Changing with the times: my submission to the NEC powers debate

Labour’s NEC is currently reviewing its terms of reference (the NEC’s role in the party, its powers, structures and processes), with a discussion on this due to be held at our next meeting on 26 January. Thank you to all the young members who got in touch following my last NEC report to give me their ideas, and to those who have raised issues with me previously during my time on the NEC. I have included the ideas raised in the submission I have written, and in the interests of accountability and transparency have made my submission available to members below.

Submission to the review of the Labour Party NEC’s terms of reference

This submission is based on my three years’ of experience on the NEC, the issues many young members have raised with me during that time and responses to a request for young members to get in touch about the changes they believe are important in renewing the Labour Party.

 Aims and objectives of the NEC

As the NEC terms of reference stand, there is no primary aim or objective of the governing body of the Labour Party.

The Labour Party was created to get MPs elected who would represent working people’s opinions in the House of Commons. We were created from a movement of trade unions and socialist societies with values of social justice, equality and solidarity that we all still proudly share. The purpose of the Labour Party has always been to gain elected representatives to put the values of the labour movement into practice in government.

In order to guide our work, the NEC’s primary aim, as the governing body of the Labour Party, should be to stay true to our founding cause and support the Labour Party to be fit to win elections. This means facilitating policy-making that takes into account views from all sections of our party and all sections of the diverse wider public to develop popular policies in line with our values. The explicit aim of the NEC, to be included in the terms of reference, should therefore be to organise a modern party infrastructure to win every election the Labour Party contests.

The NEC’s role in staff recruitment

Labour Party staff do an incredible job, often working long hours, evenings and weekends and dedicating their personal time to our party. They run a professional operation and are a credit to the Labour Party. The NEC should not allow internal political divides to impact on party staff’s ability to organise for elections or the Labour Party’s role as a decent employer. As a party we are all proud to been born from the trade union movement and should put great employment practice and staff wellbeing at the top of our agenda.

A new NEC staffing committee, to directly recruit members of staff, would make staff recruitment political and divisive, putting our wish to be a great employer at risk. We should take seriously our commitment to equal opportunities and oppose any attempts to politicise the staff team to work for anything other than winning local and national elections.

Policy-making

It is important, particularly in light of the recent increase in membership, that we ensure Labour Party policy-making is as inclusive and transparent as possible. We need to engage both our new members, as well as members who have been around longer, and especially the wider public if we are to create a manifesto that has wide enough appeal for us to win the general election in 2020 and put our values into practice.

We must also not forget the vital importance of engaging each part of our party in our policy-making processes. The Labour Party has always had a federal structure, with the Parliamentary Labour Party, the party leadership, the trade union movement, socialist societies and the party membership, and this should be reflected in our policy-making. I am proud to be in a party that was founded by trade unions, has strong links to the co-operative movement (and particularly our sister party, the Co-operative Party, of which I and many other Labour members are so proud to be a part) and that has so many affiliated socialist societies that bring people with a variety of interests into our party, engage our members, and in many cases develop policies in their areas of expertise. I am also incredibly proud that, as the party of equality, Labour reaches out to and fights for the rights of those who are marginalised (although we still have much further to go): women, disabled people, black and ethnic minority people, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Our policy is richest and has the widest appeal when we are effectively engaging all of these people in our policy-making and enabling them to participate fully in our fight for social justice.

For these reasons I am completely opposed to any move to centralise policy-making powers to the NEC or to Labour Party Conference.

Centralising power in this manner will have an adverse effect on engagement with party members and the wider public and limit our decision-making to a smaller and less diverse group of people who, despite their best and most genuine efforts, cannot always effectively represent every single part of our party.

As the NEC’s youth representative, I am committed to engaging the thousands of new young members who have joined the party. I would love as many young members as possible to come to annual conference and have great debates, and that is something I have worked hard on and made progress on during my time on the NEC. Far too many people, however, continue to raise the fact that the cost and the ability to get time off work or studies are barriers to attending, so greater policy powers for conference will not achieve maximum engagement.

