NEC Report, September 2010

National Executive Committee, 21 September 2010

This was Harriet Harman’s last meeting as acting leader. She paid tribute to the new MPs and the veterans for taking the fight to the coalition, and thanked the NEC, general secretary Ray Collins and the party staff, and her office team. Council by-elections since May showed Labour taking 34% of the vote, with the Tories on 28% and the LibDems on 19%, and 33,000 members had joined since the general election.  One said: “Iraq drove me out of the party, Nick Clegg drove me back in.” The new leader would inherit a fast-growing, popular and united party, with the next big electoral test in the Welsh and Scottish elections in May 2011. If a referendum on the alternative vote (AV) was held on the same day the result could be biased through differential turnout and this, as well as the threatened boundary changes, was a cause for concern.

Members praised Harriet Harman for holding the party together, for her leadership style, and for raising issues such as human trafficking and domestic violence at prime minister’s questions. Councillors stressed that where Labour still held power at local level they would work to protect the most vulnerable. There was disappointment that MPs chose the lowest possible quota, six out of 19 women (and men) for the shadow cabinet [though since then eight women have been elected]. MPs also voted to elect the shadow cabinet every two years.

European leader Glenis Willmott’s report highlighted Labour’s condemnation of the French government for deporting Roma people, and outrage at the ConDems’ refusal to support measures against sex trafficking. Here in the UK it was reported that Chinese for Labour and Tamils for Labour have been accepted as new affiliates to the Labour party.

Partnership Revisited

Pat McFadden, then Chair of the national policy forum, introduced the consultation paper on Partnership into [formerly in] Power. I think 17 pages is too long, and it concentrates on internal minutiae while failing to address the most common complaint, which is “why does no-one ever answer my letters?” Few agree with its claim that “the Labour Party is unique in that every member has a voice in policy-making”, and people cannot be expected to organise more policy forums until they start getting some feedback.

I hope that members will send comments by the deadline of June 2011 – the document is on the website, but I can forward it on request. You are not limited to the official questions, so please add anything else that is relevant, and copy your views to me as otherwise I may not see them. Pat McFadden said it didn’t matter if the response rate was even lower than the 4% who replied last time, but I think it does, if the process is to regain credibility. The consultation will be steered by the joint policy committee, though its meetings are poorly attended, particularly by (shadow) ministers.

The Forum will meet on 27 November, and I am asking for it to focus on broad policy issues: means-tested against universal benefits, maintaining public services, funding higher education, dealing with the deficit, all are up for debate, and Labour should involve all its members in shaping a response and an alternative agenda. Ed Miliband has since appointed Peter Hain as the new Chair of the Forum, and I look forward to positive and constructive discussions on the way forward.

Stalemate

I have continued to raise forcefully the need for constituencies which we lost in May to select candidates as soon as possible, but this is still stalled by the possibility of boundary changes leaving current Labour MPs without a home. Twenty-six constituencies have now been identified where (a) there is no neighbouring target seat, or (b) there are two contiguous target seats, one of which could be allowed to select. After deciding which 13 should use all-women shortlists, and a review of selection procedures, these may go ahead reasonably soon. However it is only a quarter of the seats that we must take back, and I again pointed out that delaying selection until the last minute will have the same damaging effects that late retirements had in 2010. The role of “constituency spokesperson” or “local champion” will not attract good people if they are expected to work their socks off for four years and then stand aside for a displaced MP. Other members asked for more detail on the proposed requirement for candidates and champions to pass appropriate modules in the new training academy, and on reward-to-win incentives for all local parties to increase their activity.

Money Matters

Outgoing treasurer Jack Dromey introduced a rule change which would require branches and constituencies to transfer legal ownership of any property to the national Labour party. He gave categorical assurances that local parties would still be able to borrow against their assets, to retain rights of occupation and control, and to keep the profit from rents. While many properties are well-managed, a few get into difficulty and have to be rescued, and this could be prevented by earlier intervention. Though the consultation period should have been longer, 60 constituencies replied, with almost all in favour. Jack Dromey stressed that there was absolutely no intention to use the properties as collateral for more borrowing: the party has paid for the 2010 election, but the last thing we need is to add to existing debts. The proposal was overwhelmingly supported.

The NEC also agreed to propose rule changes which would restore contemporary resolutions to conference, and to make clear that membership and ALC (association of Labour councillors) contributions would not be refundable if a member left the Labour group, for whatever reason.

Other Business

The NEC voted not to endorse Lutfur Rahman as Labour’s mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets by 20 votes to three (Peter Kenyon, Pete Willsman and Christine Shawcroft) with one abstention, and, with the close of nominations only days away, to impose Helal Abbas as the candidate by 16 votes in favour, with two against and five abstentions. Enough has been written about this elsewhere, and I will only say that, as a general principle, issues are best dealt with when they are first identified, and not in the heat of an election process. On the Erith & Thamesmead ballot box incident the NEC officers had reached the end of the road, and the police did not consider it a criminal matter.

Finally arrangements for the leadership announcement and annual conference were approved. There were the usual concerns about the number of ministerial and NEC speakers and male domination of the platform, and the usual requests for speakers replying to debates to reply to the debate and not just make another speech. The conference arrangements committee does its best, but there is stiff resistance. More than 700 women had registered for the women’s summit on the Sunday morning, and hundreds more could have been accepted if Manchester Town Hall was larger.

