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Conference delegates sidelined three days in a row

At Labour conference in Manchester, for three days running constituency Labour parties (CLPs) have been silenced and their rights ignored.

On Sunday, CLP delegate Maggie Dunn went to the rostrum to complain that debates on rule changes proposed last year by Bridgend and Islington North might not be allowed because of an NEC rule change only finalised that day.

Several delegates moved reference back on the Conference Arragements Committee (CAC) report on this issue, as is their right. The conference Chair, Michael Cashman, ignored them and went straight to the vote on the CAC report.

When that report was clearly rejected on a show of hands, the Chair ruled that it had been carried and ignored all calls for a card vote – another right ignored.

And yesterday, Maggie Dunn returned to the rostrum after Bridgend and Islington North delegates had met with the CAC. Again, they argued that because the NEC rule change had by then been carried, they were again moving reference back unless the CAC Chair confirmed that the rule changes would be debated.

For a second time, the session chair ignored the delegates request and just put the CAC to the vote. When not many hands were raised, the Chair asked if there were any more. A few more hands went up. The report is carried said the Chair! What about the votes against, cried many delegates.

As an afterthought, the chair asked for votes against and voting was especially heavy from the Unite delegation and CLP delegates on that side of the hall though many delegates abstained. The vote was harder to call so there were many calls for a card vote. The report is carried, said the chair, again ignoring delegates. The cries for card votes multiplied across the hall but still the Chair ignored delegates’ rights.

Since two days running, conference chairs failed to put the request for a reference back to a vote, there was a third attempt at reference back today (Tuesday). In a welcome move, the first delegate to move reference back was Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA.

“I don’t know how on earth our emergency motion on railways was ruled out,” said Cortes. “The information that was its basis only came out on Wednesday. Unless the conference arrangements committee is clairvoyant, how can this not qualify as an emergency resolution?”

A CLP delegate then spoke in support of reference back, again highlighting the case of Islington North. The question was raised: in what circumstances would delegates be permitted a card vote, given that they had asked for one so many times, and had been refused.

It is absurd that the ruling against the grassroots rule changes was made in the first place. Bridgend & Islington North rule changes are not in conflict with Refounding Labour. Their proposals were declared in order by the CAC last week. It is unfair to CLPs not to debate a proposal they made over a year ago because of an NEC proposal 3 days old. We may have a 3 year rule – but we don’t have a 3 day rule!

The chair of the conference arrangements committee completely ignored the question about card votes. Conference chair Michael Cashman then – yes, once again – ignored the fact that reference back had been moved. Again, he moved straight to a hand vote on the CAC report.

It’s worth mentioning Cashman’s remarkable admission this morning in opening conference. “We’ll ask the chair of the CAC to prevent… sorry, present – now there’s a Freudian slip!” Quite. The Oxford English dictionary defines Freudian slip as: “an unintentional error regarded as revealing subconscious feelings”.

Conference delegates must continue to assert their rights, as members of what is set out in the constitution as the party’s ruling body. Yet when they are trampled on time and time again, it’s no surprise that so many leave conference, year after year, feeling demoralised.

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