Peter Willsman’s report of NEC meeting 15th March 2016 Print E-mail
Saturday, 19 March 2016 09:31

The main item on the agenda, referred from the January NEC, was to review and amend the NEC governance. This includes the NEC’s Terms of Reference, Subcommittee Protocols, and the NEC’s Standing Orders. John McDonnell was also down to attend his first NEC meeting. 

Leader’s Report

Jeremy outlined the themes of the speech he was making the next day in response to Osborne’s budget. He highlighted the threatened attacks on the disabled and on their benefits. He highlighted that the Tories so-called economic plan is becoming a bigger and bigger disaster. Jeremy stressed that this is our opportunity to fight back. Osborne is seeking to overcome the crisis created by bankers and financiers, at the expense of the low-paid, unemployed, homeless and disabled. Jeremy emphasised that we must use the platform provided by the budget to get our message across. Well over half a million of the public follow Jeremy on social media during PMQs, and we must maximise the effectiveness of this social media profile.

Jeremy reported that he has now met all of the shadow cabinet policy teams and discussed their work programs and the most effective ways of advancing them. In relation to the ongoing review of the party’s policymaking process, Jeremy stressed the high level of knowledge and experience amongst our members, affiliated members, and their trade unions, and registered supporters. We need to mobilise all our supporters around key demands. For example; Housing for all; Investment to create jobs; rights at work; the Tory threat to jobs and industries (especially the steel industry). Jeremy summarised the recent parliamentary victories that our party had taken a lead on. Most recently, the issue of Sunday Trading and the need to keep Sunday special. Jeremy congratulated all the MPs, party members and party staff who played a part in these victories.

Jeremy updated the NEC on the Regional Conferences and the many other regional events he had actively supported, especially the launch of the Brightside and Hillsborough by-election, the Keir Hardie memorial event in South Wales, and the anniversary of the magnificent Burston school protest and the women’s solidarity event in Dagenham – Jeremy pointed out that the Tory reductions in public expenditure affect women disproportionately. Jeremy has also had several meetings in Brussels with the EPLP. He had taken time out to congratulate the German and Greek sister parties for their government’s huge efforts to assist the refugees. Jeremy was also very pleased and proud to report he has been asked to promote the special event in Liverpool to honour the memory of Harold Wilson. Jeremy finally stressed the importance of other Labour events, such as the Tolpuddle festival and Durham Miners’ Gala.

Finally Jeremy outlined the effective contribution being made by party members and party staff around England, Scotland and Wales in the build-up to the many local elections we face in May, and the EU referendum in June. Jeremy highlighted the high degree of privatisation pursued by the SNP in Scotland. Jeremy stressed his commitment to the European vision and the need to work closely with all of our sister parties in Europe. He totally rejects the xenophobic agenda of many Tories and UKIP, who want to leave the EU.

A majority of NEC members then responded to the Leaders’ report with comments and questions. Our budget strategy was discussed and several trade union reps stressed the adverse implications for public sector workers. It was also stressed that Labour must clearly support the Junior Doctors in their efforts to defend their conditions of employment. Jeremy responded that the BMA had written to thank him for his personal contribution and for those of the party. He also reported that him and John McDonnell and the rest of the economics team had been given crucial advice by leading professional economists. I suggested that if possible Larry Elliott of the Guardian should be brought on board, since he always gives a very clear critique of the Tory pro-rich, anti-poor agenda.

Larry Elliott keeps the red flag flying at the Guardian. But having read the Guardian for fifty years there is no doubt that it is now generally more right-wing than it has ever been during that period. Almost every day it exposes its bias against Jeremy. For example, on the day after the Oldham by-election, Martin Kettle stated, ‘Labour had a lousy by-election result’. The incompetent hack had presumably written that statement before the result was announced. In fact, of course, it was a better result (in terms of percentage of the vote) than 1997. Kettle’s deep political understanding (for this read ‘total ignorance’) had led him to presume Labour’s result would be lousy.

Finally, Jeremy stressed he will not tolerate any form of abuse, anywhere, at any time.

Tom Watson, the deputy leader, was unable to attend the meeting due to personal circumstances, and so did not make a report. Jeremy said he would contact Tom and give him all our best wishes.

NEC Governance 

TULO had submitted a series of amendments to the NEC documents. In addition the General Secretary, Iain McNicol, had also tabled a range of proposed changes. Both the unions’ and Iain’s proposals were accepted. The unions wanted it made clear that, subject to annual conference, the NEC is the party’s governing body responsible for the administration of the party. The unions also wanted it made clear that the NEC is custodian of Labour Party policy. It will be expected that, as far as possible, new policy positions are only made following consultation with the appropriate policy commission(s) and with the agreement of the Leaders’ Office. It was also agreed that a member of the appropriate regional board will set on the appointment panels of Regional Directors. It was formally written into the Procedures that the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) is responsible for the oversight of the National Policy Forum and Policy Commissions in producing a rolling programme for submission to party conference. The work of the JPC will be reported to the full NEC.

