The full Labour Party National Executive Committee met today. As before I will try to convey as much as possible of what was discussed within the constraints of not disclosing confidential reports or information.
Margaret Beckett has rejoined the NEC, replacing Angela Smith as a backbench PLP/EPLP representative. It was Stephanie Peacock’s last meeting after four years as Youth Rep. Ed Miliband thanked her for her work and she managed to elicit a pledge from the General Secretary to fund a Youth Officer.
Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband both expressed their dismay about the resignation of Alan Johnson.
Harriet paid tribute to Iain Wright MP and party staff (particularly Noel Hutchinson as Agent) who had run the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, and to the large number of volunteers. It had been a great campaign which saw a seat which became vacant in very difficult circumstances, and where there was collusion between the Tories and Lib Dems, held by a margin of thousands. We would take nothing for granted in Barnsley Central.
Harriet outlined the importance of the elections on 5 May – not just in Scotland and Wales but in local authorities across England particularly in the South East, South West and Eastern regions where Labour needed to make a comeback after weak General Election results. As well as the local and specifically Scottish and Welsh issues there was the overarching economic argument that the cuts are too far, too fast. Other growing issues are the NHS and cuts to police numbers. The campaign would be the first chance for our 50,000 new members to get involved. She outlined the ways in which Shadow Cabinet members are being deployed, both to lead on thematic issues and to provide local-level campaigning support to specific regions, particularly the three with fewest Labour MPs. We would be going back into areas where Labour had got very weak and running candidates and campaigns there, particularly to win back voters in the South West who had tactically backed the Lib Dems.
Harriet said she was personally going to vote for AV in the referendum but the Lib Dems had been mugged by the Tories as holding it on 5 May when there were elections was stopping cross-party campaigning for a Yes vote. The Labour election campaign was the priority, not the referendum.
There was a brief and predictable exchange about Tower Hamlets which I won’t report as the issue may come back to the NEC in future.
We signed-off a new parliamentary selections procedure which will be piloted in 26 non-Labour-held marginals. This will involve self-nomination, with shortlisting locally by a Selection Committee elected by the CLP Executive. The final decision will be by local members, with the quantity of campaign material tightly regulated to stop people spending their way to selection. I was pleased that points made at Organisation Committee were taken into account in the final proposals, including the ability of affiliates to operate their own panels and formally support people alongside self-nomination. Feedback from prospective candidates and members in the 26 pilot CLPs about how well the new system works would be very useful.
General Secretary Ray Collins reported that 1,000 activists had been in Oldham East & Saddleworth on the final weekend, and thanked the unions for innovative support including member to member canvassing. He reported that the Barnsley Central shortlist would be drawn up on the 26th, with the selection on the 27th.
Ed Miliband echoed Harriet’s tribute to Alan Johnson but said the smooth reshuffle showed Labour had strength in depth. He said there would be three big arguments in 2011:
1. The economy. The 0.5% decline in GDP showed the Government’s economic policy was a risky experiment. He was consciously getting into an argument about our past record because it was essential to stop the Government’s argument that the global recession was somehow caused by Labour public spending. The deficit had only been 2% before the recession, after which it rose to 10%. He was not going to concede the central argument but Labour did need the humility to accept mistakes like under-regulating the banks and allowing the economy to be over-dependent on financial services. Policies for growth were the next key stage in the debate.
2. The chances of the next generation, which are under unprecedented assault. Labour needs to become the default option for young voters let down by the Government.
3. New Politics. The Tories and Lib Dems can’t claim to represent this as they have already broken 39 promises.
Ed said he wanted to attract as many Lib Dems to Labour as possible: MPs, Councillors, members and voters. But some people wanted to stay in the Lib Dems and fight to win their party back from Clegg. We had to respect their decision and work with them issue by issue, to try to avoid the next election being a two parties versus one fight.
He warned that the NHS is facing unprecedented upheaval and that the potential involvement of the private sector in commissioning decisions as well as in service delivery was dangerous. PCTs had been flawed as commissioners but at least they were public bodies.
In response to an attack on AV by Christine Shawcroft, Ed said too many good Labour MPs had lost to Tories because of votes lost to the Lib Dems and Greens. In his view AV would on balance benefit Labour because of Lib Dem and Green transfers. It was not a done deal the referendum would be in May because the Lords were putting up such a fight. Labour would not campaign in the referendum as we had elections to fight.
Ray reported in detail on preparations for the May elections and Greg Cook reported on how we would handle any boundary review if we can’t stop the Government’s plans to cut the number of MPs by 50.
Peter Hain reported on the reviews of the Partnership in Power policy-making process and of wider party organisation. He made a plea for all NEC members to work on reawakening members’ enthusiasm to get involved in the policy-making process. He urged CLPs to submit their ideas. He said he wanted a new policy-making system where minority positions articulated at the NPF would go to Annual Conference for decision, rather than Conference getting presented with a “take-it-or-leave-it” single document. The transparency and reputation of the policy process need to be restored.
Peter said Ed was taking a strong line on making sure the Shadow Cabinet play an active part in the National Policy Forum and Policy Commission structures so they are developing policy in consultation with the Party. The next NPF would be in June or July and would consider progress on the policy review led by Liam Byrne.
Peter said formal consultation on reform of party organisation would start in March. He and Ellie Reeves are touring the regional conferences to take soundings. Any rule changes that come out of the consultation will be considered by the NEC in July and go to Annual Conference for decision, with publication well in advance so that there can be a full debate in the wider Party. He urged members to contact him direct with ideas for reform.
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