Restitching Labour: 25 September

Submitted by martin on 18 September, 2011 - 8:48

The Labour Party conference debate on "Refounding Labour", on 25 September, was a mockery.

The conference was presented with a long list of rule changes, some of which had been agreed by the National Executive only the previous evening (24 September), and hustled into a snap omnibus vote on the whole package.

Meanwhile, most of the rulebook proposals from CLPs had been excluded from the agenda on artificial procedural grounds. A few survivors are due to be debated on Wednesday; in a revealing slip, Labour Party head office omitted them from the published schedule. On one that asks for the current 18-month wait for rulebook proposals from CLPs to get debated to be shortened to six months, the Labour Party head office has straightfacedly commented that rulebook proposals are serious matters and need to be pondered at length.

No speakers against the leadership's snap rule changes were taken in the "debate". Oddly, there were no speeches for the rule changes, either. A string of obviously-prearranged speakers enthused vaguely about building the Labour Party, but said nothing about the rule changes.

One speech got heard against the rule changes, in an earlier challenge to the Conference Arrangements Committee by Wirral delegate Elaine Jones. It didn't get the CAC overruled; but it did win applause from a thoughtful minority of delegates and get (so we're told) the biggest vote for a reference-back for many, many years.

The unions all backed the platform. The Unite delegation meeting, so we hear, was rallied to back the platform by general secretary Len McCluskey, despite all his speeches about democratising the Labour Party.

McCluskey told the delegation that Ed Miliband is "listening" and "doing his best"; he is "new in the job" and should be cut some slack. If Miliband doesn't deliver, then maybe next year, or the year after next, the union should consider making a fuss. But not now.

Insiders suspect that this stance reflects the influence of McCluskey's "chief of staff", Stop The War and Communist Party of Britain honcho Andrew Murray.

Martin Mayer, chair of the union's United Left faction, expressed concern about the rule changes but went along with McCluskey. A minority of about 20% of the delegation spoke or voted against the rule changes.

Why didn't any of the smaller and more leftish unions - Bakers, Aslef, Musicians' Union, NUM - speak out? I don't know. In the past, the excuse in such unions is that they must stick to the collective line of TULO (the consortium of Labour-affiliated unions), and not to do so would license rightish unions like USDAW and Community to weaken the trade-union front. But USDAW and Community often weaken the trade-union front anyway.

The best that can be said for the changes is that the unions faced down (but maybe only for now) the worst proposals, such as reducing the union vote at Labour Party conference; and most of the changes are small. But many are damaging.

For example, Local Government Committees and District Labour Parties, the delegate bodies to which council Labour Groups are supposed to be accountable, are abolished and replaced by "Local Campaign Forums" (LCF)dominated by cabals of councillors.

This may have particularly bad effects in areas where the constituency and the local government area coincide, and so the LGC/ DLP is combined with, or overlaps heavily with, the constituency General Committee (GC).

In the strict wording of the rule change, the LCF has no rights to interfere with the GC and its business. In some areas, however, so we hear, councillors are trying it on.

Where local government areas span a number of constituencies - or where, as will become commonplace with the current government's changes to parliamentary boundaries, local government and constituency boundaries criss-cross - the effect is different: channels for collectively holding council Labour Groups to account are shut down.

At the conference entrance, response to left paper-sellers and leafleters was much better than it was a few years ago, for example in 2007. The crowd of delegates and observers now looks more like a cross-section of not-specially-well-off people, and less like a cohort dominated by sharp-suited careerists (as it was in 2007). But the mostly passive acceptance of outrageous undemocracy inside the conference indicates that most delegates are uncombative or just not specially left-wing.

These days there is always a crowd of leafleters from NGOs at the conference entrance. In 2010, the only left presence at the conference entrance was CLPD (Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), Labour Briefing, and Solidarity.

This time we were joined by the Socialist Party, the SPGB, Merseyside TUC, Socialist Resistance, the Liverpool Socialist Singers (who rendered the Red Flag and the Internationale vigorously to the arriving delegates), and, very briefly, by Socialist Appeal. And by RMT rail union officials, who believe it or not now wear t-shirts with an image of general secretary Bob Crow printed on them. One comrade was distributing a (rather general and abstract) LRC bulletin, and one was leafleting for a fringe meeting for a new leftish subgroup called Next Generation Labour.

At a fringe meeting on 25 September, a group called Labour Left relaunched itself, announcing that it will soon publish a "Red Book" as a riposte to the "Purple Book" of the diehard Blairites and the "Blue Labour"-ism of Maurice Glasman and others.

On the evidence of the meeting, sadly, "red" here means little more than an "ethical" warmness towards public services and worker cooperatives. The grouping (on its website) backed the "Refounding Labour" changes, and considers itself a "think tank" focused on "MPs and interns". (It's been reported at Labour Party conference fringe meetings that now fully 27% of Labour MPs have never done a real-world job, beyond the odd bit of part-time or summer work while students. They went straight from uni to wonkosphere jobs - MP's assistant, press officer, researcher, whatever - and then to being an MP. Ed Miliband is one of those 27%).

