Executive Committee, 1/2 November 2004
The NEC spent
Monday reviewing the past year and planning for the challenges
ahead, with a formal meeting on Tuesday. Matt Carter gave an
update on finance, staffing and resources. So far 14,233 new
members had joined in 2004, more than in the whole of 2003, and
resignations were falling. However activists, especially
treasurers, faced increasing demands and needed central support.
chairman of the electoral commission, gave a presentation. He
was attacked by members who felt that the commission assumed
political parties were corrupt and its main job was to catch them
out, but he argued that some of the flaws lay in the legislation.
Minor misdemeanours should attract parking-ticket type penalties
rather than criminal sanctions, and the £200 threshold for local
donations was too low. The problem remains that publishing
donations leads to a media feeding frenzy, and a measure intended to
bolster trust in politics and politicians may have done the reverse.
We have created a Frankenstein’s monster, but the genie cannot now
be stuffed back into the bottle.
Reasons to be
reminded us of Labour’s achievements, with a successful economy
and public services delivering for hard-working families. Our
accident and emergency departments and school standards were beacons
for the world, giving the lie to Tory claims that nothing worked.
The LibDems were high on tax and soft on crime, and the Hartlepool
by-election had begun to expose their hypocrisy. On the
ground there was a huge appetite to get on with the election.
The main danger was that Tory weakness would lead to voters using
the election as a referendum on Tony Blair, rather than a choice
between alternative governments. Labour now needed to win back
women and Muslims after the war, and to attract students, young
people, Guardian/Independent readers and supporters of international
charities, the idealists who were inspired by Bono’s conference
speech. Colleagues stressed the key role of unions in talking
directly to their members, the need to present the government as a
team, and the importance of women and elected NEC representatives in
leading the campaign.
The explosion of
anger over the gambling bill surprised ministers, who blamed the
Daily Mail for whipping up the fuss. MPs above all had no
right to complain because there had been four years of consultation
and pre-legislative scrutiny. NEC opinion varied, with one
member lauding the benefits of casinos for deprived communities,
with fully- unionised workforces in satisfying jobs, but others
opposing them in principle because of the damage done by debt, and
because they distracted from core concerns such as pensions.
Perceptions that Labour cared mainly about 24/7 access to gambling,
drinking and shopping confused liberty with licence and disguised
our true values.
Instead the Warwick
agreement should be centre-stage, spelling out the gains which were
already being implemented or would be in the manifesto.
Family-friendly measures should ensure that no-one had to choose
between work and caring for loved ones. But on Iraq the line
was uncompromising. We must acknowledge the difficult
and divisive decisions, and accept responsibility for the
intelligence being wrong. But the country did not support the LibDem
“troops out” position. People wanted the job finished, and we
should be as confident about Iraq as about everything else.
Power and 21st Century Party
Hazel Blears and
Luke Bruce reported on the ongoing reviews. Party, government
and electorate were staying in touch, the party was generally
united, and comrades from France were studying our success.
The Big Conversation showed ways of opening up debate beyond the
National Policy Forum, though better ways of responding to the
thousands of submissions were needed. The 21st
Century Party discussion was not intended to impose a
one-size-fits-all model on local parties, but to learn from and
share best practice, including whether all-member meetings and joint
branches could counteract the effects of falling membership.
The NEC split into groups to discuss these issues. Mine was
acutely aware that 99.9% of members have no direct engagement with
the Forum process or input into the final results, and unless this
is tackled, scepticism and opposition will grow. The NEC will devote
a further half-day to these subjects next year. In addition
the National Policy Forum will meet on 22 January 2005, together
with candidates and activists, in the build-up to the election.
meeting, Tony Blair urged us to exude confidence. Uncertainty over
the US presidency would soon be removed. The Iraqi election in
January would be a key event for Labour, though some warned against
putting too much weight on this. Diana Holland reported that
the Britain in the World policy commission expressed concern to
Geoff Hoon about the redeployment of the Black Watch because it
disrupted the delicate balance of the NEC statement agreed by
conference, it was not consistent with the UN view of the military
approach, and it appeared to signal support for George Bush just
before the American election. Tony Blair said the move was
requested by the Iraqi government, who would also authorise any
attack on Fallujah, and Kofi Annan was keen for the troops to stay
and provide stability. Refusing would have produced political
blowback. The election in Afghanistan had tremendous positive
effects, with 87% of women voting, and Iraq would benefit similarly.
[Official figures from Afghanistan show a turnout of 70%, of whom
40% overall were women, ranging from 2% to 52% in different
provinces. Two-thirds of the population are women.]
Members praised the
government on civil partnerships, domestic violence, climate control
and Sudan. Dennis Skinner hoped Labour would not stumble at
the last fence on fox-hunting, but was assured that the Commons
would have the last word, including the use of the Parliament Act if
necessary. Tony Blair reassured us that councils could
continue to provide local services, and promised to look at rent
rises for social housing. He was trying to meet the concerns
of both the CBI and the TUC on the agency workers’ directive and
the working time directive, stalled in the European council of
On gambling he said
that the bill aimed to protect children while treating adults as
adults, but recognised that people wanted compromise and a staged
approach. He had no view on Billy Bragg’s proposal for
replacing the Lords through a secondary mandate, electing from party
lists in proportion to votes cast at a general election, and did not
comment on my question about whether there was already agreement in
principle to base US interceptor missiles at Fylingdales, making
Yorkshire a target for pre-emptive action and recreating Greenham
Common under a Labour government.
Gary Titley’s report included an analysis of Turkey’s
application to join the European Union. MEPs were
congratulated on rejecting a justice commissioner who described
homosexuality as a sin and women’s primary functions as serving
their husbands’ needs and bearing children.
said that the conference arrangements committee took seriously the
late arrival of papers, and would examine the conduct of card votes.
The ban on leafleting had been widely ignored. Disruption of the
leader’s speech was unfortunate, but the culprits had passed
police checks and a balance had to be struck between letting people
in and keeping them out without good cause. Attendance on
Thursday afternoon was low. Matt Carter reported that 500 CLPs
sent delegates, one more than last year, so there was no concern
about representation except perhaps for Scotland. The NEC
organisation committee referred most constitutional amendments for
2005 to the Partnership in Power review, and rejected
Weston-super-Mare CLP’s call for a public inquiry into membership
following Dennis Skinner’s observation that everyone knew what the
Next up is the
Spring Conference in Newcastle, 11/13 February 2005. The NEC
equalities committee was hoping to widen the women’s element into
a general diversity strand, but the programme had already been
finalised and sent to stallholders. Constituencies should
receive information shortly, including forms to nominate the NEC
youth representative, followed in December by a mailing for the 2005
annual conference, where the deadline for delegates and nominations
is 25 March 2005.
membership is largely unchanged, but I have moved to the crime,
justice, equalities and citizenship policy commission. Steps
to increase numbers of women councillors in 2006 have been agreed,
and should be circulated soon. And I am assured that
constituency property will only be transferred to national trustees
where there are obvious local problems, which should allay some
comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be circulated to
members as a personal account, not an official record. Past reports
are available at http://www.annblack.com