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Whose party is it anyway? Labour General Secretary makes up the rules

Ray Collins, Labour General Secretary

Many of us on the Left have complained, for years, that party officials have been making the rules up as they went along to achieve the ends of their political masters. What we didn’t realise was that the General Secretary would not only make up the rules, but also insert them in the rule book without the authority of conference, and without even bothering to report it to Labour’s national executive. But that is precisely what we read in today’s Guardian (if you read to the bottom!).

The rules concerned relate to the composition of the national executive and the rights of trade unions to nominate to it. Until the Rule Book 2009, trade unions (like CLPs) were not limited in the number of  nominations they could make for the 12 places executive for affiliated organisations [Chapter 4C1A(iii), pp31/2]. This was important since, following the amalgamation of TGWU and Amicus, Unite had four members in that section (now reduced to two following one retirement and the election of Diana Holland as Treasurer) and Unison and the GMB each have two. This is not surprising as there are now only 12 affiliated unions, of which the biggest three have three-quarters of the members.

In the Rule Book 2010, a restriction was inserted by the General Secretary [Chapter 4C1A(iii)(f ) p24] which had not been agreed by conference, without reporting it to the national executive or party officers and without discussing it with the unions affected. The effect of this new “rule” restricted unions to one nomination apart from those with more than 500,000 members (which could just be Unite). At least two of the party’s biggest funders stood to lose a place on the executive.

It is not surprising that, when this was discovered, the trade unions were livid. Tony Woodley (then Unite General Secretary and Chair of TULO) and Paul Kenny (GMB General Secretary) wrote to party General Secreytary, Ray Collin,s complaining about his “unauthorised changes” to Labour rules. It goes on:

A culture has arisen,that doesn’t feel itself bound by the rules or the checks and balances of party democracy.”

Ray Collins clearly doesn’t understand the problem. His “excuse” is that he was reintroducing a rule which had been there before (in the 1990s) and had been excluded in error. Even if there had been an error (for which there is no evidence — the entire rule book has since been revised and approved by conference) you would at least expect the general secretary to discuss the matter with the unions concerned, report the issue to the executive and recommend a way forward.

The other new rule introduced by Collins tried to remove the requirement for gender balance when filling vacancies on the party executive [Chapter 4C1A(iii)(g) – p24]. This would have enabled him to fill one of the two vacancies for women in the trade union section with the one man not elected last time. Unfortunately, “cut and paste” does not appear to be in the Collins skill set. He left the original clause in too [Chapter 4C1A(iv) – p24].

The Guardian’s Allegra Stratton concludes:

So the party’s set for a serious battle of wills. Collins backed David not Ed Miliband and union sources are certain he is shoring up the party machine against the Labour leader: in favour of the party’s right. Ed tried to do something about this; he ennobled Collins shortly after becoming leader on the proviso he stood down – but so far Collins hasn’t budged.

Something tells me that it won’t be too long before Ray Collins begins spending rather more time on those red benches.


  1. Gary Elsby says:

    This is the man we tried to get into Court.
    What went on in Stoke (to remove any difference of opinion to the NEC) is breathtaking.
    They (him?) through the OSC imposed 19/20 local candidates.
    They did this because the entire Labour membership of Stoke boycotted them.
    In one instance, they imosed a candidate and balloted by post. He won.
    He is now the only Labour Councillor in Stoke to refuse to sign the Holocaust memorial book!

    They demanded we hold an AGM in March.
    Why the 100 year old tradition of holding it in February was not sufficient, they would not say.
    Our MP, Chair and the whole shooting match wanted in February and so it was held in February.
    They suspended the CLP and removed all Officers.
    Enter Tristram Hunt via Parachute.
    AHHHHHH now we get it!

    Being disciples of satan we were stopped from being candidates in anything and the Chair is now blacklisted from every position in the LP for 3 years. He can’t even run a raffle.

    The only guidline we had was not to hold an AGM anywhere near the GE being held in May 2010.

    The OSC were deliberate in their actions, they were under orders, we were told it was Collins, we attempted to put him under oath.
    We failed.

    Informed opinions coming our way has suggested that someone got the sack.

    There needs to be a root and branch clearout within LP HQ because they have successfully constructed one of the biggest forms of opposition to Labour in Stoke.
    Everyone of us Committed Socialists, including former Leaders, Deputy leaders, Whips, Secretaries, treasurers, you name it.

    How ridiculous that we try our best to remove Labour MPs and Councillors and how wrong that they reject our views and break the rules to remove us.

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