The Democracy Review (2018) proposed a number of changes that members felt would strengthen the work the Party does on equalities. The NEC and Annual Party Conferences have been working through the necessary Rule changes, and the 2020 Rule Book is now online here:
Chapter 10 – Women’s Branches
Chapter 14 – BAME branches
Chapter 15 – LGBT branches
Chapter 16 – Disabled Members Branches
The General Election 2019, the subsequent Labour leadership and Deputy Leadership elections, and now significantly the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on party activity and priorities, have all delayed progress in establishing Labour equality branches at local level.
Whilst guidance from the Party has not yet been issued on how formal meetings of the equality branches can operate under the COVID19 restrictions, it is helpful to be aware of the Rule Book equality branch provisions and to be considering how to bring members together locally, both informally and formally.
The 2019 Labour Party Conference agreed the introduction of structures that will allow for women’s branches, BAME branches, Disabled members branches and LGBT branches to be set up locally if members wish to do so.
The new rules explain how those equality branches should be constituted, with annual meetings open to all eligible members, which elect the branch officers for the year ahead. Activities can be arranged formally or informally, and the Rules suggest different ways of getting involved with local communities. Equality branches, at their formal meetings, will be able to discuss and agree motions for the relevant CLP to consider, elect GC delegates, and to play a role in policy forum processes and in making nominations for a range of positions. This role in making nominations will be of interest as candidates are considered for vacancies arising in the UK, Scottish or Welsh Parliaments, or Metro Mayors, for example.
The most developed work so far has been amongst our women members. The Party has already agreed to the establishment of Annual policy making Women’s Conferences, and a very successful Conference took place in Telford in February 2019. Women attended from CLPs and trade unions from across the UK, and two motions were taken direct to the Party’s annual Conference in Brighton in September 2019. This demonstrated that a good number of Women’s Forums (now Branches) are already active and formally established at constituency level.
Now that the Rule Book guidance is published, on setting up Women’s Branches (which will replace Women’s Forums where they exist), it is clearer that women members can organise locally, electing delegates and submitting a motion to Annual Women’s Conference themselves. Plans are being made for a national UK Women’s Labour Women’s Conference in Spring 2021, which will operate under these new rules, if it is able to go ahead under the health advice at that time.
In some areas a Women’s Branch (formerly Forum) may organise across more than one CLP. That’s fine and may be a good way of providing more support to members. This does need to be signed off by the Regional Office on behalf of the NEC, so members should let them know the proposed area to be covered. The Rule Book details how members should then relate to the various CLPs involved.
The area or city level approach may be particularly helpful for some of the other equality categories, where there may initially be lower numbers of members wishing to get involved.
We hope to see more and more CLPs meeting this requirement to support the establishment of equality branches, increasing contacts across different communities, and supporting more members in seeking election. CLPs are expected to assist with funding the new branches. In due course appropriate Regional equality structures will be established too.
The NEC agreed to establish working groups through the NEC Equalities Committee in March, which have been looking in more detail at new national equality structures, including the launch of the BAME party organisation. On 10th March, the NEC agreed a paper which outlines the rules for the National Labour Women’s Organisation, including reference to the establishment of regional/Scottish/Welsh Labour Women’s Committees, and confirms the basis for the election of a national Labour Women’s Committee, which includes representation from the constituency membership, and trade unions and affiliates. The nominations for, and election of, the new national Labour Women’s Committee is expected to take place at the 2021 Spring UK Labour Women’s conference.
The BAME reserved seat on the NEC has now been filled by Carol Sewell, following an election that ran alongside the Leadership and Deputy Leadership ballots concluding early April. The reserved NEC seat for Disabled Members was due to be elected by Annual Conference 2020, but the timetable was cancelled (due to COVID19 impact on internal election procedures) and will be reviewed by the NEC.
The NEC Equalities Committee meets again in July, as does the NEC. In the absence of the 2020 Annual Labour conference due to the impact of the pandemic, further discussion will be needed on matters where Rule changes are required.
At local level, as the Rule Book now explains, there are some other changes too. For example there is no longer the additional role of ‘Women’s Co-ordinator’ or other ‘co-ordinator’ posts in a CLP – just a straightforward Women’s Officer post, BAME, Disabled and LGBT officers to be elected by CLP members at each year’s AGM. We would expect the relevant equality branch to nominate – for example the women’s branch to nominate for the CLP Women’s Officer – although the CLP as a whole will actually elect the CLP Officers.
We look forward to working with members on these changes, and building a stronger Party as a result. All feedback will be welcome too, so we can make this work as effectively as possible.
NEC Equalities Committee