We usually have obituaries at NEC meetings, mostly of people I never knew, but this time it was for someone who I knew very well. The Chair asked if anyone wanted to add anything to Tony Benn’s printed obituary, but we’ve all said so much in the last few days no-one felt the need to add anything else. She recommended that everyone watch Dennis Skinner’s tribute in the House of Commons.
Mr Miliband said that if we make the political weather we will get results. The first stage of this was last year’s Annual Conference, with our pledges on freezing energy bills, building homes, tackling zero hours contracts, providing 25 hours free childcare, etc. People in the Westminster village are saying that the low inflation figures show that our campaign on the cost of living crisis is finished, but that is not what the campaign is about. People need jobs and decent housing – the inflation figure doesn’t take account of housing costs. And as Dennis pointed out, the job figures are wildly out, because people trying to make ends meet by taking two, or three jobs get counted two or three times. We now need to deepen the agenda by calling for banking reform and making the damage to the NHS an issue in the local and European elections, and in the General Election next year.
Shadow Chancellor’s report
Mr Balls said that although the Budget was supposed to be about savings, it actually needed people to save less and spend more. Osborne has set a trap on the welfare cap which we won’t fall in to, and although for a group of people the changes in pension regulations will be attractive, we have to beware of a new mis-selling scandal. The average family is £1600 a year worse off since 2010. For Cameron to win the election, he has to increase his vote share from the last one, which hasn’t been done for 40 years. People being worse off after five years hasn’t happened for 100 years.
There was a robust discussion of economic policy after Mr Balls had spoken. I said that the financial pressures facing an incoming Labour government could be eased somewhat by cancelling Trident and closing the tax gap – collecting the tax lost by avoidance and evasion every year. Mr Balls disagreed with me on Trident as it isn’t Party policy (get those amendments in to the National Policy Forum documents, comrades) but that he agreed with me in principle on the tax gap, although he said that closing it won’t be easy.
Local Government and European reports
These were moved up the agenda so that Dave Sparks and Glenis Willmott could give more thorough reports that when they are taken at the end of a very long and tiring meeting. Dave said that the Local Government Conference (somewhat overshadowed by another Conference which took place on 1 March) was in good spirits, with Labour in power bringing in innovations in spite of everything. Asked about Government cuts, he said that Local Government Funding was no longer fit for purpose and that we need a new system which focusses on need. Glenis spoke to her written report and discussed the need to fight the Euro elections by tackling Ukip’s policies and challenging the lies they tell about Europe.
General Secretary’s report
Iain McNicol said that the Special Conference was very successful, with 442 CLPs represented by 565 delegates. I think this is a long way short of the number of CLPs who could’ve been there, but I suppose many of them felt it was pointless as they were faced with a fait accompli. Iain didn’t mention the 24% of CLPs who voted against the Collins Review. He did report on the financial strategy, which now seems to have some rather large holes in it, and also on the investigation into the complaint about staff interference in last year’s CAC elections. The Party seems to be making haste slowly on this, firstly complaining that the complaints are incomplete and without sufficient detail to investigate, and now that they have a confidential report containing names they’re saying how invidious it is to be naming names like this!
I said that regardless of whether delegates wished to make formal complaints or not, and even if Pete Willsman and Katy Clark themselves withdrew their complaints, surely he would want to properly investigate all these concerns himself, if only so that everyone could be assured that the elections were fair, open and transparent and so that Party staff were not subject to any lingering suspicions. It was agreed that there would be a proper investigation, although that has been agreed at several meetings previously and we are still waiting.
Agenda 15 (National Policy Forum)
The final draft documents which will be going to the National Policy Forum in July are now on the Your Britain website. CLPs can put amendments to them. All the amendments will be published. As these are the documents which, one assumes, will form the basis of the manifesto it is vital that we have a proper input to them. The documents from Jon Cruddas’s Policy Review will also be published fairly soon – in late June, after the deadline for NPF amendments has been passed. The documents will also be going to the NPF, but quite what we can do with them I’m afraid I don’t know.
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