The Labour Party National Executive Committee met on 20 September for its pre-Annual Conference meeting.
There had been speculation about a big bust-up between the leadership and the unions about the Refounding Labour structural changes, but this did not materialise.
Instead there was a broad consensus around the bulk of the proposals, with one or two areas of contention (conference and policy-making rules, multiple voting and supporters’ network votes in leadership
elections) deferred pending further negotiation to a meeting of the NEC on the Saturday of Annual Conference. Party Chair Norma Stephenson stressed the desire of all NEC members and key Party stakeholders to avoid conflict and reach a consensus position before the Conference. I am confident given the goodwill that was evident at the meeting that a consensus will be reached.
Giving his Leader’s report, Ed Miliband said that he wanted the focus of the Conference not to be on internal matters but on the people under attack from the Government. He said he intended to focus his speech on the need for big social changes to help people held back by the Government’s policies, rules and the economic system, and who were bearing the burden of deficit reduction but would not see the bulk of the benefits of growth. He acknowledged that many deep rooted problems did not start under this Government and said that vested interests like the banks and energy companies needed to be taken on.
Moving on to Refounding Labour, Ed said that he wasn’t interested in picking fights with part of the movement; he wanted stronger, deeper grassroots trade union links. For him Refounding Labour was about connecting with the public. 200,000 members were not enough. We needed to recognise that people join for three reasons: they like our ideals, they want to do something (which is driving the proposed change to Clause I of the Party’s constitution, to enshrine community campaigning as part of our purpose), and they want a voice in our debates. The voice of members had been ignored too much in recent years. Members would get the chance to trigger debates at the National Policy Forum and have a say in policy making. As Leader he wants to be more accountable to Conference.
Ed said that in order for Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to function better, a new funding system would redistribute support so that all CLPs get the basic package they need to enable campaigning and participation in Labour’s internal democracy (every CLP will now get access to contact.creator, Euro election leaflets, insurance and a delegate to Conference for free, plus £1.50 per member to cover running costs, with national pots of money that can be bid for to fund Organisers and participation in other aspects of Party democracy).
CLPs would be given the flexibility to choose the local organisational model that suited them.
Ed said candidates at all levels would need to sign candidate contracts that held them to basic standards.
Ed described trade union political levy payers as a unique and underused resource, and that the turnout of only 12 per cent in the union section of the Leadership election needed to be improved. He wants CLPs to open up their meetings to local trade union levy payers at least twice a year.
Ed said the purpose of the supporters’ network he wants established is to open up a way into the Party for people who don’t want to join as full members but are not in an affiliated union.
He acknowledged there was still debate going on about the way we make policy. He wants serious debate at Conference, not just a rally, and said the National Policy Forum was a great idea but was not working as well as it could have done in practice. It needs to be more accountable and open. There were issues around voting strengths at Conference that he hoped to resolve through consensus. The other area that was still being debated was the leadership election rules. He said he thought every section of the current Electoral College (MPs, members, and affiliates) was a legitimate one. He expressed opposition to open primaries for electing the Leader or parliamentary candidates, and wanted to preserve members’ rights. Issues he wanted to see resolved were:
• Multiple voting – he thought one vote per person in each of the
members’ and affiliates’ sections was fine but members having nine or ten votes from different affiliates was not.
• Registered supporters – not everyone wants to be a full member with
all the rights that entails, but they may want to have a voice and be involved. Creating a registered supporters system would be an important sign of opening up the Party. The impact on leadership elections would vary depending on how many signed-up as registered supporters, so would need to be kept under review.
Peter Hain stressed that we need to agree changes now as we don’t have much time to get fighting fit for the next election. He emphasised that CLPs would own the registered supporters system and it would not conflict with members’ rights.
It was confirmed that the whole Refounding Labour package will be the subject of one vote at Annual Conference.
We went through the document and agreed it. A key proposal not mentioned above is that Young Labour gets all the rights of an affiliated organisation, except votes in the affiliates’ section of the leadership electoral college, and that the Association of Labour Councillors gets all the rights of an affiliate. This means both can nominate for leader, have delegates at conference, and submit resolutions. As they already have NEC representation they won’t vote in the socialist societies’ section of the NEC. Another key proposal we agreed was new slimmed down and campaign focussed Local Campaign Forums to replace Local Government Committees.
Peter Hain moved that an implementation group of NEC members be created to drive forward the changes after conference.
The other major item of business was a report about the Boundary Review. The English boundaries proposed are thought likely to cost Labour 17 seats, compared to 10 losses for the Lib Dems, the sole Green and only 3 Tories. The announcements to come regarding Scotland and Wales will make the` situation even worse. There is a consultation process with public hearings which will lead to revised proposals in late 2012, and it’s these revised proposals that will be used to create new CLPs in 2013. The formal Labour counter-proposal in each region needs to be agreed by a week after conference as the first public hearing is on 11 October. Consensus meetings of CLPs and MPs in each region are being held and an NEC panel will have the final say on what we put forward. There is some impact on seats due to have early selections, which will need to be looked at.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.