Thanks to Momentum Internationalists for this briefing on Labour Party conference (25-29 September, in Brighton)
Who are Momentum Internationalists?
Momentum Internationalists was formed by activists from the left anti-Brexit campaign Labour for a Socialist Europe, L4SE, in early 2020 to continue the fight for left-wing and internationalist politics after the Tories finally forced through Brexit. We ran candidates in the Momentum NCG elections of 2020 and promoted motions in the Momentum policy priorities ballot of 2021. We are not just a caucus within Momentum. We have been active on the streets, for example in the Black Lives Matter and NHS pay protests of 2020. We have run public Zoom meetings on the farmers’ movement in India, on the resistance in Myanmar, and on the EHRC report and antisemitism in Labour (we reckon there is a real problem there, not just a concocted smear). At this Brighton conference we are organising activities to support Afghan refugees, as well as pushing our favoured motions on conference floor. We have worked with a range of other campaigns, including the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign, the Hong Kong campaign LMSHKUK, Free Our Unions, the UK support group for the Jewish-Arab movement for equality and justice in Israel-Palestine Standing Together, the Labour Homelessness Campaign, and Neurodivergent Labour.
As too often before, the National Executive Committee (NEC) will seek to ram through large rule changes at this conference at short notice. Many are presented as responses to the EHRC report on antisemitism. But that called for an independent disciplinary procedure. The rule changes set up procedures run by the NEC and “Boards” appointed by committees appointed by the General Secretary. We call on delegates to oppose those rule changes. We want due process, and disciplinary committees elected and operating independently of the NEC and the General Secretary: see more here. The issues here are part of the broader battle to push back the “auto-exclusions” and arbitrary and indefinite suspensions which have hit the party in waves since 2015. The Labour HQ machine have been forced to apologise recently after overreaching themselves with spurious warning letters to Young Labour chair Jess Barnard and to Kate Osborne MP. Now Labour List editor Sienna Rodgers reports a similar letter sent to a housemate by mistake for someone else who had anyway quit the party…
Making Parliamentary Labour Party accountable, and other rule changes
There will be other regressive rule-changes from the NEC, possibly including a return to giving MPs one-third of the voting power in leadership elections, increasing the “trigger” threshold for open parliamentary selections where there are sitting Labour MPs, and increasing the threshold for forcing leadership challenges. LabourList reports Starmer saying that he wants policy decided by other than “endless motions at conference”, and may want to limit the number of motions debated. There will also be good rule changes proposed by CLPs. The biggest is one to make the Parliamentary Labour Party accountable to conference. It’s a good change anyway, and will give conference the power to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour whip.
Approving David Evans as General Secretary?
The rulebook says: “The General Secretary shall be elected by Party conference on the recommendation of the NEC... Should a vacancy... occur... between Party conferences, the NEC shall have full power to fill the vacancy subject to the approval of Party conference”. That “approval” has in the past been given “on the nod”, but no previous General Secretary has scattered suspensions and exclusions and prohibitions like Evans. Unite, CWU, FBU and other unions are against “approving” Evans. We need to force a card vote on this.
Referring back the National Policy Forum report
Neurodivergent Labour will move a reference-back on the National Policy Forum report because it contains nothing on neurodiversity, despite ND Labour’s submission being the second most popular in its section. Oddly, Momentum has been saying (without explanation) that it will take no position on reference-backs.
Motions ruled out
The Labour for a Green New Deal motion, and the Build Back Fairer motion prioritised by Momentum (about social and economic reconstruction), were initially ruled out by the Conference Arrangements Committee, on grounds that they fail to be “on one subject”, as the rulebook requires. Motions on the “single subjects” of climate and on reconstruction in pandemic and after have to be wide-ranging. The criterion is slippery, and in 2019, for example, many equally wide-ranging motions were debated. The LGND motion has been reinstated on appeal.
A compositing meeting will decide two or three alternative “composite” texts for conference to debate. Delegates must make sure that public ownership of energy industries, transport, and high finance, contained in the Fire Brigades Union text, do not get lost in compositing.
Uyghurs and Hong Kong
Versions of a motion drafted by the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign and Labour Solidarity with Hong Kong have been submitted by East and South East Asians for Labour and Finchley and Golders Green CLP. The Hong Kong labour movement is being forced underground, with the HK Confederation of Trade Unions and the HK Professional Teachers’ Union both pressured into disbanding by threats that otherwise their leaders still at liberty would join the several trade unionists already in jail.
The conference has many motions on social care. We want to see text reaching conference floor which calls for social care to be run as a publicly-owned public service, free to those needing care, and for care workers to be on at least NHS-level pay and conditions.
Borders Bill, Afghanistan
Lewes CLP (at least) has a motion against the Tories’ Borders Bill. Putney CLP has one for an open door for Afghan refugees.
Labour conferences 2015, 2017, and 2019 voted for the repeal of all anti-union laws, the Thatcher-era ones as well as the Trade Union Act. 2019 conference even voted to refer back a section of the National Policy Forum report on the issue. In July Shadow Employment Secretary Andy McDonald said “Labour is committed to repealing anti-union laws”, but that tweet is almost all we’ve heard from the Labour leadership on this since early 2020. Several motions to conference will seek to reaffirm the commitment.
Edinburgh Central CLP has submitted an emergency motion.
144 motions call for Labour to support Proportional Representation. And, yes, PR is more democratic. Under FPTP voters in marginal seats have more sway than those in “safe” seats, voters are pushed into “tactical voting” (e.g. for Lib Dems when they seem more likely to beat the Tories in a particular seat), and regionally-based minorities are favoured over more evenly-spread ones. But we worry about PR being seen as a short-cut enabling Labour to shelve the task of winning a positive majority for socialist policies in favour of the apparently easier route (to what?) of a centrist “anti-Tory” majority via alliance with the Lib-Dems.
Birmingham Hall Green CLP calls for Labour to back a “Zero Covid” (ZC) policy of “eliminating” the virus. (The motion doesn’t say how, but the ZC campaign looks to longer and stricter lockdowns). Some may want to vote for ZC as a rebuke to the Labour leaders’ weakness. That would be wrong. The York Central motion for a Covid inquiry is better. Elimination is not possible any time soon, any more than elimination of flu. Lockdowns have their place, but long strict lockdowns (like Argentina, eight months in 2020) do not work in countries whose geography precludes rigidly closing borders. To focus on police measures (lockdowns, rigid border closures) ignores the fact that the best predictor of lower Covid tolls, between areas and countries, is lower social inequality. One of us debated with the “Zero Covid” campaign back in February 2021 here.