The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) held its Annual General Meeting, its fortieth, last Saturday at Conway Hall in central London. Coming up to 40 – it was actually founded later in the year – it may now be the oldest pressure group operating within the Labour Party (though there are some older affiliated organisations some of which, like the Socialist Health Association and the Socialist education Association, started as pressure groups).
The highest attendance at an AGM for some years, and a considerable increase in younger members, meant that whilst there were speeches and tributes commemorating the anniversary, there was much discussion and debate on the way forward for the Left in the Labour Party.
Kelvin Hopkins MP opened the meeting paying tribute to CLPD and declared that the organisation had saved the soul of the Party. He particularly credited Vladimir and Vera Derer, founder members whose home served as CLPD’s offices for most of those 40 years, for all their commitment and hard work over the years and to the continuing work of Pete Willsman, CLPD secretary, the only person to have served on all four of the Labour Party’s four national bodies (NEC, NCC, NPF & CAC*) over a period of thirty years. Kelvin also acknowledged the role of CLPD in the recent leadership election where CLPD called for a second preference vote for Ed Milliband. Given the closeness of the result, CLPD’s call may have been decisive.
Pete Willsman reported that seven of CLPD’s model rule changes were on the agenda for the 2013 party conference. These include calls for a rolling policy programme, leaders of Labour Groups on councils to be elected by LP members via an electoral college and tougher triggers for re-selection of MPs and elected Mayors. At the 2012 conference CLPD had played a significant role in three resolutions debated on the NHS, housing and the railways. The daily Campaign Briefing (known as the Yellow Pages) handed out each day at conference had now reached its fiftieth year having been taken over by CLPD some years after it commenced, and had been edited for 30 years until this year by membership registrar Andrew Fenyo.
The meeting heard how local campaign forums, introduced to replace the previous party structures at district, county and borough levels as part of Refounding Labour, were in many places being used to exclude trade unions and party activists and eliminate accountability. However, in other paces this had been avoided and the local government discussion focussed on different ways of involving party members in local party manifestos and electing their leaders.
Young Labour and young members in CLPD were discussed. Left successes in recent elections in Young Labour were reported as well the continuing lack of internal democracy. Two rule changes agreed created two new positions on the CLPD executive for young members and lower subscription rates.
Christine Shawcroft (a member of the party’s national executive committee) reported on its meetings and those of the national policy forum (NPF) reports. Christine encouraged members to have more input into the NPF. The November NEC had discussed the problems of getting card votes at conference. Christine said whilst there were some good trade union delegates on the NEC, some actually voted against their unions’ own polices on occasion.
In the afternoon session, Jon Lansman (NPF organiser and editor of Yellow Pages) read out an entertaining message from former MP and longstanding CLPD member Chris Mullin, and Jon gave his own reflections on CLPD which he joined in 1977. Both Chris and Jon also paid tribute to the Derers.
Jon went on to give a preview of the Charter for a Democratic Conference. At last year’s party conference delegates were allocated only 18% of the conference time for their debates. The charter demands that they should get at least 50%, the criteria for motions and rule changes be more flexible and fair, and voting procedures be fair and democratic. The Charter will be launched on this site in the near future.
Ann Pettifor gave a wide ranging speech touching on the fight for more representation for women in the Party over the years and the current problems with finance caused by the banks. Ann said a social policy was essential and that if we leave the financial system to others we will not be able to defend the welfare state.
Jon Ashworth MP spoke of his influence byFrank Allaun, one of CLPD’s earliest supporters, and he too paid tribute to the CLPD’s influence on the party’s internal democracy – the survival of the electoral college and (to some extent) the reselection of MPs. He also spoke of the need for more working class candidates for parliament and the need for the support of the unions to achieve this. Jon highlighted the need for a fairer system of owning the national media and the bringing back Labour policy of the 10 pence tax rate.
Following regional reports, six motions to the conference were debated and passedon subjects ranging from economic policy to the Tower Hamlets mayoral selection.
* NEC stands for National Executive Committee (theoretically responsible for managing the party), NCC for National Constitutional Committee (the party’s final court of appeal on disciplinary matters), NPF for National Policy Forum (which theoretically devises the party’s policies) & CAC for Conference Arrangements Committee (the body that theoretically oversees all aspects of the organsation of the Party conference). If only things were as they were supposed to be!
This piece was written by Jon Lansman & Mike Loates.