Sunday, March 25, 2007

National Executive Committee - March 2007

London on Tuesday for the last NEC before the local elections. The meeting welcomed the newly elected Youth Representative, Stephanie Peacock and the newly elected representative of the Black Socialist Society, Keith Vaz M.P.

Party Funding
After questions to the Prime Minister, we spent the first two hours discussing the Hayden Phillips proposals on party funding.

At the minute the Tories are raising (and spending) about five times as much money as us. We want to get strict limits put on expenditure to prevent situations such as Welwyn and Hatfield where, at the last election, the Tories spent £150,000 to our £14,000.

To get these limits we are advised we need a deal with the other parties and Jack Straw is leading negotiations to get such a deal so its important we give him the room to do so.

My position is that we want a deal but not at any price and a deal that attacks the Trade Union link would be too big a price to pay!

It seems likely to me that we will be out-spent at the next election and need to:
1) do what we can to minimise the gap
2) utilise our volunteers much better to ensure the money we have goes much further
Jack Straw will be reporting back at the May meeting. I will keep you in touch.

For copies of the press release go to the party website

Ealing Southall
The organisation committee had recommended that Ealing Southall have an all woman shortlist and this was explicitly referred to the NEC for endorsement, an unusual procedure.

Clearly, there are problems with this situation as it raises big issues of representation for women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Decisions of this nature need to be the product of a lot more research and involvement of Party members on the ground than they seem to be at the minute.

Warwick Delivery
Hazel Blears gave one of the regular reports she gave on how the Government is delivering on its manifesto commitments. The big issue for discussion was our commitment to improve legislation for agency workers. The Government has been looking for European wide action but this looks increasingly unlikely in which case the Government will have to frame its own legislation.

There followed a report on our advances in information technology and the forthcoming local, Welsh and Scottish elections. All members now have their own MPURC, a personalised computer site which allows you to access information from the Party. Instructions for settling it up are on the Labour Party website and when I've learnt to do it, I'll pass the information on!
Financially we're getting along, we need £1 million of high value donations by June and we look on target to get them!

Spring Events
The numerous party events over spring went very well but were apparently very labour intensive and are being looked at.

I made the point, along with Jeremy Beecham, that the spring events are good but we still need a Local Government Conference and this is being taken on board.

Leader / Deputy Leader Elections
This item had been extensively trailed in the media which provoked a degree of anger at the NEC.

The basic points to emerge is that any Leader / Deputy Leader contest is expected to last around seven weeks. In the event of only one candidate being nominated there will not be an affirmative ballot.

An important feature of the election will be that CLPs are entitled to make supportive nominations and CLPs will be expected to meet early on in the campaign to make these. Guidelines will be issued and the NEC is recommending this is done at All Member meetings.

There will be at least five official hastings during the campaign which all candidates will be expected to attend and there will be an electoral college at the end to hear the result. I successfully moved that all endorsed Parliamentary Candidates be invited and, crucially, won an assurance that ALL Councillors, irrespective of how they pay their subscriptions, will be able to take part (no more of that nonsense we had in the NEC elections!)

The elections will be a big recruitment drive so there will be no six month waiting requirement for this election.

Enough of that though, we now have to concentrate on winning May's elections and after a five and a half hour NEC meeting I trundled off to and Education and Skills Policy Commission.

Education and Skills Policy Commission
I've not been able to make many of these of late as they have been held as stand alone meetings and its hard to justify a full day in London for a single meeting. Holding them after an NEC makes it a long day but means I can get there.

To be honest I wasn't looking forward to it after the NEC but I'm glad I went.

We had a thorough briefing from Bev Hughes M.P., Education Minister, on our Early Years Policy For Children and we are clearly making major leaps forward in provision and results. This is obviously a crucial area for tackling inequality.

We then had another thorough briefing from Alan Johnson, Secretary for State For Education, on our policy relating to children in care.

This has been a sadly neglected area in the past and while only 85,000 children are in Local Authority care in any year (0.5% of the total) 60% of young offenders and 27% of the prison population have been in care. 11% of children in care get 5 GCSEs (A-C) compared with 56% of the wider population.

Clearly as a community we've failed the children in our care but Alan and Bev have been taking radical measures to improve this.

It's the details of the radical changes we're making in crucial areas like this that are vital for a Labour Government.

We also considered practical ways of dealing with education submission from CLPs and members and I'll report back on this.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Claremont / Weaste Fundraiser

Friday night saw us have a very successful social and fundraiser. Excellent two course meal for £20.00 and a packed room with James Purnell as guest speaker saw us raise over £400.00 for our two branches.

Everyone enjoyed it and were asking about the next one - which proves my point that Labour functions should be enjoyable rather than a sense of duty. If members enjoy them and get value for money, they'll come back again!

