The row over the cancelled election of a new Chair at last Saturday’s National Policy Forum (NPF) meeting has rolled on, with ‘centrists’ claiming the election was cancelled because Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) knew it was going to lose to the right – how they knew if it wasn’t rigged is somehow never answered.
Inflaming the situation, the so-called moderates have accused the male NEC Chair of ‘barging’ or ‘shoving’ the acting NPF Chair out of the way to get to the microphone and enforce his will on the meeting – even though the video and image evidence presented to support the claim shows nothing of the sort.
Those who have dared to challenge the centrist version of events have been accused of distorting the truth for factional purposes – in spite of clear evidence that the election was a right-wing set-up, in the form of a text admission by the Chair who resigned to trigger the election that she was specifically asked to bring forward her resignation from September so an election called for Saturday’s meeting at short notice.
But the SKWAWKBOX has obtained a copy of a report on the meeting – by an attendee who is not only an Ann Black supporter, but who had agreed to nominate her for the vacant Chair’s position.
George McManus is an NPF CLP Representative for Yorkshire and the Humber. He has been on the NPF for over twenty years and is not someone to mince his words.
He had been ‘wooed’ by the right – to his bemusement – and was set to nominate the centrists’ preferred candidate Ann Black for in the election of NPF Chair on Saturday. So he can safely be said not to ‘have a dog in the fight’ in terms of not wanting Ms Black to be Chair.
Here’s how he described Saturday’s events in a report titled ‘What happened on the way to the Forum?‘ (emphases by the SKWAWKBOX):
Labour representatives to the Party’s National Policy Forum (NPF), which considers proposals for the next manifesto, came from all corners of the UK to Leeds on February 17th. The agenda would focus on the NHS and Brexit but most were blissfully unaware that a weird scenario, of Kafkaesque proportions, was unfolding. The early highlight should be Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. But some had other ideas.
Four days earlier, on Tuesday 13 February members were shocked when an email from Labour chief Simon Jackson reported that the popular NPF Chair, Ann Cryer, had announced her immediate resignation. The message went on to say officers had met the day before and decided an election for the post should take place on the Saturday morning of the NPF, immediately before Jeremy’s speech.
This is where Kafka comes in. It transpired that Ann Black, a stalwart of Labour’s Left for 20 years, was being supported by members of the NPF belonging to the Right wing Labour First faction. Following recent changes at Labour’s NEC Ann Black’s popularity with the Left had started to wane.
Suddenly I found myself being wooed for support for Ann by people who formerly would never have given me the time of day. Now I’ve always been on the same wavelength as Ann and when she asked me to nominate her for the role my response was unequivocal. ‘If there is an election, of course I will.’ I was not convinced an election would happen. I couldn’t understand why Ann Cryer had suddenly resigned. But, the plot thickened.
On the Saturday morning at 11am, 300 NPF members and Party staff packed into the ornate, art deco ballroom of the Queens Hotel, Leeds…But a row erupted and Jeremy’s speech was delayed.
NEC Chair Andy Kerr announced that Ann Cryer’s immediate resignation had been confirmed but due to representatives being given inadequate notice, there would be no immediate election for her replacement.
You would have thought World War 3 had broken out!
McManus then described the reactions that constituted ‘World War 3’ – and who was behaving in an aggressive manner:
A solid cohort of members gathered in the centre of the hall, went ballistic. To shouts of ‘Point of Order’ and ‘We demand an election’ the normally forceful NEC Chair was drowned out.
At this point the podium was given over to the hapless NPF Vice Chair Katrina Murray who attempted to explain the rationale of the decision but the self-appointed Praetorian Guard of the NPF were having none of it. They demanded to be heard. Cue more shouts of Point of Order. Unfortunately the embattled Katrina made her first mistake and decided to take points of order.
McManus’ depiction of the centrists and their behaviour is not pretty:
What needs to be understood is that the NPF has no standing orders under which points of order can be raised. It does have procedural guidelines which have been agreed by the NEC. When I tried to point this out to Katrina, I was shouted down by the mob which smelled a rat. People were shouting. Others were climbing over seats to get near the front. Dissident MPs were on their feet.
At this point poor Katrina made another disastrous error. ‘ As stand in for the Chair I’ve decided we should have an election.’ I shook my head in disbelief. From the back of the hall there was a cry of ‘Challenge the Chair’s decision.’ ‘I will put the challenge to the vote announced Katrina.’ In order to restore some order, Andy Kerr then took to the podium again. He re-iterated the NEC’s position. ‘No election’
Their blood boiling, the mob got nasty with shouts of ‘Bully’ and ‘Dinosaur’ directed at the NEC veteran. Andy backed off. ‘OK said Katrina, those in favour of the challenge please indicate’ followed by ‘those against the challenge please indicate.’ Andy Kerr and the other officers at the far end of the stage sat, heads shaking in disbelief. ‘Right’ says Katrina, ‘We’ll have a short break whilst we count the votes.’ As this was unfolding I understand the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition was waiting in the wings for his cue. It was a long time coming.
