both papers were agreed with slight amendments and work is swiftly underway to put the codes of conduct in place. Nadia Jama and Carol Sewell are to be included in the group undertaking the anti-Black racism work together with other stakeholders and Black MPs.

In light of the EHRC and Labour Muslim Network reports, drawing up these Codes of Conduct are an important step in dealing with these forms of discrimination within the party.

NEC Aims and Objectives

Paper agreed. The need for greater policy from the party was stressed. It is important that the NEC and its elected committees and officers play an important role in the leadership of our party on governance and policy.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Structures working group outcomes

The long awaited new Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic structures and how a national committee would be composed and elected were finalised in this meeting.

The  Black Asian and Minority Ethnic committee structures will have CLP representation, Trade Union representation and reps from the PLP, ALC, NEC etc.

We managed to increase the number of CLP reps to gain parity with TU reps (11 each), something that the working group had failed to get consensus on.

We argued and voted for both the Chair of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Committee and the CLP places to be voted by OMOV (One Member, One Vote).

We argued this because we felt it was  important that EVERY Black, Asian and  Minority Ethnic Labour member gets a vote and not just the few who are able to go to a conference.

Unfortunately this was unsuccessful in a vote. We voted for OMOV on both occasions, which is what our members wanted as per the Democracy Review, while other CLP reps and even the NEC BAME rep voted against it. This is not good for member democracy in our view as it is our role as CLP representatives to speak up for rank and file members so we would have expected other CLP representatives to do the same.

Our major area of concern was allowing two voting positions to BAME Labour.

To sum them up: BAME Labour is a near defunct pocket organisation that represents almost no one in the Party.

We raised our concerns and asked for clarification on whether this moribund organisation is an official affiliate, whether it pays its affiliation fees to the Party and how many members they have.

These were important points that required clarification to give any legitimacy to BAME Labour as an organisation supposedly representing members. Our questions were not answered. We do not feel that this was good practice and we also lost that vote too.

Composition of GRT Working Group

The group has been set up to develop a definition of anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller racism and discrimination. GV5 and Trade Union colleagues had stressed the importance of making sure this group is overwhelmingly made up of community stakeholders. We were happy with the outcomes on this. It was agreed to send Laura Pidcock to the group to represent the CLP representatives and Andi Fox to represent the trade unions.

Elections Update

We tried to raise the Liverpool Mayoral selection contest and get an update on this extremely concerning situation. Unfortunately this was denied, it was argued that the matter was too confidential even for NEC members!

We raised concerns from the CLPs that they are struggling with activist engagement, noting the multiple reasons and issues members  had contacted us regarding. This included how many members feel attacked after the dictats and numerous suspensions and also the continued suspension of Jeremy Corbyn’s whip, which is affecting party unity and cohesion.

We also raised concerns about safely campaigning given the pandemic, from risk of infection to fear of attack and harassment for being out and about. Many members, especially younger activists, won’t yet be vaccinated and the party has a duty to make every effort to ensure we keep people safe. It will be included in communications to members and regional directors that those who do not feel safe should not feel any pressure to be out and that phone-banking and online campaigning is just as valued.

These are a hugely important set of elections, so we urge you to sign up for a postal ballot and vote early in order to ensure the best turn out for Labour.

CLPs in Special Measures

We were informed that the party was investigating serious incidents in the London borough of Newham constituencies of West Ham and East Ham.  There was no paper provided, just a verbal report. We were told this could lead to special measures.

We insisted that it is important a roadmap is urgently put together and that member-led selections are not impacted. We await the paper and a report into Newham.

NOTE – Both East Ham CLP and West Ham CLP’s were suspended the following day. We will be keeping an eye on the situation there and working towards the return of full democracy to the CLPs as soon as possible.

CLP motions + Recall Conference Motion

We considered the motions passed by CLPs. Members raised the ‘recall conference’ motion that had been passed in multiple CLPs and moved that we take a vote on it. The Chair did not allow for a vote on this, citing that it is not permissible for the NEC to take a vote on motions passed by CLPs.

As such, this means that, currently, the motions you as members take the time to pass in your CLPs are seen briefly by NEC members at the end of a long Organisation Sub Committee meeting, are noted, and then go no further and cannot actually be passed or agreed by the NEC. We have asked for CLP motions to be moved up the agenda and will be looking at ways to ensure members’ motions are given due consideration, discussion and action by the party.

Abuse

Unfortunately, the meeting ended with an incident. GV5 NEC member Laura Pidcock was speaking about the need for members to feel listened to, especially with regard to the NEC discussing and offering due consideration to motions passed by CLPs, an incident then occurred which the Labour Party’s General Secretary said the Party would conduct an investigation into.

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