First we had the stitch-up. Then the farce. But today, Labour’s party managers have excelled themselves in their cynical manipulation of Labour’s conference agenda. The Conference Arrangements Committee, in its interpretation of the rulebook, has added new dimensions to the elasticity of meaning. Delegates from six constituency parties (Amber Valley, Blackpool South, Caerphilly, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Newport West, Uxbridge and South Ruislip) were summoned to discuss the rule change they submitted 18 months ago, designed to prevent the “parachuting‟ of Parliamentary candidates into safe Labour seats.
Labour’s rulebook includes a ban on proposing an amendment to the same “part” of the rules that has been amended within the previous three years. This was designed to prevent debating the same issue year after year. Unlike those proposing several other rule changes ruled out on this basis, these constituency parties were asked last month to confirm that they wanted to pursue the rule change, and it was scheduled to be taken on Wednesday morning. The trade unions have a particularly strong interest in this rule change because it is often union-sponsored candidates who are pushed aside by sharp-suited career politicians.
The delegates were shocked to be told that their rule change had been ruled out “under the three year rule.” The feisty delegates demanded an explanation. The officers, under pressure, eventually argued that because on Sunday, under Refounding Labour, there had been a very minor amendment to the same chapter of the rulebook, their rule change was caught by the three year moratorium. In fact, the proposed change was to a wholly distinct and separate sub-clause much later in the chapter which dealt with a totally discrete issue. It was unrelated to any issue discussed under Refounding Labour. Following their meeting, the angry delegates consulted the text of the new Rule Book to establish what exactly the three-year rule said. It reads as follows:
When Party conference has made a decision on a constitutional amendment, no resolution to amend that part of the constitution or rules of the Party shall appear on the agenda for a period of three years from the time such decision is made, except such resolutions to amend the constitution and rules that are in the opinion of the NEC of immediate importance.”
The CAC seems to be illegitimately redefining the meaning of a “part”. Clearly a part is not a clause and it is certainly not a chapter. Had the designers of the rulebook wanted to put “clause‟ or “chapter‟ they would have done so, but they put “part”. The delegates and Conference have been denied their democratic rights of debate. Expect trouble!