|Peter Willsman reports from Labour’s March executive|
|Thursday, 23 March 2017|
National Executive Committee Tuesday 21st March 2017
A useful NEC: dominated by the comprehensive and impassioned presentation (by our two National Campaign Co-ordinators, Andrew Gwynne MP and Ian Lavery MP) of our preparation for the wide range of local elections in the Spring.
Jeremy paid tribute to the unremitting and dedicated commitment of our two campaign teams for the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections. Both teams gave their all and their campaigns could not have done more. The result in Copeland was, of course, very disappointing (as I point out below, Copeland has recently become a marginal seat), but our victory in Stoke was very inspiring. The many flaws of the UKIP leader were ruthlessly exposed. Jeremy also thanked the many helpers from all over the United Kingdom that had given their time to help in both contests. We heavily outnumbered our opponents on the doorstep.
Jeremy gave an account of the many major events which he has attended since the last NEC. He particularly drew attention to our Scottish Labour conference on the state of the economy. Jeremy had attended for the whole day and was very impressed with the way that the conference involved a wide range of party members. Jeremy emphasised that if the SNP push for a second referendum then Labour will of course oppose it in the Scottish Parliament; but if the Parliament carries such a decision, then to continue to oppose it from London would play into the hands of the SNP.
Jeremy also highlighted the unique BAME media reception that he had hosted. Jeremy had also spoken at a major meeting of the Runneymede Foundation about the need to effectively address BAME concerns.
Jeremy also drew attention to the very important symposium on regions and nations that is being held in Cardiff next week. This involves representatives from Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties, senior local government reps, Gordon Brown, and Jon Trickett and others. This will begin to set out our strategy and policies for Labour’s approach to decentralisation.
Jeremy particularly thanked Unison for hosting yesterday’s very productive Shadow Cabinet Away-Day.
Jeremy also took the NEC through the many issues that we are challenging the Tories on, at every possible opportunity. These include the complexities and injustice of bogus self-employment/zero-hours contracts. Jeremy had recently visited a very large building site where every worker was a ‘sub-contractor’! Jeremy also briefly ran-through the issues that we are focussing on following the recent budget (but left the major arguments to John McDonnell who was speaking later). On the issue of the self-employed NICs, The Resolution Foundation have reported that typical real self-employed earnings are lower than they were twenty years ago, and on a like-for-like basis have fallen significantly since the 2008 financial crisis. It is therefore hardly the time to confront these workers with a tax-rise.
NEC members then made a range of points which Jeremy responded to in detail, issue by issue. I confess I was a little OTT in my severe criticism of Peter Mandelson for stating publicly that not a day goes by without him doing something deliberately to harm Jeremy. I said it was really shocking that Mandelson (and he is of course not the only one conducting this vindictive campaign), was able to make such a statement with complete impunity, whereas when I was on the NEC with T. Blair, if I had made such a statement I would have been expelled forthwith. There seems to be one law for the likes of Mandelson (given the absurd title of ‘Grandee’ by the lickspittles in the press and media) and another law for the thousands of decent party members who loyally support our democratically elected leader.
Ann Black also drew attention to a malicious report hyped-up in the press and media stating that our party H.Q. had held restricted the funding of the Leader’s Office. Jeremy responded that there was absolutely no truth in this nonsense. Quite the contrary was the case!
Several union NEC representatives explored the serious issue of bogus self-employment in more detail, giving concrete examples. Jeremy took all of their points on board and emphasised that this was a serious campaigning issue for us.
Deputy Leader’s Report
Tom also gave a full account of his recent activity and also of the joint work he had undertaken with Jeremy.
Tom emphasised that contrary to many press reports, yesterday’s Shadow Cabinet Away-Day had been very productive and enthusing. There had been several excellent presentations and some effective and detailed discussions of key policies.
Report by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP
John concentrated his report on the recent budget and took the NEC through the key points. In relation to the NIC increase for those self-employed, John pointed out that workers are being asked to pay more without any guarantee of improved social protections. For example, The Resolution Foundation is pressing the government to assist the self-employed with pension saving and/or maternity pay. Indeed, in November Labour had set out five tests for how social security should be expanded to better protect the self-employed, without opening the door to unscrupulous employer practices. Labour has also announced a Commission, together with the Federation of Small Businesses, to develop a series of policies to better provide for the self-employed.
John concluded by saying that Hammond’s first budget is founded on unfairness and failure. The budget shows that the Tories have no answers to the challenges facing workers and their families. Despite Hammond’s claims that he is building the foundation of a stronger and fairer Britain, the truth is that the Tories have presided over the slowest recovery since the 1920s. Sluggish growth, soaring debt, and stagnating pay; that is the true legacy of Tory failure.
