Were you or your local party consulted about our new commitments on freezing public sector pay or not reversing Tory cuts? No? And what about or policy review more generally — have you felt any more involved than you did in the New Labour years? We thought not. As it happens, you’ve got one more week to respond to the party’s consultation on how “to make a reformed policy making system more accessible and responsive to Party members.” You can respond as individuals or through your CLP by 31 January, online or send your views to Iain McNicol and Peter Hain at party HQ. Needless to say, we have some views of our own.
On reforms to Conference, how about:
- The arbitrary criteria of “contemporary” in relation to motions should be removed. Large numbers of CLP motions on important issues of concern to us all have been ruled of order on arcane and bureaucratic grounds. CLPs and trade unions should be able to submit policy motions on any issue they consider to be important, and if carried the National Policy Forum should incorporate them into their policy documents.
- And while we’re at it, why can’t CLPs (and affiliates) also propose motions on campaigning, finance and organisation? When Tony Blair stopped the party being able to send policy motions and amendments on the pretext of creating a more meaningful and inclusive policy process, these were unnecessary casualties of the “reform”.
- It needs to be clearly laid down that, at conference, in addition to the four subjects chosen by the trade unions and timetabled for debate, at least four subjects on separate issues put forward by CLPs should also be timetabled.
- Conference delegates should have the democratic right to vote in parts on lengthy reports from the National Policy Forum. At present, conference has to vote on a take-it-or-leave-it basis on documents that can stretch to 40 or more pages and covering many different issues. This means that a small section of a document which is opposed by a majority of conference cannot be deleted from a document that is otherwise perfectly acceptable.
- Conference delegates should be able to have abstentions properly accounted for in the voting tally. At Liverpool, in a vote on a CLP-proposed rule change, almost half the union delegates switched from opposing the proposal to abstention because of the strength of CLP delegates’ contributions. Nevertheless, almost all of the unions’ half share of conference votes were shown as opposing the CLP proposal because abstentions are ignored in the reckoning. This is unjust to both sections of conference!
- Removing the one-year delay before rule changes from CLPs and trade unions can be considered by conference (a convention known as the “1968 ruling”). At Liverpool, delegates bitterly complained that their very short rule change proposals had to wait over a year whereas the NEC expected delegates to vote on some 100 pages of rule changes that had only been available to them for at most two days but, in most cases, just a few hours.
- That each CLP (and trade union) should be able to submit to conference both a motion and a rule change. CLPs have precious few opportunities to influence party thinking and there is an unjust restriction on party democracy.
- Last year, the NEC introduced a new pilot parliamentary selection process under which a selection committee of 6-10 people appointed by the local party executive itself agrees a shortlist of as few as two candidates without any nomination process. This shortlist is not subject to approval by the CLP. Although this process is only a pilot and has only been used in a small number of marginal seats where selections have been allowed prior to the boundary changes, the old selection procedure was deleted from the rule book at Liverpool in September. This deletion happened without any discussion at conference, by the NEC or any of its committees. The NEC should restore the right of members’ (and union) branches to interview and nominate candidates in parliamentary selections.
- There should effective structures in place to ensure the accountability of all Labour elected representatives, and of Council (and other) Labour Groups. Last year, conference resolved to set up local campaign forums. Unfortunately, the change might be used to create a slimmed down structure completely dominated by the Leader or elected Mayor and their appointees. Command and control is a bad model for the local party — just as it was for the national party under Tony Blair.
- We should establish a charter of members’ rights, with a party ombudsperson to whom aggrieved members could appeal. Even if the days of command and control are over for now, members need some protection in case.
In addition to these, we’d add three other key issues of party democracy:
You have until 31 January. Don’t delay! Do it here and now.