I’m also aware that, despite my best efforts to attend events around the country and speak to as many young members as possible, I alone cannot possibly hope to reflect every young member’s policy views in NEC meetings – much like Young Labour’s two delegates to annual conference will never manage to be wholly representative.

I therefore am in favour of keeping the National Policy Forum (NPF), which, with a youth representative in each region charged with engaging their membership in policy-making, and better representation for each part of our party, helps us to effectively and democratically reach out more widely. We should no doubt continue to improve the NPF so it better engages the membership and the wider public, but scrapping it or diluting its power in favour of the smaller NEC would be a mistake.

In considering the use of referenda to make policy, we must ensure that our federal structures are not undermined and in particular that our relationship with the trade unions is not put at risk. Using referenda to make policy would remove the collective decision-making of trade unions and bypass unions’ internal democracy.

We must also respect the mandate of our 232 MPs, elected by 9.3 million voters, to make decisions on matters that affect their constituents. While I like to feel that I would be able to make the right decisions on all policy matters, I am acutely aware that I, along with other NEC members, do not have available to me the same information and intelligence that is provided to MPs, and that my judgment on many matters therefore will inevitably be less well-informed. I have neither members of the public who are facing the daily struggle under this Conservative Government attending my surgery, nor direct accountability to Labour voters or the wider public. They have a far bigger mandate than the few of us who were elected by a relatively small number of Labour Party members. If we are serious about regaining public trust in the Labour Party and politics more widely, we should allow our parliamentarians to get on with the job that they are in Westminster for.

The make-up of the NEC

As it stands, the NEC is largely made up of people from the south of England. Those living in Scotland, Wales and the north of England lack adequate representation, including among constituency Labour Party representatives. The NEC should aim to have members from all nations and regions in the UK in order to effectively represent our membership.

I agree with the TULO Refounding Labour submission in 2011, which called for equal numbers of union and CLP places on the NEC. The 12 people could then be elected to represent each nation and region, with two for London Labour or Scottish Labour. In addition, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and the leader of the Welsh Labour Party should have full voting rights on the NEC. The same right should be extended to the Mayor of London when the position is held by a Labour politician.

The representation of local government at our top table should be reviewed too. Local government and the Welsh Assembly are the only places Labour currently holds power and, with the sad but inevitable implementation of the Trade Union Bill, our councillors even more so than currently will be one of the Labour Party’s main sources of funding. Despite the huge role they play, councillors still only have two representatives on the NEC. This should be significantly increased.

 NEC meetings

A committee that is run effectively should not need to have additional, “urgent” meetings. The orderly conduct of any executive committee should require it to stick to its regular pattern of meetings. It should not be expected that urgent meetings should need to be called but where there are genuinely urgent cases, such as the death of a party leader, there should be a procedure for calling a meeting, which would involve the agreement of both the chair of the NEC and the general secretary and/or the agreement of at least two thirds of NEC members.

As NEC members we are volunteers, with many of us attending meetings in our spare time and taking annual leave from work. We must ensure that membership of the NEC is accessible to those from all backgrounds. As it stands, being a member of the NEC is a huge time commitment. 12 days of meetings a year, plus three days at annual conference and additional National Policy Forum duties (on top of polling days!) quickly adds up when it comes to taking statutory paid holiday. Any additional meetings risk being a barrier to participation, particularly to younger members, shift workers, carers and those who work outside politics.

NEC papers

Serving on the NEC is something we do voluntarily and in our spare time. In order to make informed decisions, NEC members should be given a reasonable amount of time to digest information contained in papers coming to the NEC and give proper thought to decisions. For these reasons, papers for NEC meetings should be scheduled and provided in full at least five days in advance of meetings.

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About Bex Bailey

Proud feminist. 50% success rate for Labour NEC elections. Campaigner. Labour Women's Network committee member. Co-operative Party member.
This entry was posted in National Policy Forum, NEC, NEC Reports. Bookmark the permalink.

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