Jeremy Corbyn reported on recent activities and preparations for 2017, including a possible General Election. Jeremy said he had enjoyed the 2016 Labour Leadership campaign and had enjoyed meeting members around the country and debating with Owen Smith. He said that it is now time to move on, unite, stop looking inwards and focus outwards on the challenges and opportunities that Labour and the country face. He identified the economy, Brexit and 2017 elections as the three biggest issues for Labour to focus our energy on. Jeremy talked about his recent speech to the CBI and the need for the UK to invest in infrastructure, training and house building. Jeremy Corbyn repeated that Labour will accept the result of the EU Referendum and will work to secure worker's rights, consumer rights and environmental protections. He talked about forthcoming campaign days and the tour of rural communities he is planning with Rachael Maskell. Jeremy is keen for Labour to reach out to rural Britain and respond to the concerns of voters living in these communities. Jeremy talked about the importance of the 2017 local elections, praising Labour Councillors and condemning the unfair Tory cuts to Council budgets.
General Secretary's Report
Iain McNicol reported on past activity and plans for the future. In the past year Labour has contested and campaigned in parliamentary by-elections, Mayoral elections in Bristol, London, Hackney, Salford and Liverpool, local government elections and the EU referendum. Other activities have included the Leadership election, Conference, the Party Reform working groups and National Policy Forum meetings. Labour has launched a number of bursaries and training programmes to encourage candidates from underrepresented Groups to stand for election. Activities for the year ahead include preparing for elections, ensuring the Party remains financially stable, improving campaigning capacity, expanding the use of community organising, responding to the Parliamentary Boundary Review, developing policy and engaging members. The NEC joined Iain in praising and thanking staff for their continued hard work and dedication.
National Policy Forum and Policy Making
The National Policy Forum met in Loughborough for a policy conference the weekend before the NEC Awayday. The meeting was extremely positive and focused on Brexit and the work of the eight policy commissions (below). The NEC confirmed the Policy Commission Co-Chairs will be:
• Economy, Business and Trade: Jennie Formby
• Foreign Affairs, Aid and Defence: Cath Speight
• Health and Social Care: Keith Birch
• Early Years, Education and Skill: Christine Shawcroft
• Justice and Home Affairs: Alice Perry
• Housing, Local Government and Transport: Jim Kennedy
• Work, Pensions and Equality: Diana Holland
• Environment, Energy and Culture: Margaret Beckett MP
I have written a guide to how the NPF works and how you can get involved. Labour's policy making process will be accelerated if there is a snap General Election.
The NPF meeting in Loughborough elected its Chair and Vice Chairs. Ann Cryer was elected Chair and will be invited to attend future NEC meetings. Shabana Mahmood MP, Mick Whelan and Katrina Murray were elected Vice-Chairs of the NPF.
The Economy and the Autumn Statement
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP gave a comprehensive update on the economy and Labour's response to the Autumn Statement. She talked about how austerity is a political choice and not an economic necessity, and that hard working families should not be forced to pay for the give-aways for the wealthy few. She pointed out that low paid workers did not cause the financial crash and should not be the ones forced to pay for it. She talked about Labour's economic plan to equip businesses, workers and the country for the future. She talked about the need for fair funding for local government and how Tory cuts to Council budgets disproportionately affect Labour areas. Rebecca Long-Bailey echoed Jeremy Corbyn's support for Councillors and joined Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Jon Trickett in rejecting calls by fringe opposition parties for Labour Councils to set illegal budgets. She noted that Labour policy on this matter is clear, as illustrated by the recent rule change at Labour Party Conference. Rebecca described how Labour wants to represent all income groups, talked about Labour's positive vision for post-Brexit Britain and the importance of taking pride in our communities.
Responding to Brexit
Keir Starmer MP gave an impressive and reassuring report on Labour's response to Brexit. Labour will accept the result of the referendum and will not frustrate the process, instead working cooperatively and collaboratively with our EU partners to fight for the best future for the all of the UK. He condemned the Prime Minister for not having a clear Brexit strategy and for being led by internal politics rather than the best interests of the country. Keir described Labour's priorities as securing jobs and protecting and growing the economy, as well as defence, security, policing, the environment, education and international collaborations.
The NEC discussion covered topics including the timetable and process for Brexit, Tory divisions on Europe, industrial strategy, manufacturing, the steel industry, the automotive industry, the status of EU nationals, UKIP, worker's rights, immigration, freedom of movement and the commodification of labour, the posting of workers directive, tackling gang-masters and the exploitation of cheap migrant labour, single market access, the customs union, the loss of trust in politics and politicians and Labour's vision for the UK outside the EU.
Jon Trickett MP and party staff gave a presentation about plans for elections in 2017, including preparations for a snap general election. Jon Trickett confirmed that if parliament is given an opportunity to vote for an early election Labour will vote in favour of this and will be ready for a general election whenever it takes place. Important elections in 2017 include English County Council elections, local elections in Scotland and Wales, and Mayoral elections. England will be electing the new Metro Mayors for the first time next year, with elections confirmed in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Tees Valley.
Labour is drawing up a list of key battleground seats for an early general election. This list will not be made public. Labour is working to improve messaging, attack and rebuttal. We will make greater use of community organising and will invest in new campaigning technology. Labour has developed a new Doorstep App allowing activists to directly enter data on their smart phones and tablets. We will also make better use of digital targeting, social media and online advertising and will hire new organisers to work across the country.
Suspensions and Disciplinary Issues
Around 1,000 people were suspended from the Party during the Leadership election. Around 800 of these people have had their suspensions lifted with a warning. The remaining suspensions are being investigated and their cases will be brought to a future meeting of the NEC Disputes Committee. Disputes will also look at the suspensions process and suggest recommendations on how this process could be improved.
Labour is debt free with healthy finances but will not spend money we do not have. Labour has over 500,000 members and retaining and growing our membership is important to our longterm financial strategy. The Trade Union Act and Brexit pose challenges and we will need to continue to carefully manage our finances. Labour will also look to increase our fundraising in the run-up to elections next year. Iain McNicol thanked Councillors for their financial contributions to Labour and will be writing to Labour Groups to thank us and report on how the ALC levy is spent.
Please get in touch if you have any questions. You can sign-up to receive my NEC reports and read reports from previous meetings. The next NEC meetings will be in January 2017.