The Labour Party’s new rules

Submitted by AWL on 20 June, 2019 - 10:03 Author: Dave Levy

The current Labour Party rules, as set by Conference 2018, are now being circulated. It’s about time, and they are still not available on Labour’s website (though they can be found here). This is despite one of the rules agreed setting the inception date of the new rules as at 27 September 2018, eight months ago.

The new rules are the result of the fabled Democracy Review, a process which over nine months took “evidence” from thousands of members and affiliated organisations, together with rule changes proposed by CLPs and affiliated organisations and tabled at conference 2017. Having taken nine months to gather evidence and take views, the NEC (National Executive Committee) gave conference delegates less than one day’s notice of the content of the rule changes representing their proposals from the Democracy Review.

There was a furore at Conference 2016 where the then right-wing NEC presented their entrenching “reforms” as a single take-it-or-leave-it omnibus change. The 2018 NEC were more careful, and presented the changes as eight packages. The packages covered members’ rights, local structures, regional structures, national structures, leadership elections, the National Constitutional Committee (structure and remit) and Westminster selections. The most controversial and newsworthy items in the new rulebook are the changes to Westminster candidate selections and the revising of the nominations required to stand for Leader (in the case of a vacancy).

Labour MPs seeking re-election now need to win 70% of branches and 70% of affiliates in a trigger ballot. This ends the situation where MPs need not face a new selection contest even if the overwhelming majority of the local members wanted one. The membership votes and affiliate votes are now counted in separate classes and the decision to avoid an open selection requires 70% in both.

An alternative proposal to abolish the trigger ballot and to re-implement mandatory re-selection in all cases was deemed to have fallen. The new means of determining whether to have an open selection is being propagated throughout the rule book. It is also being applied to some of upper-tier local government.

The rules on Leadership Elections were changed so that the nomination threshold (where a vacancy occurs) now requires 10% of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) and European PLP, and 5% of the Unions or 5% of the CLPs. It also requires CLPs to hold all-members’-meetings to make leadership nominations. Some CLPs will need an exceedingly large and exceedingly expensive room!

The new rules have also established some norms about the leadership voting eligibility freeze dates. The freeze date must be after the announcement of the election. There is to be no further membership longevity requirement of the sort used in 2016. The Democracy Review recommended that the PLP/EPLP threshold be reduced to 5% but the NEC voted to put the 10% threshold to Conference. 10% of the PLP is 23, and now there are 19 EPLP members. Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott only got onto the Leader’s ballot with the help of their opponents, John McDonnell could not collect the names necessary in 2007. It is common wisdom on the left that this threshold needs to be reduced to 5%, a figure which has ample historical precedent.

CLPD (the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy) are asking members to pass motions calling on the NEC to reassess their views and bring rule changes to the next Conference.

Two further important changes in the rules are those related to Member’s Rights and Local Structures.

The introduction of a Members’ Rights sub-clause codifies the longevity requirements for selection or election as a candidate or to internal office, restates the need to belong to a union, and reduces the membership longevity required to stand as a delegate to conference. It also introduces a right to dignity and respect and a duty for all party officers to behave fairly (not quite the Nolan principles, although challenging enough in some cases!). Shamefully, this is the first time such a requirement has been made. It would be good to see the duty to be fair to extended to all staff and voluntary role-holders.

CLPD are producing model rule changes to strengthen the right to fairness by extending the duty to all officers and staff, specifying the standard of behaviour as Nolan principles, and placing a duty on the Party to meet members’ human rights.

Local Structures (CLPs and Branches) defines the means of changing from branch and delegate to allmembers’-meeting (AMM) governance, reduces the quorum, places further variations in the hands of the Regional Boards not the Director, requires the NEC to define its criteria by which it puts CLPs into special measures, mandates equalities branches including youth, reconstitutes the CLP ECs by including branch secretaries, mandates branch women’s officers, permits officer role job shares, and proposes a new rule on meeting frequency (all members must be invited to eight meetings each year of which two must be policy meetings).

The legal authority of the EC is reduced, placing it under the authority of the GC or AMM. The package also authorises multi-constituency parties, and talks about using IT to maximise participation. All constituency documents are to be available to all members via an IT platform.

Much attention has been given to the change in the rules about the management schemes of CLPs (AMM vs Branch and Delegate). This decision must now be taken by all-members’-meetings. That is thought to tilt the likelihood of their adoption in favour of AMMs. Possibly more important is the subordination of the ECs to the AMM or GC. ECs now have no power of decision unless confirmed by the now superior body. This will be a major advance in many CLPs.

GC-led CLPs must ensure that Branches are meeting and discussing policy because there is no other way all members can be invited to the necessary number of meetings. Members in defunct or suppressed branches with GC-led CLPs should study this rule, as it’s an opportunity to have your say.