Hayden Phillips

Hayden Phillips has published his report on party funding. The worrying part of his report is that he continues to query the role of trade union donations to the party. Negotiations are about to be entered into - with Jack Straw leading for us.

Jack is a very astute politician with a good grasp of the issues so we need to leave it to him now but my position remains clear. We need to reject any threat to the link between the Party and Trades Unionists.

Afzal Khan

On Sunday afternoon went to a celebration of Afzal Khan's period as the first Asian Lord Mayor of Manchester. It was also a good way to start his campaign for the Council elections in Cheetham ward, Manchester this year.

Afzal is an incredibly hard working and organised candidate who gained his seat from the Liberal Democrats. The meeting was attended by the Consul General of Pakistan, Lord Nasir of Rotherham and numerous other designations as well as Hazel Blears MP, Chair of the Party and nearly two hundred party members and supporters. I wouldn't want to be the Liberal Democrat facing Afzal!

Well Done Liverpool

On Thursday 8th March, Labour trounced the Liberal Democrats in a by-election in Speke/Garson, gaining the second seat in the ward after winning a seat last May.

It was a real pleasure to be involved in the campaign. We had a good candidate (Colin Strickland, pictured), supported by a good Councillor and party members coming in from all over Liverpool and beyond.

Some of the Liberal Democrat tactics left even me speechless but the local party met them very robustly and the result, a 20% swing and a majority of 760, offer great hope for next May's elections.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ban Foie Gras

Paul Blanchard, who is a Labour councillor in York, has set up a campaign web site to try and ban foie gras. Foie gras is a food 'delicacy' - the liver of force-fed ducks and geese. To produce it, at 12 weeks old the birds are restrained and grain is forced down the throat through a pipe, a process that often results in physical injury. A massive quantity of food is forced into the birds, so that their livers are swollen to 6-10 times normal size; which makes movement and breathing difficult, as well as causing other health problems. EU research shows that force feeding leads to severe liver damage, great pain, and high mortality rates.

Take a look at this three minute clip to learn more:

The force-feeding of geese is already explicitly outlawed in many countries. UK law is inconsistent: existing animal cruelty laws prohibit production in the UK; but as the sale is still permitted, birds still suffer greatly to satisfy UK demand, albeit in other countries, as the foie gras is imported.

Please visit and sign the petition to Tony Blair to try and get this inhumane food banned.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Scottish Christmas Day and Ne'er Day

Well done to Karen Whitefield MSP and her Labour colleagures for delivering a ban on Christmas Day trading north of the border.

This valuable protection for shopworkers, is coupled with a sanctions on retailers who force staff in to work on New Year's Day.
Ministers made it clear that they would immediately bring in a ban on New Year's Day trading if they found evidence that shopworkers were being coerced into work on this very special day.

“Usdaw members are delighted they now have a legal right to enjoy Christmas dinner with their loved ones having played such a central role in lobbying their MSPs to secure a genuine victory for common sense,” says Usdaw General Secretary John Hannett. “Our members told us loud and clear that they needed guaranteed time off with their families in what is already the most deregulated shopping environment in Europe.

“Usdaw’s policy is that we remain totally opposed to big stores opening their doors on New Year’s Day. Our view remains that there is no evidence whatsoever that stores opening on that day will have a negative impact on the Scottish economy and 95% of our members say it will ruin their traditional Hogmanay and New Year’s Day celebrations.

“The Scottish Executive has given us a guarantee that if evidence is produced that retail staff are being forced to work on New Year’s Day then they will introduce legislation to stop them opening which is a welcome step forward in protecting shopworkers rights in the incredibly busy festive period.

“But we are making it clear that Usdaw members will be on hand to report employers who coerce their employees to work on New Year’s Day and based on that evidence we would expect legalisation to be introduced to protect hard working shop staff who are only demanding a proper work-life balance.”

East Midlands

Down on Saturday for the spring campaigning event in Nottingham. Good turnout with lots of members keen on campaigning. Nice to see good support from Unison and GMB as well.

I always think the East Midlands is one of the key areas for Labour. London based commentators don't always give it the attention it deserves but the next General Election will depend on the results in places like Gedling, Northampton and Kettering.

Emily, The Regional Director and the small team of organisers she has are doing a great job and the campaign event went really well.

Next year I'm hoping we can again stage events like this around the country, coupled with a national local councillors conference.

Cambridge University Labour Club

After the Labour Party Pensions meeting in London on Monday, went over to Cambridge to talk to the Labour Club.

The real attraction was a chocolate tasting session so I was surprised that anyone turned up! A nice bunch of members, very committed to the party and a good question and answer session. Thanks to Tom for putting me up.

Visit the Club's website at: