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Wednesday’s Yellow Pages at Labour Party Conference 2016

yellowpageswed28sept2016Download the Yellow Pages here. This Campaign Briefing is sponsored by CWU.

Let’s hear from the PLP 

Jeremy’s victory on Saturday meant that Conference started on a high for most of us. It was noticeable (especially at the rostrum!) that there were many delegates and visitors who were experiencing our Party’s sovereign body for the first time. They are eager to learn. This created a sense of excitement. Many policy seminars were quite well attended, as were many training sessions and, of course, fringe meetings were lively and well attended. CLPD had some 250 at both our fringes. Last year our meetings were, not surprisingly, somewhat euphoric. This year the participants were more focussed. There was also a determination to achieve some worthwhile change in our Party and in society in general.

Party members are wanting to engage and are looking for ideas and direction, so that we can take the fight to the Tories. It was recognised that this requires all of us to have a commitment to a considerable degree of unity. At the same time it was recognised that we are developing a coherent and effective pol- icy programme. As we saw throughout Conference, Jeremy is energetically responding to party members’ enthusiasm – as, for example, in the ten pledges setting out the framework for Labour’s campaign and a Labour Government. This frame- work will be the basis for policy making at the National Policy Forum. Conference was told that it was intend- ed to hold a full NPF within the next few months. The NEC will examine ways to give more power and influence to party members and to reform party structures accordingly.

At Conference CLPD also made progress with its party democracy agenda. The victory on Tuesday of the Sheffield Heeley rule change was par- ticularly noteworthy: future Annual Conferences will be able to vote in parts on documents, without having to accept them on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The many rule changes put forward at the last minute by the NEC were something of a curate’s egg. But the fact that the sitting leader will automatically be on the ballot paper in future leadership elections was particularly wel- come, as was the agreement to have an effective women’s conference with a direct input into party policy making.

There was also a down side to Conference. Despite the many calls for party unity, it was not clear that the Party’s “moderate” wing is taking this seriously. At the NEC we saw an attempt to railroad through a fundamental change in the Party’s structure. It seems clear that this was essentially the “moderate” wing attempting to control two further seats on the NEC, in response to the progressive wing’s gaining two CLP seats. The putting together of 15 disparate rule changes into a “package” and then having one vote on the whole lot is not only unprecedented in the UK labour movement, but also throughout Europe.

Yet again the hard right Labour First caucus held its rally in an upstairs room of a pub. Thus allowing them to claim their meeting was “packed and over- flowing”. Some 20 years ago Yellow Pages shared its pitch outside Conference with productions from Labour First. It is notable that this year the hard right ideologues have returned. This was very much a mixed blessing.

During the week Jeremy continually emphasised his commitment to building party unity. Many delegates stressed that this required a similar commitment from the PLP, for example an ending to the undermining of our party Leader. There are some positive signs that the PLP are taking this seriously. It was cer- tainly clear that Conference is committed to this objective. Jeremy is clearly up for it, let’s hear from the PLP!

CLP delegates given the brush off by Cllr Gary Heather, Islington 

First, a delegate informed Conference that NEC members had told him that the NEC had not agreed that Conference should vote on all of their rule changes as a package. The delegate then asked the CAC Chair if this was the case, but his question was ignored. Another delegate made the point that reference backs moved by delegates on points related to the CAC report should be voted upon individually and not as a package. Again, this point was dismissed by the CAC Chair without providing any justification. The 2016 Conference Delegates’ Report states very clearly that a “part of a report” can be referred back to the CAC. Delegates do not have to accept or reject the entire CAC report.

To make matters worse, when the delegate called for a card vote the Conference Chair would not allow it. This is a blatant deviation from party rules. The Delegates’ Report specifies that “votes will be by a show of hands unless a delegate requests a card vote.” The delegate’s request should have been respected. It would certainly aid conference democracy if there was better guidance for delegates on how conference works and proper conference standing orders.

A delegate’s view by Richard Price, Leyton & Wanstead CLP

As a veteran of trade union conferences going back to the 1980s, but a first time delegate to Labour Conference, the first thing that strikes me is that, despite gaining an ongoing verbal commitment to “4+4”, this is still not a genuine working conference. Just two delegates from the floor were allowed to contribute on Composites 1-4, rendering real debate almost meaningless. There is also a serious democratic deficit. At crucial points on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the CAC and the platform ensured that grassroots democracy was extinguished, whether it was the spurious ruling out of order of the East Devon rule change, the unconstitutional refusal of card votes and the insistence that the dog’s breakfast of a “package” of NEC rule changes had to be taken as one vote.

