NEC report back
Report of the NEC meeting held on 19 Mar 2013, at 1 Brewers Green
There was a great deal of chopping and changing with the agenda, as we were visited by Ed Balls and Jon Cruddas as well as Mr Miliband giving the usual Leader’s Report, and they were all available at different times. However, the meeting was dominated by discussion of the following day’s budget, and by the National Policy Forum/Policy Review reports.
Shadow Chancellor’s Report
Mr Balls was much better than last year; the words “too far, too fast” never crossed his lips. He said that Osborne is downplaying expectations after last year’s “omnishambles” Budget. Commitments to develop infrastructure have not been carried out, and the £7million pledged for childcare doesn’t begin to cover the £7 billion which has been cut so far. He had warned that the Tories’ plan wouldn’t work, and it hasn’t. Only Italy and Japan have had lower growth than us, and we’ll pay a long term price with youth unemployment so high. In response to NEC members asking about commitments to a mansion tax and the restoration of the 10p tax rate, neither of which have been through the NPF process, and calls to repeal the bedroom tax, Mr Balls replied that we couldn’t make commitments that we can’t deliver, and won’t be making manifesto commitments now, two and a half years from the General Election. This was a theme to which we returned with Mr Miliband.
Mr Miliband said that the People’s Policy Forum to be held that coming weekend in Birmingham showed that we are reaching out to the public, unlike the Tories and Lib Dems. The May elections are very important, and it’s vital to raise money for local organisers. Whatever Osborne does in the Budget, he’s failed. The Tories are standing up for the wrong people. Again, NEC members asked about repealing the bedroom tax and plans for the PLP to abstain on the vote about clawing back benefits in response to the Poundland court case. Mr Miliband replied that it makes no sense for an Opposition to decide priorities so far from an election. Lots of sanctions have been brought in to penalise claimants, and we don’t want to oppose all sanctions, just the wrong sanctions. We have taken a strong line against the bedroom tax but can’t say now that we’ll repeal it when the Tories might do something even worse – we need credible positions to break down cynicism. Now, I understand that we shouldn’t make expensive policy commitments without knowing what the economic position will be like in 2015. Clearly, it would be unwise to say we’re going to build 1000 new schools, or similar. But the bedroom tax (as Ed Balls himself had said) is an attack on tenants which will probably increase the Housing Benefit bill by forcing people from social housing into smaller, but more expensive, private lets – so abolishing it would actually save an incoming Labour Government money! Attacking people who are unemployed through no fault of their own should be something that our Party automatically opposes. Almost in the same breath that Mr Miliband was saying we couldn’t afford to oppose these things, he told me in answer to my point about abolishing Trident, that we have to support a “deterrent”, albeit a cheaper one. So it seems we can commit to having WMDs which are practically useless (ask the military top brass), but not to reversing attacks on tenants and the unemployed.
Partnership into Power updates
I am aware that the intricacies of the NPF and the Shadow Cabinet Policy Review are inclined to make members’ eyes glaze over, but it really is important. The “Your Britain” online policy hub has had hundreds of submissions, although I expressed concern about the restrictive nature of the questions asked and the way the challenge papers on the priorities agreed by Annual Conference seem to be the only game in town. Both Angela Eagle, Chair of the NPF, and Jon Cruddas, in charge of the Policy Review, agreed that there were still problems with the process but that they felt it was now much more open and transparent. Mr Cruddas gave an undertaking that the papers from the Policy Review (so far there are 20) will be fed in to the Policy Forum process. Ms Eagle said she would look into problems with the challenge papers, where amendments from Policy Commission members don’t seem to have made it into the final draft. There will be an NPF in the summer.
General Secretary’s report
Iain McNicol reported that we are proceeding apace with parliamentary selections, and the Organisation Committee is meeting regularly to decide which seats should have All Women Shortlists. Although the selection timescale was short in Eastleigh, the local party was able to choose its candidate. I said that we need to make it clear why we need AWS, as many CLPs seem to think it’s unfair. Iain said that we have to proceed until 50% of the PLP is female, and that when we had to temporarily abandon AWS there was a huge drop in women being selected. I still think we need to do a better job of “selling” AWS to the Party. They’re the worst way of getting women selected as MPs – apart from all the other methods which have been tried!