National Executive Committee, 22 July 2003
 
Tony Blair and John Prescott were unable to attend, so Ian
McCartney opened the meeting and took questions. He assured us
that the prime minister did not “sex up” the Iraq briefings, and the
foreign affairs committee agreed that the September dossier was
well-founded on intelligence. The BBC allegations were false, and
those attacked had every right to defend themselves. We should
not try to pre-empt the Hutton enquiry. The Chair Diana Holland
expressed condolences on behalf of the NEC to the family of Dr
David Kelly.
 
Some members hoped that a single issue, however contentious,
would not presage an all-out assault on the independence of public
service broadcasting. However Dennis Skinner argued that the
media were all too ready to act as the official opposition, and
journalists were worse than politicians. In any case, MPs’ votes
were not influenced by the 45-minute claim. Personally he had just
felt that following George Bush into scapegoating Saddam Hussein
for September 11 was not a good enough reason to send people to
their deaths. Now it was time to find a roadmap to peace inside the
Labour party.
 
Mark Seddon was concerned about the next war, with George Bush
set to rip up agreements with North Korea, and I again raised the
plight of the Guantanamo Bay captives, unprotected by any laws on
the planet. Ian McCartney said that Tony Blair was trying to get a
fair hearing for the British men, but did not mention the nameless,
faceless captives from other countries. He also drew attention to
the 300,000 bodies discovered in Iraq’s mass graves, including
trade unionists, socialists, dissidents and their families. Our gut
response should be that we had stopped the massacres and that
was good.
 
Domestic issues included hopes for a minimum wage for under-18s,
summary sackings by Crown Wallcoverings, and the Royal Mail’s
plans to transfer post from rail to road. Members in Guildford, a
mainstream constituency, were reported as frustrated by their lack
of influence. The National Policy Forum should promote dialogue
on current topics, and respond more imaginatively to submissions.
Partnership in Power will be reviewed after the next election, but
three years is a long time to wait.
 
Campaigns Ahead
 
Ian stressed that in the run-up to conference, the focus should shift
back to fundamental values: strong leadership, economic stability,
support for hard-working families, record investment in public
services and engagement in Europe. A key milestone will be the
by-election in Brent East following the untimely death of Paul
Daisley, with candidate Robert Evans seeking to maintain Labour’s
unbroken record. Christine Shawcroft asked about local
involvement in the selection process. She was assured that
constituency officers were fully involved in composing the long-list
and drawing up questions for shortlisting, though the constitution did
not allow them a vote. Dennis Skinner said that the government
must set the agenda on local issues, and asked ministers not to put
their foot in it.
 
On 7 July the Disputes Panel agreed by 6 votes to 4 to refer George
Galloway’s case to the National Constitutional Committee. I voted
against, in line with feedback from members, but it is now out of the
hands of the NEC. The hearing will be in October, and the NCC
decision will be final. So another by-election looms. Looking to next
May, many activists are campaigning for Ken Livingstone’s re-
election as mayor, and I said it was hard to tell members in Oxford,
Glasgow or elsewhere that they must not vote Green, Socialist
Alliance or Independent, when an entire region was ignoring the
rulebook. Ian McCartney admitted that support for non-Labour
candidates caused difficulties, and will bring a detailed strategy for
London to the September NEC. Referenda on regional government
were also generating problems, with some anti-devolution Labour
MPs joining Tories in calling for a No vote, and signing up to
propaganda which rubbishes their own government’s achievements.
 
Ian is already planning the next general election, and every
constituency will soon be offered a visiting MP to talk, and to listen.
New candidates are being interviewed for the parliamentary panel,
ready for selection in the autumn. The NEC agreed all-women
shortlists for Blaenau Gwent and Swansea East, with an open
selection in Bridgend. Further vacancies will be considered in line
with policy that all late-retiring MPs should be replaced by women
except in exceptional circumstances.
 
NEC decisions on positive action in local government are getting a
mixed reception on the ground. The principles are intended to be
applied flexibly, so a council area would be expected to have
women as one-third of its candidates overall, rather than requiring
exactly one woman in every ward. A new code of conduct allows
shortlisted candidates access to ward membership lists for a fee of
£5, and hopefully this will be publicised to candidates and
membership secretaries.
 
Rules and Regulations
 
Rule changes for Conference provoked lively debate, with two
proving particularly contentious. The first concerned the make-up of
the Clause V meeting which agrees the general election manifesto.
At one time this consisted of the NEC plus the Cabinet, but recently
it has included the Parliamentary Committee, elected by
backbenchers. This arrangement would be formalised, with the
addition of any National Policy Forum officers not already present.
 
Some union and constituency representatives were unhappy
because their influence would be further diluted by MPs. Personally
I agreed with the view that the real decisions are made earlier and
elsewhere. The Clause V meeting in 2001 had one hour to read the
draft, and could not make significant changes because the text was
already typeset.
 
The second was a proposal to allow people in Northern Ireland to
join the party. This has always been rejected in the past because of
conflicts with our sister party the SDLP, but an upcoming court case
alleging racial discrimination leaves us, in the eyes of our lawyers,
with no choice. However there is no intention to organise or to
stand candidates in the north.
 
The National Committee of Young Labour will be changed, to
comprise five trade union members, three from Labour Students,
one Young Fabian, the youth NEC representative, and the regional
youth representatives on the National Policy Forum. There is a
continuing need to involve more “ordinary” young members and
trade unionists, in addition to the well-organised Labour Students.
The £2-for-two-years introductory membership rate for students will
continue at least until the next election.
 
The Women, Race and Equalities Committee tabled a paper on
engaging with ethnic minority communities, and a document on
access for disabled members is in the pipeline. A national ethnic
minorities forum was to be held in Manchester on 26 July, and the
next national women’s forum will be in Brighton on 8 November.
 
David Triesman gave his customary financial report, with
expenditure under control, subscriptions and small and large
donations holding up well, but still no agreement on the trade union
contribution. Mark Seddon asked whether any views on party
funding had been submitted to the Electoral Commission. David
said there was a case for state support for developing policy,
fielding more women and ethnic minority candidates, promoting
political engagement, and information technology, but otherwise no
change in the balance or the sources of finance had been proposed.
 
Friends and Neighbours
 
Finally Gary Titley, the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour
Party, was unable to attend, but I cannot resist quoting from his
report: “Berlusconi has dragged the office of the presidency into
disrepute and provoked a serious institutional crisis within the
European Union. He has revealed the true Jekyll and Hyde nature
of his character and showed how unreliable he is under pressure.
 
How can we send this man to represent the European Union in
discussions with George Bush or on the Middle East when we don't
know what he's going to do from one minute to the next? Clearly
the rest of the European Union will dig in and try to keep this
presidency afloat, our concern is that we are in for six months of
embarrassment, gaffs and people being antagonised.”
 
Indeed . . .
 
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