Throughout Conference, there were heartfelt calls for unity and stern lectures that without power none of our great aims can be achieved. But the sense I got from the Progress/Labour First wing of the Party is that civil war will be ongoing, that they don’t accept the validity of Jeremy’s second landslide mandate, and that they will fight, fight and fight again to preserve the Party from socialism. The most surreal moment? The sight of a section of delegates wildly cheering in favour of nuclear weapons.

The Saga of East Devon (Part 1) 

Having only just rested after her seven hour journey up from East Devon, the delegate was stunned to hear that the CAC had binned her CLP’s much needed rule change. This seeks to give constituency branches & TU branches the right to interview and nominate candidates ahead of the parliamentary long list. The CAC had been rewriting party history by claiming that the Collins Review was a constitutional amendment – when instead it was a conference report and thus completely irrelevant to the 3-year-rule. Most folk would have been left devastatingly demoralised and gone off for a pint in the Baltic Fleet… but not the East Devon delegate! Her indefatigability shone through as she took to the rostrum on Sunday morn- ing, the minute after the CAC had moved their first report. Delegate after delegate echoed her campaign for justice, democracy but above all due process! The Chair of the CAC refused to take a separate vote on the issue, but instead invited the East Devon delegate to meet the CAC…

The Saga of East Devon (Part 2) 

The East Devon delegate went up and down the escalator like a Weston donkey throughout Sunday afternoon and yesterday morning, hoping to track down the CAC. It wasn’t until just before the end of conference yesterday that the delegate managed to scrape an appointment. At the start of this meeting, the Chair of the CAC informed the East Devon delegate that the final deci- sion had already been made, and that her fellow delegates would indeed be denied the chance even to read her CLP’s modest proposal. Despite this, the delegate gave an impas- sioned yet precise case as to why those in the conference hall should be given their right to hear this rule change. She was 100% correct in the fact that the 3-year-rule makes no reference whatsoever to conference reports such as the Collins review.

Yesterday at the NEC

  • Dennis Skinner is retiring from the NEC at the end of Conference and was given a standing ovation. Dennis responded by giving one of his impromptu and rousing speeches.
  • The new NEC Chair is Glenis Wilmott, Leader of the Labour Group of MEPs. Andy Kerr of CWU is the new Vice Chair.

16 Comments

  1. jeffrey davies says:

    hmm unity there will be not again the hard right Labour they cause so much trouble isnt better to enough enoughs and rid us of them greedie mps not wanted any more

  2. Shan Morgain says:

    I have read elsewhere about how rules and democracy are being pushed aside so the outgoing NEC can leave a dead control behind. I hve yet to hear about Conference supporting an investigation of the abuses of process in the leadership election. A clean slate, perhaps, but not so wiped that the recent bad actions are not reversed and cleansed. 140,000 members are owe apology and restitution.

    A hangover group which is empty of policies, empty of plans to fix the economy for both business and benefits cultures alike, this empty group has no remedies except to win the next General Election. Well they lost the last two, and lost two internal ones in the party in this year too. No inspiration there then.

    TO WIN we need first to rebuild the trust and respect this very group has done so much to damage.
    People have learned to loathe politicians, and that includes ours. We cannot just pile on the spin that Blair copied from Thatcher. People have learned to see through it.
    TO WIN we need to offer people with a proven track record of keeping their word, not flipping, not lying, not cheating. (That’s Corbyn and McDonnell and team.)
    TO WIN we need these trustworthy representatives to offer solid economic policies, just as McDonnell has just described to Conference.

    It is NOT a choice between power and ideals.
    That is a false choice.

    With people in despair, having learned contempt and loathing, they will only vote again if we build their trust based on real action, not mere words. Polls do show a lack of trust and the answer is not more vague spin.

    Where now is any mention of a formal investigation into the NEC blocking 140,00 or more votes in the leadership election? Most of these people should receive an apology, and a refund, with continuing membership.
    Plus it should be clarified that members have full rights after 8 weeks, as it says in the Rulebook.

  3. Hazel Malcolm-Walker says:

    I notice that the defeat of yesterday – when the rule changes were rammed through – have benn glossed over.

  4. John Penney says:

    Hazel Malcolm-Walker has hit it on the head on this ludicrously over-optimistic report back. I particularly liked the paragraph :

    “During the week Jeremy continually emphasised his commitment to building party unity. Many delegates stressed that this required a similar commitment from the PLP, for example an ending to the undermining of our party Leader. There are some positive signs that the PLP are taking this seriously. It was cer- tainly clear that Conference is committed to this objective. Jeremy is clearly up for it, let’s hear from the PLP!”

    What utter nonsense and self delusion ! This after the Left have been cynically and completely shamelessly outmanoeuvred and shafted by the imposition of the unelected new Scottish and Welsh NEC places. This after Tom Watson’s outrageously confrontational speech, essentially supporting the entire Labour neoliberal policy era – cheered to the echo by the totally unrepresentative large levy of Right Wing Delegates. This was a Conference in which the Party machine and the Right quite clearly re-affirmed their commitment to total victory over the Left by any means required.

    It benefits absolutely no-one but the Right for us on the Left to gloss over the current reality – that we are being constantly outmanoeuvred by the Right procedurally, or to fantasise that there are any signs at all of any willingness the majority of the PLP to tolerate either Jeremy’s Leadership, or the major Left shift of the Party reflected in his victory.

    1. Shan Morgain says:

      I agree that the package deal which was unconstitutional, being pushed through is a hurtful setback. There is also the important issue of CLPs choosing their own MP candidate which was unconsitutionally ignored when several delegates attempted to raise it.
      But I don’t agree “we are being constantly outmanoeuvred by the Right procedurally”. We have won a whole series of battles – to keep Corbn on the ballot, and to keep enough members actively registered to bring home a resounding majority. Six positive new NEC members. Corbyn has successfully pushed the appointment/ election of Cabinet to a less rushed discussion in November.
      [Word is that Hague, advising the other side, has recommended no further major challenge until 2018, so we have some breathing space to build.]
      Meanwhile socialist policies on public ownership, rent controls etc are gaining ground with the public – the electorate has usually been slightly left of centre.

      However I do think we need more than sweet talk and forgiveness (clean slate). Thugs and cheats cannot be all allowed to get away with it. At least a few need to be hug up to set the standard for the rest. I hope to see a firm hand once the forgiven ones have been gathered in.

      1. Danny Nicol says:

        The consequences of the Left’s defeat on the two unelected Scottish and Welsh NEC places are, however, horrendous. They curse Jeremy and all of us with a right wing NEC, wiping out the gain of a Leftist constituency section. Let’s spell out some of the likely ramifications, because this is what a non-whitewash summing-up of Conference OUGHT to have said.

        First, the NEC majority can now be expected to minimise the democratic potential of parliamentary selections in a way which privileges sitting MPs. This may now occur even if there is a boundary redistribution since one cannot overestimate the inventiveness of these people.

        Second, since there won’t be a Left-leaning NEC, the huge potential for progressive constitutional change in the Labour Party has now been drastically reduced. The hope of making Conference a more serious policymaking and rules-revising body rather than mainly a vehicle for the Party’s “film stars” vanishes. The chances of abolishing the elitist sections of the NEC (front bench, PLP, councillors etc) and of making the NEC a body of overwhelmingly elected sections chosen by the rank and file is now drastically reduced.

        Third, the right wing now has a vehicle for perpetuating its own power. Whilst blocking progressive constitutional change it will not sit on its hands. We can expect it to conjure up further rule proposals to make its power base yet more secure.

        Granted there isn’t a “magic victory tree” whereby the Left can win on every rule change, we should at least expect the organised Left to mobilise against rule changes like this one which has transformed the political balance on the NEC against Corbyn. Privileging street activities and festivals, Momentum entirely failed to do this, which is why the organisation now needs a new leadership.

        1. Danny Nicol says:

          https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/01/momentum-co-founder-jon-lansman-challenge-labour-deputy-tom-watson

          Jon Lansman supporting Tom Watson continuing as Deputy Leader. Jon is also cited as saying “we will not campaign for mandatory reselection nor to deselect any individual MP”.

          Why not? The right wing just tried to deselect Jeremy as party leader.

          More importantly surely these should be questions for the membership of Momentum? Does Momentum ever intend to adopt a democratic structure, or do its high-ups intend to it operate on Blairite lines in perpetuity?

          1. John Penney says:

            Indeed, Danny. Would any significant number of the 18,000 Momentum members support Tom Watson remaining as Deputy Leader ? Or support every MP having an unchallenged job for life ? Of course NOT.

            Jon Lansman has no mandate whatsoever for this sort of conciliatory nonsense. As you say, Momentum needs a democratic structure urgently. It will simply ossify and fade away if it remains a top-down led stage army for a tiny, self-appointed, Old, innately conciliatory, Labour Left clique around the Leader.

          2. Danny Nicol says:

            “MASSIVE BUT PASSIVE”. Such was the Blair/Brown vision for the nature of the Party membership. Looking at the Momentum website, it is evident that the same applies to this 18,000-strong group.

            No constitution on the website (unlike the Labour Party itself). Therefore we have no idea of the rules concerning the officers and their roles. We have no idea of the AGM/annual conference and whether members can turn up and vote or just representatives of local groups.

            No blog. So no opportunity to debate with the 16,000 members strategic choices like whether to campaign for mandatory reselection or whether to contest the Deputy Leadership. Instead we leave everything to that eternal font of wisdom Comrade Lansman.

            Nothing on e-democracy. Nothing on how members can initiate a Momentum e-referendum like the one on EU membership but hopefully with debate beforehand this time.

            All these things need to be addressed. Pitiful, isn’t it, that the Left which traditionally busts a gut to promote democracy within the Party should end up in an organisation with no democracy.

  5. Susan O'Neill says:

    If this is representative a a democratic party, then I’m in the wrong party entirely. The Right Wing hollow suits conspired by way of breaking established LP Rules and procedures to defraud the majority of members wishes in favour of their own personal gain. There isn’t a decent, honest or principled Right Winger within the Progress or Labour First “clubs” who can do any better than the Tory liars and cheats.
    If this continues then Labour will lose even bigger than in 2015 and 2010.
    Corbyn needs to end their reign and allow the CLP’s to vote on who they want as their representatives and choose his own cabinet among centrist(the real centrists, not the fake ones)and socialist nominations.
    If he can’t even manage this much for the 60% who voted for him, then perhaps he isn’t the right man for the job after all.

    1. Shan Morgain says:

      Progess and the Fabian Society are very much in with the PLP Right and its unpleasantness. However Labour First, so far as I know, is merely a ‘conservative’ (small c) core Labour group which is good at complying with the top dogs and acting as a mediator. It has no real policies of its own but does care about Labour survival. That is it has a long term track long before current crises and it’s good at supporting and smoothing out rough conflict. Could actually be helpful.

  6. Verity says:

    Corbyn as an individual has done as much as he can or has the inclination to do. His speeches are now starting to sound repetitive though, so more needs to be done by the that next tier of Corbyn (non parliamentary) appointees, given that the mass movement is fulfilling its role – the cheering function. Except of course, for the five day notice of the Grammar School’s campaigns with local Parties still not meeting to make it effective. Those ‘top – down’ appointments are no match for the opposition irreconcilables who appear to be streaks ahead (even out of parliament) in conference organisation and in committee – where it really matters. Of course we could continue with the indulgence and keep cheering about Apple Pie and Motherhood.

    Sounds on the unity ‘concessions’ front remain a structural worry – and for what real long term gain?

    I must admit to not really understanding what the term ‘unity’ means when as Watson suggested critiquing Blairism is a measure of the signal for disunity.

  7. Nell says:

    Was Chris Williamson elected to NCC?

    1. Nell says:

      Aaargh. See via Twitter that he was not.

      It’s vital not to paper over the ways in which the Labour right has managed to retain its grip via out-organizing Corbyn supporters in conference matters. It may have been an undoable job, given the energy that had to go to winning the leadership contest, and the ban on local party meetings — but demands for repair need to be put forward ASAP in localities that are now able to meet.

  8. Martin Hodges Gloucester CLP MEMBER SEC says:

    Conference is over and on my way home.

    In spite of the outrageous shenanigans by some at conference who continue to undermine our twice elected leader, his support is stronger than ever and they have failed yet again.

    I have attended many conferences in my time, Union conferences, TUC conferences, international conferences and labour conferences, but I have never seen such undemocratic chairing of a conference. When a card vote is called for its normal for the chair to try to persuade delegates that his reading of the vote by show of hands is correct. However if there is still a desire from the floor to have a card vote then that’s what conference has. There were visitors hands go up and counted as delegates. I personally walked onto the conference floor unchallenged and could have voted if I so wished. There were a number of complaint sent in to CAC (conference arrangement committee) so hopefully we won’t be faced with similar situation in the future.

    I do believe Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is electable but only if politicians whether an MP or councillor get behind him or get out.

    However I don’t believe Corby would be a good PM, believe he WILl make GREAT ONE

    1. Shan Morgain says:

      Martin thank you for your eye witness statement (informal). Very useful as disability kept me away like so many others.

      I await investigation of the Conf. Chair’s disregard for the rules in not holding a card vote. This must not be allowed to become a precedent.

      As for Corbyn as PM, I have thought since I first met him in July 2015 he would be a great PM.

      His style is quiet and courteous, which breaks the Westminster game on both counts. But quiet and courteous is very far from weak; rather it betokens greater strength than the flashy, noisy and aggressive alternatives.

      He is exceptionally attentive to both data detail and people. (I watched him taking careful notes on other speakers, and using what they said.) He doesn’t lose his head under pressure. He has a strong track for working with people of intensively different views. He is fitter and healthier than a great many younger politicians.

      I do think he needs to be a tad tougher on the worst of the renegades. I like his generosity and inclusiveness, but people have to see demonstrated that disloyalty will not be tolerate. It would only need a couple of examples made.

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