It’s the meeting everyone’s been talking about. Well, Labour geeks, at least.
For nine hours on Tuesday, Labour’s 41-member ruling body – plus a baby – shut itself in a room at Labour’s London HQ to thrash out sweeping changes to party rules.
One source told the Mirror the proposals were an enormous shift in power in the Labour Party – and some of the stuff is just nuts.
But much of the summit ended in deadlock. So the NEC will hold another marathon session on Saturday, hours before Labour’s conference in Liverpool.
Then the proposals will be approved, or thrown out, in crunch votes by 1,650 delegates during the conference itself, culminating next Tuesday morning.
Whatever happens will shape the future and the fate of the Labour Party. But the proposals are complicated and riven by multi-dimensional in-fighting, so many people must be left wondering what exactly is going on?
As what we hope will be a public service, here is a very rough guide to what’s happening so far, based on multiple conversations with people in the party.
Late last year, Labour launched a ‘democracy review’ with the aim of rebalancing power in the party away from the executive, and towards the members.
It will affect everything from how candidates and leaders are selected to what gets debated at the annual conference.
The review was led by Jeremy Corbyn’s loyal political secretary Katy Clark, took months to put together and has since reported to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
To Jeremy Corbyn’s allies, changes will release the grip of centrists on party democracy and open it up to the left-wing membership, which has tripled in size since he took power.
To Jeremy Corbyn’s critics, it will silence voices who are hostile to his leadership and lock all but his loyalists out of party posts for generations – even if Labour fails in a general election.
But people aren’t just split down party lines. There are also disagreements between different sections of the left, such as the unions and Corbyn-backing group Momentum. It’s a bit like multi-dimensional chess.
And to make things more complicated, some of the proposals aren’t actually from the democracy review, and have just come at the same time.
Many proposals were either watered down or weren’t agreed at all during the big meeting on Tuesday. One NEC member, Darren Williams, said he was deeply disappointed with how little remains of the exciting – but perfectly reasonable and practicable – set of proposals drawn up by Katy Clark and her team. Here are the big ones still disputed.
When Jeremy Corbyn stood for leader in 2015, he needed 15% of MPs to back him before he got on the ballot. Backers feared this could lock a left-winger out in future.
So last year this threshold was lowered to 10%, and now his supporters want to go further. They say it’s wrong that MPs are the only ‘gatekeepers’ of a vote.
A compromise put to the NEC this week, however, wasn’t what they had in mind.
One option on the table would force candidates to get backing from 10% of MPs, AND 5% of local Labour parties, AND three ‘affiliates’ (two of them unions) representing at least 5% of the affiliate membership.
This would hand more power to the unions than they currently have. Corbyn-backers feared it could actually make it harder, not easier, to get a left-winger on the ballot.
Pro-Corbyn group Momentum told members Critical democratic reforms were watered down or blocked – despite being backed by Jeremy Corbyn and the vast majority of Labour members and conference delegates.
Another option would force a candidate to get at least one of the following combinations
(Whenever we refer to MPs, we actually mean MPs and MEPs, but MEPs will soon cease to exist so we’ve excluded them to make it easier to explain.)
After hours of debate, the NEC couldn’t reach a decision on this issue – so they decided to reconvene on Saturday.
This one isn’t actually part of the democracy review, but could become the most painful row of them all.
Backers call it open selections. To critics, it’s mandatory reselection.
Currently sitting Labour MPs face a trigger ballot where each local branch, union branch and affiliated society branch in their constituency gets a single block vote per branch on whether to keep them before a general election.
Only if they lose more than 50% of the total branch votes do they face a full-scale selection, pitted against rival candidates.
Corbyn-backing group Momentum wants to change this to a full system of open selections – where every sitting MP faces a full reselection before each general election, even if they’ve served for decades.
More than 20,000 people have signed a Momentum petition calling for such a system, and hope the NEC will put it to a vote next Tuesday morning at conference.
Momentum co-ordinator Laura Parker says the move will open the door to a new generation of MPs. Critics say it is a bid to fill the parliamentary party with Corbyn loyalists and snuff out the biggest refuge of dissent against the leader.
