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Ann Black’s report from Labour’s March executive

NEC Report AB

National Executive Committee, 24 March 2015

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.

Final Preparations

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.

Leader’s Report

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.

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official record. Reports of meetings from July 2008 onwards are here, with earlier reports at www.annblack.com. Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 07956-637958, annblack50@btinternet.com

3 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Working people , that leaves me out then so I ‘ve got to now look around for another party.

    Labour is back at doing what it does best Tory Lite.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Me too as well, (now unemployed for 6 years actively and seeking work for 4 with severely disabled wife,) I’m not an immigrant but, “withholding in-work and out-of-work benefits from migrants for two years, until they have paid into the system,” what a complete load of Tory Bollocks.

      What’s supposed to happen to them if, (like perhaps 3-6 million other people in the UK,) they can get work ?

      This is fantasy politics driven by the SUN and the MAIL, but I do applaud Ed balls pledge to crack down on MP who fiddle their expenses and to end the second home allowance and provide public accommodation for them instead.

  2. David Pavett says:

    I really appreciate Ann’s sense of responsibility in reporting back. I even believe that if half the people in representative role took reporting back as seriously as Ann does the face of politics would be very different.

    Having said that, though, I guess that I cannot be the only one to find a tremendous sense of unreality in what is reported from the NEC (not Ann’s fault, it’s the way it is).

    An army that goes into battle purely on hype, without investigating terrain, supply lines, balance of forces and the like, is likely to be in for a bad time. That’s what Labour looks like to me (although it is rescued from certain defeat by the parallel incompetence of the Tories).

    Labour’s five pledges. Did no one think to ask what “control immigration” means in the context of the EU’s free movement policy? Apparently not.

    Four million conversations. “Ed Miliband’s goal of four million individual conversations was on course to be exceeded”. Does anyone have any idea what this means? In my constituency the election organiser reports thousands of “conversations” but never says what the feedback is. That is quite simply because whatever these encounters are they are not conversations and Labour is not interested in recording and compiling the feedback that they get.

    TU conversations with members. This is more of the same nonsense. Many TU members will vote Conservative or not vote at all. What are the estimates about this? We are given no clues. This is just not serious.

    “Boiling down” policy commitments. Angela Eagle’s task is simplified by the fact that the bureaucratic control of policy formation means that very few Labour members have much idea of the policies entering the “boiling” process.

    Europe. Labour has dithered on ISDS while supporting TTIP. Clear opposition to secretive tribunals is welcome and public pressure seems to have forced that. Good.

    Pink/Magenta Bus. I can’t bring myself to comment.

    Leader’s report. Is that all we can say to Scottish voters pissed off with Labour’s record? That approach is forcing Scots who want something better into the arms of the SNP. Jim Murphy was a huge/historic mistake.

    London Mayor. Moving into US style politics in which Party members can be by-passed by “registered supporters”. This is a logical consequence of reducing a political party to a machine for fighting elections.

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