National Executive Committee, 22 July 2014
NEC meetings always start with tributes to members who have died, and in July these included Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, who was just 59. The by-election for the PCC was triggered, disrespectfully, even before his funeral, and would be held on 21 August. Because there was no time to ballot members an NEC panel had selected David Jamieson as Labour’s candidate, with acting PCC Yvonne Mosquito as his running-mate.
Following the May elections Labour’s European leader Glenis Willmott had secured key positions for British MEPs. Claude Moraes would chair the civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee and Linda McAvan the development committee, with vice-chairs Afzal Khan for the security committee, Derek Vaughan for the budgetary control committee and Catherine Stihler for the internal market committee. Linda McAvan had been instrumental in winning funds for Europe’s first carbon capture and storage power station, to be built at Drax in Yorkshire and creating 4,000 jobs, and roaming charges would be halved this month and hopefully scrapped altogether from 2016.
Glenis emphasised that Labour was the only party with influence in Europe, working within the 193-member Socialists and Democrats group. David Cameron might have been able to find an alternative to Jean-Claude Juncker for commission president if he had not withdrawn his MEPs from the European People’s Party, the largest group in the parliament. Instead the Tories were part of a group of 70, with some rather unsavoury bedfellows. Further out, UKIP were in a group of 48. Although Labour MEPs had not supported Jean-Claude Juncker, they would now work with him to get the best deal for Britain. The NEC congratulated Glenis on her negotiating skills, and all re-elected and newly-elected MEPs.
General Secretary’s Report
With the Scottish referendum just weeks away, Labour’s campaign to keep the United Kingdom together was in top gear. In the 2010 general election Scotland had shown a swing towards Labour, and Gordon Brown was taking a leading role in energising and motivating supporters. Dennis Skinner spoke to 80,000 people at the Durham Miners Gala, urging a vote against separation and asking the trade unions to get involved, and members from all parts of the country were encouraged to join in.
In March I reported that the East Midlands were introducing a training scheme for constituency officers, and this is now being developed further. I asked again if they could share the scheme with other regions and local parties and Iain McNicol promised to follow up, so I hope to have more on this soon.
The NEC received the annual accounts, and these have been published by the electoral commission. Total membership increased last year, and the party was grateful to those who supplemented their subscriptions with additional donations. The gala dinner was a success and Labour was building for next year, though would have to out-organise the Tories on the ground to counter their huge war-chest and wealthy backers. The business board would continue to keep a close eye on income and expenditure and on the impact of the Collins review, both immediately and through the five-year transition period. The Refounding Labour fund, which holds a substantial chunk of constituency membership money, was paying for organisers in key seats through to the general election, but after that it will presumably reopen for bidding.
Conference Arrangements Committee and Other Rules
Iain McNicol had investigated complaints about the 2013 elections to the conference arrangements committee (CAC), and his findings would go to the Chair Angela Eagle. However, similar problems should not arise in future because the NEC agreed that from now on, elections for the CAC would be conducted by one-member-one-vote rather than by conference delegates, as proposed by Beverley & Holderness, Exeter, Leyton & Wanstead and Liverpool Walton CLPs. The NEC also decided to support an amendment from Burnley CLP which would bar members of the government (when in power) and members of the parliamentary committee (when in opposition) from standing for the CAC.
Several constituencies had tried to clarify the three-year rule, under which changes can only be debated at every fourth conference, and would be asked to remit their amendments in favour of the NEC’s own clarification. The only other rule change from the NEC would allow a member to be suspended, excluded or referred to the national constitutional committee if they have committed a serious criminal offence, whether or not a prison sentence is imposed.
Some NEC members were concerned that amendments to parliamentary selection procedures had been rejected by the CAC under the three-year rule. The reason given was that the 2014 special conference had agreed the Collins report which included a call for selections to be reviewed, though the review would not be carried out till after the general election. However the CAC is independent of the NEC, which cannot question its decisions.
Later in the meeting the NEC noted the organisation committee’s decisions. Bradford East, Bootle and Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough would have open selections, while Bradford West, Bradford South, Neath and Workington would choose from all-women shortlists. The committee also received a report on a meeting of the Ireland consultative forum at last year’s conference, involving the UK Labour Party, the Irish Labour Party, the SDLP and the Co-operative Party. Another meeting would be held this year.
Annual Conference 2014
The women’s conference will be held on Saturday 20 September, with the main event starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday and finishing by 4 p.m. on Wednesday. The deadline for contemporary motions is noon on Thursday 11 September, and, for emergency motions, noon on Friday 19 September.
The NEC agreed a paper from Angela Eagle which aimed to channel ideas and enthusiasm from the women’s conference into the party’s structures through a report to the main conference, and through formal submissions to the policy-making process. Two members of the national policy forum would be elected as women’s representatives, to speak up for women’s policy throughout the year. Every regional board would have a women’s officer, more support would be provided for constituency women’s officers, and the party would seek to establish a network for women councillors.
National Policy Forum Feedback
Two days after Milton Keynes the mood was still positive, with policies described as bold, radical and the strongest for a generation. The revised papers will be published at the end of August for approval by conference, and members can judge for themselves. So many people have asked about the Middle East that I’ve given the consensus words below, though they don’t reflect the most recent horrors:
“Labour remains committed to a comprehensive peace based on a two state solution, international law and a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.
Labour will uphold the principles of equality for all Palestinians and Israelis by respecting human rights and applying international law in all relations and dealings with Israel and the Palestinians.
Labour recognises that the illegal settlements and their continued expansion in the West Bank remain key obstacles to resolving the conflict. Labour has taken and will maintain domestic action to introduce labelling transparency. Labour will not encourage or support any investment or financial activities within illegal settlements, and will seek a Europe-wide approach to settlement products. Labour also supports an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza, allowing the free movement of trade, aid and people.”
Harriet Harman described the Israeli invasion of Gaza as disproportionate, and Ed Miliband said the situation was tragic. Labour took a different position from the Tory government. Domestically the economy was not delivering for most people, and the world of work had to change. Responding to questions he said Barack Obama wanted Britain as a strong partner, which meant a United Kingdom remaining united and continuing as part of the European Union, and Labour would soon announce policies on student fees and higher education funding.
Hard Work in Progress
After my rant in June I was encouraged that Hardworking Britain Better Off no longer heads the weekly mails, and the summer campaign theme “The Choice: the Labour Future, the Tory Threat” hits exactly the right note. Then members drew my attention to the One Nation magazine, which is still liberally sprinkled with the H-word. Ed Miliband’s cost of living contract is only with hardworking Britain, only hardworking people will see their taxes cut, only hardworking families are £1,600 a year worse off, and so on. As one wrote: “Please tell them to take out stupid phrases”. I am trying, believe me …