Christine Shawcroft Labour

NEC report back

Report of the NEC meeting held on 17 November 2009, at 39 Victoria Street

Normally we have two days of prolonged discussions in November, but I’m pleased to say that didn’t happen this year. Usually, we spent the second day referring back to what had been discussed on the first day, which always struck me as a waste of everyone’s time. So this year we just had one day.

Leader’s Report

Fresh from the stunning Glasgow North East victory, Gordon Brown gave a brilliant presentation. He spoke to a series of slides detailing Labour’s achievements, his successful handling of the economic crisis, and the truth about Tory policies. Their priority is cuts in inheritance tax which will benefit a few well off Tory voters. They aren’t prepared to keep to our pledges about cancer treatment, and their expenditure cuts would take 3,500 police off the streets. We can win the argument for fairness and public services. Pete Willsman congratulated him on coming out in favour of the Tobin tax, a tiny levy on currency transactions which would bring in billions to pay off the deficit. This could be done across Europe, we don’t have to wait for the Americans to agree it. Other delegates raised construction safety campaigns, free school meals for primary children, and the need to invest in housing, thereby creating jobs in the construction industry. Mr Brown replied that he wanted to extend the free school meals pilot projects, and that tackling the housing shortage would cut support for the BNP.

Election campaigning

Douglas Alexander gave a presentation on the Glasgow North East campaign with illustrations of the materials used and the successful attack on the SNP for ripping off Glasgow. He also talked about campaigning in general, and pointed out that turnout in elections has been falling for several decades. However, whereas in ’96 and ’97 Labour recruited tens of thousands of members, since Cameron has been Leader, the Tories have actually lost 40,000 members.

Consultation on the Manifesto

Now that we have the National Policy Forum system, a Manifesto is supposed to arise from its discussions, finalised at the Warwick NPF meeting, and ratified by Annual Conference. At the last Warwick meeting in the summer of 2008, (Warwick Two) the trade unions held back on discussions on the grounds we were two years away from a General Election and the real negotiating would be done at another Warwick meeting (Warwick Two and a Half) nearer the time. As the General Election approaches, we have been waiting for another NPF to be convened at Warwick. And waiting. Now the Chair of the NPF, Pat Mc Fadden, has solved the mystery. There won’t be a Warwick Two and a Half. It’s too money and time consuming, so the next Manifesto will be agreed by an extended Clause Five process. Great consternation greeted this announcement, from all sections of the NEC. The Clause Five meeting between the Parliamentary Committee and the NEC, is held after the election has been called and it’s too late to substantially change anything in the Manifesto (I have tried). After much debate, it was agreed to make the Manifesto discussions as wide ranging and inclusive as possible, without necessarily calling an NPF meeting.

Parliamentary selections

Partly due to the expenses debacle, but for other reasons as well, there have been a great many MPs standing down. It appears that there have been too many for the Regional officers to cope with, and many CLPs have been waiting months to start their selections. Reports were tabled to deal with the backlog and any further resignations. A panel is being set up to decide which seats are to have All Women Shortlists and to start the process off. Selections will now take five weeks rather than twelve, with the “meet the members” events and the nominations procedure largely abolished. Any seats which haven’t started selecting by January will have their shortlists decided by the NEC panel, and as the election draws near, will have candidates selected for them by the panel.

Now, I’m well aware drastic action is required, but I can’t help feeling this is a little too drastic. Branch nominations show which candidates have support and which haven’t. Selecting from an NEC agreed shortlist may not give members the choice of candidates to vote for that they would wish to have. Peter Kenyon moved that the shortlists shouldn’t be decided for CLPs until March, but withdrew after assurances that members’ views would be given every consideration (we wouldn’t have won the amendment anyway). So that is now NEC policy, and CLPs who are caught in the backlog need to make sure that their selection process starts before Christmas, whilst they still have the chance to make a meaningful choice.