Christine Shawcroft Labour

NEC report back

Report of the NEC meeting held on 04 Feb 2014, at 1 Brewers Green

You will probably have heard by now that only two delegates to the Special NEC on 4th February voted against the Collins proposals: myself and Dennis Skinner. I didn’t vote against because I want to be awkward, or contrary, but because I am very concerned about the impact of the proposals on the future of the Party. I have heard about many GCs and regional meetings discussing the original review, and not one was in favour! Although the proposals have been amended slightly, the aim is the same. The majority of delegates expressed extreme disquiet at the NEC. I believe that several trade union delegates opposed the report, but felt that they were in a difficult position: as their General Secretaries had negotiated the proposals, they didn’t feel they were able to vote against.

The original proposition was for the threshold of MPs nominations required for Leadership candidates to be 20%. I went along to the NEC to oppose this, having had Walter Wolfgang on the phone to me the evening before (making his views quite clear!), only to find the threshold had been cut to 15%. Walter and I moved to cut the threshold from 12.5% for the last Leadership elections. A 15% threshold would have meant that John Smith, as well as Gordon Brown, would have been elected unopposed, that there would have been fewer candidates for several elections, and possibly only two in the last election – both of them called Miliband. I still opposed the 15% at the NEC, and was told that Leaders have to have credibility in the Parliamentary Labour Party. I appreciate this, but also feel that Leaders need credibility amongst the Party membership!

I have yet to hear anyone apart from the Leadership express support for primaries. At meetings I have been to, members have said they are a really bad idea, but as it’s to be tried out in London they don’t really care. Unfortunately, a very dangerous precedent is being set. We could be moving to an American-style system where you have to be filthy rich to contest elections – or, if you’re not, you have to tailor your policies to attract donations from big business. Also, Party members could be side lined in this vote by allowing “registered supporters” to vote.

No-one knows who the registered supporters are or how they became registered. They may have expressed an interest on the Party website. They may have been picked up during canvassing, they may have signed a petition of some sort. They haven’t paid any money and probably aren’t even aware that they are registered supporters. Membership fees for full members are currently far too high (I have proposed reducing them on several occasions) and many members may feel that they could be registered supporters instead – it’s cheaper and you still get a vote. We need to be very careful about this.

Although the central proposition to bring in a system of “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” for affiliated trade unionists is to be phased in over five years, it merely delays the time of reckoning. It has been estimated that, realistically, only about 10% of union members would exercise their “positive choice” to become “affiliated supporters”. This would mean a loss of about £7 million in affiliation fees – every year. This is hardly the way to build a mass membership Party with a strong base in the working class. We were promised at the NEC, after there were calls for a review at the end of the five year period to see if the proposals are at all workable (the assumption being that they aren’t) that there will actually be an ongoing review of the effect on Party finances by the Business Board (a sub-committee of the NEC) to make sure there are no adverse effects on our finances. As it is unclear what the Business Board would do about it once these changes are part of the Rule Book, I wasn’t reassured.

At the end of the NEC meeting, I asked if the Special Conference would be taking the Rule Changes individually, or if we were yet again to be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it report. I was told that the decision on how to proceed would be taken by the Conference Arrangements Committee. As if this wasn’t alarming enough, given their recent record, I’m now told by the Defend the Link campaign that the CAC has been told that the NEC decided to have just the one vote. This is just not true. The campaign has an emergency resolution for members to put through their GCs and Union executives: “This CLP / EC urges the NEC/CAC to ensure that there are separate votes at the Special Conference on 1st March on the report and on each rule change in line with normal procedure.” Please try and get an emergency resolution through wherever you can.