Labour: will talk of restoring democracy come to something real?

Submitted by martin on 7 September, 2010 - 1:35 Author: Edward Maltby

At last year's Labour Party conference, the leadership promised an all-up-for-grabs review of Labour Party structure and the undemocratic changes pushed through by Tony Blair in 1997 ("Partnership in Power").

The review is due to be launched at this year's Labour conference, starting on 26 September in Manchester.

But no specifics are available, even to members of Labour's National Executive. The record of the front-running contenders for Labour leader, and a series of undemocratic manipulations already under way for the Manchester conference, warn us that unless the unions and the local Labour Parties press hard, we will only get a sham of a review.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has initiated a "Labour Party Democracy Taskforce", open to people from other groups in the labour movement, to start a campaign for a real review which will win a democratic Labour Party conference able to debate and take real decisions.

In the run-up to Manchester, a raft of rule changes submitted to the 2009 conference and remitted for debate to the 2010 conference have been declared "out of order" by the Conference Arrangements Committee.

The CAC used a rule which says that once a change to a particular "part" of the rules has been debated, Conference cannot re-debate that "part" (unless on the initiative of the National Executive) for three years. It is interpreting the word "part" far more broadly than it has been interpreted in the past, so that the 2007 rule change to replace "motions" by "issues" is taken as blocking almost any other rule change on Conference procedure for three years.

In a welcome and very unusual move, we understand that the big unions have indicated that they will support moves from the conference to "refer back" the relevant sections of the CAC report, at least as regards two of the proposed rule changes.

It seems definite now that 2010 conference will once again debate and vote on contemporary "motions" from unions and local Labour Parties, reversing the 2007 decision whereby unions and Labour Parties could submit only "issues" to be discussed but not voted on.

Text submitted as "issues" to this conference will be converted into "motions".

Logically, the National Executive has to propose a rule change to reverse the 2007 conference decision to ban motions. The Executive has promised to do so.

There are rumours, however, that the Executive may try to proceed by just admitting motions in practice without changing the rule. Such a procedure, while nonsensical, would obviously make it easier for David Miliband, if elected leader, to ban motions again.

There may also be undemocratic manoeuvres on the issues or motions submitted to the conference this year, relating to interpretation of the rulebook limitation that such issues or motions must be "contemporary" and not cover issues recently debated by the National Policy Forum.

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