John concluded on a positive note. Our PLP team are arranging a get-together with the trade unions and others to address the serious concerns of the increased vulnerability of employees. Workers today are faced with bogus self-employment and a whole new range of large fines and restrictions by employers. This meeting will begin to draw up Labour’s policies for ending these injustices.
Elections 2017: Presentation by our National Campaign Co-ordinators
For over an hour Andrew and Ian gripped the attention of the NEC and took us through the specific battle plans for each of the spring elections. Areas to be targeted with resources were highlighted. Labour’s distinctive vision and policy pledges that will be particularly geared to each specific election were also outlined. Andrew and Ian set out the campaigning tactics and strategy that will be used and the way in the which social media will be employed to maximum effect. The NEC were very encouraged by the enthusiasm and dedication shown by our dynamic pair. Since this is a public document I am unable to spell out details. But our overall campaigning messages will be showcased on our party’s website. Many NEC members contributed to the debate on Andrew and Ian’s detailed report, particularly highlighting specific issues in their localities. I made a general point in relation to Scotland. I argued that the SNP may have miscalculated. They said there would be no referendum for a generation, then a few minutes later they are pressing for one. This looks like the mere playing of political games. Also Scotland has a GDP debt three times that of south of the border. The oil money is running out and the Scots receive a very generous deal under the Barnett Formula. Also, Spain is likely to veto any approach to the EU for an independent Scotland to join it. I pointed out that our Scottish comrades are nothing if not canny. They are not likely to cut themselves adrift without a paddle.
Local Government Report
Nick Forbes, leader of the Labour group on the LGA, took the NEC through the key issues facing local authorities. Above all there is the major threat to key services resulting from the massive reductions in funding from central government.
Nick also drew attention to the excellent Local Government conference. At this conference, the booklet ‘100 innovations by Labour in Power’ was launched, containing several hundred examples of best-practice by Labour authorities. For example, 89 Labour councils are now paying the Living Wage; Stockport Council has worked closely with their local NHS to develop fully integrated health and social care services. The Council and the NHS have pooled £200 million from their local budgets to ensure that patients get care in the most appropriate setting; Blackpool Council have steadfastly continued their breakfast scheme, which has helped to improve the health and well-being of the town’s young residents; Islington Council is set to deliver a further two thousand genuinely affordable homes by 2019.
Following Nicks Report, the NEC resolved that on all future NEC agendas, there will be a separate item for Scotland and for Wales.
Report from the Chair of the National Policy Forum (NPF)
Ann Cryer presented a detailed return report. The 2017 NPF consultation document, containing eight papers from each of the eight Policy Commissions was launched on the 16th of March. CLPs, unions, and members have until the 31st of May to make their responses. It is important that as many responses as possible are submitted in order to ensure that Labour’s policies are as effective as possible. All of the responses will be considered by the eight Policy Commissions and then the NPF document amended. In July, the amended document will be published and will be submitted to annual conference for agreement. Following conference, the Policy Commissions will draft new Consultation Documents focussing on different subjects. Ann’s report also contained an update of the recent work of each of the Policy Commissions. The Party’s appropriate website has been updated at considerable cost. There are of course the usual teething problems, but it is hoped that members will notice a significant improvement.
Our party’s international officer presented a written report. With Jeremy taking the lead, our party, together with the Party of European Socialists, hosted a two-day event in central London. Its purpose was to assess the impact of Brexit on both the United Kingdom and the EU. The conference was attended by 470 and Jeremy gave the key-note speech, along with Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES.
Our party was represented at the launch of the Alliance of Progressive Parties, in Berlin. Our General Secretary, Ian McNichol was elected to the board of this new organisation. Over 100 countries were represented at the launch.
European Parliament Labour Party (EPLP) Leader’s Report
Glenis Willmott, EPLP leader and NEC chair, had magnanimously held back her report to give more time for the earlier items. Our MEPs have had a private meeting with the European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt. This, together with a meeting with MEPs from our sister parties, has given us a picture of what is on the table from our comrades in Europe. Unfortunately in Brussels there is now an increased hardening of attitudes and indeed some hostility. This is a very unfortunate result of the Prime Minister’s very negative negotiating stance. This is making it much harder to build the alliances we need to ensure a decent deal. Glenis’s report was complemented by Jeremy, who made a number of important points. Jeremy went through Labour’s key demands for the Brexit negotiations, which have been clearly set out by Keir Starmer MP. Jeremy has made a serious attempt to increase our links to our sister socialist parties and to the European Trade Union Movement. Finally, Jeremy drew attention to the threat of the far right in Europe and highlighted the quite serious situation in Hungary.
General Secretary’s Report
Our H.Q. now has the builders in as our office space is to be considerably expanded. The NECs room was needed for another meeting and thus instead of taking six hours, we were ejected after only four!