Conference, 25/30 September 2010, Manchester

Many of you will have seen the leadership announcement, and I was probably the only person more worried about tripping over the percentages than about the result. Although members who supported other candidates were clearly disappointed, I was impressed by the unity which grew over the week. No method of election is perfect, but I would emphasise that individual union members voted in the affiliated section, not general secretaries casting block votes, and in my union only a third followed the national recommendation. Also the money available to the five candidates varied widely, with Diane Abbott the least well-funded, and a different result could have led to different complaints.

When the NEC met on Sunday Ed Miliband stressed that he would draw on talent from all parts of the party. He considered listening a strength, not a weakness, and though losing the election was a serious disappointment, he was encouraged by the surge in membership and renewed enthusiasm for politics. He intended to lead a responsible opposition, criticising the government when they were wrong but supporting them if they did the right thing. Dennis Skinner riposted that the Tories had never been right on anything in his forty years as an MP, and other members also offered advice.

The Morning After

Contrary to media reports the main conference was positive and upbeat. Almost too much so, as winning the next election will take a lot of hard graft, but much better than sombre depression or vicious infighting. As Chair I made the opening speech, and this is attached: it is above all a message of appreciation and thanks to the volunteers, the ordinary members across the country.

As usual the four trade union topics – economic and industrial strategy, public services, rights at work and tax avoidance – were chosen as priorities for debate, with housing added by constituency delegates. I hope the resolutions will be published on the website, but let me know if you would like copies. The NEC supported them all except for the CWU motion on Royal Mail, which called for a three-line whip to be imposed against the government’s privatisation plans. The NEC believed that this would create a precedent in relations between conference and the parliamentary party which was best discussed separately, and in return the CWU agreed to remit (withdraw) their motion.

Rule Change Votes

As these are hard to find elsewhere I’ve listed them below, including separate percentages for constituencies and unions.   The first five were proposed by the NEC.

1 –   drop the one-member-one-vote ballot on the manifesto, added in 2007 but never implemented – carried by 96.3% (92.6% in the constituency section / 100.0% in the affiliates section);

2 –   specify that where there is no vacancy for leader or deputy leader, any challenger may seek nominations each year before annual conference (formerly when in opposition, MPs and constituencies were asked for nominations each year, though few constituencies bothered, and MPs overwhelmingly backed the incumbents) – carried by 91.6% (83.4% / 99.8%);

3 –   return to contemporary resolutions instead of the contemporary issues introduced in 2007 – carried by 99.1% (98.3% / 100.0%);

4 –   transfer ownership of branch and constituency property to the Labour party – carried by 86.3% (72.8% / 99.9%);

5 –   clarify that Labour group subscriptions are not refundable if a member leaves – carried by 98.9% (97.8% / 100.0%);

6 –   elect all sections of all committees by one-member-one-vote (proposed by Mitcham & Morden. Opposed by the NEC because the costs, particularly for affiliates, would leave less money for campaigning) – lost with 12.5% in favour (24.9% of constituencies / 0.2% of affiliates);

7 –   debate constituency rule changes in the year they are submitted (proposed by Lancaster and Fleetwood. Opposed by the NEC because a year’s delay allows them to be considered fully, though in practice we do not need or use the time) – lost with 22.7% in favour (43.2% / 2.3%);

8 –   conduct reselection of MPs by one-member-one-vote, rather than by party and affiliate branches (proposed by East Lothian. The current system is seen as weighted against local members, but the NEC opposed any dilution of the union role) – lost with 15.9% in favour (31.8% / 0.03%).

Drawing to a Close

On Wednesday evening the NEC met to say farewell to departing colleagues and welcome new members. I will particularly miss Jeremy Beecham, who throughout the last ten years has been independent, principled and wise. He is succeeded by David Sparks, Labour’s local government leader. Jack Dromey is starting a new career in parliament with Diana Holland elected as treasurer in his place, and finance director Roy Kennedy, who has been unfailingly helpful and supportive, leaves party employment to become a working peer. Elections to the constituency section produced some upsets. Two-thirds of the six places are now filled by women, but the three Peters – Kenyon, Wheeler and Willsman – lost out, and all will be missed. Ellie Reeves, Christine Shawcroft and I were re-elected, and are joined by Ken Livingstone and Oona King, who need no introduction, and by Luke Akehurst, who writes a blog with subtitles for the Hard of Left.

Because the London mayoral candidate was selected in the same ballot the turnout and the vote were probably skewed. I am now the only constituency representative who lives and works outside London, and Oxford is just 60 miles away. I will do my best for members wherever they live, but I hope we can at least consider demands for Scotland and Wales to elect their own representatives. Full NEC results are at http://www2.labour.org.uk/nec-results, with the national policy forum at http://www2.labour.org.uk/npf-results, elected for the first time by one-member-one-vote.

This meeting was also the end of my year as Chair. I would not have missed it for anything, though at times it has been hard to judge the right decision, and even harder to accept that there may be no right decision. It has given me tremendous respect for those who take on the responsibility of leadership. Norma Stephenson of UNISON was elected as the new Chair, with Michael Cashman as vice-chair, and I wish them, and everyone, the best of luck as I return to the NEC backbenches.