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National Executive Committee, 20 March 2007

The NEC welcomed Keith Vaz MP, elected by the vibrant new
Black Socialist Society, and youth representative Stephanie
Peacock, to their first meeting.  The prime minister was
congratulated on his Comic Relief skit and his efforts on climate
change, and responded to comments on a range of issues,
including nutritional standards for meals-on-wheels; the open-
skies agreement which allows European airlines to fly to, but not
within, the US; staging the nurses’ pay award in England to give
only 1.9% while Scotland was granting the full 2.5%; and the
Valencia land-grab, which MEPs undertook to explain to him.  He
promised Dennis Skinner that the end-of-financial-year problems
in the NHS would not be repeated as we moved into calmer
waters after restructuring, but defended hospital income from
parking charges as otherwise the money would have to come
from patient care.  Extending London’s free bus travel for under-
19s nationwide would need careful costing, and he recognised
problems with the formula for the over-60s scheme, where some
travellers had lost out.  On green policies we had to be mindful of
the average family, not just the chattering classes.

On Zimbabwe he said that president Mugabe exploited criticism
from Britain as old-style colonialism, and on balance he thought
the planned European summit should go ahead, with ZANU-PF
confronted rather than excluded.  He assured Pete Willsman that
contrary to press reports Trident was not being secretly upgraded,
and told Walter Wolfgang that discussions were continuing on
whether Britain wanted to host US interceptor missiles. 
Parliament would be consulted when appropriate.  Later, Gary
Titley said there was no evidence of British involvement in
extraordinary rendition flights.
 
I supported Tony Blair’s defence of inheritance tax, and argued
that workers who have lost their entire pension should be a higher
priority than people with £300,000 tax-free windfalls.  I also
expressed concern that random samples of the public had more
say in policy-making than the national policy forum, let alone
ordinary party members.  Tony Blair said he would like to invite
the NPF to Downing Street before he left, and repeated that
Labour had to reach beyond traditional structures to mobilise the
many thousands who shared our aims.  No-one disagrees with
this, but fellow-travellers must be as well as, not instead of, the
paying membership.  He also believed the Tories were making
mistakes in trying to be all things to all people.  Marriage was an
important social institution, but restoring the married couples’ tax
allowance would take money away from children in different types
of family.  David Cameron was soft on crime, security and anti-
social behaviour where toughness was needed, and isolated and
powerless in Europe since withdrawing from the main centre-right
grouping.
 
Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Tony Blair stayed for the discussion of party funding, together with
our chief negotiator Jack Straw.  He said that while the Tories had
no incentive to end the spending arms race, with millions pouring
in, there was considerable common ground with the LibDems. 
The main outstanding issue was trade union funding, but he
thought Hayden Phillips’ requirement for greater transparency in
relations between individual members and the party could be met,
and would be an acceptable price for a deal.  NEC members were
angry that an inquiry which started because of dubious
connections with rich men had ended up fingering the unions as
the problem, and that senior party figures appeared to agree.  In
fact the unions provided the cleanest income, they were part of
Labour’s constitution, and they gave millions of working people a
voice in policy and in choosing the leadership.  Their funds were
legitimised by ballots and allowed any member to opt out.  Pete
Willsman saw it as New Labour’s last attempt to break the link
and Walter Wolfgang suggested mobilising public support, though
I suspect others were correct when they said that union funding
was essential, but not popular with voters.

Several of us stressed that without the unions Labour would have
gone under in the 1980s, and we still relied on them at every
level.  Any laws must be robust enough to defend the link now,
but also to prevent unpicking by our enemies if, or when, we lose
power.  Others highlighted the need to expose shady Tory
backers, reclaim the moral high ground and restore confidence in
politics.  Jack Straw said he was not about to destroy either the
party or the union link, and promised to keep the NEC, through its
officers, informed of progress.  Finally it was suggested that the
best way to cut off Tory funding was to defeat them at the next
election, a thought that should motivate us all.

Temporary Discontent

Hazel Blears reported on the manifesto.  Over half the policies
agreed at the Warwick NPF had been implemented, and I was
pleased at the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on
development by 2013, part of a resolution to my first conference
in 1995.  Dissatisfaction centred on failure to protect temporary
and agency workers, stalled in Europe and the government
unwilling to legislate at national level, something which unions but
not ministers remembered as part of the deal.  Dennis Skinner
complained that the government did not have to filibuster Paul
Farrelly’s bill, as it could have been delayed or amended at the
committee stage.  Others raised growing problems with super-
exploitation of migrant workers from the new European countries. 
The housing sub-group will report soon, and the health policy
commission should contact everyone involved in recent
conference resolutions.  A motion from Dave Ward on postal
services was referred to the prosperity and work commission.
 
Campaigning and Organisation

Deputy general secretary Alicia Kennedy presented new facilities
for members on the website via their MpURLs (go to
www.labour.org.uk/firstname.lastname), now the main resource
for documents, events and communication.  She also ran through
activities leading up to the Scottish, Welsh and English elections. 
After further discussion and much lobbying the NEC agreed that
Ealing Southall should select its parliamentary candidate from an
all-women shortlist, adding the hope that they would choose an
ethnic minority woman.  The interaction of race and gender raises
difficult issues:  in some constituencies all-women shortlists are
seen as barriers to ethnic minorities, while open shortlists too
often end up with the same old white men.  Personally I would like
more MPs like Parmjit Dhanda in Gloucester, rather than
matching the race of the candidate to the make-up of the
constituency.

General secretary Peter Watt gave an update on finances.  The
spring events involved over 3,000 members and were well-
received, though councillors want their local government
conference back.  Draft terms of reference for the NEC and its
committees were kicked around again, with my main concern the
blanket statement that all papers and discussion are confidential,
which would make reports by representatives extremely short.  In
practice genuinely confidential issues get leaked to the press,
which is where I see them first, while some decisions, like
deadlines for conference motions and methods for collecting
Labour councillors’ subscriptions, need more, not less, publicity.

The Rules of the Game

Finally the NEC approved guidelines for the coming leadership
election.  These are available to constituency secretaries – via
their MpURL of course – or I can forward a copy.  The process will
take  seven weeks and though no start date is given, press
reports of a conclusion by 25 June are not being denied,
suggesting an announcement in early May.  The NEC will meet
within 48 hours, and MPs will have three working days to
nominate candidates.  Constituencies can make supporting
nominations at general committees or all-member meetings until
the fourth week, and as a week’s notice must be given, advance
planning is advised.  Five national hustings will be held, with the
ballot during the fifth to the seventh week, culminating in the
announcement of the result at an electoral college to which
constituencies and unions can send delegates at £50 (online
registration) or £60 (by post).  Union levy-payers will be
individually balloted, and must sign a declaration that they support
the Labour party. 

Walter Wolfgang, seconded by Christine Shawcroft, proposed
reducing the number of MPs required to nominate a candidate
from 45 (12.5% of the total) to 22.  Dennis Skinner said he had
opposed raising it from the former 5% but lost, and it was now in
the rules.  Christine also argued for an affirmative ballot if a post
only got one nomination.  However the guidelines were approved
with two against.  I voted in favour on the basis that rules should
be changed through conference, not altered to produce particular
results.  The meeting ended with hope that the election would run
smoothly, focus on policy, and celebrate 2.3 million people
choosing the next Labour leader and prime minister of Britain.

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to
be circulated to members – and supporters - as a personal
account, not an official record.  Past reports are at