Christine Shawcroft Labour

NEC report back

Report of the NEC meeting held on 16 Jan 2016, at Southside, Victoria St.

This meeting, like so many others in the past, had an agenda stuffed with reports and presentations. Although these are interesting there are no decisions to be made, yet everyone wants to make a comment on them all, so the meeting stretched to six and a half hours.

This meant that an important discussion on the structure and powers of the NEC had to be held over to the March meeting. The NEC used to be the body which ran the Party between Conferences, but was gradually stripped of most of its powers by successive Leaders. In the interests of being able to represent the members who elected us, we need more democracy and transparency.

Learning the lessons from defeat report

Having said that there were too many reports, clearly this one was well worth discussing! Margaret Beckett headed up the taskforce which took evidence from all sections of the Labour movement. The report lays to rest many myths about May 2015. For all the talk about having the “worse result ever”, the Labour vote actually went up, for the first time since 1997. Unfortunately it went up in the wrong places, ie in places we already hold. So majorities shot up in Labour seats all over England and Wales, yet we didn’t win enough seats.

The evidence shows that voters did not think that we had the wrong policies; individual policies polled well but weren’t held together by a coherent narrative. Nor did voters think we were too left wing; the more radical policies were actually the most popular ones. However, voters clearly had come to accept the Tory myth that Labour in government wrecked the economy. Many, many times, NEC members including myself urged Ed Miliband to take the Tories on and challenge their lies.

He just kept saying that we have to talk about the future, not the past. By the time he tried to counter the Tory narrative, during the election campaign itself, it was far too late. This has now been accepted as the worst mistake made during the whole five years, and is a good example of the need for the Leader to listen to the NEC and the rank and file members.

Scotland

And of course, we were wiped out in Scotland, having been outflanked on the left by the SNP who pretended to be a lot more radical than they actually are. Members may recall how keen Mr Miliband was to smooth the way for the “safe” Jim Murphy in the Scottish Leadership election held before the General Election. This can now be seen as rather an error of judgement, I’m afraid. Kezia Dugdale came to the NEC and gave one of the many presentations, which was also very interesting. She’s trying to reposition Scottish Labour to the left and expose the SNP’s record of making cuts. She opened up the Scottish Conference by allowing all the resolutions to be taken and having a thorough debate on Trident. Many Scottish delegates have told me what a great Conference it was, and it also sets a good example for Annual Conference.

Leader’s report

Jeremy Corbyn reported that he will be going to Scotland as often as possible to support Kezia, and that rebuilding the Party there will be a long process. The economics roadshow with John McDonnell was starting that night, and needs to be taken round de-industrialised northern towns. He said he had been visiting flood stricken areas, and was grateful to the regional staff for helping to organise the trips. (He was later congratulated for singing Happy Birthday to a flooded out lady in the north west!).

It was 100 days to the elections, and we need to get across a strong message on fairness and justice. We pushed the government back on working tax credits and police cuts. Two clauses of the Trade Union Bill were defeated in the Lords. Last weekend he had visited and been totally shocked by conditions in the refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais. He met people with British passports who couldn’t enter the country because of the income requirements. We need to be campaigning on all these issues, and encouraging and involving new members.

Membership of the NEC

As has often happened, the most contentious matter at the meeting wasn’t on the agenda. The Parliamentary Party had interpreted the Rules to say that MPs who are Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS’s) are not allowed to be elected representatives on the NEC from the PLP. However, in the recent past an MP who was a PPS was allowed to be on the NEC, for several years. Nor is it the job of the PLP to interpret the Rules. That is the job of the NEC. Unfortunately, the PLP had already forced the MP off the NEC and was in the throes of organising another election. The NEC felt that what they had done was in error, and that in future any such problem should be brought to the NEC first.

We have a great many hard working, talented people in the PLP. They do the Labour Movement great credit, but they also need to remember that they are just one part of the Party and cannot be independent of it. I would like to see much closer partnership working between the PLP and the wider Party in future.