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Refounding Labour: new attempt to stitch up constituency parties

So far, Refounding Labour has meant proposing to dilute the influence of party members by enfranchising non-members who become “registered supporters”, attacking union influence, seeking to prevent proper debate and decision-making by having just one vote on a single package of reforms, and failing to publish submissions to the review. Now party officials have found a new scam to prevent constituency parties having an input to the party structure — ruling out of order several rule changes proposed by constituency parties themselves, without any discussion by the Conference Arrangements Committee and just days before they met.

The inadequacies of the proposals so far presented have been outlined here, and the row over publishing submissions here. The rule changes ruled out of order include ones covering:

  1. the right of CLPs and Unions to amend NPF documents at Annual Conference, submitted by Bridgend, Burnley, Cardiff Central, Chingford and Woodford Green, East Devon, Gower, Mid Bedfordshire and Nottingham South CLPs;
  2. the right to submit a rule change and a contemporary motion (especially important to trade unions which only have one motion even if they have a million members) submitted by Buckingham, Harrogate and Knaresborough, Hitching and Harpenden, Holborn and St Pancras, Horsham, Ilford South and North East Bedfordshire CLPs.
  3. allowing conference to vote in parts on NEC reports, submitted by Islington North CLP.

In an arcane procedure, these rule changes were actually submitted last year. Under a  long-established rule, rule-change proposals from CLPs and unions must be debated the year after they are submitted. That is supposed to allow for fuller reflection and debate. The fact that the National Executive can get rule changes debated without any delay, and that party managers now talk of the NEC putting a load of rule changes to this 2011 conference without even one day’s notice, let alone one year’s make that rationale a joke. Delegates will see the rule changes only when they arrive at the conference.

In fact no-one has been “considering” the rule-change proposals submitted by CLPs in 2010 over the last year. Although the letters received by CLP secretaries last Saturday claimed they had been given careful consideration by the Conference Arrangements Committee, they have, in fact, not been discussed at all. Had the letters been delayed for two working days, they could have been discussed at its meeting tomorrow!

All of these proposals would have enabled constituency parties to have a greater say in the development of party policy. All would have honoured Ed Milibands commitment to create a “Living, breathing party” which gives party members a real voice. The grounds for ruling them out are entirely spurious. Some of the constituencies concerned have already decided to appeal against the decision. However, there is a real concern that constituency proposals will be denied a hearing, and party conference will be presented with a single package of proposals many of which are totally undesirable, with a single vote on the whole package.


  1. Robbie says:

    Your article didn’t really articulate a solution which I found a little odd. The entire process has been a sham from start to finish – we’ve known this for a good 6 months if not longer and we seem content to let it happen. They don’t trust members with policy or selecting candidates. I’m 23, I joined when I was 16 and I really can’t see myself lasting past new year.

  2. Harry Barnes says:

    Robbie: I first joined the Labour Party when 21, which is 54 years ago. On CND marches at the time I used to sing “Gaitskell is our leader. He must be removed”. What is now happening to the role of card carrying members of the Labour Party is worse than anything envisaged by Gaitskell and then more fully by Blair. I can’t really bring myself to resign from the Labour Party after all this time – after all I had 18 years as a Labour MP. Is there anything principled I could do to get expelled?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Don’t do that Harry, we need you! And whilst this is a depressing report, there are many positives. Things are better than under New Labour. We will have debates this year on contemporary motions. We will, I think, have debates at conference in the future on minority reports from the NPF. The door is still opening to member involvement, even if obstacles are still being placed in our way.

      Under David Miliband, changes would probably have been made to the party structure without even a vote at conference – on the basis of a take-it-or-leave it “referendum” of party members. We have stopped that, preserved the trade union link and retained a working class foundation for the party.

  3. Harry Barnes says:

    John : It is OK, at 75 I am not going anywhere. I will continue to hold my card of incovenience. But the likely procedures that will now be followed to make decisions in a wide area on policy-making procedures, structure, activity and even policy direction itself will be a democratic disgrace. Even Blair gave us a chance to debate whether or not we wanted his new Clause 4. (We could come back with a campaign to get rid of its worst bits – such as the commitment to a “dynamic economy”.)

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