The National Executive Committee met for its away day (actually a misnomer as we only went as far ‘away’ as the downstairs media centre at party HQ) on 1 November.
We welcomed five new members: Conor McGinn from the Socialist Societies and Susan Lewis (Community), Wendy Nichols (Unison), Martin Mayer (Unite) and Jennie Formby (Unite), all from the trade union section.
Although the away day was not ‘away’, it does last a full day. You arrive at 9.30am to read tabled papers and with a short break for sandwiches the meeting goes on until 5.30pm. There’s therefore a degree of information overload, as all the senior party staff give presentations about the strategic priorities in the year ahead in their area.
The mood was upbeat as the post-conference period has been going well for Labour, with our reshuffle contrasting to the one forced on the Tories by Liam Fox’s resignation and their split over Europe. Ed’s central message from his conference speech about the need for ‘responsible capitalism’ seems particularly resonant given recent global economic events.
First up to report to us was Tom Watson MP, in his new role as campaign coordinator. Tom said he aimed to be the gearbox helping link the NEC, parliamentary Labour party, leader’s office, HQ and the party on the ground. He will be working on supporting the general secretary on reorganising the party, and adding value and insight to the campaign teams in London, Scotland, Wales and the English council elections. His fresh style of email communication is already bearing fruit in terms of generating a lot of small donations from members.
Declan McHugh, the compliance director, then reported to us about the parliamentary boundary review. The publication of boundary proposals for Wales has been delayed to January as two commissioners have resigned. Review hearings are happening now in England and a summary of the representations will be published in the spring for comment. All the reviews across the UK will produce revised proposals in late 2012 and these will be used to reorganise constituency Labour parties in January 2013 so that new parliamentary candidates can be selected. As has been widely reported in the media the draft proposals hit Labour and the Lib Dems far worse than the Tories, with Labour particularly losing seats in London, the Midlands and the north-west. Consensus meetings of CLPs and MPs have been held in each region to shape our response and following these, a party position signed-off by an NEC panel of Michael Cashman, Ann Black and Keith Birch. There has been impressive unity in backing the agreed responses. Once the review is completed there will be major implications for CLPs in terms of which new CLP inherits which cash, property, members and activists. The transition will need support from the national party. Because the bulk of Lib Dem MPs are not affected or are government ministers, we should expect them to vote through the final proposals in the Commons with the Tories. However, the need to appease Eurosceptic activists to get selected where seats have been abolished helped drive the Tory split in the vote on Europe last week.
Iain McNicol gave his first report to us as general secretary. He revealed he also speaks at shadow cabinet to pass on the wider party’s thoughts and concerns. He highlighted the Winter Challenge push on membership recruitment and retention, and the launch of Labour’s Jobs and Growth campaign.
We received a report on the annual conference which revealed the urban myth about declining numbers of delegates was now incorrect, as 522 CLPs sent 630 delegates to conference, the best numbers since 2002.
We had the opportunity to comment on a booklet about the implementation of the Refounding Labour changes which is going out to all CLPs and stakeholders. An NEC working group has been set up to drive forward implementation, which I will sit on. There’s loads of detail on local implementation in the Refounding Labour section of Membersnet. Please do start recruiting people as registered supporters – they can sign up here
Ed Miliband gave his leader’s report. He said the economic argument we were making was starting to hit home due to the low growth figures and rising unemployment and inflation. Between now and the autumn statement he and Ed Balls would be hammering home our alternative, Ed Balls’ five-point plan. The argument for a more responsible capitalism was also starting to filter out due to the public anger about top salaries and energy company profits. The ‘Occupy’ protests may be small but millions of people feel the system is not working for them. Politicians need to set out an alternative where new rules will help hard-working families and reflect the public’s values. On the NHS the bill is clearly a free market free-for-all but more important than the debate about structures is to expose that under the coalition the patient experience is getting worse. Ed re-emphasised his support for the living wage.
Harriet Harman reinforced some of these points in her report. The ‘squeezed middle’ message was now really resonating with people’s concerns, as was our message about the prospects for the next generation, and Ed’s description of predators vs producers in terms of business behaviour. People were starting to understand that you need jobs and growth in order to reduce the deficit. She helpfully reminded us of Ed Balls’ five-point plan:
• Reversing January’s rise in VAT
• A cut in VAT to five per cent for home improvements
• A one-year national insurance tax break for small firms who hire extra workers
• Another bank bonus tax
• Bringing forward investment projects including schools and roads
Harriet said we now need to turn that increasingly resonant political strategy into votes – our field operations strategy and political messaging needed to be synched up. She praised the new general secretary for generating high morale.
Iain McNicol and Charles Allen talked us through their management and commercial review of the party, which is all about making sure the machine properly supports the grassroots, the leader and shadow cabinet and the NEC. It aims to put members and supporters at the heart of what the party does, bring in world-class communications and training, a coordinated and integrated management structure, more professional fundraising and speedier rebuttal. Tom Watson stressed Labour was fundamentally a voluntary organisation and the general election would be won by volunteers.
I won’t report on the detail of our discussion on aims and objectives for 2012 as much of it was confidential material about electoral targeting for next May’s elections.
On the policymaking process we were told that broad principle of reform had been agreed at conference and further consultation was now taking place, which would end on 31 January with proposals for a new system coming to the NEC in the spring before being put before annual conference.
I was pleased to hear under the membership report that 32 per cent of members have joined since the general election, ¼ of these are under 27, so that our membership is now more evenly spread than before, and there is a very high retention rate of new members staying in membership. The Winter Challenge, which involves CLPs targeting identified people to get them to join or renew, is of great importance.
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