Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s Extra NEC Meeting September 4th 2018
First, may I thank all those comrades who voted for me for the NEC – remember I am only a phone call away if you need advice.
For the first time ever, one of our “comrades” secretly and illegally recorded some of the July NEC private meeting. In particular, an OTT rant by me was published. I issued a statement in which I deeply apologised for offence caused by the rant that contained phrases that I much regret. In my 37 years on and off all four of Labour’s national committees, I have had a reputation for sometimes getting a bit heated. That is because, from my youth, I have always been wound up by what I see is unfair. That is why I joined the Labour Party. At the NEC I was reading a letter in The Guardian from 68 rabbis which asserted, without any evidence, that antisemitism in our Party was “widespread and severe”. At my Secondary Modern school, we were always told we must produce evidence to back up assertions. We have some 550,000 members and so far, only some 100 cases of antisemitism have been brought before the NEC. No doubt, there are other examples to be found and, of course, one example is one too many. Nevertheless, the evidence does not support the assertion of “widespread and severe”.
As I said to the NEC, I have not personally seen any examples of antisemitism in my nearly 50 years in the Party (and many party members have told me the same). In case anyone is confused, I was obviously speaking from my own personal experience as an individual party activist. The experience of being an NEC member is in a totally separate box and during 37 years as a member of all four national committees I have seen a whole range of quite dreadful things.
I totally understand how vulnerable, members of the Jewish community must always feel. What happened during the Second World War was by far the greatest crime in the history of the human race. I find it very difficult to get the horror out of my mind. This was why I so deeply apologised for my intemperate and insensitive rant.
NEC Meeting September 4th
The extra meeting had been called to make some progress on the Democracy Review. At Annual Conference the NEC will be timetabling a wide range of rule changes consequent on the proposals in the Democracy Review. Drafting all of these rule changes is a major task for our staff. It was therefore felt that the quicker we could make decisions on the uncontroversial matters the better, so that the staff will not be overloaded in the week before Conference. In addition, of course, there was the matter of the Code of Conduct/IHRA to consider. The NEC Working Party on this matter had made a number of recommendations. Given all the intensive attention this subject has been receiving, the NEC meeting was amazingly calm and comradely.
- Confidentiality of NEC meetings
In recent years, there has been an unprecedented amount of leaking directly from NEC meetings while they are still in progress. The recording of my emotional outburst had brought matters to a head. It was agreed that in future all phones, computers and recording devices will be handed in before NEC meetings start. Also, NEC members not present will no longer be allowed to phone in – it is only recently that this has been allowed. Also, the circulation of documents that include details of individual cases will normally not be circulated in advance. Whole cases have been leaked which opens the door to legal action against the Party.
The Chair deeply regretted that we had to take this action but we had no choice.
- Code of Conduct / IHRA
At this point, I decided to go to the loo – I did not want to be used by the gutter press and its allies to undermine JC in any way. I understand that in the room, Jeremy set out a clear framework for the IHRA on the one hand and the total defence of Palestinian rights on the other. Stressing that in a democracy, freedom of speech is a fundamental right.
I returned to the room at the end of the debate – after my prolonged comfort break. Becky Long-Bailey then made a very powerful speech about uniting behind JC, accepting the recommendations of the working party (eg accepting the full IHRA, endorsing the code and stressing the commitment to the rights of the Palestinians). The Chair felt that Becky had perfectly summed the debate up and he proposed that Becky’s summary be accepted and, that in addition, we would seek meaningful consultation. There were nods all round the room and we moved to next business.
- Democracy Review
The Chair paid tribute to the staff for all the work they have carried out and will be carrying out, on the Democracy Review – at a very stressful time for us all. Jenny added that there are still several posts to fill and that at the moment we are short-staffed.
A very detailed 22 page document had been prepared by the General Secretary’s Office which outlined those areas where was there general agreement. It also highlighted those areas where there was some disagreement. The latter will be dealt with at the next NEC later in the month. Also, at that meeting a Paper will be presented by Katy Clark, the powerhouse behind the Democracy Review.
The NEC agreed that the staff would begin drafting rule changes on all those issues where there was agreement and these would be formally endorsed at the next meeting.
The following are some of the key areas where agreement has not been reached. Your CLP reps will seek to ensure that the NEC sharply focuses on these.
- Setting up sub-committees to the proposed NEC Policy Committee
If the National Policy Forum (NPF) is abolished, its functions will be taken over by the NEC Policy Committee. Your CLP reps have submitted an amendment to create a number of sub-committees that would have a similar role to the existing Policy Commissions of the NPF. We pointed out that there has just been an election for some 60 NPF seats. It would not be a good idea if having been elected, they were then told “thank you but goodnight”. Also, the Democracy Review has made a commitment to more grassroots involvement. It would therefore be a little inconsistent if 60 grassroots reps were shown the door. The NEC Policy Committee with the active participation of those 60 would make it a power to be reckoned with and would have a major role in writing the Manifesto. Whereas, the NPF was often relegated to the long grass this would certainly not happen to the NEC Policy Committee and its sub-committees. It would be a major step forward for effective policy making by the members.
Your NEC reps will not rest until this major reform is accepted – I will try not “to rant” too often (but anyway there will no longer be any underhand recording of what I say!)
- More NEC Seats for CLP Reps
The Democracy Review is silent on increasing the representation of CLPs on the NEC. CLPs, of course, remain seriously under-represented on the NEC. Your reps will press this issue but it will be an uphill struggle to say the least.
- Ending the One Year Delay re Rule Changes
At the moment, if a CLP has submitted a rule change (closing date June 2018), it disappears until the 2019 Annual Conference. Everyone accepts that there is no logic or sense whatsoever in this strange custom (it is not in the Rule Book). Many CLPs have asked for this custom to be abolished and that the 2018 Rule Changes be discussed at the 2018 Conference. Unfortunately, the Democracy Review has not accepted this sensible proposal and wants the existing nonsense to continue. Your CLP reps will be pressing for common sense to prevail.
Finally, of course, it must be stressed that there is a very wide range of proposals in the Democracy Review and if they are endorsed by Conference this will be a huge step forward for democracy in our Party.
The Tory Cesspit Saga Part 2
- “Boris Johnson has been accused of “dog-whistle” Islamophobia by Lady Warsi, a former Conservative Party Chairwoman, after he compared Muslim women in burquas to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”. Sayeeda Warsi said the lack of action by the party over Johnson’s comments showed it was “business as usual”. (Guardian August 7th2018)
- “It’s not just MPs. Conservative candidates and councillors exhibit Islamophobia on a weekly basis. One shared a post that called Muslims “parasites”, another endorsed the idea that Muslims should be “repatriated” to keep Europe safe, and another was exposed as being a former “security adviser to the British National Party”. (Miqdaad Versi, Guardian, June 2nd2018)
- “there has been a steady increase in incidents involving Conservatives expressing appalling views about Muslims….The question is not so much whether we can identify individuals with invidious beliefs but what it is about the Conservative party that leads bigots to believe that they will find a home here.” (Hashim Bhatti Chair of Youth Wing of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Guardian, August 8 2018)