Constituency representative Luke Akehurst reports on the full National Executive Committee meeting of 24 January.
The meeting opened with a Partnership in Power (ie policy process) report from Peter Hain. Peter said that the extended consultation on how we make policy was closing at the end of January.
Proposals for reform of the process would go to the Organisation Committee first and then to the full NEC before being considered at annual conference. The four policy discussion documents published at conference 2011 had been sent to National Policy Forum representatives for their input. I asked why there wasn’t going to be an NPF meeting before the reps face re-election in the summer. Peter said that if an affordable venue could be found then an NPF meeting would be held in late June or early July. There was a general consensus that communication between the NPF and other party stakeholders and the frontbench should be improved.
Peter informed us that the documents produced by shadow cabinet policy review groups would be send to NPF members and the policy commissions for consideration.
Tom Watson reported as campaign coordinator. There are 15 weeks to go until the 3 May elections. It was Tom’s job to ensure a seamless and properly co-ordinated campaign. In London Ken Livingstone has recently turned a 10 per cent Boris lead into a two per cent Ken lead, thanks to carefully honed messages and activism such as 2,000 members leafleting stations on 3 January about fare increases. David Cameron is on the record as saying London is the big test this May, which he may come to regret. A higher than normal percentage of council candidates were already in place across England and Wales. There are not as many seats up for election this year so Labour is targeting 350 councillor gains. A strong new leadership team of Johann Lamont, Anas Sarwar and Margaret Curran is in place in Scotland, where the challenge will be to hold Glasgow city council, which will be very difficult as it is elected by proportional representation. Across the UK the focus will be on local service delivery but also on an effective national referendum on the coalition government and its cuts. There would be a lot of campaigning on the squeeze on living standards due to energy, shopping and transport costs. It was also important to remind people of police cuts.
Declan McHugh reported on the Welsh boundary review. Ten of Wales’ 40 constituencies were to go. While Labour was the biggest loser, the impact was less than feared: four Labour seats will go, but so will three Tory ones, one Lib Dem and two Plaid Cymru. The public hearings by the Boundary Commission start on 15 February so a consensus Labour stance is being agreed.
Iain McNicol gave a report as general secretary. His priorities are the commercial and management review, the elections in May, communicating with staff in every region, and the party’s finances. He explained that two of the six new executive directors being appointed will have a line of responsibility to the leader’s office: the ones covering communications and policy and rebuttal. Tom Watson praised Iain for delivering a huge reorganisation of HQ with no fuss or disruption. Iain concluded by saying that the Feltham and Heston by-election had been an excellent result won on very tight resources.
Ed Miliband then gave his report. He gave a robust defence of his and Ed Balls’ announcements on economic policy, and fielded a range of questions on this. Ed said the announcements were about framing the next general election. It had now become clear the deficit won’t be cleared in one parliament by the coalition so there would still be deficit reduction to be done if we won in 2015. This would mean that that the way Labour had delivered social justice in 1997-2010 by spending the proceeds of growth would not be open to us this time. Ed pointed out that even this policy had had limitations as inequality had still gone up. The Tories were losing the argument on the speed and depth of the cuts but the public didn’t yet think we were fiscally credible. Ed said we continued to say the cuts were too far and too fast and that our answer was the five-point plan for growth and jobs.
But it was wrong to make promises now to reverse cuts; people don’t believe the cash will be available given the mess the Tories are making. This mirrors our stance in 1992-1997. Then we opposed the 22 Tory tax rises but only said we would reverse VAT on fuel. On the issue of public sector pay he said if we were in power now we would be using the one per cent average rise to give more to the lower paid and less to the higher paid. He was convinced that protecting jobs was a more important use of limited resources than increasing pay. If we are to convince people we are an appropriate future government we have to be seen to be prepared to make difficult choices. He said there are ways to raise money that the coalition are not pursuing: tackling tax havens, further tax on bankers’ bonuses, economic growth. There was a whole agenda of fairness that differentiated us from the coalition but would not involve extra spending, such as tackling tax loopholes, high energy costs and fares. In 1997 we had not immediately increased public spending but had funded specific projects from specific sources, such as the windfall tax to fund the New Deal and the ending of assisted places to fund smaller class sizes. It would be a lie if we said we knew money would be around for extra public spending. In the meantime we were winning the battle of ideas as Cameron and Clegg had both latched on to our messages about responsible capitalism.
Andy Burnham updated us on the NHS bill. The next couple of weeks were crucial to the Drop the Bill campaign. He was focused on this rather than reviewing policy. The bill is basically a privatisation plan for the NHS. Andy and his team have done campaign days in every region.
Cameron has broken his promise to look after the NHS and not to bring in top-down reorganisation. This is the only single issue that could bring down the coalition. We will repeal the bill if we win power.
There has been a 217 per cent increase in the number of people waiting for treatment longer than a year in the last year. The old choice between waiting longer or going private was making a comeback.
Photo: Louisa Thomson
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