Executive Committee, 22 March 2005
The Chair Ian
McCartney presented flowers to Helen Jackson, who is retiring, and
praised her for building bridges with backbench MPs and women, and
on the Britain in the World policy commission. She will be
much missed. He wished Maggie Jones and Shahid Malik good
luck in Blaenau Gwent and Dewsbury, and if successful at the
general election they will also leave the NEC for a better place.
Before then there
is much to do. Tony Blair told us that the shape of the
campaign was now clear. The Tories were targeting their core
vote with asylum, immigration, gypsies and abortion, and Labour
had to wrench the agenda back to public services and the economy.
He had sorted the local government pension problem, but the Tories
were planning much deeper cuts. Trade union leaders should
tell their members what they have gained from Labour, and help to
convince voters that hospital porters, cleaners and receptionists
are not pen- pushing bureaucrats but vital frontline staff.
criticised media bias, with Dennis Skinner describing the BBC as
the Daily Mail on film, and speculating that Sky TV polls showing
60% against the budget were fixed by Tory dial-up campaigns.
Labour should highlight endorsements from the many people from all
walks of life who have benefited from our policies. To put
our achievements in context, it was reported that in Canada,
hospitals aim for a maximum 12-hour wait in accident and
emergency, and people have to take second jobs to pay for
operations in their semi-private system. Moves towards
healthier school meals were appreciated, though the unions pointed
out that they were arguing the case long before Jamie Oliver.
Christine Shawcroft said that privatisation had also contributed
to the spread of MRSA in hospitals.
concerns about school admissions in London, moving defence jobs
out of South Wales, and the effects of the European services
directive on the Union’s social dimension. I welcomed the
increase in the minimum wage, but regretted that the government
rejected the low pay commission’s recommendation to pay the
adult rate from the age of 21, rather than 22. Its chairman
Adair Turner, former director-general of the CBI, had expressed
disappointment. I also asked if the grant to the Woodcraft
Folk, well-loved at the grassroots if not in the upper echelons,
could be restored. £52,000 is small change, and could
surely be found down the back of the Downing Street sofa.
Tories’ £35 billion spending cuts was considered entirely
legitimate, and has since been vindicated by Howard Flight’s
admission that this is the tip of their iceberg. Mark Seddon
asked for a sense of humour in the campaign, while others felt we
could be more bold, confident and aspirational, and also that
women should take a higher profile. Middle-class chatterers
should remember that the workers suffer most when Labour loses.
Tony Blair promised to find out about the Woodcraft Folk, but his
over-riding message was that the people at the top are working
effectively 24 hours a day. The party should unite behind
them, stop moping, be proud of our record, and get out and win.
Statistics and Opinion Polls
party pollster for 19 years, brought broadly encouraging news.
Labour is ahead on seven of the eight top issues, trailing only on
asylum and immigration. The economy is seen as strong and
important, with the budget and the chancellor scoring well.
Asked about Margaret Dixon’s shoulder, 77% said that Michael
Howard was using the case for political gain, and only 16% that he
cared about Mrs Dixon or the NHS. In general the Tories were
seen as opportunistic and jumping on bandwagons, and as the party
of privilege. But one set of figures stood out. In the
marginals Labour holds a 3% lead among the 52% of the electorate
who say they are certain to vote. Among those who will
probably vote, the lead rises to 11%. So getting voters to
polling stations is the main battle.
Alan Milburn was
worried that if predictions are too good, people will think they
can get a Labour government without voting for it. The party
had never been in better shape with respect to trade unions,
staff, local organisers and candidates, the national communication
centre had made millions of contacts by telephone and direct mail,
and there was an army of activists to be mobilised. Some NEC
members brought more negative feedback, but Philip Gould found
that while his focus groups might be grumpy, they could be
convinced by the arguments to choose Labour. Tactical Labour
voting by LibDems might be lower than last time, but Michael
Howard’s illiberal poses should help us.
Gordon Brown then
spoke. He said the Tories had planned to attack on tax,
public spending and a failed economy, but with Labour leading on
all of these, they have been driven onto narrow rightwing fringe
territory. With interest and mortage rates at half Tory
levels, figures will be published showing how much voters have
saved. Unemployment has been halved, with 2.1 million new
jobs and 1.5 million more home- owners. All pensioners have
gained the winter fuel allowance, council tax rebates, TV licences,
free eye tests, and now (as requested by Jeremy Beecham at the
last NEC) free local bus travel. Workers enjoy more
flexibility, increased maternity and paternity leave, the national
minimum wage, and support for children. The main emphasis of
the budget was on investment in public services. In
contrast, the Tories would take £2 billion out of state schools
with their vouchers, and charge patients half the cost of
operations or give them a second-class service.
He was warmly
received, with calls for an end to briefings against the architect
of Labour’s economic success. The main concern was the
complexity of claiming pension, tax and child credits, and I added
the problems of low-income families where fluctuating
circumstances and administrative errors could lead to overpayment,
followed by deductions which took them back below the poverty
line. Gordon Brown said that pension credit could be claimed
easily over the telephone, and it was reported that the Glasgow
office rings up every pensioner to make sure they get their
Gordon Brown was
also asked to extend regulation to home reversion schemes, to
protect consumers. In answer to Mark Seddon’s call for
more emphasis on equality, he argued that the gap between the
poorest and middle-income families had decreased. At a
global level the international finance facility, 100% debt relief
for the poorest countries, and a possible levy on aviation fuel,
even if resisted by the United States, were big causes with wide
progressive support, and well worth fighting for.
said that the manifesto would be finalised by the Clause V
committee within 72 hours of the election being called. It
would build on the National Policy Forum, the budget, and
departmental five-year plans, and would be a narrative laying out
dividing lines, not an exhaustive shopping list.
Mini-manifestos on education, health, crime and children have been
published, with papers for the workplace, the elderly, business,
families, and rural areas to follow. Almost all
constituencies have now selected their candidates, and the NEC
officers and the late retirements panel have taken over
shortlisting for the remainder. Members warned against
wobbling on all-women shortlists, and called for
one-member-one-vote selection up to the last moment. It was
agreed that NEC members should be informed of changes to the code
of conduct for candidates.
Ian and others
praised John Prescott for digging us out of the local government
pensions hole, and the unions and Alan Johnson would meet soon for
the wide-ranging discussions promised in the Warwick agreement.
He assured local government representatives that the county
elections would be tied into the national campaign. MEPs
warned of possible conflicts between the policy of the Party of
European Socialists and the demands of the Labour government in
conference was judged successful. I followed up the Tobacco
Manufacturers’ Association advertisement in the guide, which
included quotes describing passive smoking as “one of the great
bogus causes of our age”, and a ban on smoking in public places
as “as impertinent and patronising an assault on freedom as any
proposed by a British government since the second world war”,
and asked if we should give quite such prominence to attacks on
Labour policy. General secretary Matt Carter said that the point
was well made. There will be a meeting of the National
Policy Forum on 16 July, which will consider the findings of the
Partnership in Power review groups, papers for annual conference,
and hopefully a policy commission document on Lords reform.
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