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National Executive Committee, 28 January 2003
 
Tony Blair told the NEC that the next six months would be the
toughest since 1997, with Iraq, the fire dispute, asylum, criminal
justice and the economy. The party would only get through if
ministers took difficult decisions now and we kept our nerve, ready
to take advantage of the upturn when it came.
 
Members expressed concern about the two-tier workforce, the
continuing right of employers to sack staff after eight weeks on
strike, and Lords reform, where Tony Blair favoured an appointed
chamber. I asked again about National Missile Defense. Two years
ago I was told not to worry, because no decisions had been made.
Now the US had been granted permission to upgrade Fylingdales, it
was too late for members to object. Tony Blair said that the
technology might or might not work, but Britain could benefit if
coverage extended to us. He was not withdrawing from
international conventions on refugees and human rights, but we
needed effective immigration procedures. The British National Party
fed off genuine resentment that the system rewarded people who
don’t play by the rules.
 
Countdown
 
However, Iraq overshadowed all else. Members were able to talk
directly to the Prime Minister, and to debate two resolutions. These
are included in full at the end, and I would welcome comments.
Dennis Skinner warned that war would be Tony Blair’s biggest
mistake, with resignations across the country. Most speakers
confirmed this: one branch had lost its Chair, secretary, oldest
member, and a prospective councillor. No-one at a meeting of 120
Labour students supported unilateral US action, and only one out of
40 members in Bath. But as always thre are diverse views, and
John Reid reported a serving soldier who wanted anyone
disagreeing with Tony Blair to be expelled.
 
In Europe, most parties in the Socialist Group wanted the inspectors
to be given more time, and preferred disarmament to war even if
evidence of weapons was found. Tensions between European
nations would have long-term and damaging consequences.
Selective enforcement of UN resolutions against Iraq but not against
Israel would promote recruitment to terrorist groups, and the effects
would be felt on the streets of London, Birmingham and New York.
Some argued that Tony Blair should follow the example of Harold
Wilson, who resisted US pressure to send troops to Vietnam. Iraq
was not a unique or immediate threat. North Korea was developing
nuclear weapons and had expelled inspectors, yet here a diplomatic
approach was pursued. Others praised him for bringing the US into
the UN process, and urged him not to abandon the Iraqi people.
Tony Blair said that Saddam Hussein had failed to account for
missing substances from the 1990s, and the inspectors could only
interview scientists in the presence of “friends” from the Iraqi
security service. Backing down over Iraq would make it more
difficult to deal with North Korea next. He was optimistic about a
second UN resolution, and expected this to win members over to
the need for war.
 
The Chair Diana Holland summed up the unanimous strength of
feeling on the desirability of avoiding war, as Tony Blair left for other
engagements. Helen Jackson then outlined the deliberations of the
Britain in the World policy commission the day before. Over half of
all local parties had written about Iraq, though under Partnership in
Power most NEC members are not allowed to see what they said.
Proposing Motion 1, Mark Seddon stressed that he did not doubt
Tony Blair’s honourable motives, but the shift towards war as the
primary instrument of foreign policy was alarming. Containment had
worked for twelve years, and the main risk of Iraq using chemical or
biological weapons would come if its survival was threatened.
Though Saddam Hussein’s rule was despotic and indefensible,
regime change from within, rather than through external force,
should be supported.
 
I said that many members saw this war as immoral or unjustified.
The wider electorate considered it a diversion, and would not accept
degraded public services, or longer waiting lists because doctors
and nurses had been sent to the Gulf. New Labour’s founding
precept was the need to keep in touch with the British people, and
we were in danger of returning to opposition, as in the 1970s, if we
forgot this.
 
Conference Rules OK
 
Mike Griffiths, moving Motion 2, argued for consistency with
conference policy, which allowed military action “within the context
of international law and with the authority of the United Nations”.
(This would not require a further UN resolution, because of those
that Iraq has already breached.)
 
Motion 1 was comprehensively shredded, particularly the first and
last paragraphs. It was described as a curate’s omelette, ill-drafted,
incendiary, preposterous and full of Maoist self-criticism. The
socialist societies were horrified. We were told that no-one believed
Saddam Hussein was linked with September 11th or Al-Qaeda, so
those references were irrelevant. In short, people didn’t like it.
 
