National Executive held on 27 November at Labour HQ
Every November, Labour’s national executive has an extended session to discuss aims and objectives and a work plan for the year ahead. In the past this has been a two day Awayday session of mind numbing tediousness. To save money, the two days was cut to one. To my surprise, this year’s presentations were so interesting and informative that the NEC felt that we needed to revert to the two day session!
I confess that I didn’t have high hopes of Iain McNicol’s management restructuring, having lived through so many of them before, but it was clear from this meeting that the new executive directors are a very able group of people with lots of very good ideas. The sessions on Strategy and Planning, and Field Operations were particularly useful, and it was just a shame we didn’t have time to discuss them properly.
Deputy Leader’s report
Harriet Harman reported on the forthcoming Leveson report, saying that we support a strong and free Press, but that there is no proper complaints system and the code is not enforced. The press are very careful what they say about millionaires, who will sue, but treat ordinary people as commodities and invade their privacy just to sell papers. Now we have a historic opportunity to set up a proper independent complaints procedure. She added that this is largely due to the courageous decision of Ed Miliband, who spoke out against the Murdoch press from the very beginning of the phone hacking scandal, ignoring advice that he would be pilloried like Neil Kinnock had been.
Ed Miliband said that we need to take forward the One Nation message in the aftermath of Conference. He thanked all the staff involved in recent by elections, many of whom have had to cancel their holidays in order to work on successive elections. On the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, we need to ask: is it fair, does it secure recovery, and does it make the long term changes needed. The government is totally failing to give everyone a stake in the future of the country – welfare bills are going up because they are failing to get people into work. On Europe he said that we did the right thing voting for cuts in the budget. We are in favour of EU membership, but want to change how it works. He thanked Glenis Willmott for all the great work she has done.
During questions, I said that we need to be getting out the messages that will win us the next general election. I like the One Nation message, but can’t see how saying Labour will make cuts and increase the retirement age is a vote winner. Mr Miliband said that we need to be honest with people, whilst opposing Tory austerity.
Several trade union delegates then lobbed a Rotherham-shaped grenade into the meeting. Great disquiet was expressed about the shortlist of two and the exclusion of able local candidates. It was felt that 3 MPs on the panel was too many, as they were able to outvote other sections, and that misleading information about the panel discussion had been leaked. It was felt that CLPs should be involved in by election panels, even if only as observers.
Mr Miliband replied that he understands the upset in the CLP, and has spoken to people there, including candidates who weren’t shortlisted. He hadn’t had anything to do with the panel, but felt that we have to trust them. He said that NEC panels were set up after a string of disastrous by elections, including Greenwich. I wasn’t able to say anything as he left shortly afterwards, but I’m afraid I take exception to this remark.
Mr Miliband was 17 when he canvassed in Greenwich, so maybe he wasn’t aware that Labour Party press officers had been briefing against Deirdre Wood in an attempt to stop her getting selected. I did a lot of work there, including delivering a targeted election day leaflet from 5.30 in the morning. The SDP was on the crest of a wave at the time, and our candidate was pilloried for being of a rather cuddly build and for having left an abusive relationship.
Four years earlier, Peter Tatchell (now acknowledged by the likes of the Mail and the Telegraph as a national treasure) was the victim of a vicious homophobic campaign led by a Liberal who was himself secretly gay. Surely no-one is saying that we had to set up NEC by election panels to ensure the selection of slim, straight candidates who put up with domestic violence? In any case this is now ancient history and nothing to do with anyone in Rotherham.
Annual Conference review
Delegates to Conference had mostly reported back favourably, though one wonders if disgruntled delegates don’t bother filling the feedback form in. Many people have complained to me about the lack of time for delegates. I said that according to my (approximate) timings, out of Conference sessions of 21 hours, 3 and a half had been open to debate. Videos, platform speakers and sofa discussion sessions had taken up far too much time.
The use of the now notorious three year rule to rule CLP rule changes out of order is causing a lot of bad feeling. I said it’s a three year rule, not a three day rule, and the point is whether the proposed change covers the same topic not the same “part” in the Rule Book. I also felt that the refusal to take card votes had given rise to a lot of suspicion, and read out page 36 of the Delegates Report:
Votes at Conference are normally taken as a show of hands unless a card vote is requested by a delegate or by decision of the Chair.”
I asked if we could have guidelines about how delegates can get a card vote. A delegate had come to the rostrum with a point of order at Conference asking precisely this, and was completely ignored. My query on the matter was completely ignored at the NEC, so at least they’re consistent.
There seemed to be general agreement that there hadn’t been enough time for delegates, and that there had been less time than in 2011, so we hope for improvements in 2013. However, we then had a report about cutting the time for Conference, by starting at 11am on Sunday and finishing on Wednesday afternoon. The reason given was that this would increase time for delegates to debate! I felt it would inconvenience CLP delegates who often travel to Conference on Sunday morning, and that they would have to pay for Saturday night accommodation which is likely to be more expensive, in fact women coming to the Women’s Conference will have to pay for Friday night accommodation.
Fitting in trade union delegation meetings and the NEC meeting will also be a problem, and many organisations have already booked room for fringe meetings. However, the recommendation was agreed with only me voting against, so if you’ve been trying to sort out accommodation for Brighton you need to change the nights.
Conference agreed to set up an online policy process where anyone can make submissions and party members can vote on them. This is now live, and members should have had emails about how to use it. There was also a Priorities Ballot at Conference for the topics that the reconstituted Policy Commissions will be concentrating on over the next year.
There were fewer than eight topics selected (because Affiliate and CLP votes overlap, and the “runner up” topics aren’t allowed) so the Joint Policy Committee decided on topics to make up the numbers. One of the extra topics they agreed was Strengthening the military covenant which actually came bottom of the priorities ballot at Conference.
Delegates wondered aloud how it came to be included as a priority. Luckily, the co-convenor of the relevant Policy Commission was able to explain that the low vote at Conference had persuaded the Commission that they were asking the wrong question, and that the topic is now actually about international development. Hopefully members will make full use of the Policy Hub, which could be a very useful way for everyone to get involved in the Policy Forum process.