Veteran NEC member’s personal report on special meeting considered a triumph for Corbyn’s leadership
On 30 April, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) held a special meeting to finalise Labour’s manifesto for the European elections. The most anticipated element of the discussion was whether Tom Watson’s efforts to publicly pressure NEC members to include a commitment to a public vote – against Labour’s conference policy position and early literature for the elections – would bear fruit.
Watson failed and the meeting was considered a triumph for Corbyn – and Willsman’s report gives an inside view of a meeting at which Watson, presumably understanding that his efforts had been unsuccessful and having been rebuked publicly by at least one NEC member, made barely a peep:
The press and media had predicted that this NEC meeting would be a very hard fought and bitter meeting. TV cameras surrounded the entrance and we were all pestered to make a comment. My comment was a single word namely that our manifesto would be “nuanced”.
Of course, as always, the meeting was exactly the opposite to what had been predicted. To sum it up, I would say that the meeting was “still as a mill-pond”. Every speaker was very comradely and, for once, they all laughed at my jokes.
Jeremy conveyed his and the NEC’s warmest thoughts to Jennie and Cath.
Jeremy then congratulated our MEPs for their very hard and successful work over many years in the European Parliament. Jeremy then thanked all of our staff, led by our Policy Officer, Andrew Fisher, for all the work they had undertaken for today’s NEC and for the thinking that has already taken place in relation to our general campaign for the Euros.
Before taking us through the documents, Jeremy highlighted the success of the Socialist Party in Spain and confirmed that he had sent our very fraternal congratulations to our Spanish comrades. Jeremy stressed that the threat of the Far Right in Europe is very serious and can only be effectively counteracted by strong unity between all left parties across the Continent.
Turning to the manifesto documents, Jeremy stressed that we must maintain and build the progressive coalition on which our Party is based. This is the basic dynamic behind the draft manifesto. Jeremy then took the NEC through the negotiations that our Party has undertaken with the Prime Minister. We have put forward our key demands and set out our red lines.
Underlining all this, of course, is our fundamental belief that there must be a General Election to bring an end to the destruction wrought by the Tory Govt and before that by the Tory-Lib Dem Govt. We must never let the public forget that it was the Lib Dems that were the handmaidens of the appalling austerity onslaught. Social Services have been torn to shreds and inequality is back to Downton Abbey levels. Voters want an end to the appalling destruction and at the forthcoming local elections the Tory Party will pay a heavy penalty. Later, I pointed out that the Lib Dems should also pay a heavy penalty but unfortunately they are very slippery and pretend to be all things to all people.
Summing up, Jeremy stressed that our Party must at all costs stay united and on this basis fight the local and Euro elections.
Summary of Key Points in the Draft Manifesto
The manifesto pointed out that only Labour has the policies and commitment to bring the country back together. Labour’s plan is to seek a close and co-operative relationship with the EU, including a new comprehensive Customs Union, close Single Market alignment, guaranteed employment rights and societal standards and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.
The document reiterated Labour’s policies for a Labour Govt – ending austerity, investing in communities, protecting our public services, ensuring those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share, a massive programme of investment, through a National Transformation Fund benefitting every nation and region of the UK.
Labour will fully support EU efforts to close tax loopholes and take action on tax havens. We will continue to press for a Europe-wide Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions.
We will expect the EU to back our pledge to commit to meet 60% of the UK’s energy demand from renewables or low carbon sources and net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Together with a full commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Labour will ban fracking – as the Labour Govt in Wales has already done. Labour will introduce a new Clean Air Act. We will seek to safeguard habitats and species in the “blue belts” of the seas and oceans.
Labour is committed to a new comprehensive plan to deliver rights and protections that meet the needs of our workforce – to ensure every worker has the same basic rights from day one in the job. Labour will ban the overseas only advertising of UK jobs. In Europe, we will press for reform of the Postal Workers Directive – to guarantee the principle of equal pay for equal work in the same location. We will end the unfair zero hours contract imbroglio – every worker is entitled to a guaranteed number of hours each week. Labour will press for a Euro-wide strengthening of existing health and safety laws and a thorough-going Equality Plan including a comprehensive Disability Framework.
In the face of the appalling increase in knife crime under the Tories, Labour commits to recruiting 10,000 more officers in England and Wales alone, to rebuild the broken network of community policing.