Motion 2 was generally welcomed. Some felt that war without a new
resolution would be disastrous, but recognised the tactics of keeping
options open. Enforcing resolution 1441 would make it easier to
bring other countries such as Israel into compliance. The NEC
should support and empower Tony Blair in working through the UN:
without his efforts over the last year, we could already be at war.
After a brief procedural argument the meeting decided by 16 votes
to 10 to take Motion 2 first, and Motion 1 if this was rejected. Motion
2 was carried by 22 votes to 4 (Mark, Christine Shawcroft, Dennis
Skinner and myself). Motion 1 therefore fell. Members agreed that
it had been a good debate, no-one wanted war, and all views were
acknowledged as sincere if misguided. However, questions remain.
Currently only four of the 15 security council nations are thought to
support the US. But will Guinea forgo much-needed aid, and will
France shut itself out of the post-Saddam settlement? If the vote is
won through bribery and bullying, not through reason, will this
enhance or undermine the authority of the UN, in the party or the
world?
 
Mark and I did attract backhanded compliments for reminding the
NEC that it was the custodian of party policy as decided by
conference, and some colleagues hoped that this would extend to
index-linking pensions, and opposition to PFI. Sadly we also have
conference decisions against a democratic House of Lords and
votes for 16-year-olds, so I guess we are stuck with those as well.
 
Management Matters
 
The rest of the meeting was businesslike. David Triesman reported
measures to improve compliance with the new laws on political
funding. The complexity of demands at local level is making it hard
to find constituency treasurers, and central management may
become necessary.
 
Lesley Quinn and Jessica Morden, general secretaries for Scotland
and Wales, outlined campaign plans for 2003. Wales hoped that
Rhodri Morgan’s popularity would reverse the losses of 1999, when
he was inexplicably shut out of the leadership. Both were anxious
about turnout, and explaining the dual-vote system. The Spring
Conference would include European as well as Youth, Women’s
and Local Government sessions, with the overall theme “More
teachers, more nurses, more police”.
 
The meeting agreed that ten out of thirteen vacant Labour seats
should select candidates from all-women shortlists, despite
discontent in some constituencies over the principle or over the
perceived exclusion of other minority groups. The NEC has already
decided that all retirements from now on will be replaced by women,
to prevent last-minute parachuting of favourite sons, so aspiring
male MPs can only aim for Blaydon, Denton & Reddish, Normanton
and perhaps a Welsh seat.
 
A pilot scheme was approved, to run from February 2003 to
February 2004, whereby under-19s would pay £2 for the first two
years’ membership. Finally, the Organisation Committee had heard
of yet more problems with internal contests, for the Young Labour
NEC place and for a constituency seat on the Education and Skills
policy commission. David Triesman and Mike Griffiths are drafting
comprehensive procedures which will guarantee free and fair
elections for New Labour.

 

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to
be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official
record. Past reports are available at http://www.annblack.com 
Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 01865-722230,
ann.black@unisonfree.net  
 
Motion 1 - Iraq
 
Proposed: Mark Seddon Seconded: Ann Black
The National Executive Committee believes that war on Iraq at the
current time is not justified, in the absence of evidence linking
Saddam Hussein to the attacks of September 11th, to Al-Qaeda, to
the anthrax contamination of letters in the United States or to the
manufacture of ricin in the UK.
 
The NEC expresses alarm at the apparent intention of the US to
attack Iraq irrespective of whether the UN inspectors discover
weapons of mass destruction, and rejects the concept of "pre-
emptive defence" promulgated by hawks in the US. Such action
would increase instability, promote recruitment to terrorist networks,
and set undesirable precedents for other countries with nuclear
capability. It is opposed by statesman such as Nelson Mandela,
most of our European partners, and religious leaders of many faiths.
The NEC does not equate opposition to war with anti-Americanism,
recognising that liberal America is firmly against war and that
opposition to war is growing among the American people. The NEC
further recognises that opinion within the Labour Party and the
country at large is hostile to the prospect of such a war, and recalls
that at the party conference in autumn 2002 the NEC withdrew a
statement endorsing military action without an explicit UN mandate
because of clear indications that it would be defeated.
The NEC therefore urges the Government to seek a diplomatic and
political solution to the situation in Iraq, and to desist from joining
any pre-emptive military action against that country at the behest of
the United States of America.
 
The NEC further believes that threatened first use of nuclear
weapons against Iraq, as presented by Defence Secretary Geoff
Hoon, runs contrary to the Non Proliferation Treaty of which Britain
is a signatory. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and
the recent dangerous and regrettable decision by North Korea to
withdraw from the Non Proliferation Treaty must not be allowed to
lead to a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons being
developed for battlefield and other use. The NEC recognises the
unique relationship that Britain has with the United States. It
therefore urges the government to use its best offices to halt the
escalation of conflict by building new international agreement to halt
arms proliferation throughout the world.
 
