Johanna Baxter is changing how the NEC engages with members – but there’s more to be done

by Jim Knight

Let’s be honest, two years ago how many of us could name more than about three members of the Labour Party’s most important body?  Since the reforms that limited MPs from standing, the National Executive Committee has become somewhat anonymous.  CLPs nominated according to adherence to the Grassroots Alliance or Progress slates and votes followed the same trend – our CLP representatives became a mixture of the two wings of the party, candidates hand-picked by the unelected leaders of these well resources groups.

But what if you wanted something between the devil and the deep blue sea?

Then Johanna Baxter stood as an independent candidate promising to put members first – a slogan now adopted by others.  Everyone told her that she would lose because she wasn’t part of a slate.  That didn’t put her off – Johanna has been an activist for 16 years, growing up in a Scottish CLP, a London CLP Secretary for 9 years and a national officer for a trade union.  At that point she had also never met anyone on the NEC.  She fundamentally felt that members simply weren’t being listened to at the heart of our party and wanted to do something about it.

And lose she did, but only by 172 votes in an election that had 10,000 spoilt ballots. For the first time an independent candidate running up against the money-rich machine politics of the slates almost made it – that was nothing short of extraordinary.  A few weeks later Johanna then got on to the NEC, as the ‘highest placed loser’, when Oona King was elevated to the Lords.

Since then she has not only lived up to her promise to put members first but, in doing so, is fundamentally changing the way the NEC works.

Johanna knew communication was key to putting members first – she knew that the NEC had to transform to become more outward looking, talking to members rather than politicians.  She knew that you couldn’t put members first if you didn’t know what they wanted.  So when she was told that NEC members were not allowed to have a contact list for CLP secretaries to send out reports of meetings, she found her own way round that by creating her own and engaging with members through every medium she could from Twitter and Facebook to Linkedin.

If you’re a party member on any of those you would struggle to have missed her relentless updates on what the NEC is up to.  Again, her lead is now being followed by others as Johanna transforms direct engagement with members.

But this is not just an online presence, Ann Black and Luke Akehurst have long standing well-read websites.  But what is distinctive and truly remarkable is that her engagement with the party has taken her to 73 CLPs in all corners of the country over the last 16 months.  Self-funded (the party doesn’t pay a penny in expenses for this work) and combined with a full time day job this is a remarkable achievement – especially as she is a CLP Secretary herself.

Johanna has used this feedback to inform the big decisions in front of the committee, she’s educated others in how to engage members through the use of social media and her constant source of energy has inspired more activity across the whole of the CLP section of the NEC.

It is testament to that work that more CLPs than ever made nominations for the NEC this year and more of those nominations are for independent candidates who would work hard for members.

So when you sit down to complete your ballot paper this week please consider giving Johanna a vote – we need her to continue her quiet revolution in member engagement, and to put the stifling factionalism of political slates behind us.  I hope that a strong vote to re-elect her will show the Party that members value her approach, will resource it and will extend this thinking to how our National Policy Forum works as well.

Jim Knight was MP for South Dorset and Minister of State for Employment in the last Labour government. He is now Baron Knight of Weymouth

If any of the other candidates or their supporters would like to put their case to Uncut readers, get in touch

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Johanna Baxter is changing how the NEC engages with members – but there’s more to be done”

  1. swatantra says:

    Joanna certainly desrves your vote for the hard work she has done , but I’m always hesitant about ‘independents’; imagine an NEC with a majority of’independents’, they’d soon get together and form another faction. It would be interesting to see where Joanna stands when elected 3 years from now.
    Of course the ordinary members come first thats why its a welcome move to stop MPs from standing; the NEC should reflect the views of the ordinary member; in fact the Chair and Vice Chairs of the Party should not be MPs who have too much influence already in the direction of travel of the Party. MPs are supposed to be the servants of the people. We are still not really a Peoples’s Party as we set out to be 100 years ago.

Leave a Reply