On national structures, the rule changes provide for the representation of young, BAME, and disabled members on the NEC using an electoral college of 50% members expressed through OMOV and 50% via affiliates; Scottish and Welsh representation with rules passed to the Scottish and Welsh Conferences; and the European Parliamentary Party. They establish the rule that NEC vacancies will be filled by by-elections (rather than by the runner-up from the previous ballot filling the vacancy). Critically, it provides that rule changes passed at Conference will be current from the day following Conference.

The addition of a disabled persons’ representative and the revision of the BAME representation are to be welcomed, but the likely result is that these three positions will be won by affiliate nominees, in effect negating the effect of the three additional CLP reps established last year. In any case the impending replacement of Keith Vaz as the BAME representative on the NEC should also be welcomed. Regional structures Rule changes were made to the chapters on Regional Structures and National Conference.

The latter lays the groundwork for equalities structures in the party. Sadly the proposal to drop the so-called three year rule, C2.II.2.H, which prohibits rule changes being considered anew without a four gap, was stymied. CLPD is drafting an amendment on this. The rulebook reverts the name of the elected bodies in regions back to Regional Executive Committee, thus reversing the management-speak reforms of the Blairite era. Regional rules are to be now owned by the NEC and published in the rule book. Regional Conferences are to have rulebook-approved standing orders. Equalities committees and similar bodies are to be responsible to the Regional Executive Committee not the NEC.

Appropriate rules are to be developed to ensure that candidates and Labour officials most appropriately accountable through Regional Executive Committee are managed as such. It’s just shocking that these reforms were needed. On National Conference, the new rulebook establishes an additional disabled member of CAC, deletes the requirement that motions be “contemporary”, increases the number of motions to be debated to 20, and establishes new woman’s, youth, BAME and disabled members’ conferences and other representational structures.

The proposal to delete the “three year rule” did not make it into the package. CLPs and affiliated organisations used to have to wait 12 months before their amendments were voted on. Conference 2018 changed this. Now rule changes are to be debated at the Conference they are proposed for.

The rules changes relating to the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) proposed to increase the size of the NCC; set a three-month deadline for hearings; establish a broader list of penalties, including apologies, reprimands, warnings and mandatory training; makes leaking of confidential information prejudicial. The power to suspend and investigate may be delegated (possibly to third parties) and the rules on CLP disciplinary procedures are to be reviewed and amended subject to conference 2019 approval.

The NEC also amended the rule that defines unacceptable behaviour (2.I.8) despite having said that discipline was outside the scope of the Democracy Review, and presumably rejecting all evidence from members as to what they want. There is a view that 2.I.8 is still not what we need as it weakens the presumption of innocence and the segregation of duties between Conference, the NEC and the NCC. We have elected the new NCC members, and now we’ll have to see how the broader punishment scale and the change of rules work, and whether we will have a better justice system inside the party. The jury is out on this one.

The only CLP-authored rule changes to get through were the abolition of the need for motions to be “contemporary”, the abolition of the requirement that rule changes have to wait for a year before they can be voted on, and the establishment of Conference Standing Orders.

There was a debate at conference 2018 about Rule 4.I.2.B, the rule under which a number of good campaigning comrades have been expelled or “auto-excluded” for “supporting an organisation other than official Labour organisations”. A submission proposed qualifying the type of organisation that might lead to expulsion as one that conflicted with Labour’s aims and values and placing the process by which such exclusion would be undertaken under auspices of the disciplinary procedures. The current rule allows a secret decision and no appeal: the disciplinary procedures are marginally more visible than that.

Actions taken under the old have been factionally motivated and contrary to the rules of natural justice. Unfortunately the proposing CLP had allowed the rule change to be called “membership of other parties” which isn’t what the rule is about. Its current words make “support for organisations other than official Labour organisations” an act that renders one liable for exclusion. This rule is usually used against small groups in the party which leads one to ask, why not Progress, Labour First or Momentum? It has been most visibly used against Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Appeal. It was also used against three long-term activists in NW Surrey who had wanted to explore running a “progressive alliance” candidate against Jeremy Hunt. It was also used against Moshe Machover, although the decision in his case was revoked on the grounds that writing an article for a newspaper couldn’t be considered “support for an organisation other than …”

There is no certainty with this rule, and there’s certainly no justice. In summary, the trigger ballot reform is a tremendous step forward, and so is the rewriting of the CLP rules. The establishment of a charter of members’ rights is also an important gain.

The NEC reforms must be assessed as a score draw, but if they act as a focus for autonomous organisation of BAME, youth and the disabled, these will be victories. We need to review the leadership election rules. As we make democratic advances, we need to balance the transfer of power to individual members with the ability to take collective decisions.

Given the reactions to the Party’s Brexit compromise, with neither side particularly happy, a number of Labour Party people need to learn how concede to others in the Party. The “othering” of members must stop, and the arguments we should use must allow us to come together. The refusal to accept that the outcome from the policy process is a point of unity must also stop.

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