March Committee Round Up


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National Executive Committee, 15 March 2016

Ann Black reports on Labour’s national executive committee meeting which took place this month.

This was a shorter meeting than January, only five-and-a-half hours. Glenis Willmott MEP opened with her European report;

  • Pleased that the government had finally applied for flood relief funds after Labour lobbying.

  • Talks with Turkey were aimed at alleviating the refugee crisis, and Labour MEPs would ensure that any money was used for humanitarian assistance.

  • Turkey’s possible accession to the EU was a long way off and would require real progress on human rights, and short-term visa arrangements would apply only within the Schengen area, not to Britain.

  • On the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) she promised that Labour would continue to oppose any deal which threatened public services, and to demand transparency in dispute settlement procedures.

  • She stressed that in the coming referendum Labour was backing Britain at the centre of a social Europe, not David Cameron’s very different concept.

Leader’s Report

Jeremy Corbyn was campaigning hard in the Scottish, Welsh, London, local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections. Labour had led the government defeat over Sunday trading, and he paid tribute to USDAW’s campaign. Copious leaks were helping to prepare for the budget debate: four-fifths of the cuts would disproportionately affect women, the poor would suffer most, and the £1.2 billion cut in personal independence payments for disabled people was disgraceful. He had met the party of European socialists, and praised Germany and Greece for their efforts to help people driven from their homes by wars and disasters. He hoped that new talks could bring peace to Syria, but the refugees were here, now, and needed support. He had given the Keir Hardie memorial lecture, and summer would bring the centenary of Harold Wilson’s birth and the great labour movement festivals of Tolpuddle and the Durham miners’ gala.

I asked for a strong, visible pro-European campaign, with MPs and the leadership working alongside Alan Johnson. Jeremy Corbyn recognised the value of a Europe based on unity, solidarity and internationalism and thought that Labour had a coherent message but refused, I believe rightly, to share a platform with David Cameron. The BMA had thanked him for supporting the junior doctors in their continuing dispute. He also responded to comments on;

  • the lower minimum wage for under-25s,

  • the select committee review of laws around prostitution,

  • the importance of engaging with people from all ethnic and religious groups,

  • the SNP’s false claims to be a party of the left,

  • international women’s day,

when he took the shadow cabinet to Dagenham. He welcomed the unprecedented numbers of new members and their knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm: if ground down by bureaucracy and bored by meetings they would leave, and we should all mobilise around radical policies on housing and workers’ rights. The NEC urged MPs, again, to stop squabbling as they were undermining hardworking candidates.

 

Election Roundup

Jon Trickett MP said that Labour’s theme would be Standing Up Not Standing By, contrasting our strong principles against the Tories as the party of privilege. Most voters thought the Tories were handling the economy badly, and John McDonnell was starting to rebuild Labour’s economic credibility. Other messages would focus on housing, crime and policing, and the NHS. Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle city council and newly-elected leader of the local government association’s Labour group, highlighted the disproportionate impact of Tory cuts on Labour councils. Central government was also interfering with local decisions on investment, and disrupting good relationships with trade unions. He suggested looking to Labour councils to demonstrate economic competence in action.

Local government representatives again thanked Jon Trickett, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn for their letter explaining that councils must set legal budgets. Nevertheless Labour councillors were doing all that they could to protect the most vulnerable. They were urged to support demonstrations which laid the blame at George Osborne’s door and to explain how a Labour government would have protected services.

Some were concerned about the impact of the Euro-referendum on council campaigns, but I supported Glenis Willmott in arguing that Europe cannot wait until 6 May. The best opportunity to collect voter intentions on Europe is while canvassing in the next six weeks. A quarter of all local parties were already doing so, and regional directors would be asked to encourage the others.

Tens of thousands of jobs were at stake, and leaving would be a catastrophic blow from which it could take a decade to recover.

 

Chancellor in Waiting

John McDonnell reported on the work of his economic advisory council. He was planning a national economic conference on 21 May, and would circulate the women’s budget group analysis. The strategy was twofold;

  • First, dismantle George Osborne, who was failing even on his own terms. He was selling the furniture at knock-down prices to pay the rent, and wasting £1.5 billion on competition between academies. This was not a long-term plan for the country, but a short-term plan for his own political ambitions.

