This Conference registered CLPD’s biggest victory for over 25 years, with a rule change being passed to introduce one-member-one-vote (OMOV) to the CLP section of the NPF. Despite being the Conference prior to a general election (with considerable pressure exerted on the conference to support the leadership) a majority vote from both the CLPs and affiliates agreed the rule change.
CLPD had campaigned for OMOV, because the previous method of election of CLP NPF reps (by delegates at Conference) has resulted in a highly unrepresentative NPF, with the CLP section well to the right of the party membership. The party’s right wing has disproportionate influence amongst the Conference’s CLP delegates, in part due to the large scale and illegitimate lobbying by party staff (one NEC member met two CLP delegates in the toilet and they commented that this was the only place they could go to escape the constant harassment from regional staff to vote against OMOV).
The centre/left advanced its share of the vote in the elections to the CAC although it did not win any seats – party staff were active in lobbying for the right wing incumbents.
Brown’s Leader’s speech made a number of modest pledges (such as on elderly care, child care and cancer treatment) and ministers drew out the differences between Labour’s past 12 years and the Tories. With strong support within the unions for a programme of investment to get out of the recession the party leadership angled its speeches in this direction, whilst having no plans to take effective measures to restore investment. This was a rhetorical shift from the situation prior to the Conference, when at the TUC the leadership extolled the “necessity” for a massive reduction in public spending – that Labour’s cuts to public services will start later than the Tories’ and will be more “caring”, not a way to rebuild economic growth and hardly the best terrain on which to fight the Tories in the coming election.
The OMOV Rule changes
The CLP Section of the NPF – 55 members in all (with approximately 30% of the NPF’s votes), elected by CLP delegates at Conference, has become dominated by the Right over recent years. Traditional Labour policies ( e.g. redistribution, publicly provided services) have been able to find little support within the NPF’s CLP section, despite the fact that these positions have overwhelming support amongst the party membership.
Twelve constituency Labour parties had submitted the OMOV rule change in 2008 for consideration in 2009. At this year’s conference the campaign to win was fought through everyday at the Conference by CLPD and the Young Labour activists associated with Compass. A party staff inspired leafet against OMOV was circulated around delegates ludicrously claiming to be in defence of GCs’ and delegates’ rights. In response the CLPs who had submitted the rule change produced a leaflet rebutting the false claims and the Compass activists organised a supportive letter in the Guardian. In several regions staff took groups of delegates off the conference floor to meet NPF Chair Pat McFadden who pleaded with them to oppose OMOV. The use of staff to interfere in the party’s internal democracy is an abuse as staff are supposed to act impartially (as laid down in the Code of Conduct).
The OMOV proposal will give grassroots Labour members the opportunity to have control over party’s policy-making. Alongside arguing against OMOV, the leadership also urged delay saying it was not the time for “piecemeal” changes to party structures as efforts should be focused on the election and that a substantial review of policy making after the election should look at all issues including the election procedures for the NPF.
When the card vote was announced the rule change had been backed by 55% within the CLP and 79% within the union votes – 67% overall. this year’s success being the most significant rule change victory since the 1979-1981 advances in party democracy.
Other Rule changes
Whilst it did not eventually come to a vote, there was another rule change victory. A proposal to expand the NEC by adding the Leaders of the Labour Groups of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament was remitted by the movers. The proposal would have further weakened the unions influence in the NEC whilst not improving its overall democracy. The NEC had agreed to back the rule change before Conference, however as the week proceeded the implications of the proposal became clearer so the unions dropped their backing for the change.
Issues submitted to Conference
198 Contemporary Issues (50 more than last year) were submitted for inclusion on the Conference agenda. The four principal union topics were Manufacturing, School Meals, Employment Rights, and Public Services.
Given Conference cannot take a direct vote on policy questions raised by these “issues” the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) allows almost all of them to be considered in the Priorities Ballot, only one issue (in comparison with the 67 motions in 2007 when Contemporary Resolutions were last allowed) were ruled out of order this year. A further 10 were referred to the NEC because they were deemed to be about organisation.
35 emergency motions were submitted, half of which were an identical motion promoted by Blairites and others on the Sri Lanka.
The priorities ballot: (4+1 – still no further progress)
The result in the CLPs vote, as with the last two years, added just one extra topic for discussion (in addition to the four from the unions) – Housing – (the same additional topic as in 2007 and 2008). There was a conscious effort by parts of the party machine to limit the number of topics discussed by encouraging CLP delegates to ‘support the unions by voting for their preferred topics’. Regional staff are reported to have played a significant role in this effort.
Policy debates on Contemporary Issues, Emergency Motions and Policy Commission Annexes
The unions have been largely disappointed with the procedure introduced in 2007 that replaced “Contemporary Resolutions” with “Issues”. The issues that have been priorities in the ballot are referred to the appropriate Policy Commission which after discussion reports back to the following conference in an “Annex Report”, which it is expected will be adopted by the Conference. This year the unions sought the referral back of most Annex Reports to the Commissions for reconsideration, and Conference agreed with them. In the case of Remploy this is the third time the Policy Commission has been asked to consider the issue. Emergency motions; from the CWU on the Royal Mail pension deficit and from ASLEF and TSSA on the East Coast Mainline were also agreed. In the Britain and the World discussion it became clear that the aim of the right organising for the submission of lots of Sri Lanka motions was to monopolise the debate with this issue and prevent pressing topics such as Palestine, Afghanistan and Honduras from being raised. It was also probably done to help David Milliband raise his “humanitarian” profile.
Having attempted a number of failed coups against Brown over the past two years, including sabotaging the June election campaign, the Blairites spent the conference more cautiously trying to rebuilding their reputation. The right tried to promote a cult around Mandelson, assisted by the media claiming, inaccurately, that his speech as the best of the week. On the fringe there were some minor Blairite attacks on the government, such as for giving preference to the public sector over the private sector in a recent decision on health care commissioning.