by Kevin Meagher
Labour’s National Executive Committee meets today to discuss, among other things, Margaret Beckett’s anaemic report into why the party lost the last election so comprehensively.
It promises to be a courtly affair, reflecting the rarefied world at the top of Labour politics where there is little, ever, in the way of transparency or plain-speaking.
This is because the NEC serves as a proxy of the leadership, or the unions, or as a symbolic battleground about who controls the party at any one time.
Yet it’s high time it started acting like any other non-executive committee in any other organisation and properly scrutinised how the party is managed and financed.
Take two recent examples.
Last week, the Electoral Commission detailed the general election spending of the main parties. While the Tories spent somewhere in the region of £3.5 million more than Labour, its revealing how and where the parties deployed their limited resources.
While the Tories made canny use of Facebook advertising, Labour relied on planting magic beans.
The party spent a small fortune – of party members’ money – hiring US election guru, David Axelrod, the man who ran Barack Obama’s campaigns, to sprinkle some of his magic dust.
Nearly quarter of a million pounds was spent retaining his services, (which seemed to amount to the odd sojourn to this side of the pond, expounding the bleeding obvious to the slavering US fan-boys that abound in Labour politics) only for him to prove a complete dud.
An NEC doing its job properly would be urging the party’s officers to recoup costs for his manifestly unsuccessful advice.
Then there’s the amount spent on a debating coach for Ed Miliband. The princely sum of £184,609.67 went on yet another US consultant, Michael Sheehan.
Putting aside questions of why a professional politician should need such advice, or, indeed, why perfectly experienced Labour staff couldn’t provide the service, the sheer scale of what was spent is staggering.
It’s enough to make the £7,700 the party spent on Cherie Blair’s hairdresser back in 2005 seem like a good deal.
The NEC needs to stop being either an echo chamber or a gladiatorial arena and concentrate on its more prosaic role in overseeing the management of the party. It could start by ensuring the party leader – any leader – isn’t able to fritter away money like this again.
The cash misspent on US consultants would have paid for an extra dozen party organisers working on the ground for 12 months in marginal seats.
Nearly half a million pounds spent on comfort blanket appointments that contributed nothing to Labour’s chances. Is it any wonder the country didn’t trust the party to run the economy?
Labour’s NEC needs to bare its teeth and stand up for members’ interests – and basic financial probity.
It could start by sinking them into the next US guru that appears in HQ.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut