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A chance for concrete reforms in the original spirit of Refounding Labour

One of the functions of Labour conference is to consider proposed changes to the party constitution.

Some of these rule changes will be proposed by the national executive committee (NEC). These will be set out in the Delegates Report issued to delegates before Conference. Advice in relation to these rule changes will be given to delegates in Campaign Briefing, the daily conference bulletin issued by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).

Conference will have the opportunity to debate and vote on important rule change proposals from constituency Labour parties (CLPs), which would modernise the party and empower the grassroots. These were submitted in 2011, but under the Party’s procedures are not brought forward until 2012.

But the CLP rule changes are not actually timetabled at Conference unless a request has been made to the CAC by the CLP/delegate. The closing time for making this request is likely to be 5.30pm on Sunday 30th September. The safest way is for the CLP Secretary to write to the CAC (c/o Head Office) well before conference. Invariably the conference platform and party establishment opposes all rule changes from CLPs, which devalues the whole process.

At the time of writing the following are the most important rule changes from CLPs coming before Conference (full details will be given in the Delegates Report). It is vital that delegates ensure that the CLP proposals are given a fair hearing and are not brushed aside. They are in line with the general thrust of the Refounding Labour reforms.

If Bridgend CLP’s rule change was passed, it would be a big step towards restoring a more effective Annual Conference. Bridgend is proposing that CLPs and Unions should have the right to amend NPF documents at Conference. It is absolutely right that party organisations should be able to have their views tabled at our Party’s Sovereign body.

Direct amendments from CLPs and Unions could be submitted in the year that the final stage policy documents are being considered. It is already the agreed practice that, at this final stage, CLPs and Unions can send amendments to the NPF. But this means that CLPs and Unions have to rely on the grace and favour of NPF reps in order for their amendments to be progressed.

The platform will say that this matter is “under review” and ask for the Bridgend rule change to be remitted into the long grass. Don’t be bamboozled! Vote for Bridgend!

Islington North CLP seeks to make ‘Annex Reports’ to Annual Conference from the NPF more democratic. Annex Reports gave an account of the action that the NPF had taken in relation to each of the Contemporary Motions/Issues that were considered by the previous year’s Conference, consequent to the Priorities Ballot in that year. Conference could then assess to what extent the Contemporary Motion/Issue had been treated seriously by the NPF. It was a way of holding the NPF to account.

But last year no Annex Reports were presented and it looks as if the ‘powers-that-be’ have redirected them to the long grass. But Conference should have a specific report about what has happened to the Contemporary Motions carried the previous year. Annex Reports are an important mechanism of accountability. Minority reports within Annex Reports (as Islington North propose) would be an even stronger mechanism of democracy and accountability. Delegates need to rescue Annex Reports from the long grass by supporting Islington North.

The platform will say that this matter is under review” and ask for the Islington North rule change to be remitted into the dustbin. Don’t be bamboozled! Vote for Islington North!

In addition to the rule changes from Bridgend and Islington North, a further 12 different rule changes were submitted to this Conference by a grand total of 28 CLPs. All have been ruled out by the Conference Arrangements Committee (CA). In at least one case the ruling out was completely unjustified and in many cases it was highly questionable.

The 28 CLPs that have been brushed aside are: Leyton and Wanstead; Rochford and Southend East; Bury North; Hemsworth; Ilford South; Caerphilly; New Forest East; Tiverton and Honiton; Cardiff Central ; East Devon; Mid Beds; Wolverhampton North East; Banbury; Dulwich and West Norwood; Harrogate and Knaresborough; Holborn and St Pancras; Kettering; Kingston and Surbiton; Nottingham South; Uxbridge and South Ruislip; City of Durham; Cardiff North; Newport West; Salford and Eccles; Stockport; New Forest West; Greenwich and Woolwich; East Lothian.

An identical rule change from two CLPs (Leyton and Wanstead; and Rochford and Southend East) has been ruled out completely illegitimately. The rule change sought to establish the new position of a Party Ombudsperson. This person would investigate all complaints of dubious and unethical conduct within our Party, including complaints against full time party officials. A cynic might argue that this is precisely why party officials might like to see this particular rule change redirected to the dustbin!

When submitting their rule change the two CLPs simply proposed adding a new clause 10 (establishing a Party Ombudsperson) to Chapter 1 of the Rule Book. And they asked for the existing clauses to be re-numbered. The rule change from the 2 CLPs was correctly printed in last year’s Delegates Report.

But in the version of the rule change shown subsequently to the CAC the office had added “Delete the current Clause 10”. They then used this deletion as the basis for recommending that the Leyton and Rochford rule change be ruled out!

The office also argued that since “a very similar proposal” from South Ribble CLP was defeated in 2011 then Leyton and Rochford are caught by the ‘3-year-rule’. But South Ribble was proposing a Code of Ethics for our Party, not an ombudsperson. Also South Ribble was to a different chapter in the Rule Book. The ‘3-year-rule’ states:

when party conference has made a decision on a constitutional amendment, no proposal to amend that part of the constitution or rules of the party shall appear on the agenda for a period of three years

A completely different chapter is clearly not the same “part” of the constitution!

The definition of the word “part” has a major significance because the CAC has ruled out most of the 12 rule change proposals from the 28 CLPs by employing a blanket application of the word ‘part’. They clearly maintain that if there is, say, a gigantic clause, covering lots of different parts/topics, then even the most minor successful rule amendment, to only one small part of that clause, automatically means that nothing whatsoever in the whole clause can be touched for another three years!

This has to be an incorrect interpretation. Unfortunately it suggests that the powers-that-be have a deep seated hostility, perhaps subconscious, to what they see as pesky CLPs having ideas above their allotted station.

Had the originators of the ‘3-year-rule’ meant ‘clause’ they would have put ‘clause’ but they put ‘part’. Obviously ‘part’ was generally intended to be something smaller and more discrete than a whole clause. The CAC needs to give the matter more thought and stop treating CLPs so unfairly. This injustice must be addressed! A completely different chapter is clearly not the same “part” of the constitution!

Delegates must give full support to the attempts by Leyton and Wanstead and Rochford and Southend East to get this injustice addressed.

How exactly the word “part” in the extract above is to be defined has a major significance, because the CAC has ruled out most of the 12 rule change proposals from the 28 CLPs by employing a blanket application. The CAC needs to give the matter more thought and stop treating CLPs so unfairly. This injustice must be addressed!

Aggrieved delegates may go to the rostrum and seek redress by challenging the Chair of the CAC. Every delegate should give them full support. It could be your CLP next!

This is an edited extract from Peter Willsman’s delegates’ guide to 2012 annual conference, sent out to all CLPs and available in full online here. See previous instalments published on Left Futures: on contemporary motions and an update on Refounding Labour.


  1. Tom Miller says:

    The graphic on this piece is just superb.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Well that’s very generous of you Tom. The head of Pete Willsman actually sits on the body of Tony Blair which is curiously gratifying.

  2. Robert says:

    New labour then.

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