National Executive Committee, 20 July 2004
 
NEC Chair Mary Turner congratulated Tony Blair and John Prescott on
their tenth anniversary as leader and deputy leader. Apologies for
absence included Mick Cash of the RMT, though no-one is quite sure of
his status since his union became disaffiliated. The prime minister
was again away, and John Prescott reported on his behalf. The latest
comprehensive spending review confirmed Labour's commitment to public
services, while the Butler inquiry was the fourth investigation to
confirm that everyone acted in good faith over the war, and the world
was a safer place without Saddam Hussein.
 
This is debatable, but the NEC was more united in agreeing that the
world would be a safer place without George Bush and hoping that John
Kerry would win in November. However John Prescott pointed out that
the Democrats were if anything more partisan towards Israel. On
Kashmir, he said that India and Pakistan had to resolve their
differences; Britain, as a former colonial power, could not intervene
directly. There was anxiety about whether Iran would be Bush's next
target, strong opposition to the Israeli Wall, and encouragement for
Muslim peace-keepers in Iraq.
 
Members celebrated the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas
aid by 2013. They were less happy with Tony Blair's Tebbit-like
references to the 1960s as a time when people were brought up with no
parental discipline or sense of responsibility. The selfish me-first
Thatcherite 1980s were surely a more corrosive influence. Reshuffle
rumours were disturbing, and many people expressed confidence in Ian
McCartney, even those who had not wanted a party chairman in the
first place. He was the third postholder in three years, and the job
needed continuity; it was not a transit camp.
 
Although 27 NorthWest MPs oppose a regional assembly, John Prescott
was advised that they did not reflect public opinion. However he
said that he might have to postpone two of the three referendums
until the electoral commission completed its inquiry into postal vote
complaints, and admitted that it was difficult when half your troops
were facing in the wrong direction. Christine Shawcroft regretted
further insensitive announcements of civil service job losses.
 
Win Some, Lose Some
Ian McCartney thanked everyone who helped in the recent by-elections.
Labour did well to hold Birmingham Hodge Hill, though the swing
against us was worse there than in Leicester South which we lost.
Some criticised Liam Byrne's acceptance speech for tarring all young
people as yobs, but Ian fiercely defended him. We had to understand
the reality of life on devastated inner-city estates, where people
were afraid to leave their homes at night, and so far their
environment had failed to improve. Dennis Skinner worried that he
didn't know why we were losing. On the doorstep the vote seemed
solid and the mood music was good. Were they lying to us? And I was
concerned that Labour's public reaction to the results appeared
complacent. Away from the media spotlight, we have to look honestly
at whether we need to change, to reconnect with our own supporters.
The process of choosing parliamentary candidates continues. In
Scotland, with drastic boundary changes, three sitting MPs have so
far failed to find a berth and they will get a shot at any further
vacancies arising from late retirements. However the NEC refused to
let the candidate from Dundee East try his luck in the newly-
available and more winnable seat of Dundee West. Gender balance will
have to wait, and I stressed the need to justify this to the
casualties of positive action in local government. And Helen Jackson
reported that only three women had been selected as Labour candidates
in the 40 by-elections since 1992, a shocking figure.
 
On the Record
We discussed at some length whether resolutions agreed by the NEC
should be recorded in the minutes. The general secretary resisted on
the grounds of staff workload, and others felt it would give
resolutions too much importance. I believe that it does matter, and
will continue to publish the full text. In general, minutes are so
brief that anyone not at a meeting has little idea of what happened.
 
Conference Preview
The draft timetable again scheduled delegates' briefings for Sunday
morning, excluding the unions who hold their pre-meetings at this
time. They suggested putting regional briefings for constituency
delegates first, followed by the general briefings. So conference
now begins early on Sunday with an official pre-conference, and
morning fringe events will be increasingly marginalised.
 
The NEC is proposing a raft of rule changes, most of which are
hopefully uncontentious. Procedures around financial reporting and
locally-held property will be clarified, ethnic minority forums along
the same lines as women's forums will be enabled, and rules for
Labour groups will be updated. Possible changes to the Clause V
committee, which agrees the election manifesto, were deferred to
allow further discussion. Currently this consists of the
parliamentary committee (a mix of ministers and backbenchers) and the
NEC. The proposal was to remove the parliamentary committee
ministers and add three more union officials, the chair and vice-
chairs of the National Policy Forum, and the entire cabinet, a total
of 62 members instead of 44. Many argued that cabinet members do not
need voting rights because they have already endorsed all policy
documents. I agree, but more important is the work leading up to the
manifesto. In 2001 we had one hour to read a 60-page draft and one
hour to agree it, with no possibility of significant change by that
stage, so this meeting is largely ceremonial.
 
Amendments from constituencies met the usual lack of support. Some
were recommended for remission to the Partnership in Power review,
including Beckenham on sending resolutions to conference, Westmorland
& Lonsdale on referring back parts of documents, and assorted CLPs on
permitting conference to amend National Policy Forum papers.
 
However, the movers should not expect to get what they want. Bethnal
Green and Bow's move to allow constituencies two delegates for the
first 749 members was rejected 16-4 (myself, Mark Seddon, Christine
Shawcroft and Dennis Skinner), though the general secretary will
investigate the reasons for falling attendance by constituencies,
down by 9% from 2002 to 2003 alone. West Suffolk's move to increase
constituency places on the NEC from six to eight was similarly
dismissed. And Manchester Central's call for an elected party chair
was opposed because the current system gives most long-serving NEC
members the honour of becoming chair or vice-chair of the NEC and
conference in the fullness of time.
 
TalkTalk
Ian McCartney announced arrangements for the forthcoming National
Policy Forum, and Matthew Taylor reported on the Big Conversation.
This was tackling public disengagement from politics, changing minds
through in-depth discussion, and gaining surprisingly good media
coverage. Matthew said that participants were pleased to see MPs
listening, and no-one had asked for evidence that their views would
make any difference. NEC members reported on their own variations
and possible applications, for instance leading up to the European
referendum Some commented that the Big Conversation was achieving
what had been intended for first-year National Policy Forum
documents.
 
How Others See Us
Europe is at the end of the agenda and MEPs were in Strasbourg at the
opening of the new parliament, so there was no discussion. However
leader Gary Titley's written report struck a sobering note, saying:
"There is frankly a very strong anti-British sentiment in the
Socialist Group". This arises partly from Britain's pro-Iraq war
stance, but also from British influence on the constitution and on
the choice of Jose Barroso as commission president. The latter was
resented because Jose Barroso was seen as part of the Bush/Blair
camp, and because the UK blocked other more "federalist" candidates.
British unpopularity surfaced in Terry Wynn MEP's failure to gain the
Socialist nomination for president of the parliament, and could
damage British chances of gaining key committee positions. As some
consolation, Linda McAvan MEP was elected as Treasurer of the
Socialist Group.
 
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