Twenty minutes later the embattled Katrina took to the podium and announced that there would be no election today. The mob rose again. ‘What was the result of our vote’ they demanded. ‘Nobody’s told me’ said Katrina. You could not make it up.
There were more ugly scenes as it was whispered around the hall that the proceedings were being viewed and shared on Social media.
Cue Andy Kerr with a promise that the issue would be referred to the March meeting of the NEC. He went on, ‘The NEC’s authority supersedes that of the NPF;’
The mob would not be placated. ‘No it bloody well doesn’t’ came a loud reply. There was a further comfort break during which several people left the hall following which Jeremy Corbyn was introduced.
“It was clear this was about giving Corbyn a bloody nose”
It was at this point that the mist started to clear. The dissident rebels remained glued to their seats, refusing even to offer a polite welcome. This hadn’t been a challenge to the NEC but to Jeremy Corbyn. A barn storming speech brought a standing ovation, but the rebels were stoney faced. They remained seated. No applause.
With no time for the expected question and answer session, Jeremy left the hall as the assembly finally dispersed. It was becoming clear what had led up to this.
For many years the NPF was a rubber stamp for the Leadership’s policy ideas. Debate was deliberately stifled. Labour First, and their associate group Progress, ran the NPF, in thrall to the leadership. Many of those members are still on the NPF.
“Ann, the former sinner, was now their Joan of Arc”
Now dis-enfranchised, as they see it, the same members had seen an opportunity to re-establish some control over policy formulation and the NEC. Recent events had suggested that Ann Black might be persuaded to accept support in her ambition to be NPF Chair. Ann, the former sinner, was now their Joan of Arc. Getting her elected would give Corbyn a bloody nose.
“A carefully crafted coup had failed”
But they forgot something. The Labour Party Rule Book says that for elections to take place, voting members must be given at least 7 days notice and with the NEC as arbiters of the Rule Book, the decision was theirs. Not the NPF’s. So a carefully crafted coup had failed but not before news agencies had broadcast the events to the world and Corbyn’s speech delayed. The damage done can only be imagined.
“I doubt that even Kafka could have made it up”
The weekend went onto deliver fantastic seminars on Brexit and on the future of the NHS. Over 20 breakout groups discussed every aspect of the next manifesto. Guest speakers included the incredible Frances O’Grady from the TUC and Keir Starmer but all was overshadowed by the Battle of Leeds. It’s only when you start to understand the background that it’s possible to unravel events. It was ugly. It was irrational. It was surreal. I doubt that even Kafka could have made it up.
I don’t know if the NPF can survive this latest row. It was originally set up to stifle debate not to encourage membership engagement. I was elected in 1997 and have always believed that a rolling programme with deliberative policy formulation was preferable to open arguments on the floor of annual conference. I’ve been arguing for this for 20 years. So if the NPF is to have a future then it must change. But to do so, it needs to discover its raison d’etre. It’s sense of purpose.
We now have over 500,000 members who thought that last year’s manifesto was brilliant. They don’t care who is Chair of the NPF. The members’ priority is to see our man go through the door at Number 10. But they do care when they see Tories having a laugh at the unedifying spectacles like that being broadcast on Saturday.
When you’ve run the show for so long it can be difficult to adjust
Unfortunately when you’ve run the show for so long then it can be difficult to adjust. I hope that Labour First supporters will understand the need to be flexible, adapt and tolerate the changes. The Labour Party is, and must remain, a broad church. That’s its strength. But it’s not York Minster. If they can’t adapt then they will become irrelevant but they won’t just be letting themselves down. They’ll be letting the Party down and worse, they’ll be letting the people down.
The Democracy Review will make proposals in the autumn, but clearly if the NPF is to give a voice to members as it should, then it must be reformed, strengthened and re-configured. Otherwise it must be replaced. There will be an election for Chair, I’m sure. I just don’t know how long the successful candidate will be in post.
This account – by someone who wanted to see Ann Black elected as Chair – portrays ‘ugly’, ‘mob’ behaviour from a ‘self-appointed Praetorian Guard’ who saw an opportunity to give Jeremy Corbyn a bloody nose.
A ‘guard’ that contrived to manipulate events to get its way – and instantly turned into a mob when their “carefully crafted coup” was thwarted.
So much for ‘abuse from the left’ – as usual, those on the right are as quick to cry abuse as they are to perpetrate it.
The SKWAWKBOX needs your support. This blog is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your solidarity so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.
If you wish to reblog this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.