The NEC also expresses concern at the deep and lasting damage
that may be caused to the Labour party by any unilateral decision to
wage war on Iraq, and at the consequent diversion of resources and
attention from the primary concerns of the electorate, including
pensions, schools, universities, healthcare, transport and crime.
The NEC calls on the government not to repeat the errors of
previous Labour administrations, nor to put further Labour terms of
office at risk through losing touch with the British people.
 
Motion 2 - Iraq
 
Proposed: Mike Griffiths Seconded: Dianne Hayter,
Jeremy Beecham, Margaret Wall
The NEC endorses the Policy Commission update on Iraq agreed at
the Britain in the World Policy Commission on 27 January 2003
[below].
The NEC meets this week at a crucial time in the relationship
between Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq and the
requirements of the international community as expressed through
United Nations resolutions.
The NEC believes that the authority of the United Nations will be
undermined, unless it is enforced and recognises that in the last
resort this could involve military action. Accepting the widespread
concern within the Labour Party and the country at large, the NEC
confirms the position passed at Conference in Composite resolution
5: Iraq where it stated that military action should be taken only in
the last resort and within the context of international law and with the
authority of the United Nations.
 
Policy Commission Update on Iraq
 
The Policy Commission discussed the Iraq issue at a meeting held
in London on 27 January 2003.
 
In doing so, we noted our earlier discussion on this issue on 18th
September 2002, the composite resolution agreed by Party
Conference and the agreed statement by the NEC. We also heard
from Ministers on the Commission about the subsequent
developments, particularly the passage in November last year of UN
Security Council resolution 1441.
 
In our statement agreed last September, the Commission said:
“The Labour Government’s policy on Iraq has always been set firmly
within the framework of United Nations and international law.”
As well as setting out the appalling human rights abuses under
Saddam Hussein and international efforts to alleviate the
humanitarian crisis, we acknowledged that Iraq had flouted no less
than nine separate UN Security Council resolutions aimed at
disarming its weapons of mass destruction.
 
Our September statement added: “The Policy Commission
supports the efforts by the international community to seek a new
UN Security Council resolution to enforce compliance.”
 
It went on: “We hope that this issue can be resolved peacefully and
note that no decisions regarding military action in Iraq have been
made. We also understand the concerns within the Party and the
rest of the country about the possibility of military action, which
should only ever be used as a last resort. But the principles of
international law can only be credible if they are enforced, and
failure to do so can only undermine the authority of the UN itself.”
The NEC statement agreed on 29 September 2002 reaffirmed the
Policy Commission’s position, and added: “The Government must
therefore work within the UN to bring maximum pressure on Iraq by
all available means to comply with its obligations under international
law.”
 
In supporting “Composite resolution 5: Iraq” on the same day
[actually 30 September 2002], Party Conference agreed that
“Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq poses a serious threat to regional
security and that of the wider world, as a result of his development
of weapons of mass destruction.”
 
Conference called on the international community “to make every
effort through peaceful means to ensure Iraq complies with its
international obligations” and added that “the authority of the UN will
be undermined unless it is enforced, and recognises that in the last
resort this could involve military action but considers that this should
be taken within the context of international law and with the authority
of the UN.”
 
Heeding the calls of the Party, the Government did pursue the UN
route, and the subsequent unanimous approval of UN Security
Council Resolution 1441, giving Saddam a “final opportunity” to
comply with his international obligations was a particularly welcome
development.
 
UNSCR 1441 sets out a series of conditions to ensure that Iraq
complies with international law, and warns of “serious
consequences” if it fails to do so. We strongly believe that UN
inspectors should be able to do an effective job in the pursuit of
disarmament. We reaffirm our view that military action should be
used only as a last resort, within the framework of the UN and in
accordance with international law, and support the Prime Minister’s
preference to see a second security council resolution to authorise
any possible future military action.
 
We reaffirm the Commission’s and the NEC’s earlier statements on
Iraq which stated our strong belief that the Government and other
members of the international community should use this opportunity
to redouble its efforts to bring peace and stability to the wider Middle
East region. In particular, we must restart the peace process
between Israel and the Palestinians in line with existing UN Security
Council resolutions based on the twin principles of an Israel secure
within its borders, and a viable Palestinian state.
 
 
 
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