Labour Party conference: "the best for thirty years"

Submitted by Matthew on 22 October, 2009 - 2:44 Author: Martin Thomas

A Labour Party activist long centrally involved in battles for democracy in the party spoke to Martin Thomas about the vote at Labour Party conference this year to have OMOV (direct election) for the constituency places on the National Policy Forum.

This was the best thing that has happened at conference for thirty years. The unions and the constituency parties united and took on the whole party machine and won.

That hasn't happened for a long time. It was fundamental if only as a symbolic issue: the constituencies and the unions united against the party machine.

What happens now depends on the general election. If we win the general election, then I have no doubt that Gordon Brown will allow a bit more democracy in the party. If we lose the general election, then there will have to be a total review of the structures.

I think the restoration of contemporary motions at Labour Party conference is guaranteed. [It is due to be reviewed in 2010, to apply immediately to the 2010 conference if agreed]. But in my view a lot of other things are much more important than the restoration of motions. Motions mean nothing if the leadership can just ignore them when they are passed. We need to control the process of carrying out the motions.

If we lose the election, then there will be a new leader, and a lot depends on who that is. If we get a Blairite, then they may push things back.

Blair was a Tory, really, and the Blairite takeover was a Tory takeover. It seriously damaged the party, though it could not completely destroy the working-class base.

Even if we get David Miliband, who is a Blairite, as the new leader, he will have difficulty unravelling the moves to restore democracy now underway. But I don't think Miliband can win. Alan Johnson is the more dangerous Blairite candidate for leader. Some people say Johnson is not really a Blairite, but he is.

There is no left-wing candidate for leadership who will get enough nominations for the ballot. Jon Cruddas voted for the Iraq war, and anyway he would have no chance of winning.

What we can hope for is a new leader who will agree to more democracy in the party. The only person I see in the frame is John Denham. He is not a left-winger, but he is honest, he resigned as a minister over the Iraq war, and he would agree to more democracy.

If we could win the right to amend National Policy Forum statements at conference, that would give the party more power than motions did in the old days. In fact it would be better, in terms of conference control over actual policy, than anything since 1918.

I think it will take some years to win that. We might get something towards it earlier, for example the right to amend annex reports, which cover the progress (or otherwise) made at Policy Commissions in relation to submissions from conference.

But there is a long battle to win the unions to support the right to amend National Policy Forum statements. The CWU would support that now, but it will take some time to convince the other unions.

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