Ann Black on returning to Labour’s ruling body
I was elected to the NEC again last November, and a lot has changed in two years. Another lost general election, new NEC members, a new leader and deputy leader, a new general secretary, new staff. All this is overlaid with the continuing coronavirus crisis, so it’s hard to catch up informally, over coffee in the kitchen or waiting for the lifts. Meeting online has advantages: less time and money spent travelling, and easier to visit far-flung local parties, from Cornwall to South West Surrey to the Wirral to Scotland. But it also has drawbacks and, just as people watching TV swear and throw things if someone annoys them, some remarks would not be made if the speaker was sitting next to their target.
In that time I’ve attended the joint policy committee (JPC), an NEC awayday, special meetings of the equalities committee and the NEC, to discuss Labour’s response to the EHRC, disputes sub-panels to decide how to deal with membership rejections, and the NEC funds panel which allocates money from subscriptions to local parties. Generally the larger meetings have been shoutier, the smaller ones more consensual.
Weirdly I returned as chair of the national policy forum (NPF), a position to which I was elected back in 2018, and of such importance that it remained vacant for more than two years. However, policy development does need urgent attention. At the JPC meeting I was impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of shadow ministers, but little of this reaches members. They are looking to the leadership for visions of a better society, tackling the climate crisis and the poverty and inequality which Covid-19 has exposed. They also want campaigning points – for instance, keeping the uplift to universal credit, protecting tenants from eviction, and opposing public sector pay freezes. These are not contentious, and could unite the party in the run-up to May’s elections.
Where there are differences, members deserve to know why Labour abstained on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill and the Overseas Operations Bill, and to understand the thinking behind positions on Brexit and on the pandemic. Without continuous dialogue, mutual respect and well-defined objectives the party will turn inward, the vacuum will be filled by factionalism, and normal people will stay away or leave. I would like to see regular news from Labour in parliament, more direct consultation with members, even a return to the national campaign days, where members across the country mobilised around a common theme.
Within the NPF I have asked to join the justice and home affairs policy commission, which will be considering electoral reform as one of its key issues. The dozens of resolutions from local parties and individuals have clearly had an impact, and I hope to take them forward. I benefited from Labour’s switch to single transferable vote for the NEC elections: under first-past-the-post, 60% of the membership might again have won 100% of the seats. In Scotland, Labour won three of the 73 constituency seats in 2016, and only top-ups from regional lists saved the party from obliteration. And we know that too many members are torn between voting Labour and keeping the Tories out. They should not have to make that choice.
I shall also attempt to fulfil my campaign pledges. I support student proposals for dual membership, with defined rights in their home CLP and their university CLP, something which would benefit both. I hope to get a larger share of subscription income back to local parties, as I am now even more convinced that the 2011 model is neither fair nor sustainable. I would like to enable members to start selecting their parliamentary candidates, after the NEC imposed candidates in dozens of seats twice in three years. As joint NEC vice-chair for women, I expect to play an active role in the second free-standing women’s conference of the modern era, albeit held virtually. And last but certainly not least, my dossier of individual and collective complaints has grown since 2018. I shall follow them up, but better systems are clearly still needed.