The NEC before Conference is usually dominated by conference arrangements, arguing about constitutional amendments, and so on, but this meeting was overshadowed by the Collins review of party “reform”. Not that anyone’s seen it yet.
What I find hard to take is the sheer disingenuousness of those who support the proposed changes. During the debate, speaker after speaker waxed lyrical about the need to have a mass membership party, and how important it is to get working class people into the Party and selected as representatives. I don’t know anyone who would disagree with these aims, but how is getting rid of the vast majority of our affiliated members going to achieve it?
I said that if we wanted to increase membership we should reduce the membership fees. Years ago, Tony Blair was allowed to run a trial of cut price membership in Sedgefield, and (surprise, surprise) the CLP’s membership shot up. I said that for the last three years, we have been congratulated on being united and not tearing ourselves apart with internal wrangling as supposedly happened in previous periods of opposition. Yet now we do have an internal row, and who started it?
Finally, I pointed out that on the doorstep, people say that all the political parties are the same. We need clear red water between us and the Tories, we need to oppose austerity, particularly the bedroom tax, and we need to stop going on about how a Labour Government will have to make cuts, which is losing us voters and members. In the end, the proposals to hold a special spring conference in March was passed overwhelmingly, with only myself, Ann Black, Dennis Skinner, Andy Kerr (of the communication workers union), Jim Kennedy (of the construction workers) and Mary Turner (of the GMB) voting against.
We did have a report from conference arrangements committee chair Harry Donaldson. Yet again, vast numbers of contemporary motions have been ruled out of order, including all the housing ones, and there are only seven topics in the priorities ballot at Conference — so much for the 4 + 4 supposed to be chose by constituency parties and affiliates respectively!
The NEC did discuss constitutional amendments, and felt that there is a good case for looking again at the length of party suspensions pending investigation/charges (arising from a proposed rule change from Northampton CLP to limit them to one year’s duration), so there will be discussions. This had also come up earlier, and I pointed out that if they had agreed with the proposal for a Party Ombudsman when it came to Conference, a lot of these problems would have been sorted out (not to mention the Falkirk debacle).
I also asked if card votes were going to be allowed at Conference, at which several officers carefully examined their fingernails before mumbling that it depends on the strength of feeling on each issue. So if you want a card vote this year, make sure you call for it really, really strongly!