Christine Shawcroft Labour

NEC report back

Report of the NEC meeting held on 22 September 2009, at Portcullis House

Arrangements for Annual Conference and Conference business dominated the agenda at this meeting. We had reports from the Chair of Conference Arrangements Committee and a security briefing from the Sussex police, but also of course we discussed the review which never happened.

Extending and Renewing Party democracy

Members will recall that when Gordon Brown became Leader, he put out the above, a consultation paper designed to do the opposite to its title. The main recommendation was to drop contemporary resolutions at Conference in favour of contemporary issues, which would be referred to the relevant Policy Commission for a report back the following year. Crucially, there were to be no votes – if Conference did not agree with the report back, they could only refer it back to the Policy Commission again. This went through the 2007 Conference on the basis that it would be reviewed after two years. This year, an email did go round to CLP secretaries, but many of them missed it, and members’ eyes tend to glaze over on these matters. Ray Collins, the General Secretary, proposed that a decision on this be taken at next year’s Conference as discussions were still going on. He was still struggling to get a consensus, he reported, but we could finalise our position on Saturday evening at Brighton.

What is a consensus?

Several delegates expressed concern at this. Pete Willsman said that if a consensus emerged to bring back resolutions, it would be too late to put an NEC Rule Change before Conference. I asked what the problem was – to the best of my knowledge both constituency members and the unions wanted the return of resolutions, so we already had a consensus. Several delegates were worried that Conference wouldn’t get to vote on resolutions till 2011 if we couldn’t put a Rule Change until next year. Ray assured us that if a Rule Change is agreed next year, contemporary issues will immediately be converted into resolutions to be voted on. With this assurance, the NEC agreed his recommendation to defer for a year.

Leader’s Report

Gordon Brown had already given his report before rushing off to attend the G20 talks. He said that our values were being tested and that we have to remind people that we took action to stave off financial collapse. The Tories would have let the recession take its course. At Conference we must come out fighting for front line public services.

I said that I was very pleased to hear his support for front line services, but as I work in one I could tell him that teachers and support staff had been panicking about losing their jobs in the wake of Ed Balls’ statement at the weekend about the £2bn cuts he intended to make in the education budget.

Mr Brown replied that Ed Balls intended to make cuts elsewhere in the budget in order to protect front line services. I wasn’t aware that there were billions of pounds worth of useless bureaucracy in the education budget which could be cut without harming services, but no doubt that’s why I’m not the Education Minister.

Fighting the BNP

There was a long discussion on how to respond to the BBC’s invitation to Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time, arising from Harriet Harman’s Deputy Leader’s report incorporating a paper on Beating the BNP. Many delegates felt that our policy of “no platform” for the BNP had been undermined by the BBC, that now they had a platform and that the other political parties had said they would not boycott the programme. Our choice, essentially, was either to leave an empty chair and refuse to participate, or to take part in the programme and confront the BNP’s arguments. I feel that much more pressure needs to be put on broadcasters not to recognise the BNP as a legitimate party. They do not accept the democratic process, they are merely using it to pursue their aims. It is also difficult to confront their arguments when they are based on no evidence or logical reasoning whatsoever. There seemed to be a consensus that the phrase “British jobs for British workers” had been a bit of an own goal.

Support for Royal Mail

Andy Kerr (CWU) and Peter Kenyon from the CLP section put forward a resolution: “This meeting resolves that all Labour Party posted items should forthwith be sent by Royal Mail, or hand delivered by volunteers.” This was in response to concerns of Party and Union members that direct mailshots produced by the Party have been sent to CLPs with TNT franking on them. After discussion, the resolution was withdrawn for further discussion with the Unions.