  • Second, restore Labour’s credibility through fiscal rules which would reduce debt, balance spending and allow for long-term investment in skills and infrastructure, all overseen by an independent body. He supported zero-based budgeting to ensure that all money was spent wisely.

NEC members agreed that austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity, and highlighted the potential of “green” jobs.

 

Rearranging the Deckchairs?

The NEC returned to its own terms of reference, and trade union representatives produced a list of changes which they had agreed privately with the general secretary. The only disagreement was whether the NEC should be defined as “the governing body of the party” as per the website, or “subject to party conference, the NEC is the administrative body responsible for the governance of the party” as the general secretary preferred. We ended up with a compromise, and when I get the minutes I will know what it is.

I was most interested in policy-making, where NEC functions now include “acting as the custodian of Labour party policy”. This is supplemented by “as far as is possible, new policy positions are only made following consultation with the appropriate policy commission and with leader’s office agreement” and “the joint policy committee (JPC) is responsible for the oversight of the national policy forum and policy commissions in producing a rolling programme for submission to party conference and its work will be reported to the full NEC at its meetings.” This leaves most of the NEC with less say in policy than when I was first elected 17 years ago, but at least we can empathise with ordinary members.

Angela Eagle’s review may pick this up, and contributions can be made at www.labour.org.uk/ourparty or sent to policymakingreview@labour.org.uk. Policy commissions are up and running, and the national policy forum may meet in July. Other party reform groups are also meeting, though the elections and the referendum are higher priorities for many. I have passed on numerous requests to update the website.

 

Finance Matters

Iain McNicol gave an update on Tory moves to bankrupt the Labour party through cuts to Short money, paid to opposition parties, and the trade union bill. Labour peers had worked tirelessly, building cross-party alliances in support of reasonable compromises. Membership continued to be strong, though the 2015 surge were now coming up to their first anniversary. This is when people decide whether to stay or leave, especially those who join with one-off payments, and every effort should be made to keep them.

I and other constituency representatives drew attention to the pressure on local parties. The NEC development fund, which holds a large chunk of membership subscriptions, attracted few bids by the February deadline, and many of those were from richer and better-organised applicants. There were no bids from the south-west or from Scotland. Part of the 2011 Refounding Labour deal was that election insurance, Contact Creator, the Euro-election levy and one conference delegate pass would be paid centrally for all constituencies. I have proposed adding NationBuilder and an allowance for conference accommodation to this list, and would be interested in views on how this fund should best be used.

 

Young Labour

Disturbing allegations have been made recently about behaviour within Oxford University Labour Club and around the election of the NEC youth representative. Baroness Jan Royall has been appointed to examine all of these, and I urge anyone with evidence to send it to her via Iain McNicol. The 11 regional representatives on the young Labour national committee were elected in online one-member-one-vote ballots with no complaints, though a turnout of just 3.5% shows that online voting is not a magic bullet.

Deputy leader Tom Watson had drafted a statement on safeguarding issues. For local parties the most common concerns will be over their young members canvassing or attending conferences, and there are now 10,000 aged between 14 and 18. Occasionally more serious issues of child sexual exploitation may come to their attention. Guidance will be circulated soon, outlining the party’s responsibilities.

 

Selections Past and Future

I have fed back critical comments on selection procedures for police and crime commissioner candidates. Looking forward, the boundary commission has now published its timetable for reducing 650 constituencies to 600. I am a member of the panel which will consider its recommendations, due in September 2016, and agree the party’s submissions. The panel will work in the collective interest of the whole party, and support Labour MPs through the process. Procedures for sitting MPs seeking to stand will be exactly as defined in the rulebook for the 2010/2015 cycle, with the dates rolled forward.

ann_black.jpgAnn Black joined the Labour Party in 1982.  She is a former branch election organiser and constituency Chair, and is currently secretary of Oxford East CLP. She was elected to the National Policy Forum by West Midlands constituencies in 1997, and by South East constituencies in 1999. From 2000 she has served in the constituency section of the NEC, elected by individual party members, and acted as vice-chair for 2008/2009.Ann is also an active trade unionist, joining ASTMS in 1979, NALGO from 1982 and UNISON from 1993.  She is service conditions secretary at Oxford Brookes University, where she works as a computer programmer. She is vice-chair of UNISON’s South East LabourLink, and a member of UNISON’s National LabourLink Committee.
annblack50@btinternet.com. Previous reports at www.annblack.co.uk 


This article below originally appeared in the All that is Solid blog by Phil BC

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They seek him here, they seek him there.

