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Report from Ann Black: NEC Meeting 28 November 2000

Maggie Jones of UNISON, in the chair, stressed the absolute 
priority of the next election, with Florida reminding us that every
vote counts.  The NEC paid tribute to all comrades who had 
died in recent months, and in particular to Donald Dewar and
Caroline Benn, before moving on to the main agenda.

Key policy areas were highlighted in Tony Blair's report and
Andrew Smith's presentation of the pre-Budget statement, and
Douglas Alexander MP linked these into the general election
strategy.  In 1997 getting rid of the Tories was the over-riding
motivator.  Next time we will be challenged on three fronts: from
those masquerading as Left (the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru
in Wales, LibDems in England); from the Right, including Tory
proxies in the Countryside Alliance; and from apathy.  If one in
five of our core supporters stays home, we lose 60 seats
immediately.  We must counter the cynicism which poisons the
political process and says that voting makes no difference.

Tony Blair said that we had re-established momentum after a
difficult period.  The Tories would fight their usual negative
campaign on tax, immigration and Europe, and generally exploit
trouble, but without offering solutions.   Labour was winning the
debate in Parliament, but party members had to take the
arguments beyond the Westminster Village.  We must show how
individuals are better-off, with stable mortgages instead of
negative equity, and extra money for health and education so
that no-one has to pay.

Members were pleased with positive statements on public
spending and on Europe, and the pre-Budget statement was
warmly welcomed.  There was still concern about low take-up
of the Minimum Income Guarantee, and plans to pay it
automatically cannot come too soon.  The Government was also
asked to look again at funding residential care, not only nursing
care, so people do not have to sell their homes.

Christine Shawcroft suggested that renationalising Railtrack
would put money into trains, not shareholders' pockets, and win
votes.  Tony Blair felt that while fragmentation did not help, the
real problem was decades of under-investment.  I said that
despite recent criticism, local people praised their treatment at
the Oxford Heart Centre, but there was disquiet over continuing
selection in education.

Positive Action

The "Thank You" campaign was applauded, with a request to
reflect Britain's ethnic diversity in the posters.  The LibDems are
the main threat in some areas, and effective campaign materials
are needed against them.  Low turnout among young people is a
particular concern.  First-time voters cannot remember a Tory
government, while those in their early 20s make little use of
health or education services and see pensions as a distant
irrelevance.  However, employment is a top issue for youth, and
this is the first Labour government to finish a term with lower
unemployment than when elected. 

We should stress that Europe brings jobs and other benefits. 
Many workers have gained paid holidays for the first time,
though it was regretted that some employers include Bank
Holidays in the four weeks.  Stephen Byers says British workers
will do better by building on our own industrial relations
framework than by signing the European information and
consultation directive, and details are keenly awaited. 

The unions have at last come in from the Winter of Discontent,
and are now an electoral asset.  More disturbing is alienation
among local councillors, Labour's community bedrock.  Some
NEC members found this hard to understand, but hoped the
latest 6.7% settlement would underpin a new partnership.

As well as the broad picture we received reports on the detailed
planning behind the by-election successes which showed the
professionalism and hard work of party staff.  There was
unanimous regret that instead of readmitting Dennis Canavan, as
had been hoped, his resignation means one more by-election this
year, on 21 December in Falkirk West.  All help will be

Conference, the Manifesto and the Second Term

Conference was generally seen as successful.  There were
reports of delegates bullied into voting against the pensions
composite, and of non-delegates shouting for withdrawal, but as
no complaints reached the General Secretary, I hope that they
are untrue.  Some offence was caused by not inviting the High
Commissioner for Pakistan after the military coup.  And the Red
Flag was only omitted from the closing ceremony so that Nelson
Mandela could catch his plane; we expect it back next year.  In
2002 Conference returns to Blackpool, a popular decision given
added impetus by the steep hotel rates in Brighton.

The Conference Arrangements Committee sought advice on
how contemporary resolutions should be handled.  Christine
Shawcroft and I pointed out that pensions were not truly
contemporary, as the National Policy Forum and Conference
rejected the earnings link in 1999.  We should cut the semantic
limbo-dancing and include anything which is important.  But we
were in a minority, and some wanted to abolish resolutions
altogether.  Perhaps the rolling programme had failed to deal
with pensions properly, and resolutions should be fed back
through another cycle before final endorsement by Conference.

Because the unions can co-operate, they always win the ballot
which prioritises contemporary issues.  The NEC was uneasy
with proposals for constituencies and unions to vote separately,
because it splits Conference in half.  Everyone acknowledged
that constituencies are sidelined, but no-one had a solution.  All
suggestions are welcome.  And compositing, which lasted all
week and gave delegates the text just hours before the vote, is
clearly unsatisfactory.  Consultation will continue.  It was also, I
think, accepted that votes should be held at the close of debate
on a topic, not at the end of the day.

On 9 December the National Policy Forum will discuss
pensions, agree the process for formulating the election
manifesto, and consider improvements for the next cycle of
policy development.  An overall review by the NEC will include
the policy commissions, which remain obscure to most of us. 
We may also think about the agenda for Conference in 2001,
where there will be no NPF documents to discuss. 

Internal Affairs

The Organisation Committee recommended 6 April 2001 as the
closing date for constituency Conference delegations and
nominations for party committees.  I find the apparent fall in
party involvement worrying. Many constituencies do not send
delegates, some National Policy Forum representatives are
elected by under one-third of eligible constituencies, candidates
for the 27 places elected each year have plummeted from 800 in
1997 to 41 in 2000, and turnout in NEC elections has fallen by
50% in three years.   

I therefore proposed reverting to the pre-1999 date of mid-
June.  This was defeated with Christine, Dennis Skinner and
myself in favour and some abstentions.  The April deadline also
means that MPs elected in May can occupy places on the NEC
and the NPF intended for ordinary constituency members. 
However, the closing date of 12 January 2001 for the Spring
Conference will be flexibly interpreted, as many constituencies
received the mailing after their last meeting of 2000, too late to
make nominations.

Members can comment on all aspects of internal elections, and
of selecting candidates for local, national and European
elections, by 31 March 2001.  The NEC also reiterated the
importance of a diverse membership, fully representing youth,
women, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. The Party
Development Committee is looking for constituencies to run pilot
projects to take this work forward.

Finally the importance of the Neill rules on party funding, which
cleared the Lords last week, is only just sinking in.  Everyone
approves of stamping out sleaze, banning foreign donations, and
capping spending to halt the electoral arms race.  But it means
substantial extra work for constituency Treasurers, starting in
January.  Detailed advice will go out soon, and there is a special
briefing for NEC members on 14 December.  Please let me
know if you have questions on this, or views on anything else in
this report.

Ann Black,

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