The full National Executive Committee met on 29 May. It was a long meeting (four hours) with a lot of serious deliberation but no fireworks.
Chair Michael Cashman welcomed Sadiq Khan who has replaced Peter Hain as a shadow ministerial representative on the NEC following Peter’s retirement from the frontbench. He announced that Tom Watson will take over from Peter as chair of the NEC working group on Refounding Labour implementation, which will now refocus and be retitled the Community Campaigning Working Group.
Tom gave a very comprehensive and sober analysis of 3 May elections. Key points were:
• Cameron’s honeymoon is now over.
• Of our 823 councillor gains, 400 were from the Tories, 300 from Lib Dems.
• We gained control of 23 councils.
• National projected vote share for Labour was 38 per cent.
• Vote share for the London assembly was up 13 per cent with four seats gained, but turnout was down eight per cent.
• Ken had just missed mayor by three per cent having (Ken added later) been 16 per cent behind last year.
• In Scotland the SNP were more popular than in the 2007 local elections but 10 per cent down on the Scottish parliament vote in 2011. Both Labour and the SNP made gains indicating a move towards a two-party system in Scotland. The Lib Dems lost half their councillors. A great result in Glasgow was as a result of a renaissance in doorstep campaigning there.
• Results in Wales were outstanding with our vote share up seven per cent, 237 councillors gained and eight new councils.
• Overall the results were different in pattern to 2011. In 2011 the Lib Dems collapsed, we did very well in the north and Midlands but not in the south-west and south-east where the Tories made gains from the Lib Dems. Traditional voters returned to us but not swing voters. In 2012 our gains were in every region and we gained swing voters. The Lib Dem vote was still as low as in 2011 but the Tories are now down in all regions. Turnout was low. Minor parties did well. We did better in the south.
• Turnout dropped six per cent overall, but more steeply in Tory areas.
• The Greens did well thanks to targeted campaigns.
• UKIP got UK-wide support, mainly ex-Tories.
• Notes of caution are that low turnout hit the Tories and may reverse at the general election; UKIP defectors could be won back by the Tories; and Green advances could take votes of us in seats we need to win from the Tories.
• Looking forward, in November we have the Bristol mayoral election and potentially unpredictable low-turnout elections for 41 police and crime commissioners. The Lib Dems are not standing in these and independent candidates may run. In May 2013 there are elections for 27 shire county councils and seven unitary councils. These are a vital building block to the general election as 40 marginal constituencies are in these areas.
In Ed’s absence, Harriet Harman gave the main political report. She noted that:
• Ed was consistently performing very strongly at PMQs.
• Ed Balls’ economic analysis had been proven correct by the double-dip recession.
• Yvette Cooper’s work on home affairs is also starting to gain political traction.
• Andy Burnham’s health campaigning has achieved real cut-through on the doorstep.
• Margaret Curran and Johann Lamont have made a decisive break with the past in Scotland.
• We have won back Labour returners from the Tories; Labour supporters are now more motivated to vote; the Tory vote is very depressed and demotivated.
• Ed Miliband has described their discontent and worries about their children, their living standards and the system working against them but for vested interests.
• There aren’t direct switchers from Conservative yet but David Cameron gets no positive mentions on the doorstep.
• We are using party staff and shadow cabinet and the PLP to try to fill the gaps in the party infrastructure in areas such as the south-west, south-east and eastern regions where we only have 10 MPs. Credit goes to Caroline Flint for taking teams of MPs to the south-east.
• The Greens are cleverly moving Caroline Lucas out of being leader so a second Green gets a turn on all the key TV programmes and uses that publicity to help become an MP.
• We are keeping pressure on the Lib Dems with our Caught Yellow Handed campaign which is emphasising that they say one thing and do another and that they are equally culpable with the Tories for everything the government does. In 70 of Labour’s top 100 target seats there were more Lib Dem voters in 2010 than the size of the Tory majority. The Lib Dems are withdrawing from their local base – they only contested 55 per cent of council seats in May.
• The Leveson inquiry could lead to a constitutional crisis if it emerges that the prime minister backs a minister who is proven to have misled parliament.
• Our next step is to move from Tory voters being discontented to getting them enthused and inspired by Ed and our united team.
General secretary Iain McNicol introduced the party’s new executive directors, who set out their departmental priorities:
• Emilie Oldknow (Governance and Support) would be working on:
o A well-governed party, seen to do the right thing re staff, procurement and selections.
o Making the best we can of the new legislation on boundaries, individual registration and party funding.
o Professionalising Labour’s HR function.
• Greg Beales (Planning and Strategy) was developing the political strategy for the next three years including bringing professional discipline to our opinion research and harnessing voluntary expertise from senior professionals in relevant disciplines outside the party staff. He noted Cameron’s personal ratings are awful – worse than Brown’s in 2007, but we need to build a relationship between our top team and voters.
• Torsten Bell (Policy and Rebuttal) was putting the policy review on a different basis, engaging people to get ideas. He wanted a rebuttal function which was strong enough that the Tories would be afraid of our research as they were in the 1990s.
• Olly Buston (Members and Supporters) sees the party as ideally a powerful mobilisation that works with people to get real change in their lives. This needs a large and engaged membership. His targets are:
o Increase the activity rate and types of activity of members and supporters.
o Increase the numbers of both.
o Increase member retention.
o Improve the experience members have.
• Bob Roberts (Comms) was on leave.
• Patrick Heneghan (Field Operations) has the tasks of:
o Strategically identifying key constituencies and wards and monitoring effort in them so that the right campaigning is done in the right places.
o Developing CLP capacity eg Train to Win and the trainee organisers.
o Campaign delivery.
We had a lengthy discussion about the initial report of the review panel (which I am serving on) on the Bradford West by-election defeat. This is confidential until official publication by the party.
We were informed that the National Policy Forum will meet in Birmingham on 16 and 17 June. It will elect a new chair (Ed has nominated Angela Eagle), consider the six consultation documents from the policy commissions in seminars, and have a European element. There will be more substantive policy discussion and fewer frontbench speeches than at recent meetings. The review of how we make policy will be discussed and then come to the NEC in July in more detail before being voted on at annual conference.
I was pleased to hear in the international report that Ed is forging close links with François Hollande as is Labour with the French Socialist party. This will be useful in developing a shared economic agenda for growth.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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