Labour left challenges Blair

Submitted by AWL on 12 September, 2004 - 1:36

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is calling on Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and trade unions to submit motions to Labour Party conference calling for Tony Blair to be replaced as Labour leader.

Labour Party conference opens on 26 September. The deadline for "contemporary motions" is 17 September.

The chances of a big political battle at this conference have been squashed by the decision by the leaders of the big unions, at Labour's Policy Forum on 23-25 July, to abandon most of their demands and renounce their right to take "minority reports" for debate at conference in favour of some small concessions from the New Labour leadership. However, there are still a few little openings at the conference to challenge the leadership.

"Contemporary motions" have to be on issues not covered in the leadership's Policy Forum documents, and relate to recent events.

Under New Labour rules, the conference debates four "contemporary motions" chosen by the trade unions - de facto, the four biggest unions, Unison, TGWU, Amicus, and GMB, get one each - and (under an improvement which starts this year) four "contemporary motions" from CLPs, chosen by CLP delegates.

Given the vastly increased control by the leadership over CLP delegates - it is not uncommon these days for the few remaining leftish CLPs to debate whether it is worth sending delegates to conference at all - it will be a big achievement to get one left-wing proposition in among the four which get to conference floor. But, with discontent among the Labour and trade-union rank and file increasing, CLPD is making an effort.

Its draft reads:

This Conference is seriously concerned at the direction of the party under the Prime Minister’s leadership. Despite New Labour’s early claim to be guided by social justice and equality, a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) published on 3 August shows that inequality of income has increased since 1997. Even some of the Prime Minister’s oldest allies are now expressing doubts. Two editors of the Labour journal Renewal and pioneers of the New Labour project, Neal Lawson and Paul Thompson, wrote in The Guardian on 9 August that Downing Street’s agenda of consumer choice in health and education is hard to distinguish from Tory policy.

They argue that the leadership has wasted two terms in office with massive majorities, the second of which will be remembered for Iraq — "Blair’s poll tax". They fear that "given the volatility of contemporary politics, it is by no means impossible that Labour will lose in a reverse landslide". Conference believes that there is still time to avert this risk. But the only way we can preserve a governing majority and avoid a hung parliament or worse is to abandon the third way of personal choice user pays, the private finance and management of public services and the bottomless pit of the Iraq occupation. However, in view of the Prime Minister’s dogged unwillingness to change course, conference considers that a change of leadership is the only option.

Accordingly conference instructs the NEC to convene a special session of conference as provided for under rule 3C1.1 and rule 4B2(d)(ii) which states:

"When the PLP is in government and the leader and/or deputy leader are prime minister and/or in Cabinet, an election shall proceed only if requested by a majority of party conference on a card vote".

It is important to follow CLPD's exact wording, because the rules on admissibility of "contemporary motions" are strict.

CLPD also has model "contemporary motions" on Guantanamo, Iraq, and taxation, and notifies supporters that another is being circulated on the civil service job cuts.

This year's Labour conference will debate a constitutional amendment remitted from last year, to allow amendments to Policy Forum documents to be debated at conference. Winning this amendment would be a big victory, opening up conference significantly.

Other material about conference is in CLPD's conference newsletter.

CLPD also reports on the 2004 elections for the constituency section of Labour's National Executive. The "Centre-Left" slate retained its three (out of six) seats, with only a slight drop in its percentage of the vote.

The number of Labour Party members voting in the postal ballot for National Executive is, however, falling rapidly. In 2004 it was about 50% down on the previous ballot in 2002, and not much more than a quarter of what it was in the first postal ballot under the current rules, in 1998.

Assuming that every member who participates uses all their six votes, only about 35,000 members now bother.

Part of the problem is that, as CLPD points out, the NEC has effectively been transformed from a leading committee into a forum where Tony Blair or a deputy "answers questions" from time to time.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, the NEC first passed a motion backing Blair's policy - with every single union rep present voting for it, even those from unions which had strong anti-war policy. At the next meeting, "next business" was moved when Iraq came up, and once again all the union reps went along with it. There was much less controversy in the NEC than there was among Labour MPs at Westminster, let alone among the Labour and trade-union rank and file.

The unions need to call their reps to account.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.