Luke Akehurst reports from his first meeting of Labour’s NEC

by Luke Akehurst

I approached my first full NEC meeting on 30 November with some trepidation, expecting a baptism of fire.

Six and a half hours later I emerged from Labour’s 39 Victoria Street HQ feeling euphoric and more optimistic about Labour’s fightback than at any point since the “election that never was” in 2007.

I apologise now that I will not be providing a verbatim report of key debates, unlike that provided by another NEC member after the September meeting. The papers are clearly marked “confidential”, much material is financially or politically sensitive (in the sense of providing useful intel to other parties) or relates to specific individual staff or members, and colleagues have a right to make their points in confidence without seeing them broadcast.

Within those constraints, I’ll try to paint as full a picture as I can.

The first thing to note is that the NEC is remarkably united. Maybe this was affected by who was absent yesterday, but the comradely, constructive and loyal nature of the meeting would have been unrecognisable to anyone who had served on the NEC six months after previous Labour defeats in 1951, 1970 or 1979.

The (to use a word employed by our leader) “crap” that has appeared in the media recently about certain people’s views on Ed’s leadership certainly doesn’t reflect the feeling of the NEC, where he got a very warm response, including from people who hadn’t voted for him.

In his report, Ed set out that the reviews of policy-making and of policy itself needed to be owned by CLPs and affiliates. There was enough time for them to input on areas they wanted changed. The public would be consulted extensively too, to ensure we got back in touch with their views. There was no question of us damaging the union link, as levy payers were an important connection with the wider public. Local MPs should be consulting local unions. The review would look at how to involve the wider public in policy making. He wants annual conference to be a proper forum for debate.

He went on to say that because the Tories are in everyone’s living rooms through the press, Labour has to deepen its roots in communities. There was already best practice on this from some MPs, which needs to be shared.

On the economy, he said that we will be stronger in our attack on the cuts we disagree with if we are open about the ones we agree with.

The PLP is trying to stop the AV referendum being in May. If it is, Labour’s priority will be the elections not the referendum. Because Labour will not be registered as a “permitted participant” it will be able to campaign as a party on either side in the referendum, but individual members will.

Harriet Harman said that being on the NEC was an historic responsibility and that we need seamless working between the NEC, PLP, EPLP, CLPs, affiliates and councillors. That we as NEC members were invited to attend the 29 November PLP meeting was a clear signal that there would be closer working between the two.

I won’t go into the detail here of the presentations we received on organisation for next May’s elections, other than to say there is scope for a very good set of results and I was impressed that all the organisational building blocks are being put in place. If you don’t already know the plan for your area, please contact your regional office.

We were told that the policy review being led by Liam Byrne will not produce detail for the next manifesto, but will involve three strands: party-led consultation with the public, shadow cabinet working groups, and input from independent experts. It would be a listening process.

Peter Hain said that the review of party structures which he is chairing (with Ellie Reeves as vice-chair) will keep the NEC informed at every stage. He wants the main pressure groups within the party to initiate their own consultations and feed in their views. The objective is to get a campaigning culture in every local party and make Labour the centre of a great civil society movement, not get bogged down in a debate about the electoral college or the vote shares at conference.

On membership, we heard that there have been 54,000 new members since January, with 46,000 of those since the general election. A quarter of the new joiners are under 27 and the percentage of women in the party has also increased.

We agreed a new structure for dealing with local government issues, with functions previously carried out by a separate joint local government committee transferred to other NEC committees.

Other things that Labour activists need to know from the meeting:

.     The deadline for responses to the review of the partnership into power policy-making process is 11 June.

.     The BAME Labour conference is being expanded into a wider diversity conference and held in February (date TBC).

.     Youth conference will be in Edinburgh from 11-13 February. CLPs can nominate for the NEC youth rep and send delegates.

.     Parliamentary selections are going ahead in a batch of non-Labour held seats that are not likely to be merged by the forthcoming boundary changes. The January meeting of the organisation committee will decide which ones will be all women shortlists. I pushed for us to go faster on selections, but the majority view seems to be that in many cases we need to wait for the boundary changes as they will displace some sitting Labour MPs.

.     Views are being sought on the Parliamentary selection process. For example, what kind of panel system do we need? What criteria should we have for postal voting? A paper we were presented with will be sent to CLPs asking their views. We were urged to encourage people who want to run for selection to sign-up to the Labour party training academy course on “getting selected” (details on Membersnet).

.     Ann Black asked for more of the papers from annual conference to be put online in real time during conference.

.     Johanna Baxter urged that NEC members should be allowed to send their reports direct to CLP secretaries (at the moment we don’t have access to the list).

I was delighted to be appointed to the organisation committee (responsible for rules, renewal of the party, membership, selections and elections) and to the education & skills policy commission.

If anyone would like me to report back at their CLP meeting, or receive these reports direct, please email me at akehurstluke@googlemail.com

Luke Akehurst was elected to Labour’s national executive committee for the first time this year.


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3 Responses to “Luke Akehurst reports from his first meeting of Labour’s NEC”

  1. That was so good it deserves to have comments in theatre review style.

    “a smash hit!”
    “riverting!”
    “jumps from the page!”

    “Ackehurst’s triumph!”

  2. “Because Labour will not be registered as a “permitted participant” it will be able to campaign as a party on either side in the referendum.”

    Presumably this is shorthand for “will not be able to campaign as a party, but individuals will be able to campaign on either side in a personal capacity”?

    Anyway, one pedantic question on what is otherwise a very valuable and useful write-up, thankyou.

  3. Oldpolitics yes that’s correct, individual members will be able to campaign on both sides in a personal capacity.

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