Several compromises are thought to be floating around that would loosen the current system of trigger ballots – but not remove it altogether.
One could see a full selection triggered if 30% of local party branches, OR 30% of affiliate/union branches, in a constituency voted for one. That means it’d be easier to have an open selection.
It’s understood there is still no decision between these competing options – and the issue will be discussed again by the NEC on Saturday.
There will be a vote on the issue at conference no matter what, but the crucial point is which proposal will be endorsed by the ruling NEC.
Labour chiefs had drawn up plans to prepare for Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘sudden resignation’, it was reported this week.
The proposal would restrict the powers of deputy leader Tom Watson in the event that the Labour leader steps down unexpectedly, according to HuffPost .
Under current rules, Watson would become acting leader if Corbyn was incapacitated or quit without warning, until a leadership election can be called.
The change would effectively put Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC) in charge of the acting leader, and give them approval over his or her powers.
However, a source said this proposal was not agreed at Tuesday’s meeting and will be discussed again on Saturday.
Some members had hit out at proposals to let Labour members choose council chiefs directly – instead of councillors choosing their leader, as happens now.
Critics feared that could lead to the ousting of ‘centrist’ council chiefs or group leaders with views hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.
Councillors would have also been forced to run their local manifestos past new-look local government committees.
However, any proposed changes to local government will now be delayed until next year, said Nick Forbes, the local government rep on the NEC.
He tweeted The NEC has formally agreed to defer any decisions on rule changes for local government until 2019, pending a longer review which will involve @LabourCllrs and @LGA_Labour in the next stages.
A sensible and pragmatic decision that will be welcomed by many in Labour Local Govt.
A Labour source said the NEC reached agreement on the following proposals in the democracy review. They will now go forward to vote by the conference.
The ‘Contemporary Criteria’ for determining which policy motions can be considered at Conference will be abolished, ensuring this cannot restrict policy debates.
Darren Williams wrote We agreed to scrap the contemporary criterion for conference motions and to increase the number of subject areas debated at conference to 10 chosen by the CLPs and 10 chosen by affiliates.
Currently four are chosen by each group.
A disability rep on the NEC will be created, who will be elected 50% by one-member-one-vote and 50% by trade union affiliates.
NEC member Darren Williams added there would be other measures preparing the ground for women, young members, disabled members and ethnic minorities to be better represented.
By-elections will take place among Labour members when there is a vacancy on the ruling NEC.
This would replace the current system where the position is filled by the runner-up from the most recent election.
Eddie Izzard benefited from this system in March when he was able to step up after Christine Shawcroft resigned amid a party storm. But he is understood to have been among those backing the change this week.
That Scottish and Welsh Conference will, in future, determine how the Scottish Labour Party and the Welsh Labour Party NEC places are elected.
This will give conference delegates in Scotland and Wales the power to decide how their NEC representative is chosen.
It comes after disagreements about the Welsh rep, who was chosen by the party’s leader in the region.
Constituency Labour parties will be required to have a minimum of eight meetings each year under the plans.
For clarity, not all the measures under the microscope are part of the ‘democracy review’. Some of them just happen to have come along at the same time. That means they will face a separate vote at this year’s conference
The NEC agreed a rule change – due for a vote at conference – which would involve independent persons when dealing with future sexual harassment complaints.
This stops short of demands for an entirely independent system.
However, a Labour source insisted that if conference passes the rule change, the NEC can then bring forward other concrete proposals in future.
It came after Bex Bailey, who waived her anonymity to say she was raped at a party event aged 19, accused the party of kicking the issue into the long grass.
Rape victim Bex Bailey accuses Labour of kicking sexual harassment issue ‘into the long grass’ as she calls for an independent system
The NEC agreed to double the size of the National Constitutional Committee – the discipline body which deals with the party’s big backlog of anti-Semitism claims.
Another 14 members have been added to the body, a spokesman told the Guardian. The changes will be put to a vote at conference.
The aim is to speed up the party’s backlog of discipline cases which has long been criticised.
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