Those lobby hacks seek him everywhere.

Is he in heaven or is he in hell?

That damned elusive … Chancellor of the Exchequer.

 

Okay, so my reworked rhyme lifted from the Scarlet Pimpernel doesn’t work. But neither do Osborne’s sums, so all is balanced in the world. Well, what a torrid few days for the Tories – and not in a good way. To be sure, when Nicky Morgan was wheeled out on Thursday to announce on Question Time that the planned cut to Personal Independence Payments wasn’t happening, it was obvious the government was in deep trouble. It’s not everyday a government rows back on a key budget pledge announced by the Chancellor in the House. But then the real damage was wrought after the odious IDS carpet bombed Downing Street before his deserved departure for the back benches.

After the most unseemly weekend of blue-on-blue actions since the great Europe fall-outs of the early/mid-90s (coincidentally, IDS had a hand in that too), the disarray shows no sign of abating. Osborne has been holed up (hiding) in his bunker behind the curtains of Number 11 all day, even to the extent of skipping the Commons. Instead poor old David Gauke, Osborne’s number three in the Treasury, had to carry the shit can instead. Some say Jeremy Corbyn does not provide an “effective opposition”, so what does it say about a chancellor who refuses to face even him?

As ludicrous as it was, I can understand the Where’s Osbo? game the chancellor is playing. He knows the fall out from the budget and the IDS air strike has badly damaged his position, even to the degree of sundry Tories taking to the Sunday papers to cast doubt on his leadership ambitions – including a kite flying op from supine allies to test the head winds in a hypothetical world where Osborne no longer makes the political weather. He had to go to ground until the row blew away. This is damaging short term, but in his memory are Dave’s debate-dodging antics. At his most slippery, Dave did everything to avoid a one-on-one with the supposedly useless Ed Miliband. Farcical fun for a few weeks, but in the grand scheme of things it meant nothing. It was as significant to the outcome of the election as a game of Whist in Strangers Bar. Osborne is hoping history will repeat twice, and we know what that means: farce.

Making his debut at the dispatch box as the new DWP face, Stephen Crabb performed a panicky about face. In trying to salvage the Dave/Osbo project, he announced no more cuts to the social security budget for the remainder of the Parliament. Welcome stuff. Desperate stuff. No sooner had the announcement sunk in, the Treasury intervened to say there were no further plans to cut the budget. An answer in other words that is something less than a promise not to come back for the disabled, and a statement that reeks of so-called “factual accuracy“. In other words, so rattled are the government that they can’t even perform a U-turn properly.

If 2012 was an omnishambles, then this is a catastrophe. Is the worst over? Osborne has weathered the weekend. The disability cuts have gone away and the government have moved so they won’t be caught out on this again. Yet there remains a £4bn problem. The PIPs may no longer be cut, but the government remains committed to their programme of tax cuts for the middle class and those who bathe in used fifties. Where is the money going to come from? They could not make the tax cuts – after all, who’s calling for them? I note some noises are being made about adopting Labour’s 2015 manifesto and a start made whittling down the bribes they’ve paid to older voters. If that’s where the Tories want to go then the plot has truly been lost.

Can the chancellor come back from this and get the George Osborne Leadership Project back on track? Unfortunately, the answer has to be yes. As much as they’re knocking lumps out of each other presently, Osborne remains the best bet for continuity Cameroon. Apart from his compulsion to go out of the way to kick the vulnerable, he is by far the best known Tory from the “modern” wing of the party, has sufficient sense to not put personal ambition before the common interests of British big business – unlike Johnson – and from that same perspective, appears to be doing an okay job at the Treasury. There is no one else. Therefore, if Osborne does crash and burn, it won’t be for want of backers among the party establishment.

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