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National Executive Committee, 30 January 2007

The prime minister opened the meeting by stressing that despite
current difficulties, the decisions being taken now would
strengthen us for the future.  The home office was actually in
better shape than in 1997, and NHS waiting lists were the
shortest since records began.  We had to keep the aspirant
classes on board and maintain a broad coalition.  Just as the
Tories won general elections in the 1980s after being 15%
adrift in mid-term polls, Labour could win again on strategic
vision and experience.    

NEC members were pleased that adoption agencies would not
be exempt from laws against anti-gay discrimination, and some
even wondered if we could revisit concessions on faith schools. 
Tony Blair thought not, but he promised to meet the postal
unions, worried about maintaining a universal service, and to
safeguard British Waterways against budget cuts.  New rules
for lone parents were intended to provide opportunities, not to
bully them.  Others praised extra paid bank holidays, but raised
concerns about corporate manslaughter and equal pay in the
public sector.  On David Cameronís comments about the
Muslim Council of Britain, Tony Blair felt that Britain was
basically a tolerant and non-racist society, and had to maintain
that without pandering to extremism.  (Later Gary Titley
reported that LibDem MEP Emma Nicholson has produced a
controversial report on Kashmir.  Labour MEPs were working
to make it more even-handed and to avoid tension among
ethnic minority communities.)
 
Foreign Affairs

Dennis Skinner argued that Iraq overshadowed all Labourís
achievements, and with the ground shifting in the United
States, now was the time to plan an exit strategy.  Tony Blair
said the situation could be reviewed after Basra was resolved,
and the heat would die down under a new leader.  However he
cited Britainís influence with America as crucial in talks on
climate change, on trade negotiations which could treble aid to
Africa, and on the Middle East peace process.  On the stalled
European constitution, he felt that practical rules allowing the
enlarged union to work effectively would be more sensible than
a grand relaunch which would simply lead back into impasse. 

Members reported from Colombia that trade unionists
imprisoned without trial and farmers displaced from their land
blamed the army, and Britain for supplying them with weapons. 
Tony Blair would look into this, as he believed that military
assistance was for use against FARC rebels and drug
traffickers.  I asked whether democracy was in itself a
guarantee of progress.  Palestine was being punished
financially for electing Hamas, and the Iranian president
Ahmedinajad, repellent though his views were, was also
elected.  Tony Blair said Britain was trying to get money to the
Palestinian people, but Israel would not negotiate with parties
which denied their right to exist.  He would prefer a
government of national unity, or else Fatah would have to take
Hamas on.  However this still did not explain what to do when
democracy gives the wrong answer.  He told Pete Willsman
that no attack on Iran was planned, but they must never be
allowed to develop nuclear weapons.  United Nations sanctions
must be implemented.
 
Deterrence Revisited, Again
 
Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett explained why the
government would replace Britainís nuclear weapons.  The
current submarines would reach the end of their life by 2024,
with 17 years needed to build successors.  Decisions must also
be made on participation in redesigning the missiles and, within
two years, on new warheads.  No money would be spent until
2012 and the cost would then be £1 billion a year for 20 years,
perhaps saving £2 billion by deploying three instead of four
submarines.
 
As Ian McCartney said, the party has discussed all this before,
and the usual suspects took their usual positions.  It was in our
manifesto; but then, MPs voted against a manifesto
commitment when they banned smoking in all pubs and clubs. 
People would not understand giving up nuclear weapons if Iran,
North Korea, India and Pakistan had them; but how could we
tell others to forgo something so essential to security? 
Replacing Trident would tie us more tightly to the US through
technology; or it would free us from reliance on the US nuclear
umbrella, and the French.  If Britain is in breach of the non-
proliferation treaty, the other authorised nuclear powers are far
more so.  We need nukes because terrorists do not abide by
international laws;  but how do they deter this new kind of
enemy?  However when the Financial Times questions this
rushed decision, we are clearly no longer in the 1980s.
 
Margaret Beckett recognised this was a genuinely difficult
issue and an invidious choice.  However, the end of the Cold
War did not mean that a new major enemy power might not
arise in future.  On concerns that the money would be better
spent on decent accommodation and protection for our troops
in the field, she said it was the Tories who neglected our armed
forces and they were infinitely better off under Labour.  She
assured Pete Willsman that there was no link whatsoever
between possessing nuclear weapons and great power status. 
And she ended by saying that in contrast to this open
discussion, Labourís past decisions on nuclear weapons were
kept secret even from the cabinet.
 
No Votes Please, weíre Labour

Continuing with Trident, Christine Shawcroft, Pete Willsman
and Walter Wolfgang had submitted three motions calling for a
free vote by MPs, wide debate, and a vote at the national policy
forum.  Ian McCartney rejected the last as against the
procedural guidelines.  I disputed this, though was not over-
keen to repeat the 2004 NPF when my attempt to phase out
Trident was defeated by the unions, anxious to protect more
concrete workplace gains.  The NEC voted not to allow a vote,
with myself, Christine Shawcroft, Dennis Skinner, Dave Ward,
Pete Willsman and Walter Wolfgang dissenting.  More
generally I regretted continuing lack of communication
between the policy commissions and the rest of the NPF, who
are supposed to be ambassadors for Partnership in Power but
are told little about developments.  In addition NEC members
had expressed concern about the cabinet forward-looking
policy groups and the apparent emergence of two parallel
policy-making processes.
 
Back to Basics
 
General secretary Peter Watt presented Labourís strategy for
the May elections.  In Scotland voters would have to weigh up
the economic costs of separation, in Wales the alternative was a
rag-bag collection of minor parties, and in England the issues
varied with the area.  He also updated the NEC on finances and
party funding.  Hayden Phillips now had a better understanding
of Labourís proposals for a voluntary donation cap and links
between the labour movement and the party, and was expected
to report at the end of February.  Members were concerned that
the Tories have a vested interest in spinning things out so their
rich donors can keep pouring money into marginal seats.  Peter
also reported that the spring events were recruiting well.  I
asked for more information to be displayed on the website, with
advice for registering non-internet users.  As only myself and
Harriet Yeo, of those present, had accessed our personal party
web page, this is needed by the NEC as much as anyone.
 
John Prescott said he had opened discussion on the relationship
between the party Chair and the Chair of the NEC, and this
would come to a future meeting.  Constituencies would soon
receive information about the forthcoming leadership election,
and membership seemed to be rising.  A code of conduct for
party employees was approved, and Peter assured us that the
staff named in a leaked document allegedly from the Peter Hain
camp had absolutely no involvement. 
 
Constitutional Matters
 
In seats where MPs are retiring, the organisation committee
agreed open shortlists for Bristol West (on the Chairís
authority) and Bristol North West, Bolton South East,
Easington, Swansea West and Brighton Kemptown.  A decision
on Ealing Southall was deferred, and Selby, Sunderland North
and Brighton Pavilion were designated as all-women shortlists. 
The NEC confirmed these decisions, with two against because
of concerns about Pavilion and wider diversity issues.  Though
I partly shared them I voted with the majority, accepting that
one Brighton seat should be an all-women shortlist with the
other open to all-comers.  The Black Socialist Society has been
revived, with more than 4,000 members and elections in
progress for officers and representatives, including an NEC
member, and the Birmingham local government committee has
also risen from the ashes.  And there is a commitment to
establish a Northern Ireland Forum when their membership,
currently about 100, reaches 200. 
 
Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this
to be circulated to members Ė and supporters - as a personal
account, not an official record.  Past reports are at