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Control freakery still rules OK at Labour conference

If you are in any doubt about the extent of control freakery operating still in the Labour Party, take a look at the contemporary motions. Gordon Brown had abolished these back in 2007 just after becoming leader – they were the last chance left for conference to vote on policy issues. Until then, most had been ruled out of order anyway, but Gordon didn’t ever want to lose a vote. Instead, we had debates on contemporary ‘issues’. No motions. No votes. No reason to rule them out of order. No one cared. None were. Since last year, we’ve have ‘motions’ back. And, so suddenly they matter again. And they’re mostly ruled out of order.

The reasons are complicated. Because the ‘criteria’ set by the party managers are complicated. They have, amongst other things to have a ‘trigger’ — an event in late July, August or September (after publication of the main party reports) upon which the motion is based. It is the trigger that makes it ‘contemporary’. One year a particularly anodyne motion — the sort so beloved by party managers — was accepted whose trigger was the tenth anniversary of Tony Blair becoming leader. However, less anodyne motions must have rather stronger triggers – and the less anodyne they are, you’ve guessed it, the stronger the trigger must be.

So this year, the vast majority of the subjects on which 181 contemporary motions have been submitted cannot be debated. The motions have been ruled out of order. Not the union motions, of course — that would be asking for trouble. So Unite will get to move a motion on phone hacking, Unison and USDAW one on public services (covering the pensions issue), the GMB on health and social care, and other unions one on jobs, growth and employment rights. These four subjects are guaranteed debate because the trade unions get to choose four subjects.

The constituency parties can choose four subjects too. Unfortunately, party managers normally advise constituency delegates in “briefing sessions” to vote for the unions’ four too, usually on the basis of “demonstrating unity”. The party must support unions when that helps prevent policy debate and actual policy decisions, you see, but not of course when we are reviewing their share of the vote in taking those decisions. If delegates do vote for the union choices, their votes are simply wasted.

Constituency delegates who want to participate in policy debates should therefore vote for four other topics. Three of these are likely to be (i) Urban riots, (ii) housing, and (iii) Post Offices. A number of motions were submitted on each of these by CLPs. Some of them have still been ruled out of order of course. The housing one from Horsham, for example. It quoted Caroline Flint saying on 5 August that social housing should be used to reward those who are ‘making a contribution’. Not good enough, apparently. Nothing to do with the fact that the motion called for “building sufficient numbers of  social homes to provide for all those in need” of course!

But the worst of it are the subjects ruled out completely. Motions on:Works Capaci

  • media ownership
  • energy
  • global markets
  • Trident
  • Planning
  • Works capacity assessments (disability)
  • EMAs
  • Finance & banking
  • Sustainable energy strategy
  • NHS drugs programme
  • Welfare reform
  • Community Education
  • School structures
  • Wholesale fuel prices
  • Northern Rock
  • SureStart
  • 6th form education
  • Refounding Labour
  • Boundary Commission

None of those are of urgent and current importance to people?

The control freaks are still running the party.  Ed Miliband may not have asked them to do it. But no-one’s stopped them yet. And so Ed isn’t getting the “living, breathing party” he wanted.


  1. william says:

    Prepare for many years of party conference in opposition……

  2. Syzygy says:

    And which ‘party within a party’ dominates the ‘control freaks’ running the LP? I believe that membership of Progress is almost a prerequisite of getting a job in Labour HQ. Certainly, a hint of socialism would mitigate against a hiring.

    That would be Progress, the Purple book and M4Change … all funded by Lord Sainsbury, Bell Pottinger, Pfizers etc.

  3. Jon Sadler says:


    Your point may turn out to be well made.

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