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Report from Ann Black: NEC Meeting 24
The National Executive Committee's first task was to choose a
new General Secretary, and David Triesman, current General
Secretary of the Association of University Teachers, was
appointed. Tributes were paid to Margaret McDonagh for
fifteen years' dedication to the party.
Tony Blair opened the main meeting, with Gordon Brown and
Douglas Alexander reporting on the general election. The Prime
Minister repeated that success came through discipline and
occupying the political centre, and that must remain the strategy.
Voters chose public services over tax cuts, and reform was
essential for delivery. He was unhappy that a private meeting
with union leaders had been leaked, and that government policy
was being misrepresented as "privatising the NHS".
Gordon Brown agreed that the election was fought on our
agenda, forcing the Tories to the right. Full employment was
central to economic and social policy, and constituencies and
regions should identify and tackle barriers in their own areas.
Tackling child and pensioner poverty, and Clare Short's
international work, also highlighted Labour's values.
But celebration was notably lacking. Dennis Skinner warned of
falling membership and activism. Others said that loyalty was
tested by changes to incapacity benefit and charges for
employment tribunals, and stressed that trade unions and
councillors must be valued. In the 1980s and 1990s Labour
rebuilt their political base through local government, and the
Tories must not be allowed the same opportunity. Ring-fencing
money for national priorities, such as education, reduced
councils' flexibility to meet local needs.
Christine Shawcroft was concerned at the emphasis on faith-
based schools, never discussed in the National Policy Forum.
White-dominated Christian schools and demands for separate
Muslim schools led to educational apartheid and fuelled racial
tensions. I asked if it was responsible to push people into
private pension schemes and wash our hands of them when thing
went wrong, as with the 900,000 victims of Equitable Life.
There will be an enquiry into this specific case.
Missing in Action
Everyone was worried about low turnout and people who do
not even join the electoral register, and further research will be
commissioned. A working party will be established on young
people, who are particularly unlikely to vote. Many complain
that Labour makes it more difficult to go to university, and while
Gordon Brown pointed to increased numbers in higher
education, Tony Blair said that there were lessons to learn.
Perhaps the new General Secretary will be interested, given his
Many members write to me about the difficulty of maintaining
morale in non-priority seats, both 1997 near-misses and those
considered unwinnable. I suggested more sympathetic
responses from the party, good regional co-ordination, and
partnership with nearby Labour MPs. In the light of
Chesterfield, constituencies should be able to select candidates
in good time and with full local involvement.
Charles Clarke's appointment as Party Chairman was still
causing ripples, as Maggie Jones is the elected Chair. A less
provocative title would help, but Tony Blair said it showed his
commitment to strengthening relations between party and
government, and if the post works as intended I am sure
members will benefit. Charles was elected to represent Labour
on the Party of European Socialists, where we get an extra seat
while Robin Cook is President. European leader Simon Murphy
reported on new rights to information and consultation, and paid
leave for employees on short-term contracts. Some NEC
members felt that the government should be more enthusiastic
about the gains for workers which flow from Europe, instead of
always trying to block or delay them.
General Secretary Margaret McDonagh reported that 453
constituencies have access to membership information through
labour.people, and next year this would be linked up to the
voter-id system labour.contact. Most new and renewed
membership cards are now dispatched within the target time of
two days. However, membership did not show the usual surge
at this general election. A report to the NEC suggested that
significant recruitment depends on national message and effort,
and there would be a concerted push starting at Conference.
The large number of trade unionists who pay the political levy
but are not individual party members form an obvious target
Controversial plans to move half the party staff from London to
North Shields were discussed. The rent for Millbank is trebling
to nearly £1 million, unaffordable at a time of static membership
and reduced union contributions, but members were concerned
about the impact on staff, the possibility of a two-tier workforce
with London carrying higher status, and the effect on services if
teams were broken up and experienced people left. The paper
was endorsed as a basis for further consultation with staff
unions, though Christine Shawcroft and I abstained because of
reported discontent and low morale in the ranks.
20th Century Party
The Organisation Committee presented a revised Rulebook.
There are welcome changes, including requirements not to
discriminate against disabled members. Party consultation
showed mixed views on eligibility to participate in selections, and
the compromise proposal was for six months' membership in the
relevant electoral area. Detailed selection procedures would
follow, including measures to promote women as it becomes
legal. MEPs have already proposed that the highest place on
each regional list below sitting members should be occupied by a
The consultation also showed majorities for excluding peers
from constituency seats and retaining annual elections for the
NEC, but these were ignored. I argued for one-member-one-
vote elections to the National Policy Forum, popular with
members and used for the Scottish Forum, but gained support
only from Christine Shawcroft, and some sympathy from MPs,
so this was also rejected. The NEC has its own forces of
conservatism. However, the need to fill vacancies on the Forum
would be addressed. Finally trade union affiliation was
recommended to rise from £2 to £2.25 per member next year
with further rises subject to negotiation.
Because of recent complaints over various internal elections,
Christine and I tabled a resolution requesting wider publicity for
codes which guarantee the neutrality of party staff. This was
referred to a working party on balloting procedures, and the
Chair Maggie Jones gave her personal assurance that there
would be no interference before or during elections at this year's
Conference arrangements will be finalised in September, but the
NEC agreed to invite all London-based embassies and High
Commissions except Burma, Sudan, Austria, Zimbabwe,
Ukraine, Belarus, Tunis and, after a vote, Pakistan. Some
members asked why Pakistan was barred while Russia, still at
war in Chechnya, and China, with its human rights record, were
acceptable. The majority view, which I supported with
reservations, was that the latter countries are at least moving in
the right direction, but there are obvious grey areas. And
will be welcomed back, following their return to democracy.
As usual questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy
for this to be circulated to party members on the understanding
that it is a personal account and in no way an official record.
Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 01865-
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