Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Report Of Sunday Morning's NEC Meeting

For information : this is has been circulated by Ann Black, NEC Member

Hi all

Below is a report from Sunday morning’s NEC meeting, and some
notes on the consultation document on further changes to party
structures and functioning, now available on the party website –
please read and respond.

All good wishes

National Executive Committee / Leadership Conference, 24 June

Gordon Brown was warmly welcomed by the NEC, meeting in
Manchester on the morning of his confirmation as leader. He spoke
to each of us in turn and emphasised how much he valued both the
NEC and the party membership. At his request the NEC readily
approved Douglas Alexander as campaign manager through to the
next general election, but despite press speculation I do not believe
that this is imminent. Rather it recognises the need to prepare, to
campaign and to fundraise over the coming years, alongside the
work of developing policies for a fourth term.

The leader-in-waiting had clearly given much thought to the future of
the party. His first announcement was that the deputy leader,
whoever he or she might be, would take the role of party Chair, with
power to appoint assistant Chairs to help them. This is not a
downgrading of the deputy’s position, as some have suggested. In
fact several of the candidates, notably Jon Cruddas and Hazel
Blears, stressed the priority of party revival over prestige, and now
we have a Chair elected by the members instead of one appointed
by the leader.

He also tabled a paper aimed at addressing two urgent concerns:
that members do not feel sufficiently involved and valued, and that
local parties are not always in touch with their communities. This is
now available on the party website, with a deadline for comments of
14 September. If necessary I can forward it in pdf format, but as
responses must be made on-line, it would be better to get to grips
with your individual MpURL. I have asked how constituencies submit
collective views, and am assured that these will be identified as such
if they come from the registered secretary.

I hope everyone will read and reply to the full proposals, but have
listed some key themes below, with a few initial comments. As
always I welcome your thoughts, if possible before the next NEC
meeting on 17 July, and will take account of them in my detailed

Bullet Points [and comments]

- more encouragement for constituencies in holding local policy
forums [good in principle] and involving all their members in policy-
making [including those without internet access];

- better feedback on policy submissions so members can see how
their concerns have been discussed, backed up with more resources
[very welcome. May need to demonstrate this first and up-front, to
persuade constituencies that more forums will be worthwhile];

- support for local parties, including Labour groups, in engaging
with their communities [also welcome. Forums work well at local
level where there is a clear connection between input and agreed

- strengthening the national policy forum (NPF), with the joint
policy committee (JPC) acting as its executive [needs more analysis
– could make it more effective, or more remote. Also the JPC needs
greater accountability and better constituency representation];

- ensuring that ministers engage actively with the NPF [good];

- giving members direct access to their NPF representatives
[excellent – have been asking for this since I was elected. Hopefully
NPF representatives will also be given direct access to members];

- adding twelve more NPF members, six from constituencies and
six from affiliates, to be elected directly by annual conference [cannot
see the point. The 55 constituency representatives have always
been elected directly by conference and most activists still cannot
name them. Prefer one-member-one-vote, or groups of
constituencies electing one of their conference delegates to the

- ending the right to send contemporary resolutions to
conference. Instead, constituencies and affiliates would submit
general policy areas, and a ballot at conference would decide which
of these should be priorities for the NPF. The policy commissions
would then examine them in detail [controversial. Some argue that
motions are a safety-valve, others that ritual confrontation does no-
one any good. Recent development of housing policy is held up as
an alternative, with a policy commission sub-group said to have
made real and consensual progress. However almost no-one has
seen any of its work since September, and more openness is needed
to win this argument];.

- submitting the final policy documents agreed by the NPF to a
one-member-one-vote ballot [not convinced. Postage is costly
unless we disfranchise people without e-mail. The ballot on the draft
manifesto in 1996 involved tremendous efforts, including telephone
banks and mailshots, to get a respectable response rate. And
referendums provide a way for people to let off steam rather than
answer the question posed, especially when asked to say Yes or No
to lengthy, complex and unamendable documents. I think there are
better uses for very limited resources.]

Any Other Business

Gordon Brown assured us that despite the rumours, conversations
with Paddy Ashdown had been limited to issues around security and
investment in Northern Ireland, given his role as Chair of the parades
commission and his longstanding experience. There was no
question of him joining the cabinet, and though we needed to draw in
everyone who shared our values, Gordon intended to lead a Labour
cabinet and a Labour government.

Finally some members suggested reopening our decision that Ealing
Southall should select its next parliamentary candidate from an all-
women shortlist, following the sad death of sitting MP Piara Khabra.
Traditionally, by-election candidates are chosen from open lists, a
process which has overwhelmingly favoured men. However in this
case, with the normal selection procedure imminent, and Piara
Khabra’s own expressed wish that he should be succeeded by an
ethnic minority woman, I hope that the NEC will keep its nerve or that
we will at least have a chance to discuss any change.

High Drama

Moving on to the main event, Labour proved that it can prevent leaks
when it tries, to the extreme annoyance of the media. At half past
one the six candidates for deputy were locked in a room, deprived of
their BlackBerrys, told the results, and given a brief time to compose
themselves. The audience waited in ever-increasing impatience
while the NEC Chair Mike Griffiths and general secretary Peter Watt
welcomed us to Manchester, still a Tory-free zone, emphasised the
inclusiveness of the process, praised the conduct of the candidates
and the quality of debate and thanked all those involved, especially
the party staff who have worked without a break virtually since

At last the suspense was ended, with less than one per cent
separating the winner and the runner-up in the final round, and
individual party members proving decisive. (The full breakdown was
published in Monday’s Guardian.) Turnout was 99% among MPs
and MEPs, 53% for individual members, but only 8% in the affiliate
section, maybe depressed by some ballot papers arriving just days
before the deadline. The hustings showed that all the candidates
had much to contribute, and I am sure that Gordon Brown can find a
use for all their talents without resorting to the LibDems. After warm
applause Harriet Harman made a polished speech, Tony Blair took a
final curtain call and graciously introduced his successor, who sent
members away with renewed hope, enthusiasm and determination.

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be
circulated to members – and supporters - as a personal account, not
an official record. Past reports are at www.annblack.com.

Ann Black,
annblack@acedial.co.uk / annblack50@yahoo.co.uk

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