Report on National Executive Committee meeting held on 25 September 2012.
The pre-conference NEC meeting understandably focuses on some of the nuts and bolts of conference, receiving a report from Harry Donaldson, chair of the conference arrangements committee. However, we also looked at the wider political picture. Giving his leader’s report, Ed Miliband told us that there were four tasks for conference:
1) Keeping up the attack on the Tories and Lib Dems in three key areas:
a. Economic performance – there has been much pain from austerity but no change as borrowing is still increasing;
b. Fairness – ordinary people are paying more tax while millionaires are getting a tax cut;
2) Persuading people that things could be done differently right now. If we were in government there would be less austerity.
3) Laying out a longer-term policy agenda for ‘responsible capitalism’.
4) Giving a sense of the kind of country we could have if Labour was in government, where responsibility would apply to people at the top as well as people on benefits.
Ed said we went into conference united not divided, not inward-looking, and having won a hearing from the public. The whole party had shown discipline and we had avoided repeating the mistakes of the 1980s.
In response to questions Ed stressed there was no change in his view that the Lib Dems are an accomplice to the Tories, not a brake on them, and he wanted a majority Labour government so we wouldn’t have to form a coalition, but we would have to work with them to vote down the parliamentary boundary changes.
Harriet Harman reported on campaigning. She said her major concern was that there were southern regions with many target parliamentary seats but very few Labour MPs or councillors. We needed a strategic focus on these ‘blue regions’, both to win a majority and to demonstrate that we are a party for the whole country, unlike the Tories who have given up on Scotland, Wales and much of the north. The organisational expression of this was that a frontbench MP would be twinned with and take responsibility for every target marginal seat. Harriet said she was disappointed that former Swedish Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin had not been elected on a reforming ticket as general-secretary of the Socialist International at its congress in South Africa, and a paper on the way forward on our international work was being prepared.
She noted that we were about to go into a phase of an intense number of parliamentary selections both in target seats and in those with MPs choosing to retire. It was important that we addressed the representativeness of the PLP without getting into an argument about a ‘hierarchy of inequalities’ between different under-represented groups. A paper would be going to the Organisation Committee about the Future Candidates’ Programme (training for candidates from under-represented groups).
Iain McNicol reported as general-secretary. He said a process of reorganisation of staffing at HQ was now complete. The organising fund set up as part of Refounding Labour meant that 28 local organisers were now being recruited to work in target marginal seats. John McCaffrey was now in post as commercial director, driving fundraising.
He talked through the electoral challenges facing Labour between conference and the 2015 general election: the three by-elections, Bristol mayor and PCC elections this November; county council elections next May; European, London borough and other local elections in 2014. It was disappointing that flawed legislation meant two PCC candidates had been forced to resign because of juvenile convictions from decades ago.
Angela Eagle talked us through the changes to the Partnership in Power policymaking process being tabled at conference. The changes are designed to make the process more transparent, meaningful and easy to engage with. These include an online policy hub to bring greater transparency. If the changes are passed, conference will vote in a priority ballot for an initial eight issues (four picked by the unions, four by the CLPs) to be looked at in-depth and consulted on by the National Policy Forum.
Patrick Heneghan (executive director, field operations) reported in detail on the 15 November elections. The Corby by-election was of great significance as the seat is the tipping point that makes Labour the largest party in a general election. Victory was not a foregone conclusion as the seat has a history of low swings and a solid Tory vote in its rural component. The PCC elections presented a risk of very low turnout as the election date was in November and there are no freepost leaflet deliveries. As the PCC elections have never been fought before the only indicator of win-ability is extrapolating the 2010 general election results, which would have produced just eight Labour wins out of 41 PCCs. There could be unpredictable results due to independent candidates, differential turnout and the Lib Dems not standing in every area.
Declan McHugh (director, strategic planning and constitutional affairs) reported on the parliamentary boundary review. The reorganisation of CLPs planned for January 2013 was suspended as soon as the Lib Dems indicated they would vote against the changes. However, the Boundary Commission is still publishing its revised proposals in mid-October and, while the most likely outcome is defeat for the review in parliament, this cannot be guaranteed as Labour and the Lib Dems combined do not have a majority in the Commons. The NEC Organisation Committee will reappraise the situation at its October and January meetings once the revised proposals are published. If the changes are not expected to go through, the likely scenario would be to select Labour candidates in 2013 on the current boundaries. The imperative to select in Labour-held seats first, to resolve the future of MPs whose seats were being abolished, disappears if the review proposals are not passed, so the Organisation Committee could choose to prioritise target seats instead and leave Labour seats until later.
Greg Beales (executive director, strategy & planning) said that the 10 per cent lead this week in an ICM poll was very important as ICM were the ‘gold standard’ for polling accuracy. Ipsos MORI showed Ed’s leadership ratings up 30 per cent in a year and Cameron’s down 25 per cent. Annual conference was an important event in the sequence of political milestones through to the general election. Seventy per cent of swing voters (people who have gone from Labour to Tory since 2001) think the country is heading in the wrong direction, and we need to persuade them we represent change. The main focus had to be on the economy (prices, jobs and young people not being able to get on the housing ladder), as that was the most salient issue for voters, with betrayal on the NHS and police also important.
We had a lively discussion about NEC-proposed rule changes – on whether we should reinstate women’s officer as a full CLP officer, and how should we word a commitment to select more candidates from under-represented groups. A final decision on both will be taken when we meet on the Sunday morning of conference.
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