The NEC’s first meeting after party conference was a 2-day ‘awayday’ held in the context of the widely unexpected Labour victory in the Glenrothes byelection, and of Gordon Brown being seen by many commentators as leading the world in response to the banking crisis.
MEMBERSHIP – RETENTION AND RECRUITMENT
The first day focused on membership and recruitment. There are now 168,059 members, a further reduction although the number of active resignations is fewer than last year. Recruitment targets lapsed members who in fact account for 25% of ‘new members’. People who join most commonly give as a reason for joining that they ‘support Labour values’ or ‘oppose the Tories’, whilst those who leave say that ‘it is not the party I joined’. Readers may disagree with the speculation of some officials that perhaps their expectations were ‘too high’!
Historically, spurts in membership follow Labour successes. In the debate, Gary Titley, Labour’s leader at the European Parliament, suggested that the Party emails to members currently read too much like government propaganda – it would be helpful if they were more discursive, and raise issues for discussion.
It was suggested that the Tories would campaign on the basis that the election was a referendum on Europe and Labour needs to be more positive. This was an election when every Labour vote counted, everywhere, including in what were normally Tory areas, and this required a different strategy.
PARTNERSHIP IN POWER – NEXT STEPS
The NEC reviewed the Partnership in Power process following the Warwick II conference. Whilst it was widely agreed that inviting the CLPs to submit amendments, as originally proposed by the NEC, had been a good idea, Pat McFadden, chair of the NPF, said it had put huge pressure on the office and ‘we had been up until 4am’. He added that was not sure that we could do this again although Peter Willsman pointed out that at Warwick I, when CLPs had not been allowed to submit amendments, ‘we had been up until 6am!’
Mike Griffiths, chair or the NEC Organisation subcommittee, said there will be a reconvened Warwick II conference which would allow further amendments from NPF members, as agreed between Trades unions and the Government.
REVIEW OF ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Although it was argued that the decision to start conference on the Saturday had worked pretty well, ‘there had been some problems’. The change had failed to attract more CLPs to attend as hope – indeed 35 fewer were represented in 2008 that in 2007. After discussion, it was agreed to revert to conference running from Sunday to Thursday in future.
The emergency motion opposing the Working Time Directive opt-out by Britain had been a controversial issue and was raised by Mike Griffiths. He pointed out that barely a dozen hands had been raised against it and that it should be taken on board by the Government. Pat McFadden pointed out the reference on p178 of the 254 page NPF report to maintaining ‘flexibility’ which he said took precedence over an almost unanimous emergency motion. Peter Willsman argued that the NPF documents put to Conference were part of the rolling programme of policy development and an emergency motion should be treated as a proposed amendment to it.
Peter Willsman also reported that regional party officials were also taking groups of 20 or so CLP delegates to meet with Pat McFadden so that he could explain the Government’s line on the opt-out, which most people would regard as an interference with party democracy.
Several trade union representatives said the issue would be taken up at the reconvened Warwick II conference. It was agreed that, in future, the NEC would take positions on all emergency motions – something that should have happened on this issue at annual conference but did not.
The Joint Policy Committee (JPC) is to agree the new schedule of meetings of the NPF and also review the process which has been undertaken. Party members will be keen to see whether any attempt is made to remove the ability of CLPs to submit amendments, which was so enthusiastically taken up in the last round. The NEC will itself lead a review of the reforms outlined in the document perversely named ‘Extending and Renewing Party Democracy’, otherwise known as the Brown ‘reforms’ which, amongst other things, abolished contemporary motions. A report will be made to conference in 2009 on whether to retain these changes, reform them or revert to previous practice. In the meantime, the NPF will continue to meet to consider the contemporary issues prioritised by conference, and will report back to stakeholders in an eNewsletter.
It is expected that a reconvened Warwick II conference will meet as near as possible to a general election. Members may well wonder how this would be possible before a June election. There is supposed to be a vote of all party members on the final text.
One issue that has been successfully taken up through the NPF is the appalling treatment of Stop the War protestors by police at a march last year, raised in a motion by Walter Wolfgang. Following a meeting of the Crime & Justice commission involving Walter and Alan Campbell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office responsible for crime reduction, the NPF recommended that the Metropolitan Police should have allowed a delegation to deliver a letter to 10 Downing Street.