The Forde Report is a very sobering document – Gemma Bolton’s Labour NEC report


“NEC members did, however, raise some of the appalling practices observed in the trigger ballot processes for MPs such as Apsana Begum in Poplar & Limehouse & Sam Tarry in Ilford South, where a range of anti-democratic incidents have been taking place.”

Gemma Bolton

By Gemma Bolton, Labour NEC member & CLPD co-chair

Labour’s NEC met last Tuesday 20th July, on what happened to be the hottest ever recorded day in Britain. Below is a report of an aptly heated meeting, with some spicy revelations.

Leader’s Report

Keir Starmer updated the NEC on his work as leader of the Labour Party. He spoke about the decision of Durham Police not to fine him for allegedly breaking lockdown rules, arguing – with a straight face –  that this showed him to be a man of unparalleled integrity compared to Boris Johnson. He also spoke about the commision led by Gordon Brown to review the constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom, which I am hoping will have some ambitious proposals for how Labour can begin to regain seats in Scotland and distribute power to all corners of the UK.

There was certainly a shift at this NEC, with Starmer facing challenging questions from NEC members not usually deemed as on the ‘left’ of the party, particularly trade union reps with regard to the relationship between the Labour Party and trade unions. Two sorry episodes were referred to – David Lammy’s criticism of BA workers’ strikes and the cowardly instruction to the Labour frontbench that its members should not be seen on RMT picket lines during their historic national strike action. My solidarity goes out to the thousands of RMT members who are fighting to defend their conditions and pay whilst the profits of rail companies sky-rocket. The Labour MPs who defied these instructions and stood shoulder to shoulder with striking workers on picket lines are on the right side of history. I was proud to visit Three Bridges picket line in Crawley during the last round of strikes and I know I will see Labour members and representatives on the picket line during the next round of strikes, which includes action from the RMT, TSSA, ASLEF and CWU.

Forde Inquiry

After 2 years of waiting for the Forde report, with NEC members raising this issue at every NEC meeting only to be told it was in the pipeline, the report coincidentally landed in our laps a mere 35 minutes before the NEC was due to meet.

I have since had time to read the report and its recommendations. It is a very sobering document which, in many regards, vindicates what a lot of us in the party already knew: that there was a conscious campaign of sabotage in the 2017 general election by party staffers, which included diverting funding away from seats the party could have won in favour of factional allies; that there is a gross culture of racism in the party,which has been experienced throughout the party and even by senior and long-standing black MPs such as Diane Abbott; and that attempts to deal with serious cases of anti-semitism appear to have been delayed for factional advantage.

Having campaigned for the last two years for this report to be published, if re-elected I will work on the NEC to ensure that the culture of toxic factionalism displayed in the report is replaced with a culture of tolerance, decency and democracy, so that Labour can campaign against this rotten Tory government.

Parliamentary Selections

The NEC received a report on parliamentary selections. I asked why it was the case that, out of 17 candidates selected, only 6 were women and only 1 candidate was BAME, and whether this contradicted the party’s commitment to equality. I also asked why it was the case that senior left-wing Labour councillors, such as the deputy leader of Hastings council, Maya Evans, and the then leader of Stroud council, Doina Cornell, had been blocked from parliamentary shortlists. Finally, I asked why it was the case that candidates with a trade union nomination were kept off of shortlists, despite it being agreed previously by the NEC that candidates who meet this criteria would automatically be included on the shortlist. We were incredulously told that factionalism had not been an element in parliamentary selections.

A senior NEC member raised the issue of due diligence on parliamentary candidates, arguing that over-scrawling through Facebook posts could ultimately discourage people from working class and marginalised backgrounds from applying to be candidates, harming the party in the process. I agree, If we only select politicians who have been squeaky clean since they are young enough to have a social media account, we will likely get nothing more than careerist drones like Liz Truss as MPs!

Trigger Ballots of Sitting Labour MPs

The NEC received an update on progress in the ‘trigger ballot’ process for Labour MPs who wish to re-stand as candidates in the forthcoming general election. Congratulations to all of the Labour MPs who have already successfully been re-endorsed by their local parties and affiliates.

NEC members did, however, raise some of the appalling practices observed in the trigger ballot processes for MPs such as Apsana Begum in Poplar and Limehouse and Sam Tarry in Ilford South, where a range of anti-democratic incidents have been taking place. We were particularly concerned at the treatment of Apsana, who appears to be undergoing a hate campaign from her former partner and has been signed off sick by her GP, and raised the duty of care the party has to its MPs.

The General Secretary, David Evans, said that whilst the party is always looking to review processes, he was satisfied with the robustness and security of the trigger ballots that are taking place. I’m afraid I do not have the same confidence in the processes of the two trigger ballots mentioned above.

Membership Figures

The NEC was told that the party’s membership stands at 415,000 with some 30,000 in arrears, which is a staggering fall from the 570,000 members reported in July 2020. It suggests that over 100,000 members have left the party, with dire consequences for the party’s finances and our ability to mobilise for elections.

Membership System

Party office holders will be happy to hear that HQ is close to finishing the new Labour Party membership system to hold membership data, following a data breach over 6 months ago. Many members have been in touch about the delay in getting this up and running, so I am hoping that the new system will help local parties to campaign and win elections for Labour.

Equalities Update

It was reported, that the BAME conference due to take place this year had been cancelled, in favour of an online event. This feels particularly tragic in the context of the escalating Tory attacks on BAME communities and the revelations of the Forde Report. The NEC received assurances that there would be a BAME conference next year, with voting powers. CLP reps on the NEC will lobby passionately to ensure this does actually take place.

Grassroots Five for NEC

Finally, this is a reminder that NEC elections are just around the corner, with ballots dropping on Monday 1st August. I’d like to thank the 165 CLPs that nominated me. I’m proud to be re-standing to represent Labour’s members on the NEC. If elected, I will continue to campaign for a transformative Labour government and democratic party, one that upholds the rulebook and the decisions of annual conference, and puts members and working people at its core.

Please support the ‘Grassroots Five’ team for Labour’s NEC: Jess Barnard, Gemma Bolton, Yasmine Dar, Mish Rahman and Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi. We will be a strong voice for members and party democracy; for taking the fight to the Tories; for peace, justice and democracy; and against austerity, racism and war. Read the candidates’ statements here.

Due to the Single Transferable Vote system used to elect the CLP representatives onto Labour’s NEC, to maximise our chances of getting all five elected, please use CLPD’s postcode tool here to find out which order to vote in your area.

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Featured image: Gemma Bolton takes part in the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival on July 17th, 2022. Image credit: Gemma Bolton

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