In relation to the NEC’s standing orders where it says that resolutions on policy issues shall be referred to the appropriate policy commission(s). I proposed that it should also state that resolutions from the annual conference shall always be given full consideration by the appropriate policy commission(s). I argued that some motions carried by conference seem to somehow disappear. Unfortunately my proposal was a little too revolutionary for most of my fellow NEC members. I was assured that of course, all conference motions are always given full attention by every policy commission. I responded that I will be monitoring this issue very closely to see whether practice reflects theory.

Presentation by John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor 

John outlined the party’s anti-austerity campaign that is being developed and publicised. He drew attention to the many public forums that are being planned around the UK. John also outlined the strategy that the frontbench were adopting in relation to tomorrow’s budget. We would emphasise the terrible consequences of Tory austerity. John also set out the Fiscal Responsible Rules that will be the basis of our economic programme. Our campaign will focus on Tory failure and stress that austerity is a political, not an economic choice. Our message will be Labour Fairness; Tory Failure; Labour’s Economic Plan for the Future.

EPLP Leaders’ Report 

Glenis Willmott MEP presented a written report and focused on the EU Referendum in June. Labour is clear, Britain is better off in Europe; being in the European Union brings jobs, growth and improved rights at work. Our MEPs had welcomed the revision of the posting of workers directive ,but had warned that much more needed to be done to stop undercutting and exploitation.

During the discussion on Glenis’s report I asked for the latest update in relation to TTIP. Glenis responded that the final negotiations and agreement in relation to TTIP were a considerable way off. Our MEPs were working to protect public services and resist other threats posed by TTIP.

International Report

A written report was discussed. Jeremy had addressed the Party of European Socialists, in relation to the Labour Party’s position on the UK-EU referendum and on Cameron’s renegotiation plans. Jeremy had also hosted a reception for over twenty PES General Secretaries. At the subsequent conference, Alan Johnson had given a special presentation on the EU referendum campaign and representatives of the US Democrat Party had given a presentation on community organising. In relation to international visitors to annual conference 2016, Jennie Formby and I objected to the inclusion of representatives of Saudi Arabia. We pointed out that recently Saudi Arabia had been responsible for particularly vicious and inhumane actions. The officers will consult Shadow Cabinet members on this issue and a report and decision will be made to a future meeting.

Elections 2016 – Presentation by Jon Trickett MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Nick Forbes (Leader of Newcastle Council), the new leader of the LGA Labour Group. 

Jon gave a tub-thumping presentation outlining the key threats of the forthcoming local and national elections in May. He emphasised that TULO is fully involved, and that the whole campaign is supported by detailed data particularly in relation to public attitudes to the Tories and the NHS, the Tories and policing and crime, the Tories and housing, and the Tories and austerity.

Jon stressed the importance of developing the anti-austerity agenda in relation to the local elections. Local authorities have suffered by far the most from Osborne’s attacks.

Nick outlined the joint work that is being carried out between Labour councillors, the Shadow Cabinet, and the trade unions, to build a movement wide effective campaign for the local elections.

Local Government Report by Alice Perry 

Alice presented a written report, highlighting the campaign against the Housing and Planning Bill. She emphasised that at the same time as reducing the funding of local authorities, Osborne is forcing councils to increase council tax annually, by taking away funding for social care and asking councils to finance this reduction through a social care precept. This, “Osborne Tax” will force the poorest households in the poorest parts of the country to pay more in council tax.

Forthcoming boundary review 

A detailed paper was considered. This re-endorsed many of the key principles relating to the process of making submissions to the Review. Also it re-confirmed the arrangements for selections of sitting MPs ahead of the review.

Among the key principles to be followed when making submissions to the review are:

§ To work in the collective interest of our party and ensure that our chances of returning a Labour government in 2020 are maximised.

§ To support Labour MPs in the Boundary Review process

National Policy Forum 

Angela Eagle, Chair of the NPF, presented a paper covering the ongoing review of the policymaking process. As agreed by the NEC, a booklet has been produced to aid discussions. This booklet sets out how policymaking currently works and explains how members and supporters can get involved in the review.

All seven of the policy commissions have now held their first meetings. A report was given of the initial discussions of each Commission. Each Commission will produce short discussion documents that will be published after oversight by the JPC. There will then be a consultation period where party members will be encouraged to submit their views. Each commission will then report to a full meeting of the NPF in the summer and reports will be made to annual conference.

Development Fund

A report was given of the NEC Development Fund Panel. CLPs are encouraged to make bids to this Fund to support local initiatives and innovations. It was noted that the number of applications was quite low and CLPs will be encouraged to make much more use of this NEC Development Fund.

General Secretary’s Report

Iain reported that unofficial moves had been made in Northern Ireland with a view to the Labour Party standing candidates. Iain reported that our party had formally objected to this and he pointed out that a delegation from the NEC was about to visit Ireland on a fact-finding mission.

Iain also drew attention to the serious threat from the Tories to our Short Money. This could have serious implications and is completely undemocratic and dictatorial.

Iain also outlined the serious threats to the party’s funding set out in the Trade Union Bill. This attack is also very undemocratic and partisan, it highlighted, once again, why we need to build maximum resistance to this vindictive government and to build for their eviction in 2020.