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Christine Shawcroft reports back on Labour’s June executive

NEC Report CSShort Report of the national executive committee (NEC) meeting held on 3 June 2014 (a more complete report will follow)

The most controversial part of this meeting came right at the end when a reference from the Organisation committee was brought up.   Several seats where women were standing down at the General Election had come up for decision about having All Women Shortlists (AWS) [see report here – Ed]. There had been an equality of votes at the committee, so the matter was referred to the full NEC for decision.

Now, AWS are wildly unpopular in the Party, being the worst method of getting women candidates apart from all the other methods that have been tried. The question was whether Salford, where Hazel Blears is standing down, should have an AWS or an open selection. Although the CLP was against an AWS, opposition wasn’t as strong as in other seats where they have been imposed. Furthermore, we have a target for the number of women MPs we want in the PLP (for good electoral reasons) and if women are replaced by men we will never reach the target. After much discussion of the need to be consistent and credible, it was agreed that the Salford selection should be by AWS. I’m sorry if this upsets local members in these seats, but opponents of the policy need to come up with a better system. No-one has yet.

The rest of the meeting was largely taken up with discussion of the election results. It was pointed out that we won the local elections, which are a much better indicator of the General Election result that the Euro elections (used by voters for a protest vote) and that even in the Euros we held off UKIP in the cities, especially London. Great concern was expressed about small towns and semi-rural areas which should be Labour but went strongly UKIP. I said that I felt that Farage was getting away with his “ordinary bloke down the Pub” schtick, and that we should never refer to him without saying “public school educated, ex-stockbroker who is too right wing for the Tory Party”.

On education, UKIP want to bring back grammar schools – I said “you don’t bring back grammars, you bring back secondary moderns“. Seventy-five percent of children won’t make it to a grammar school so surely the electoral arithmetic is with us on that one? Labour Party policy is rather cagey on this, lacking the nerve to bring in full comprehensive schools everywhere because it means “closing grammar schools”. I don’t want to close grammar schools, I want to close secondary moderns. We’ll have to see if this can’t be firmed up at the National Policy Forum.

Whilst congratulating comrades on the result in London, I had to point out that in Tower Hamlets Labour lost. This is what happens when for twenty years the Party hierarchy has prevented members in Tower Hamlets from freely choosing their own Council candidates. For several elections, candidates were imposed on local members in every ward in the authority.  When members had the temerity to choose the “wrong” Mayoral candidate he was deselected by the then NEC without any chance to answer the charges against him. The investigation into the “membership irregularities” showed that there weren’t any.  I don’t  agree with anyone standing against the Labour Party, but in exceptional circumstances like this, when they are treated so abominably by the Party, I appreciate they have no other option. I said at the meeting that the only way out is to accept Lutfur Rahman and members of Tower Hamlets First back into the Labour Party where they belong, and I will be working towards this end over the next few months. Then maybe we really will sweep the board in London at the General Election.

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  1. Dave Roberts says:

    Yes Christine, but it’s Tower Hamlets which is unlike other areas as you well know. I was born and brought up there and know what has been going on.

    I want Labour back in power just like you all but Lutfur Rahman will be a millstone around Miliband’s neck, as if he hasn’t got enough already.

    As far as I know Rahman hasn’t applied so until he does things are the same.

    1. James Martin says:

      Maybe Rahman could be Miliband’s faith advisor and show him how money for jobs and services can be diverted into a multitude of religious bodies (mainly muslim) with no democratic accountability. He could call it the Big God-Squad Society perhaps…

      1. Dave Roberts says:

        Nice one James!

  2. David Pavett says:

    This report suggests a startling lack of informed political discussion on the NEC.

    How is it possible that Labour should put in such a poor performance on the EU in terms of its policies, broadcasts and printed material without this leading to some critical reflection? The EU is clearly a subject that Labour prefers not to discuss and it seems that fear, or inability to grapple with the issues, is true of the NEC as well.