In both Westminster and Brussels, Labour will commit to fight for the full rights of all EU citizens in the UK and to defend the rights of UK citizens who have chosen to make their homes in the EU. Labour rejects the Government’s plan to class as “unskilled” any migrant worker earning less than £30,000 per year.
The migration crisis is not just a political challenge but a moral test for all of Europe. We will continue to call for the UK to play a bigger role to support fair asylum and migration policies, based on shared responsibility and solidarity between nations and peoples.
The document highlighted that our Party will work at home and across Europe to build the fight against the Far Right and racism.
There was a very lengthy and comradely discussion. A range of very constructive amendments were proposed and agreed. I made a contribution based on the 4 hours canvassing I had undertaken in Oxford the previous evening in 2 streets chosen at random. In Oxford, of course, there are a significant number of voters who are students and the Greens are quite popular. I had prepared a number of specific points which I put to all those who answered the door. I found there was no discernible drop in the support for Labour. It was also the case that the threat to the NHS, Social Services and Education was a somewhat greater concern than Brexit. Several students were supporters of the People’s Vote but it was not a higher priority than the issues previously mentioned. Indeed, the Greens and the solitary Lib Dem were not consumed with the Brexit issue. In fact, 4 Green voters said they would be voting Labour in the General Election and only for the Greens locally next year.
As readers will no doubt suspect, there was detailed consideration of the issue of a “Confirmatory Referendum”. It was emphasised that Labour will continue to oppose the Govt’s poor deal and “no deal”. It was agreed that if our Negotiators cannot agree a deal with the Prime Minister that is generally along the lines of our proposals then the option of a Public Vote would come into play.
Above all, there was agreement that our Party must seek to heal the divisions in our country and that we are the only party in a position able to do this. Jeremy concluded that it was vital to have an effective strategy to combat the new Brexit Party and also the threat of the Far Right.
Comments on the Local Election Results
The following quotes in The Observer of 5th May were, in my view, particularly noteworthy:
“Austerity, not ‘failure’ of Brexit, is behind Tory wipeout” – William Keegan
“There is nothing to suggest with certainty, that Labour would do better with a clearer position on Brexit” – Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, who was part of the BBC’s voting analysis on election night.
Both of these quotes seemed to me to be pretty spot on. The huge cuts forced on Labour controlled councils by the Tory Govt. are bound to have adverse effects on the response of Labour voters. If a major cut is made in a ward, the voters in that ward will be very angry and will not be so keen to vote for their sitting Cllrs on the grounds that “a less damaging cut could have been found somewhere else”. There are also, of course, specific local issues in specific councils eg see Andrew Teale’s writings at the Britain Elects website.
Ford’s quote is also pretty obvious to all – except to a few so-called political commentators on The Guardian who think that simply sitting in Westminster gives them an unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the electoral system throughout the British Isles. This is a major reason why these highly-paid “political commentators” get almost every prediction totally wrong. In 2017, they assured us that Jeremy was going to lead us into a defeat by some 120 seats. Every half-full double decker bus has at least one person with superior political insight.
“Fifty per cent of England is owned by less than 1% of its population. About 25,000 landowners control half of the country. The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly to England’s population, each person would have just over half an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London” Observer, April 21st 2019
“The IMF has found that of 153 recessions in 63 countries, only five were predicted by a consensus of private-sector economists in the April of the preceding year” Sunday Times, April 7th 2019
“The Conservative party has a particular problem with Islamophobia. Just last week 15 suspended Conservative councillors were quietly reinstated, despite evidence showing they had posted or shared Islamophobic or racist material…..last year, the current Conservative London mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, shared an image online that described me as the “mad mullah” of “Londonistan”. He faced no investigation or action from his party whatsoever”. Sadiq Khan in The Guardian, April 2nd 2019.
“Labour’s announcement that it will support automatic voter registration is a welcome step in the right direction…automatic registration is the common right across advanced democracies. It’s time the missing millions were heard” Dr Jess Garland, Electoral Reform Society in The Guardian, April 15th 2019.
“The number of children living in absolute poverty increased by 200,000 in 2017-18. About 30% of children, or 4.1 million, were living in relative poverty (after housing costs) in 2017-18 in the UK. About 70% of those children were in working families….Adam Corlett at the Resolution Foundation, said: “With the bulk of the government’s £12bn of welfare cuts taking place in 2017-18, child poverty is likely to continue rising and could even hit a record high within the next few years”. The Guardian, March 29th 2019
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