The political back drop to this Conference was the campaign by a group of Daivid Miliband supporting Blairite MPs calling for a leadership contest and for the issuing of nomination papers, whilst they neither had a willing candidate nor sufficient parliamentary support to successfully nominate a challenger.
This was the first year where ‘Contemporary Issues’ were submitted for consideration for the Conference agenda. The recent procedure of ‘Contemporary Resolutions’ had been abolished last year. In order then to raise their topics of concern the unions made greater use of the ‘Emergency Resolution’ procedure this year. On the issue of the UK’s opt-out from the 48-hour maximum working week did the unions insisted in pursuing their emergency motion to the point of having the vote (and of course it was passed). Otherwise the unions used their emergency motions as bargaining chips in negotiations with the leadership and then withdrew them.
Brown’s Leader’s speech, as with last year, was angled towards traditional Labour issues. Again, like last year, a few new policy measures were referred to.
The Blairites’ aborted leadership campaign
CLPD favours the issuing of nomination papers across the party as indicated in the party rules and carried out every year until 1998. The Blairites who this year called for nomination papers had supported the abandonment of the previous practice of issuing papers. They did not put forward a candidate for leader when there was a contest in 2007 and their political attack on the government has been from the right – criticising Brown for not sticking sufficiently strongly to Blair’s policy agenda. In such circumstances there was no benefit for the left or centre of the party in supporting their efforts to dislodge Brown.
Issues submitted to Conference
148 Contemporary Issues (of which 49 were on the topic of fuel poverty) were submitted for inclusion on the Conference agenda. This is a similar quantity to the 153 Contemporary Resolutions submitted last year. The four principal union topics were Fuel Poverty (ie windfall tax), Energy Regulation, Employment Rights, and Workers in a Global Economy.
Given the new procedure of ‘Issues’ excludes the possibility of the Conference taking a direct vote on policy, the party leadership did not consider it necessary for centre/left submissions to be ruled out of order; the practise of recent years had been to rule many out so as to exclude the possibility of Conference agreeing a policy at odds with the government’s line. With that risk eliminated under the new procedures the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) ruled almost all the submitted ‘issues’ in order, including centre/left issues. Only 4 (in comparison with the 67 of last year) were ruled out of order this year and a further 3 were referred to the NEC because they were deemed to be about organisation. Issues were even accepted that had been already been discussed at the NPF irrespective of what the criteria explicitly states.
Five emergency motions were submitted with the CAC deciding that two ‘did not meet the criteria’.
The priorities ballot: (4+1 – yet again)
Campaign Briefing called on CLP delegates to prioritise Georgia, The Economy, Housing and Water Ownership. – these being the main topics on the ballot paper (different from the four principal union topics) with clear centre/left motions on the agenda.
The result in the CLPs vote, as with last year, added just one extra topic for discussion (in addition to the four from the unions) – Housing – (the same additional topic as in 2007). As with past years there was a conscious effort to limit the number of topics discussed by encouraging CLP delegates to ‘support the unions by voting for their preferred topics’. Party staff, MPs and NPF members are all reported to play a role in this effort.
Policy debates on NPF Documents, Contemporary Issues and Emergency Motions
Conference overwhelming passed the union’s emergency motion that unequivocally opposes the working time directive opt out with just a small number of hands going up against the motion, Conference also agreed the National Policy Forum (NPF) Document that is considered to be an endorsement of the government’s approach. The government indicated it would ignore the motion so enthusiastically passed, claiming the NPF Document takes precedence. The latter document, passed at the Warwick NPF meeting, is deemed to back the opt-out, although most of the 180 people voting at Warwick were not aware of this. NPF Chair Pat McFadden argues that in a section of the text covering agency and temporary workers the phrase “maintaining the flexibility which has been central [to job creation]” should be understood as meaning “supports Britain’s opt-out”. This shows the importance of winning the right to vote on NPF Documents in parts, rather than the present arrangement of voting on an “all or nothing” basis.
Reports (Annexes to the Policy Commission Document) dealing with the previous year’s Contemporary Resolutions which had been referred to the Policy Commissions, were voted separately at this conference. All were accepted apart from the chapter on Remploy, which was not, so goes back to the Policy Commission for further consideration.
Teressa Pearce, the grassroots centre left candidate for the NCC, who had served on the NCC for 12 years was knocked off by the right, aided and abetted by full time officials.
The votes on rule changes were:-
i) delete the clause giving constituencies an extra £12 per full- rate member in a general election year – carried by 97.5% overall (95.6% in the constituency section / 99.3% in the affiliates section)
ii) raise membership subscriptions annually by inflation – carried by 89.8% (90.6% / 89.0%)
iii) allow an extra woman conference delegate where a constituency has 100 woman members, and an extra youth delegate for 30 members under the age of 27 – carried by 98.8% (97.6% / 100%)
iv) allow constituencies who make every effort to find a woman delegate in the “women’s year” to send a man the following year – carried by 96.5% (93.0% / 100.0%)
v) charge constituencies £25 per month from summer 2009 to build up funds for the following Euro-elections – carried by 92.9% (86.9% / 98.9%)
vi) re-word the disciplinary rules to cover constituencies which have all-member meetings rather than general / executive committees – carried by 97.5% (95.4% / 99.6%)
vii) new rules for electing Young Labour officers and committee – carried by 92.9% (94.5% / 91.2%)
viii) replace “sexuality” with “sexual orientation, gender identity” – carried by 98.4% (98.4% / 98.4%)
ix) replace “the country” with “Great Britain” in specifying where the party organises – lost with 10.2% in favour (10.6% / 9.8%)
x) lower the threshold for nominating candidates for leader and deputy leader from 12.5% to 7.5% of MPs – lost with 16.1% in favour (22.2% / 10.0%)
xi) raise union affiliations to CLPs from 6p to 10p per member – lost with 7.7% for (14.7% / 0.7%)
xii) raise union affiliations to CLPs from 6p to 20p per member – lost with 5.2% for (9.5% / 0.8%)
xiii) alternative rules for Young Labour elections – lost with 16.3% for (22.6% / 9.9%)
The role of the party machine
Despite assurances that there would be an end to the past practise of party staff organising to influence the outcome of votes, this remained an ‘unofficial’ role played by the party machine this year. Regional officials invited CLP delegates to meet Pat McFadden, in groups of 25, to be explained why they should not support the trade union emergency resolution and the leadership’s ‘case’ for Britain retaining its opt out from Europe’s maximum 48 working hour working week. The delegates approached for these meetings are carefully selected so as to avoid drawing in delegates identified as firmly on the centre/left.
The party machine wants to end the unions’ control of the CAC if possible so that centre/left topics of union concern can be kept off the agenda if necessary. As part of this, in 2007, there had been attempts to add three NPF reps to the CAC, however after union objections the proposal was withdrawn, This year another rule change came forward to add one extra person to the CAC, again, thanks to CLPD, this was kept off the agenda by the unions. This year the election to the CAC was systematically manipulated, with officials targeting UNITE to ensure that CLPs delivered a low vote to its candidate (Michael Murphy) whilst campaigning for a high vote for NPF member Andy Furlong. Normally UNITE’s person normally comes top in this election, but this year he was the bottom elected candidate. UNITE’s overall vote of 83% in 2006 was reduced to just 59% this year. Officials targeting of UNITE’s vote does not help the party given the centrality of UNITE’s financing of the Conference specifically and the party in general.