Report from Ann Black: NEC Meeting 23 July 2002
First, I would like to thank
the hundreds who mailed regarding Ken Livingstone’s request to rejoin
Labour. I appreciated the
intelligent analysis and enjoyed the many references to digging while in
a hole, and to emptying bladders inside and outside tents.
The responses split 76% for readmission, 17% against, 7%
undecided. I voted in line
with the majority, but recognise the validity of arguments on both
After long discussion, the
application was rejected by 17 votes to 13.
Opposition centred on the inviolability of the five-year ban for
standing against Labour, and possible legal costs if all 400 excluded
members demanded equal treatment. Other
members noted efforts to bring Scottish MP Dennis Canavan back on board
within the limit. They
believed the party itself acted improperly in fixing the previous
selection, and readmission would mark a clear break with past control-freakery.
Splitting the left would let Steve Norris in. I was concerned that London members would again campaign
openly against the Labour nominee, encouraging those outside London who
flirt with voting Socialist Alliance or Green.
Perhaps the deciding argument came from those involved in 2000,
when Ken Livingstone promised never to run against Labour, and broke his
word. No-one could
guarantee that he would keep it this time.
The Labour candidate will be
chosen through an electoral college split 50/50 between individual
members and affiliated organisations.
Unions will have to ballot their members and to vote
proportionally to the results. I supported this in preference to
straight one-member-one-vote partly because the unions will be asked to
help with funding, and giving them a say in the candidate seemed the
least we could do.
Given the tremendous response
to NEC members who consulted widely, I was surprised that General
Secretary David Triesman reported little interest and only a handful of
letters from outside London. Either
members have given up writing, or the party should make more active
efforts to find out what they think.
Many people suggested exactly that, and I hope the current
collection of e-mail addresses will be used for two-way communication
and not just downloaded press releases.
This should have been central
to the debate on subscriptions. The
NEC agreed to put rule changes to conference raising the reduced rate
from £7 to £12 and the standard rate from £18.50 to £24, with
optional higher contributions linked to salary.
In a pilot project, young members will get two years for £2
before transferring to the standard rate.
Candidates in local and national elections will have to pay the
full rate regardless of income. Currently
60% of members, including those joining through their union, contribute
the lower amount, and their eligibility may be investigated.
Dennis Skinner suggested that all MPs should make a one-off
donation of £1,000 to set an example, but was nervous about his
I voted for a lesser increase
in the reduced rate to protect the low-paid, but reluctantly supported
the £24 charge. In 1991
the subscription was £15, higher in real terms, and I believe this
amount will not decide whether members stay or leave.
But they want more than a renewal letter, a magazine, and
requests for money. They
expect letters to be acknowledged, and they expect the party to be open
to change. The recruitment
task group recognised that members usually resign because they disagree
with government policy, but offered only more extensive briefings, to
counter the lying and hostile media. This may not be enough to reconcile us to paying twice for
garbage collection and the morning post, nor to explain why we should
pay higher pension contributions in return for lower benefits, nor to
convince us that war on Saddam Hussein is right.
The Prime Minister
side-stepped Dennis Skinner’s warning on Iraq.
He reported constructive meetings with union leaders.
He said that wage increases in public services now exceeded
private sector increases, but did not acknowledge the ten-year backlog
when the reverse was true. And
he advised low-paid council staff to claim top-up tax credits.
Local parties, councillors and
MPs can add a great deal to the value of party membership, and I argued
that every constituency should have a Labour MP, their own or twinned
through a neighbouring constituency.
New guidance for local parties will recommend greater community
engagement, open General Committee meetings with interesting speakers,
and routine business handled by an Executive.
The difficulties arise higher
up. Reports from the policy
commissions are patchy and incomplete.
The economy and welfare commission will consider the motion on
public services proposed by Mark Seddon and the GMB union at its
September meeting, six months after it was referred to them.
Changes to the National Policy
Forum timetable will further limit expression of different views.
Five documents are already under discussion, and five more will
be published in 2003. In
February the Forum agreed that each batch would be discussed for two
years, culminating at the annual conferences in 2003 and 2004
respectively, when Forum members could submit alternatives for decision.
This rolling programme has been abandoned, and consultation on
all ten areas will now extend into 2004.
At the 2003 conference, as in 2001 and 2002, there will now be no
possible choices, only take-it-or-leave-it documents.
All ten papers will end up at the 2004 conference, with little
time for proper debate, and an imminent general election discouraging
loyal delegates from rocking the boat.
Despite its overarching
responsibility, the NEC was not permitted to discuss these plans. Two days later the Joint Policy Committee – dominated by
ministers – endorsed them. Apparently
Charles Clarke promised open debate in 2004.
But we are asking members for money now, and they need jam today,
not in two years’ time.
Other opportunities for
empowerment have been also been passed up.
Constituencies could have been offered more say in prioritising
contemporary resolutions at conference.
Revised procedures guarantee debate for topics attracting half
the constituency vote, but in practice this will make no difference.
Or peers could have been
granted their own seat on the NEC.
Last year the NEC promised conference a solution which would give
the peers an input without disadvantaging other sections.
This meeting happily added the chair of the Trade Union Liaison
Committee to the Joint Policy Committee, an ethnic minority member to
each policy commission and a Labour student to the National Policy
Forum, and gave two peers voting rights on the Forum.
However, the Organisation Committee argued that a peer on the NEC
would disrupt the delicate balance between stakeholders, and so Lord
Kinnock will still be free to keep a dangerous leftie out of the
constituency section if he returns to British politics by 2004.
Looking ahead, sitting MPs
must declare by the end of 2002 whether they wish to stand again. All-women shortlists will operate in half the vacated Labour
seats, except in Scotland which has problems with boundary changes. The
parliamentary panel will remain open, with candidates able to seek NEC
approval after selection. Where
MPs retire late, for any reason, all-women shortlists will be imposed,
though the NEC may make exceptions to extend diversity in other ways,
for instance through ethnic minority or disabled candidates.
July Organisation Committee discussed developments in Birmingham, where
the local government committee was dissolved.
The composition of the replacement campaign forum will be
reviewed next year, and the Committee agreed my proposal to try out
“selection monitors” from outside the region, to counter fears of
bias in candidate interviews. Birmingham
will show whether this new approach, agreed by the NEC in January, can
improve confidence in procedures.
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.labourcounts.com/AnnBlack/
Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 01865-722230, firstname.lastname@example.org