Back to NEC Reports Directory

Report from Ann Black: NEC Meeting 27 November 2001

Tuesday 27 November was also Gordon Brown's Pre-Budget
Day, with much to cheer Labour supporters.  Before briefing the
Cabinet, Tony Blair addressed the NEC.  He said that military
action in Afghanistan had achieved most of its aims and should
reach a successful conclusion within weeks.  The emphasis could
then shift to humanitarian relief and reconstruction.  Later, a
resolution from Christine Shawcroft and Mark Seddon drew
attention to the West's role in allowing the Taliban into power,
and requested United Nations trusteeship pending democratic
elections.  It was rejected by 16 votes to three (Christine, Mark
and myself) in favour of reaffirming a Fire Brigades Union
motion agreed at Conference.  This called for perpetrators of the
11 September attacks to be brought to justice, but made no
reference to extending the hit-list to Iraq, Somalia and beyond,
and should reassure those who fear a British blank cheque for
anything that the United States might choose to do.

However, Tony Blair recognised that Labour would stand or fall
at the next election on public services. Investment in schools and
in tackling crime was already bearing visible fruit.  Health and
transport were patchier, and overcoming decades of neglect
could take two more tough years.  Restoring Railtrack to public
ownership might be popular with the party, but voters simply
want the trains to run on time.

Members stressed that social services were also stretched,
particularly in supporting children and the elderly.  Responding
to concerns about the role of business in running the Department
of Trade and Industry, and the troubled industrial relations
climate at Consignia (the Post Office), Tony Blair offered talks,
and his reassurance that the unions remain valued partners.  On
student funding, he said that work continues on how best to
widen access and secure the financial future of higher education. 
Dennis Skinner asked for a ban on fox-hunting, a key moral
issue particularly for younger people.  Colleagues praised
positive noises on the euro, requested the return of powers to
local government and demanded greater aggression towards the
LibDems.

Electoral Skirmishing

Unfortunately there are worse enemies out there.  Though the
British National Party were defeated in two Burnley council by-
elections, they polled 20%, and in next May's local elections
resources will be spread much more thinly.  The Ipswich by-
election result, in contrast, exceeded expectations and roundly
rebuffed Iain Duncan Smith's claims of a "fightback".

Reviews of council ward boundaries are under way across the
country, but attention must be given to  knock-on consequences
for the current review of parliamentary constituencies.  Scotland
may lose 14 seats, and there are questions about whether
constituencies for the Scottish Parliament should be realigned
with the new Westminster structure.  The Scottish and Welsh
Executives would oversee reselection of sitting constituency
MSPs and Assembly Members through procedures similar to
those for Westminster MPs, and would be consulted on ways to
choose the list-based candidates.

Dennis Skinner complained about the First Minister of Scotland,
Jack McConnell, floating proportional representation for
Scottish local government.  He considered the system electorally
disastrous for Labour.  This provoked a lively response, with
some arguing that the Scottish experience had positive aspects,
and in any case the NEC should not avoid debating alternatives
to first-past-the-post.  General Secretary David Triesman
proposed scheduling a properly-informed discussion, though its
scope, nature, and relation to the forum process have yet to be
clarified.

Conference Business

The NEC thanked party staff for organising a truncated Annual
Conference in difficult circumstances.  The Conference
Arrangements Committee would try to improve the balance
between stakeholders next year, and I asked to see all those
resolutions referred to the NEC.  Next are the Local
Government and Women's Conferences in Cardiff from 1-3
February 2002, with joint opening and closing sessions and
separate workshops and policy seminars. 

Some regretted the absence of a European Conference, but the
Party of European Socialists' meeting in Britain in 2003 would
link naturally with a high-profile party event.  Simon Murphy,
leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, updated us
on other developments.  These included plans to test 30,000
chemicals in common use for possible toxicity, partly prompted
by unexplained rises in asthma and other illnesses.  I was
concerned about the expansion of animal testing, though the
Greens wanted to go much further and millions more animals
would have been sacrificed under their proposals.   

Charles Clarke reported on the November relaunch of the
National Policy Forum.  There were high hopes that the new
optimism could be rolled out nationwide, with documents posing
challenges and choices and feedback proving that members
really matter.  The first papers, to be agreed by the Forum on 8
February, would cover Britain in the world; health; welfare
reform; trade and industry; and democracy, citizenship and
political engagemement   The policy commissions would be
central in realising the vision.  Mark Seddon was allocated to
Economy, Welfare and Work; Christine Shawcroft and Tony
Robinson to Quality of Life (rural affairs, environment, culture
and sport); Shahid Malik to Health; Ruth Turner to Transport,
Housing, Local Government and the Regions; and Ann Black to
Trade and Industry.  Tony Robinson is also on the Joint Policy
Committee, which steers the Forum.

At local level the Party Development Committee recommended
an expanded programme of policy forums, a dedicated
Partnership in Power officer in every constituency, properly-
trained facilitators, full feedback, and better use of information
technology to engage with members.  Constituency parties
would be grouped in clusters to take forward the 21st Century
Party development programme, concentrating on achieving
party aims, not on enforcing any particular model of organisation.

Less Talk, More Action

David Triesman presented a radical revamp of party committee
structure.  The main committees have been slimmed down, with
a new Equalities Committee including separate sections for
women's organisation and ethnic minorities, and also
encompassing disability, sexuality and age. Constituency
representation is: Organisation - Ann Black; Equalities (Women)
- none / (Ethnic Minorities) - Shahid Malik and Ruth Turner;
Business Board - Ruth Turner; Finance Committee - Mark
Seddon;  Local Government - Christine Shawcroft; Selections
Panel - none, though this may be reviewed after constituency
NEC members argued that their involvement could lessen
grassroots complaints.

The committees will be supplemented by time-limited task
groups with specific objectives.  Currently these are, with
constituency representation in brackets:  Engagement with Ethnic
Minorities (Shahid Malik); Improving Recruitment (none);
University of the Labour Party (none); Voter Turnout and
Engagement (Ruth Turner); Youth Engagement (Tony
Robinson); Party Development (none, though Ian McCartney
assured the NEC that it would work in an inclusive way).

The next Organisation Committee will review procedures for
internal elections and selections, and advise constituencies later
in January.  The deadline for nominations to the NEC, the
National Policy Forum, the Conference Arrangements
Committee and the National Constitutional Committee was
agreed as 5 April 2002.  Forum candidates will now need
nominations from only three constituencies in their region,
including their own, with numbers and gender balance dependent
on this year's results, and there is growing support for substitutes
to be elected at the same time.

The Organisation Committee will also work with the Equalities /
Women's Committee on increasing women's representation at
every level.  Legislation allowing positive measures such as all-
women shortlists will receive Royal Assent in time for the next
round of Westminster selections, but the party has to debate and
agree the necessary
rule changes as well.  The post of Women's Officer is being
advertised, and one of her first duties will be to audit and
encourage regional women's organisation.

As usual questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy
for this to be circulated to party members on the understanding
that it is a personal account and in no way an official record.

Ann Blackablack@brookes.ac.uk

Back to top