The NEC congratulated Rachael Maskell, Conor McGinn and Kate Osamor on their selection as parliamentary candidates for York Central, St Helens North and Edmonton. If all goes well and they are elected as MPs on 7 May, this will have been their last NEC meeting.
Lucy Powell, vice-chair of Labour’s general election campaign, reported that there was no sign of a Tory surge or a budget bounce. The fifth and final pledge was launched in Birmingham on 14 March, promising a country where the next generation can do better than the last. With Labour the recovery would put the NHS and working people first, and build a Britain that works for working people. She contrasted the Tories’ failing plan with a better plan for working families, because Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. Controls on immigration would include more border police and withholding in-work and out-of-work benefits from migrants for two years, until they have paid into the system, as well as ensuring that employers cannot undercut wages and working conditions. NEC members were happy with the last part, but pointed out that it is not migrants’ fault if they are exploited.
The ground campaign was truly impressive. More than 300 staff were working across the country and, as one regional director wrote: “the organisers are poised like coiled springs, ready to go”. Ed Miliband’s goal of four million individual conversations was on course to be exceeded, and though the Tories were spending over twice as much, voters in key seats were nearly 10% more likely to have heard from Labour than from other parties. Responding to questions and comments, Lucy Powell gave more information on campaigning in Scotland and against UKIP.
Member to Member
Byron Taylor, the national trade union liaison officer, outlined conversations that the unions were having with their own members. There are six million trade unionists and they trust their union representatives more than they trust politicians or journalists, especially on workplace concerns. Particularly interesting was the difference between what union members saw as the main general issues, and the issues which most directly affected them and their families. This second set had wages at the top, followed by the cost of living, the NHS, pensions, education, job security, housing, unemployment, welfare, utility costs and care of the elderly, with immigration well down the list. Labour had good policies on many of these: raising the minimum wage, promoting the living wage, ending exploitative zero-hours contracts, freezing energy bills, funding the NHS and building 200,000 new homes each year. Engaging in people’s everyday lives was the best way to win their support.
As Chair of the national policy forum, Angela Eagle has the task of boiling down the 80,000 words agreed last July into a readable manifesto. She hoped to carry the spirit of openness and co-operation through to the final document, which would be signed off at the Clause V meeting (NEC members, shadow ministers and the parliamentary committee). It will be interesting to see which bits survive.
General secretary Iain McNicol reported that parliamentary selections were virtually complete. There were far fewer last-minute retirements than in 2010 and therefore fewer NEC-imposed shortlists. Rumours of sudden peerages and parachuted favourites have, pleasingly, turned out to be untrue.
Britain in Europe
European leader Glenis Willmott reported that the Socialist and Democrat group were opposing the secretive ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) mechanism within TTIP (transatlantic trade and investment partnership), and also within CETA, the trade deal with Canada. In addition Labour MEPs were pressing for action on zero-hours contracts and unfair treatment of agency workers. Meanwhile Tory MEPs voted against a report on paid paternity leave, reducing the gender pay gap and combating violence against women, while UKIP MEPs opposed investigating tax evasion and avoidance, capping credit card charges and labelling processed meat with its country of origin.
On the Buses
Harriet Harman had been travelling the country, from Cornwall to Scotland, on the woman-to-woman bus, engaging some of the 9.1 million women who didn’t vote last time. Media jokes about the colour – pink, magenta? – had broken through to the mainstream, and gave it instant recognition. Carers and call-centre workers shared their experiences and heard what Labour had to offer them: pledges such as 25 hours a week free childcare were still not well enough known. Keith Vaz had acquired a BAME (black and minority ethnic) bus, though the bus is actually white, and that would be touring as well.
Ed Miliband recalled that at his first NEC meeting he stated his determination that Labour would be a one-term opposition, and we were now in a position to achieve this. He thanked everyone for their values, their unity and their discipline. George Osborne’s budget reinforced Tory extremism, with cuts in the next three years twice as deep as cuts over the last five years. The choice for voters in Scotland was the same as everywhere else: a Labour government or a Tory government, and only a Labour government could deliver real change. NEC members asked for an inquiry into blacklisting, highlighted the unprecedented growth in inequality under the coalition, and wanted clear dividing lines with the Tories on welfare and on austerity. Ed Miliband responded that scrapping the bedroom tax, keeping bills down and tackling low pay showed commitment to a different kind of society.
Ed Balls joined the meeting after launching Labour’s pledge not to increase VAT for the next five years. VAT was a particularly unfair tax, with pensioners and millionaires paying the same, and every previous Tory government had raised it. [His arguments obviously convinced David Cameron, who followed his lead the next day.] Five years of this government had seen the number of zero-hours contracts soar to 400,000, apprenticeships were falling in every region, and uncertainty over Europe was damaging business confidence. The fall in inflation to 0% resulted from a drop in oil prices which could easily go into reverse. The Tory line seemed to be: “you’re better off really, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”
Tory “plans” included £10 billion of unfunded tax reductions, and £12 billion in unspecified welfare savings. [Leaked memos suggest that Iain Duncan Smith may tax disability allowances, cut support for hard-pressed carers and limit child-related benefits to the first two children.]
In contrast all Labour’s policies were fully costed and funded: the married couples’ allowance would be used to restore the 10% tax band, reducing pension tax relief for high earners would pay for lower tuition fees, the mansion tax would boost NHS spending, the bank levy would fund more childcare. And more jobs with better pay would increase the tax base and help to reduce the deficit through natural means.
London Calling, and Supporters Various
The NEC agreed to amend the timetable for choosing London’s mayoral candidate. As before, nominations close on 10 June, and the selection committee longlists on 12 June and shortlists on 13 June. The deadline for signing up as a registered supporter was extended to 12 June, while affiliated supporters have until 19 June. The ballot will then take place between 1 July and 29 July 2015.
There is still some confusion around supporters, a year after the special conference. Information is available at www.labour.org.uk/support, and a booklet sent to constituencies suggests using the election to sign people up. This matters, most immediately for London, and because some supporters have rights within the rulebook, so here is a recap. Apologies to those who know all this backwards:
Supporters: a term used since Refounding Labour in 2011. The party has more than a million email addresses for people who have expressed support at some time. These are primarily a pool of contacts who may help in elections or otherwise. They have no rights and are not assigned to constituencies.
Affiliated supporters (AS): these are members of a socialist society or members of an affiliated trade union who pay the political levy, who are on the electoral register, and who have signed up as an AS online or through their organisation. They will be included in lists from the membership system and they are entitled to attend local party meetings, usually without a vote. However those living in London can vote in choosing Labour’s mayoral candidate, and this includes voting at local nomination meetings. They will also have a vote in future leadership and deputy leadership elections. They do not pay any fee on top of their trade union or socialist society subscription.
AS are separate from trade unions’ collective affiliation, whereby individual members must agree to part of their subscription going to the party as an affiliation fee. This does not come into effect till May 2019.
Registered supporters (RS): these are people who do not belong to an affiliated organisation, but are on the electoral register and have signed up as supporters. They have no formal status except during a particular election when they pay a fee and get a vote. For the London mayor this has been set at £3. The fee for any future leadership and deputy leadership election would be set when one is called.
Hope this is helpful. As usual, questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for the report to be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official record.