Important Rule change proposals on the agenda at the 2009 Annual Conference
Delegates at this year’s Conference at Brighton will have an opportunity to vote on several vital rule change proposals that will be moved by constituency reps. These were submitted last year, but under an obscure convention (known as the ‘1968 Ruling’) they are first referred to the NEC for its considered opinion and are not timetabled for debate and vote until the following year’s Conference. This may seem a sensible procedure, but in practice it has not lived up to the intentions of its originators in 1968. The NEC was supposed to give thorough consideration to all proposed rule changes, but in fact the NEC hardly looks at them and every year invariably rejects all rule change suggestions from CLPs.
Important rule change proposals were submitted in 2008 by the following CLPs and will be on the agenda at Brighton.
· From Bedford, Bristol East, Castle Point, City of Durham, Greenwich and Woolwich, Haltenprice and Howden, Hereford and South Herefordshire, Hertford and Stortford, Islington North, Mid Bedfordshire and Nottingham South.
This rule change proposal concerns the election of the 55 CLP reps on the National Policy Forum (NPF). At present all these reps are elected at Annual Conference by Conference delegates from their respective regions. Bedford et al are proposing that instead the election should involve every party member and be by one-member-one-vote on a regional basis. Most party members have no idea who their existing NPF reps are and, indeed, only have the haziest idea of the work of the NPF. All this would change if every member had a vote. The NPF has taken over all of the NEC’s powers in relation to policy formulation and it is therefore a key party body. It is vital that every party member should have a direct link to the NPF. Under the Bedford et al proposals the NPF would have a much higher profile. This would generate much greater interest in the NPF and a wider range of members would put their names forward for election. The NPF would therefore become more representative of the whole party membership and its decisions would accordingly carry more weight.
The Scottish Policy Forum already elects it’s CLP reps by one-member-one-vote.
· From Hendon CLP and Hyndburn CLP
This rule change proposal provides for a Charter for Members’ Rights and would establish the post of an independent Party Ombudsperson to ensure that the rights in the Charter were upheld. This would fill a gap in the Rule Book by clearly spelling out the range of rights that a paid up member should be entitled to. This would include the right of members to transparency in the policy-making process; the right to participate in local party governance and the right to freedom of expression.
· From South Ribble CLP
This rule change proposal provides for a Labour Party Code of Ethics, which would lay down principles and standards of behaviour to be followed by all party members and elected party officers, all party employees, all contractors employed by the Party and by all party members elected to public office. This rule change would also fill a gap in the Party’s Constitution and after the scandal of Parliamentary expenses it cannot come too soon!
· From North East Bedfordshire CLP
At present, in any one year, a CLP can submit to Annual Conference either a Contemporary Issue or a rule change proposal. NE Beds are proposing that in future CLPs should have the right to submit both each year. Rule changes relate to long term concerns about internal party organisation and democracy, whereas Contemporary Issues simply cover policy matters that arise in the weeks leading up to Annual Conference each year. There is no link between the two and no reason why CLPs shouldn’t have the right to submit both. CLPs have little enough influence within our Party and their right to amend the Rule Book is an important democratic right. There should be no restriction on this right.
· Beverley and Holderness
This rule change proposal would create an extra seat on the NEC specifically for a constituency rep. from Scotland and a further seat specifically for a constituency rep. from Wales.
At Annual Conference there is an equal balance of voting between the industrial wing (the unions) and the political wing (the CLPs). But on the NEC, whereas the unions have 12 seats, the CLPs only have 6 (before the advent of ‘Partnership in Power’ the CLPs had 7 seats). Beverley and Holderness want to increase the CLPs to 8 seats, with the constituency members in Scotland and Wales each electing their own rep. Given that Scotland and Wales are separate from England, having their own governments, to also have their own constituency reps. on the NEC is eminently reasonable.
· From Burnley, Mansfield and North East Hertfordshire
This rule change proposal would mean that government ministers (and members of the Parliamentary Committee when Labour is in opposition) would be ineligible to stand for the Party’s National Conference Arrangements Committee. The CAC is the Standing Orders Committee of Annual Conference and to operate democratically, without ‘fear or favour’ it must be fully independent of the NEC and the Parliamentary leadership. The CAC is accountable to Annual Conference. Ministers/Parliamentary Committee members are accountable to the Leader. They cannot serve two masters and therefore could not be expected to be independent in the way that is necessary.
· From Northampton South CLP
This rule change proposal would institute a cap on expenditure by nominees in party selection. Evidence is mounting of the often large disparities in spending between party members seeking selection as Parliamentary candidates. The recent deputy leadership election also saw huge sums being spent by some of the nominees. A cap on spending is long overdue.