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Labour National Executive Committee March 2001

Ann Black is a member of the NEC. This is her personal account of the
March meeting and is not an official minute

NEC Report, 27 March 2001

Foot-and-mouth heads the nation's agenda, and Tony Blair gave
an update to the NEC.  Some areas remained disease-free, and
those with only a handful of cases should now be safe. 
Vaccination was being considered, together with slaughter of
neighbouring herds, to contain the major outbreaks in Cumbria,
Devon, and perhaps Northumberland and Durham and the
Welsh borders.  As Dennis Skinner pointed out, the government
was paying far more compensation to farmers than ruined pit
villages ever got from the Tories.  Tourism was also suffering,
from the imagery as much as the reality.  And some members
gently pointed out that though slaughtered animals make
distressing television, they are bred to die, for our dinner-tables.

At the meeting, the Prime Minister had not yet decided whether
it was right to hold local and national elections against this
background.  Few envied his responsibility, but he received
plenty of advice.  Most members felt that we should go ahead if
the crisis was under control, and could be managed effectively
while Parliament is dissolved.  Delay would damage confidence
in the wider economy, and voters were getting fed-up of
speculation.  If the number of cases continued to rise, however,
there were serious difficulties. [Five days later it looks as if the
local elections, and a general election, will be postponed. 
On balance I now believe that this is the right decision.]

Be Prepared

Election planning continued, whatever the eventual date.  Tony
Blair and Gordon Brown outlined policy and strategy, and
General Secretary Margaret McDonagh covered practical
matters.  We have to make the election a choice between
Labour and the Tories, not a referendum on Labour's record. 
Instead of measuring public services against perfection, the
question is:  "Do people want more investment with Labour, or
16 billion of cuts under the Tories?"  We need to sell our vision
for the future as well as our achievements so far.  And we must
give a voice to the voiceless, because the socially-excluded, who
benefit from Labour's policies, tend not to vote.  The coalition of
grassroots members, MPs and candidates, trade unions and
party staff was more important than ever.

Question Time 

Members praised Gordon Brown's redistributive policies, but
were concerned that thousands of eligible people were not
claiming the Working Families Tax Credit, the Children's Tax
Credit and the Minimum Income Guarantee.  Public spending
was taking a long time to feed through to frontline services, and
recruitment, particularly in London and the SouthEast, was also
difficult. 

Tony Blair recognised that the LibDems are causing problems in
some areas.  The simplest counter-argument was that they
simply cannot deliver on their promises, but he felt that it was still
helpful to us if they hated the Tories most.  I was pleased that
we are keeping the door open to electoral reform for
Westminster, building on agreement in the National Policy
Forum, but worried about press reports that the Winter Fuel
Allowance would revert to 150 after the election.  After digging
ourselves out of the 75p debacle, and leading the polls among
pensioners for the first time ever, it would be a crazy own goal. 
Thankfully he assured us that the story was untrue.

Christine Shawcroft asked again for the railways to be restored
to public ownership, and for a sensible resolution to the Tube
stand-off.  She won some support, but John Prescott reiterated
the Conference decision not to spend 5 billion-plus buying
back the network.  On London Underground, he felt that
Labour had accepted most of Bob Kiley's requests, and after a
hundred meetings was obviously frustrated at failure to reach a
deal.  Whatever the rights and wrongs, and apparently the New
York subway is not utopian, the government is losing the public
relations battle hands down on this one.  However, privatisation
of air traffic control, also announced on Tuesday, is going ahead,
with the victorious airline consortium seen as the least worst
option by the scheme's opponents.

Cultural Diversity

Gordon Brown's budget has proved popular with women, who
benefit most from the new tax credits as well as from better
childcare provision and the national minimum wage.  Apathy
among young people is still worrying, though.  Gordon Brown
reported that their biggest issues were the minimum wage and
public transport, and Labour's international leadership against
world poverty was a major attraction for the idealistic.  Others
were weighed down by the prospect of graduating from
university with 12,000 debts.  But Blair McDougall, the NEC
youth member, thought it was a mistake to treat young people as
a separate species, and by and large they had the same concerns
as everyone else.

Simon Murphy, the leader of the European Parliamentary
Labour Party, provides written reports which we skate over in
ten seconds flat.  Recent British initiatives included new
copyright laws, tough legislation on the release of genetically-
modified organisms, a report on disabled access to buses, a
petition demanding a minimum age of 18 for breast implant
surgery, and greater public access to documents.  MEPs use e-
mail more extensively than Westminster colleagues, so for Euro-
information, contact your regional MEP, or try
eplp@geo2.poptel.org.uk, http://www.eplp.org.uk.

Countdown

Returning to the Home Front, the manifesto will be presented to
the NEC and MPs soon after the election is announced.  John
Prescott, David Blunkett and Hilary Armstrong will kick off the
county council campaign.  We will not be negative, though we
will monitor on what the Tories are saying.  Despite William
Hague's disavowal of racism, their election broadcasts allegedly
feature East European actors playing hordes of invading asylum-
seekers [now dropped].  Their tactics are disgusting, and all of
us have to speak up for Labour's values.

Most parliamentary candidates are in place.  The winner of the
ballot in Perry Barr was to be re-interviewed, and NEC panels
will handle selections for remaining and last-minute vacancies. 
Some constituencies are distributing videos of their candidates,
and apparently over 80% of voters watch these to the end, more
than those who read leaflets.  Most electoral registers had been
downloaded.

Internal Matters

The Organisation Committee will review the conduct of youth
elections following recent complaints, and hopefully devise fair
procedures which ensure the neutrality of party staff.  The date
for the NEC ballot was even harder to divine than that of the
general election, but it will probably be in April, or May, or
June.  MPs have their own problems, because they stop being
MPs when Parliament dissolves, so their NEC representatives
would be chosen after a May election, but before a June one. 

The next Conference will agree methods of choosing Labour
candidates for elected mayors, but some cities cannot wait until
October and the NEC noted interim procedures for these
selections.  Local Government Committees play no part, and I
hope that this will be remedied in the permanent rules.

Following a Guardian article, I had asked the Finance
Committee about our pension fund holdings in British
Aerospace.  The fund's trustees have to get the best returns, but
they do follow socially responsible guidelines which Labour has
introduced for all pension funds.  And finally, a small contribution
to traditional links.  The 2001 membership forms dropped the
standard request for an applicant's trade union, as part of an
ongoing process of simplification, so I submitted a resolution
asking for it to be put back.  The NEC was assured that this will
be done in the next reprint.

As usual questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy
for this to be circulated to party members on the understanding
that it is a personal account and in no way an official record.

Ann Black 

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