So far, Labour Left presents itself more as a polite corner of the wonkosphere than as the rude effort to energise the trade-union and Labour rank and file which the delirium of capitalism calls for.

Martin Thomas

Comments

Submitted by martin on Mon, 19/09/2011 - 16:24

Callum Munro, the youth rep on Labour's National Executive, and Susan Nash, the National Chair of Young Labour, have made a statement of protest about "Refounding Labour".

They are asking for endorsements to the statement: click here.


"The Refounding Labour process offered an exciting opportunity for Young Labour to truly become the movement that young members want and the force that the Labour Party needs. It was a chance to give thousands of young members the tools with which they could build their own active and effective youth wing.

Since the last election thousands of young people have joined the Labour Party, eager to campaign, mobilise and contribute to the development of our policy.

To capture the enthusiasm which existed in the movement, young members themselves organised events all across the country so that members had the chance to shape a new Young Labour. Through these regional events, online contributions and personal discussions it was clear that members were crying out for a functioning youth wing. Time and time again people were calling for more power to lead and deliver for young members. Young members want to be at the heart of the party but also the ability to stretch out into all corners of our movement and our society.

If Young Labour is to be the natural home for those young people who want to make a difference in our society then Young Labour must be able to make a difference in our party. Rights which have long been afforded to other sections of our movement must be given to Young Labour if our movement is to feel valued and able to shape the party to which we belong. The proposal to give Young Labour affiliate rights is a recognition that although Young Labour is very much part of the wider party, it needs a degree of autonomy and independent power if it is to exist as a movement and not simply as a grouping of Labour Party members under the age of 27. Young members often disagree with each other on a whole host of issues, however the question of whether or not we should have affiliate rights received unanimous support from our national committee and was very much the will of our national conference in February. We now call for Young Labour to have policy making powers, delegates at conference and a fair say in the leadership election. All these powers are afforded to other affiliates of the party, such as Labour Students

We are not the only ones calling for these reforms, both Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol explicitly promised these rights prior to their respective elections.

As this coalition government turns its back on young people, it is our party that must be the natural home for all those with progressive, Labour values.

It is time that our NEC listened to what young members are saying. They must support these reforms and help us to unleash our potential, to create an effective youth movement able to organise and deliver, a party that embraces, not controls, the next generation."

Callum Munro
NEC Youth Representative

Susan Nash
National Chair of Young Labour


The Labour Party Democracy Task Force proposed:
  • The establishment of Young Labour branches at CLP level under the supervision of the CLP, with representation at CLP meetings, and the freedom to campaign on issues it regards as important to young people, and to recruit new members.
  • An annual Young Labour conference convened by the Young Labour National Committee with representation from CLPs (or Young Labour branches where they exist) as well as Labour student organisations and trade unions.
  • A sabbatical salary for the elected chair of Young Labour, with office facilities, administrative support and adequate resources to maintain an effective and autonomous organisation.
  • Adequate resources and administrative support for Young Labour at a national level, and full access to for Young Labour officers to membership lists at the appropriate level.
    Young Labour should be able to feed into party decision-making at all levels – constituency, regionally and nationally, into the national policy forum, national executive and party conference.
  • The Young Labour National Committee should be ex-officio delegates to Labour Party conference, and be entitled to move motions there which have been approved and prioritised by Young Labour conference.

Submitted by martin on Thu, 22/09/2011 - 12:42

Most of the "contemporary motions" from Constituency Labour Parties with any punch or substance have also been ruled off the agenda of Labour conference, by arbitrary interpretation of the vague and restrictive rules determining which motions can be admitted as "contemporary".

A long document summarising rule changes agreed by the National Executive on 21 September is now in circulation, and the word is that it will be bounced through Labour Party conference, with delegates being compelled to vote "for" or "against" the whole long package before they have even had a chance to read it properly, let alone debate it.

In a further insult, the NEC is meeting again on 24 September and may propose yet further rule changes.

The only good thing is that the unions seem to have stood firm against a proposal to cut the union vote at Labour conference from 50% to 40%. The diehard Blairites remain on the offensive on that front, however, and some sort of further consideration of that proposal (exactly what is unclear) is scheduled for spring 2012.

Ed Miliband and his cronies have made the promised review of Labour Party structures a manipulated, botched exercise. Even though Ed Miliband has not attempted the sharp further destruction of Labour Party democracy which David Miliband seemed intent on, the supposed democratic consultation will end with a mostly-regressive package of changes cooked together by apparatchiks at the last minute and bounced through Labour Party conference as take-it-or-leave-it.

All the serious democratic changes proposed during the consultation have been marginalised (by an artificial ruling-out of rule changes tabled by CLPs in good time, and the disappearance of the limited but useful changes proposed by the affiliated unions in their official document), and the right wing remains on the offensive, demanding further talks on a cut in the union vote at Labour conference. The basics of the New Labour structure remain.

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