Christine Shawcroft Labour

NEC report back

Report of the NEC meeting held on 11 May 2010, at Portcullis House

This hastily-convened meeting to discuss the negotiations with the Liberal Democrats had been envisaged as a Conference call, but anyone who could get to Victoria Street for 4pm was able to take part in person.

The outgoing Leader

Gordon Brown phoned in to the meeting as the talks were still ongoing at the time. He had already announced he was standing down as Prime Minister in order to try and facilitate an agreement to keep the Tories out. He said that any decision would be taken by the Cabinet, and then there would be another Conference call of the whole NEC. Details would be ratified by a recalled Clause Five meeting (the body that agrees the Manifesto at the beginning of the official General Election campaign). There was no proposal on the table at the moment.

The NEC unanimously thanked Mr Brown for all his hard work and service to the Party and the Country, and paid tribute to his decision to stand down, which showed his determination to put the welfare of the Party above his own position.

Views of the PLP and EPLP

Members of the PLP and EPLP expressed the view that both bodies had reservations about the possibility of a deal. Concerns were expressed that the numbers didn’t add up, and that there should have been a PLP meeting. It was felt that any agreement would be branded a “Coalition of the Losers”, but that if the Lib Dems did a deal with the Tories it would be unstable and they would pay the price, leaving us to reap the benefit at the next election, possibly in 18 months to 2 years.

A local government representative said that a straw poll of Labour Groups had also had a majority opposing any deal.

The Trade Union view

Jack Dromey said that the NEC and PLP can’t be spectators to a deal, and we need to be comradely about the discussions. However, the important thing is to keep the Tories out. He’s a newly elected MP, of course, but said that the major unions felt very strongly that it would be their members who would suffer if the Lib Dems put the Tories into power, as it had been working people who had borne the brunt of the last Tory Government. We shouldn’t betray the very people who were relying on us to keep the Tories out. I found myself agreeing with every word he said, which is a very new experience for me.

My views

The speed of events meant that consultations were very limited, but I was certainly not inundated with emails opposing a deal. I said that, as I had spent thirteen and a half years on Tower Hamlets Council, no-one hates the Liberals more than I do – but I hate the Tories more. I’m surprised if Labour Groups are strongly opposed to a deal, as many are already involved in coalition agreements with the Lib Dems up and down the country. As no-one won the election, any combination of Parties would be a “Coalition of the Losers”. Last time people assured me that a Tory Government was very unstable and would fall after five years if not sooner, they were talking about the election of Margaret Thatcher. In my experience, once the Tories get in you can’t get them out, so if a deal can be done without giving too much away then we should try it. I was concerned about the possibility of PR, and indeed several members expressed foreboding about it - unlike Keith Vaz who said he supported it and that it would mean no more majority Labour Governments ever again.

Post script

OK, we all know what happened shortly after the meeting, but I thought it was important that members knew that there had been a full discussion at the time. Obviously Nick Clegg was using talks with Labour as a bargaining chip to get more out of the Tories, and never had any intention of doing a deal with us. I’m afraid that hopes of his mitigating the effects of Tory policies will prove to be misplaced, and that we now have a fight on our hands to oppose the draconian cuts which are coming to make us all pay for a crisis we didn’t create.

Whatever our different views about whether a Lab-Lib pact was desirable, I’m sure we can all agree about the battle ahead.