Peter Hain, Chair of the national policy forum, gave a report. He circulated a list of shadow cabinet review groups, though these had not been updated since the reshuffle and it was still not clear how to engage with them. A shining exception is international development, where Ivan Lewis has written:
“Following my appointment as shadow secretary of state I have been contacted by many grassroots Labour members across the country who passionately believe as we do that Labour should continue to vigorously fight for the rights of those living in poverty across the world.”
He invites people to sign up for their newsletter at http://fresh‑ideas.org.uk/international‑development or by emailing David.Courcoux@parliament.uk. Hopefully others will follow his initiative.
The policy-making cycle would start in earnest after conference 2012, following the review of Partnership into Power. Several of us again pointed out that in two years the NPF has held only two rushed one-day meetings. Conference calls and e-mails are useful, but not a substitute for direct dialogue. No dates have yet been set for 2012, and I wondered if the party could afford the NPF in any meaningful form. The latest joint policy committee was again poorly attended. NEC members, particularly the new trade union contingent, suggested that consultation documents should be open to formal amendment, and asked where final authority lay: with the NPF, the JPC, the NEC, conference, or elsewhere?
In the meantime please keep writing to the policy commissions, and copy me in. Their addresses are:
Britain in the World: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sustainable Communities (housing, environment, local government, transport, culture, media, sport): email@example.com
Crime, Justice, Citizenship and Equalities: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Education and Skills (email@example.com)
Prosperity and Work – economy, welfare, pensions, workers’ rights (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mr Livingstone Presumes
Campaign co-ordinator Tom Watson gave an overview of election work in Scotland, England, Wales and London, each with distinctive features and all offering potential gains. David Cameron was setting London as his test, and Ken Livingstone had moved into a two-point lead after identifying tube fares, police numbers and living standards as key issues for Londoners, and mobilising the Labour vote from leafy suburbs to the inner-city core. Tom praised the thousands who leafleted outside stations in the icy dawn, and Ken said he’d shed one-and-a-half stone pounding the streets while Boris was on his second ski-ing holiday of the winter. In Scotland the campaign was ably led by Scottish leader Johann Lamont MSP, deputy Anas Sarwar MP, and shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran MP.
Members highlighted good Labour councils such as Manchester and Oxford, which pays a living wage of at least £8 an hour to all employees, against a few mavericks. Further, the Labour group within the local government association wished to make a pay offer to council staff, particularly the low-paid, but were outvoted. In two years’ time, if Labour makes expected progress, they may be in a position to do so.
November will see elections for the new police commissioners. Several cities are voting on whether to have elected mayors, and one-member-one-vote ballots for these candidates may be combined with those for police commissioners, the NEC and the NPF. However we will not know the results of the referendums until 4 May, and while unofficial campaigning has been running for months in some cities, others hope that elected mayors, and the personality politics that they epitomise, will be rejected. .
Ed Miliband joined the meeting, and said that he and Ed Balls were starting to frame the next general election. It was obvious that the Tories would not clear the deficit during this parliament, and Labour would face the challenge of promoting social justice in tough economic circumstances. Fiscal credibility was essential to gaining voters’ confidence, and he would not make promises that we could not keep.
NEC members made full use of the opportunity to convey feedback on the formulation, content and presentation of economic policy. My personal views, and tell me if you agree or disagree, are:
– the economy would be in better shape if Labour had won the election. We should start saying so, and showing the divergence between what is and what might have been. It’s time to turn Tory tactics back against them: the next Labour government will have to clear up their mess;
– cracking down on tax avoidance and cancelling Trident will not be seen as sufficient to deal with the deficit, though we should do both of those anyway;
– further borrowing during recession is favoured by some economists but is hard to sell in common-sense terms. People would not try to reduce their credit card debts by buying more stuff;
– promising to reverse every Tory cut would mean going into the next election with £billions of commitments, and answering Yes or No on specific cuts would paint us into a corner;
– BUT promising to keep every Tory cut would accept their agenda and leave little to inspire those desperate for an alternative. Supporting specific cuts carries the same risk.
This last is not in fact the Eds’ position, and Ed Miliband gave several instances of a different approach: taxing bankers’ bonuses to cap student fees at £6,000, tackling rip-off rail fares, and making energy companies use their cheapest tariffs for over-75s. Unfortunately there was no time to explore welfare, though this was discussed in the prosperity and work commission and in the equalities committee, where Kate Green MP stressed that fiscal credibility must be balanced with values and principles.
I also await answers to my other questions: when did Labour agree to oppose any review of mandatory life sentences for murder, and when did we decide that children should have lessons on “responsible gambling”, part-funded by GamCare, which in turn gets its money from the gambling industry?
Later shadow health secretary Andy Burnham was applauded for his Drop the Bill campaign, working with members, unions, the royal colleges and the public. He pledged that a future Labour government would reverse all changes which increased marketisation. He also described the struggle for media attention: when the health select committee published its critical report, the press only wanted to speak to two Tories, David Lansley and committee Chair Stephen Dorrell.
The NEC agreed that Bristol West, Great Yarmouth, High Peak and Norwich North would choose parliamentary candidates from all-women shortlists, while Bristol North West, Cambridge, Swindon North and Watford will be open. Basildon and East Thurrock would also be open, but wait until 2013 when the new boundaries are confirmed, and South Dorset was deferred. New NEC members were keen that ways of consulting members and criteria for deciding whether seats were open or AWS should be transparent and consistent, reviving hope among us veterans. But overall too few women apply for seats, especially open seats, and the equalities committee agreed that the arguments for AWS, policy for over 15 years, have to be re-fought and re-won within the party. Jo Cox, Chair of the Labour Women’s Network, attended the equalities meeting, bringing determination and practical suggestions.
Christine Shawcroft asked if it was true that local parties have been closed down till after the May elections. Some regional offices have written saying that meetings should cease, but there is no national ban. Obviously campaigning should take precedence, but meetings can bring members together and mobilise activity. Of immediate importance constituencies wishing to bid for money from the new central funds will have to apply by 30 March, or 27 January where essential campaign support is at stake. Looking ahead, constituencies will reorganise from January 2013 along new parliamentary (and Scottish parliamentary) boundaries, and draft guidelines will be issued in May for consultation.
Labour on the Move
During April Head Office will move from Victoria Street to new quarters in Brewers Green, and annual conference 2013 (and 2015) will be held in Brighton rather than Bournemouth, following complete refurbishment of the conference centre. Building on last year’s successful youth event, Wednesday and Thursday of this year’s conference in Manchester will again provide a programme for young members.
Finally I have just heard of Nigel Doughty’s death at the early age of 54. He was far more than a financial donor: he chaired a taskforce on small business and spent an hour with the prosperity and work policy commission in December. Among other things he said London would continue to attract top executives regardless of the 50% tax rate, and he was keen to encourage enterprise and commercial skills instead of focusing only on higher education. He will be missed for his ideas, his enthusiasm and his commitment to Labour.