National Executive Committee, 17 July 2012, at 1 Brewers Green.
This meeting was held a week early to avoid the Parliamentary recess. It was mostly divided between reporting back from the National Policy Forum and planning for Annual Conference.
General Secretary’s report
Iain McNicol reported on his first year in post and the restructuring he has overseen. I asked about complaints I have had from members about the over-enthusiastic implementation by Party staff of Refounding Labour. For example, comrades in Essex had to fight off the complete abolition of their County Party, whilst in Nottingham we were told the new Local Campaign Forum couldn’t have ten delegates per CLP, it could only have four. Iain replied that setting up a Local Campaign Forum is voluntary, that it should be done by local agreement and that Party officers are there to help. He said that if anyone feels that Party staff are going over the top, to let him know. So if other members have concerns, please let me know and I’ll take them up.
Deputy Leader’s report
Harriet Harman reported on the need to make sure that the Parliamentary Party is representative of the country as a whole. The future candidates programme would focus on positive action, without over-riding the CLPs’ rights to choose their candidate. Several delegates raised their concerns that very few MPs have working class backgrounds, and that the paperwork required to stand as a candidate discriminates against those without university education. It was generally agreed that we need candidates who can talk to people on the doorstep, not fill forms in.
Ed Miliband said that he’d enjoyed the Durham Miners’ Gala and it won’t be 23 years before he goes back. The Tories’ problems are no accident, their economic policies are failing. We need to change the way we do politics, and make sure the Party has a reach into every community. We need a policy agenda for the future. I said that my branch was putting forward to our GC a resolution in support of the “68 is too late” campaign, and that in the light of what is happening about the pension age in France, Labour should have policy that a we can afford to let people retire before they drop. Mr Miliband said he had a lot of sympathy with the campaign and that it would be put into the policy review. He said that there was a difference between manual and white collar jobs when it comes to advisable retirement ages. He was also asked about the return of Tony Blair as an adviser (only on the Olympic legacy, apparently) and why the Party doesn’t seem to recognise that workers only take industrial action as a last resort, so should be supported. Mr Miliband replied that we have a policy of calling for both sides to get round a table and sort out the dispute, but that he agrees that workers have the right to take industrial action.
Partnership in Power update
There was a lot of discussion at the National Policy Forum at Aston in June about the lack of transparency and accountability in the process. A paper was circulated suggesting there should be amendments at Conference to policy documents, and other welcome proposals. After two meetings of the Organisation Committee, one of which was held on the morning of the NEC meeting, we have another document which seems to have considerably watered down the NPF paper. It is proposed that Annual Conference will hold a ballot for which issues should have priority for discussion by the Policy Commissions. This will be alongside the Contemporary Resolutions ballot, although apparently that was threatened at one point.
A new online “Policy Hub” will allow members to read policy documents and make suggestions, debate them with other members, etc. Members will be able to track submissions through the Hub. The NPF will vote on papers every year, which will then go to Conference. They can’t be amended at Conference, and the paper made no mention of the rights of NPF members to put amendments, only that we would vote on options (put forward by policy officers, I assume).
Once every five years, final policy documents will be put forward, party units will be able to put amendments but only to the NPF. NPF members will prioritise the amendments. After they have been voted on, the documents will go to Conference, where they will be put on a take it or leave it basis.
This is a far cry from the CLGA’s policy of calling for Party units to be able to put amendments at Conference. I raised several points of concern, but the paper was agreed on the grounds that we could just try it and see how it worked. It could always be changed if it wasn’t working. Just like the NPF itself – except it never does change.