    Christine says “On education, UKIP want to bring back grammar schools … Labour Party policy is rather cagey on this, lacking the nerve to bring in full comprehensive schools everywhere because it means ‘closing grammar schools’. … We’ll have to see if this can’t be firmed up at the National Policy Forum.”

    I find this comment rather strange. Talk of Labour lacking the nerve to bring in full comprehensives everywhere sounds would be an appropriate comment to make about Labour in the 60’s and 70’s of the last century. To make it now is to fail to recognise that Labour engaged in a steady abandonment of the objective of comprehensive education throughout its period in office from 1997 to 2010. Not only that but Labour did that in in the name of “choice” and “diversity of provision” thereby adopting the key marketising neo-liberal concepts in its approach. A truly comprehensive system can only be effectively provided by putting schools in a framework of local democracy. In the UK that means putting them in a local authority framework. Labour’s direction of travel was the opposite thereby laying the foundations for Gove’s revolution in our school system. This mode of thinking is fully enshrined in the Education Commission draft in the Policy Review. It is even more aggressively pursued in the Blunkett review which is also part of the Policy Review.

    So I am afraid that “We’ll have to see if this can’t be firmed up at the National Policy Forum” has a rather worrying ring of unreality about it. Nothing will be done without a clear analysis of what’s wrong with current Labour thinking and without suggesting how it could be different. The trouble is that it is very hard to get any discussion about education going in the Labour Party because, frankly, not many are interested in it or are not prepared to do the work needed to penetrate the fog of misinformation about the issues. The most eloquent proof of Labour’s right-wing stance on education is the fact that we have Tristram Hunt as Shadow Secretary of State.

    I have tried to get some discussion going with these pieces: Adonis on Education, Twigg’s proposals, Education under New Labour, Labour’s Draft education policy, One nation education?, Blunket review 1, and Blunkett review 2 . Organisations like the Campaign for State Education, the Anti-Academies Alliance and the Socialist Educational Association have all produced copious materials arguing in detail what is wrong with Labour’s educational stance and proposing clear alternatives. We have books such as School Wars by Melissa Benn, New Labour and Secondary Education 1994-2010 by Clyde Chitty and Education Under Seige by Peter Mortimore which do the same. None of this effort seems to penetrate as far as Labour’s NEC.

    It’s not “firming up” which is required at the NPF but a proper and well-informed debate about education and its problems. What is the chance of that?

    1. James Martin says:

      And it’s not even that opposing Grammar schools is a particularly hard argument to make in my experience, as all you need to say to their supporters is why do you support second class secondary moderns? Although given Labour seems to be supporting second class secondary moderns via the vocational UTC academies for 14-19 year olds I doubt we will see much defence against the return of a three tier (independent schools, grammars, and the rest) class based rotten education system from them…

    2. PoundInYourPocket says:

      As you say in your informed post, New Labour made great hay out of the “choice” agenda, in all areas provision. It’s hard now for Labour to be a true champion of accountable and democratic provision via local authorities after dismantling the previous system that took generations to establish. We can see now that the public are increasingly aware of the sham “choices” they’re being sold. All Labour can do now to save face and remain electable is to continue along thier previous trajectory, albeit with less zeal. To perform a public “volt-face” would expose them to ridicule and render them unelectable. How can they now deny the past that was sold as a triumph ? The best we can get is a slow and gradual drift back to normality and away from the zealous pro-market Blairite drive of the early New Labour years. But that will take a generation as the embedded incumbents need to die-off.

  3. David Pavett says:

    The effort at reporting back that Christine Shawcroft, and a few others like Ann Black, makes is admirable and would be transformative if generally adopted. But is it too much to ask that this effort be extended to answering some of the questions and comments that arise as a result of that reporting? Dialogue is a two-way and on going thing and not just a matter of delivering a report and leaving it at that. To think that it is the latter is remain stuck in the old hierarchical view of democracy in which the great and the good deliver their pearls of wisdom to the masses and then get on with other important business (which does not include dialogue with the hoi poloi).

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