Annual Conference 2011 Delegates Alert!
Briefing on key rule change proposals from CLPs coming up at Liverpool
By Peter Willsman Secretary CLPD
At Liverpool delegates will be debating and voting on a wide range of changes to the Party’s Rule Book. Many of these will be tabled by the NEC as part of the Refounding Labour consultative exercise masterminded by Peter Hain (NPF Chair) and Ed Miliband. But there are also a number of very important rule change proposals tabled by CLPs. These were submitted last year, but under an obscure convention (known as the ‘1968 Ruling’) have been delayed for a year.
It is vital that delegates ensure that the CLP proposals are given a fair hearing and are not brushed aside. Many of them are in line with the general thrust of the Hain-Miliband document.
(The full Alert! can be downloaded here)
Oppose attempts to gag the CLPs
At last year’s Conference, the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) dealt with rule changes from CLPs in a very unfair manner. Many were ruled out by a very questionable and blanket application of the “three-year rule”. This rule states that, when a Conference decision has been made on a rule change proposal, no further amendment to that ‘part’ of the rules will be permitted for three years.
The key word here, of course, is ‘part’. In other words, if a CLP amends a completely different ‘part’ of a long clause in the Rule Book, compared to other parts that may have been recently amended, then that is in order. The CAC ignored the significance of the word ‘part’ and applied a catch-all interpretation. This is unacceptable and if there is any repeat of this unfair practice this year, then any challenge from ruled out CLPs insisting that the Rule Book is correctly interpreted, should be given full support. It is difficult enough for CLPs to have their voice heard in this Party, without the CAC gagging them.
Aggrieved delegates may go to the rostrum and seek redress by challenging the Chair of the CAC. Every delegate in the hall should do their best to support these challenges and oppose the gagging. It could be your CLP next!
At the time of writing the important rule change proposals from @CLPs that remain on the agenda at Liverpool are:
· A new Clause IV (from Castle Point, Ceredigion and Dagenham and Rainham LCPs)
One of New Labour’s first acts was to remove from the Rule Book the iconic Clause IV, which had been inserted in to our Constitution by the Fabians, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, and which was reprinted on every member’s card. This removal was a PR exercise that was presented by New Labour, and their hacks in the media, as some sort of symbolic act. The replacement Clause IV was written by Tony Blair in his back garden and is uninspiring to say the least.
Castle Point and the other CLPs have taken up the challenge and set out a new Cause IV which is a reasoned critique of the current economic system, with a commitment to democracy, human rights and the promotion of human welfare. It reads like a powerful speech by Ed Miliband, or indeed by Ralph Miliband.
· A Labour Party Code of Ethics (from South Ribble CLP)
This rule change proposal provides for a Labour Party Code of Ethics that would lay down principles and standards of behaviour to cover all party members, officers, employees, contractors and public representatives. This would fill a gap in the Rule Book that needs filling.
· A Charter of Labour Party individual and affiliated members’ rights (from Hyndburn CLP)
This rule change proposal sets out a wide range of rights to which members would be entitled, for example the right to be fully involved in policy making, including clear audit trails and feed-back and the right to complain to a party Ombudsperson. The responses to the Refounding Labour consultation revealed a desire within the Party to set out the rights of Party members in our Rule Book.
· The right of CLPs and Unions to amend NPF documents at Annual Conference (from Bridgend, Burnley, Cardiff Central, Chingford and Woodford Green, East Devon, Gower, Mid Bedfordshire and Nottingham South CLPs)
This rule change proposes that in the year that Annual Conference is considering the final-stage policy documents from the National Policy Forum (NPF), each CLP and each union should be permitted to submit one amendment to the material in the documents. This would give CLPs some direct role in the Party’s policy-making process.
· Four plus four should equal eight (from Bristol North West and Hemsworth CLPs)
Subsequent to the adoption, at the 1997 Annual Conference, of the Partnership in Power process, several CLPs, supported by many trade union delegates, managed to achieve the right for CLPs to have four subjects of their choice debated at Conference. The intention of this reform was to have four subjects from the Unions debated and four separate subjects from the CLPs timetabled. Unfortunately the powers-that-be have not honoured the intention of the reform and have only allowed debates on those CLP issues that were not also chosen by trade unions. The rule change from Bristol North West and Hemsworth prevents any further shenanigans by making it crystal clear that the CLPs have the right to always have four subjects debated in addition to a further and separate four chosen by the Unions.
· CLPs and Unions to have the right to submit a rule change and a Contemporary Motion (from Buckingham, Harrogate and Knaresborough, Hitching and Harpenden, Holborn and St Pancras, Horsham, Ilford South and North East Bedfordshire CLPs)
The right of CLPs and affiliated organisations to amend the party’s Constitution is an important democratic right. There should be no restriction on this right. At present, CLPs and affiliated organisations can submit either a rule amendment or a ‘contemporary motion’, but not both. This is an arbitrary and unnecessary restriction, since there is not link whatsoever between rule changes and ‘contemporary motions’. The rule change from Buckingham and the other CLPs would remove this unreasonable restriction. The trade unions are generally very supportive of this proposal.
· To give Conference the right to vote in parts on documents (from Islington North CLP)
Conference has the right to refer back any section of the NEC Report. But the platform has always refused to extend this right to NEC policy statements (except in 1974 when Tony Benn chaired the Conference). When Partnership in Power was introduced in 1997 delegates were led to believe that National Policy Forum reports would be voted on in parts if Conference so wished. But in practice this has not happened. Conference has to vote for the whole document on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. This means that documents are always passed, although delegates may be unhappy with one or more particular sections. This proposed rule change from Islington North would allow Conference to have a separate vote on any part of a policy document. It is a simple democratic procedure that is long overdue. The trade unions are very supportive of this proposal.
· Increasing democracy in leadership elections (from Slough CLP)
At the moment CLPs and Unions are not properly involved in the election process for the Party Leader and Deputy Leader. The rule change proposal from Slough would introduce more accountability and give members and trade unionists more of a direct role in these elections.
· Separate NEC Seats for party members in Scotland and Wales (from Beverley and Holderness, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale and Stratford upon Avon CLPs)
The Scottish and Wales Labour Parties have a separate identity to that of the English Regions and each has its own General Secretary. In addition the Scottish and Welsh parties now monitor the work of the Labour Groups in the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly. There is, therefore, a strong case for automatic representation on the NEC from party members in Scotland and Wales.
The rule change proposal from Beverley and Holderness and the other CLPs would increase the CLP representation on the NEC from six to eight. This would redress the loss of a seat from seven to six which CLPs suffered in 1997, when Partnership in Power was first introduced.
· Strengthening the right of local party members to select candidates for public office (from Amber Valley, Blackpool South, Caerphilly, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Newport West and Uxbridge and South Ruislip CLPs)
At recent general elections there has been considerable concern within the Party about the number of late parliamentary selections where favoured candidates seem to have been ‘elbowed in’ to safe seats, often at the expense of popular local members. The rule change proposal from Amber Valley and the other CLPs would limit the imposition of candidates to the most extreme of circumstances, and in the case of imposition of either shortlist or candidate, then the NEC decision in those cases should be taken jointly with local representatives.