Christine Shawcroft Labour

NEC report back

Report of the NEC meeting held on 19 May 2009, at Portcullis House

As so often happens, this meeting was remarkable for what wasn’t on the agenda, rather than what was. It had been cancelled once, because of the Euro / County Council elections. Then it was uncancelled, in order to have a brief “business” meeting. Then it was completely overtaken by events in Downing St and the House of Commons.

Firstly, members paid tribute to the late Jack Jones, rightly described as a giant of the Labour Movement. Shortly afterwards there was the welcome news about the Erith and Thamesmead selection. Theresa Pearce is to be endorsed at the next Organisation Committee. In the meantime, there is an inquiry into how a ballot box kept under lock and key at the Victoria St headquarters can have been tampered with.

Emailgate

Searching questions were asked about “emailgate”, and General Secretary Ray Collins made it clear that as Damian McBride had lost his job, and that Derek Draper no longer acts in a voluntary capacity, the Party has taken appropriate action. A trade union delegate asked if McBride’s Party membership had been suspended, and received the answer that his CLP didn’t press for further action. She replied that Rules are Rules, and that if someone has brought the Party into disrepute you don’t need a CLP complaint.

Speaker Resigns

At this point the Chair, Cath Speight, made the announcement that Michael Martin had resigned. Despite ten years’ experience, I never, ever thought I’d be present at an NEC meeting and be told that the Speaker of the House of Commons had resigned, the first to be forced out in 300 years. The meeting was adjourned, and when we reconvened we were joined by Gordon Brown.

The Prime Minister said that we’re all angered by what’s happened, and that he wouldn’t have believed it was possible. The vast majority of MPs carry out public service with integrity, but those MPs who have broken the rules will be dealt with. The Labour Party must have the highest standards of all, we exist for public service. It’s not about what we can get but what we can give. People expect higher standards from the Labour Party. However, we’re a family, we know what needs to be done and we’re going to do it. Working together, we can come through the economic and the political crisis.

Election Fallout

In the debate that followed, the Chair let every member of the NEC speak in turn. A great deal of concern was expressed about the reaction of voters in the coming elections, with Leader of the EPLP Glenis Willmott expressing alarm about the Euro elections. The last Euro poll had been held against the background of the invasion of Iraq: she had
felt that it couldn’t get worse than that, but it has. I said that MPs need to realise that people who struggle on £13 or £15 thousand a year, most of them Labour supporters, think that someone earning £63 thousand a year is already filthy rich and can afford to buy their own food, furniture, or second home from that. This is a symptom of the kind of inequality and gross disparity in incomes that should have been tackled by Labour long ago.

Inquiry Panel

A paper was then circulated which we had to hand back at the end of the meeting. It recommended that endorsed PPC’s could be interviewed by a panel if concern exists; that Elliot Morley and David Chaytor be referred for urgent consideration; and that other disciplinary action could also be taken against MPs under the Party Rules. An amendment was put to say that CLPs should vote in June on whether to have a new trigger ballot. This was opposed, but the wording of the paper was clarified to state that CLPs could refer their candidate to the panel where concern exists. Indeed it is already in the Rules that if circumstances change, CLPs can apply to reconsider their candidate.

Affirming Rights of CLPs

The amendment was withdrawn and an attempt was made to vote on the paper with the assurance that members’ comments would be taken on board. Having been got by this before, I asked for the wording to be clarified. The General Secretary affirmed that he had wording in front of him, but wanted us to vote without hearing what it was. I’m afraid that I had to press my point that it is always wise to know what it is you’re actually voting on. With much grumbling, the wording was read out, “We reassert the rights of CLPs to refer their candidates to the NEC for their case to be reviewed.” This was supported unanimously.

We finished with reports on the Euro election campaign and the Party’s financial position.