NEC member Ann Black regularly publishes a report on NEC meetings at Labour Futures. Here are a few highlights from her latest report that have relevance to Scotland.
Westminster boundary changes
The commission will still publish recommendations in October, but everyone now assumes that the 2015 election will be fought on current boundaries. Trigger ballots will be held for Labour MPs who wish to stand again, and I urged them to be honest: leaving at the last minute lets down local members, hands control to the NEC, and brings suspicions of deals and parachutes. Vacated Labour seats and opposition-held targets need to select as soon as possible, but first the organisation committee has to decide which will be open and which will use all-women shortlists. Consultation with local parties will not be complete by its meeting on 16 October, and I have asked for an extra meeting in November if there is sufficient information, rather than wait till 15 January.
The number of delegates had fallen to 594 from 471 constituencies, down from a ten-year high in 2011 when 630 delegates represented 522 constituencies. This was despite the free pass, and I would welcome any explanation. The +1 recruitment campaign, with every member asked to sign up a friend, was going well. No figures were available for registered supporters, though numbers were reported to be picking up. As conference agreed in 2011, when they reach 50,000 they will get a small share in electing the next leader. We hope that this will not be for many years, but the NEC will have to devise checks on who counts as a current rather than a former supporter when the time comes.
Partnership into Power process
The principles agreed in July would be put to conference for approval as a package, though Ken Livingstone murmured that unamendable take-it-or-leave-it documents seemed rather North Korean. The meeting also endorsed a rule change to allow conference to choose priorities for the national policy forum (NPF) from a list discussed by the joint policy committee (JPC).
The meeting considered two further rule changes deferred from July. The first concerned whether to restore the women’ officer to the core team of constituency officers, or add an equalities officer instead. Based on e-mail feedback I was provisionally against change: an equalities officer would have to cover too many responsibilities, and a women’s officer would create a two-tier executive, as other posts for young, disabled, ethnic minority and LGBT (gay) members were lower-status non-voting co-ordinators. There was no consensus and we agreed to return to this on Sunday morning.
The second strengthened Labour’s commitment to diversity by selecting more candidates from “under-represented socio-economic” backgrounds. Ken Livingstone proposed “working-class” instead, though there can be contradictions between how people define themselves and how they are defined by others. “Plebs” was also suggested, though I preferred “all walks of life”, put forward by David Watts, Chair of the parliamentary Labour party. Actually what we really need are more people who have had real jobs outside politics, whether as a nurses, bank clerks or cleaners. This was deferred as well.
During the discussion one member thought that the armed forces also needed special consideration. This was not pursued, but earlier the NEC noted that Labour is committed to upholding the military covenant, ensuring that serving and former members of the forces do not face any barriers to participating in the party. So far the special joining rate of £1 has recruited around 400 across the UK.
(By Sunday’s NEC meeting)
Miraculously consensus now reigned on the troublesome rule changes. The model rules would include the women’s officer in the core team, and constituencies would be reminded that, with NEC approval, they can choose to add executive officer posts for other areas of diversity. On making candidates more diverse and more representative, working-class won out over all alternatives However there were concerns about the only two surviving rule changes from constituencies, from Bridgend and Islington North. These called for conference to be able to amend NPF documents and for more minority reports to reach the conference floor, and were timetabled for Wednesday. But on Sunday the whole Partnership into Power package would be put to a vote, and if carried the amendments would fall because they covered the same part of the rulebook. Union and constituency members argued for the amendments to be taken together with the PiP debate, but in vain. Conference Sunday Delegates from Islington North and Finsbury took up the argument at the start of conference, but were unsuccessful. So were attempts to add an emergency motion on Virgin’s challenge for the west coast mainline franchise, and given the fiasco which exploded on Wednesday the CAC missed a golden opportunity to highlight the £40 million of taxpayers’ money wasted by government bungling.
These skirmishes were followed by a one-hour session with professor Michael Sandel, who invited delegates to consider dilemmas such as whether milk prices should be high to benefit farmers and retailers or low to benefit consumers; whether super-casinos were good or bad; and whether children should be bribed to write thank-you letters. I believe these drew from his latest book on “The moral limits of markets: what money can’t buy”, and signed copies were available for purchase.
I would be interested in whether delegates found this experiment more, or less, exciting than the standard conference routine. Regrettably it left time for only five speakers on equalities and six on Partnership into Power, where Angela Eagle introduced the latest revamp. She hoped that the on-line policy hub, acting as Labour’s electronic town square, would usher in a new era of openness and engagement. The proposals were, as expected, carried by close to 99% in both the constituency and the trade union sections.