Saturday’s so-called debate on rule changes to Labour’s constitution was shambolic. It highlighted the huge democratic deficit at conference. The chair raced through the 27 rule changes and delegates only got to see the seven NEC proposals that very morning, as part of the 225 page report of the Conference Arrangements Committee.
About a dozen CLPs withdrew their motions on conference floor, most by not moving them. There is a logic here. Given the NEC opposed pretty much all rule changes that were not their own, chances of a majority for a CLP proposal were slim. There are dire consequences for a rule change if voted down at conference: It not only falls, but the subject cannot be revisited by conference for three years. Ironically, one of the rule changes not moved was an attempt by East Devon CLP (card vote 10) to reform this undemocratic rule by adding that motions supported by at least five CLPs should be discussed in subsequent conferences.
Withdrawing motions – when it is clear they will not get a majority – can therefore be a good tactic to allow the subject to come back next year. However, we cannot understand why comrades – apart from a few – did not use their three-minute time slot to withdraw in an orderly fashion by explaining the motivation behind their motion.
It was particularly sad that delegates from Ceredigion CLP and Enfield Southgate CLP (card votes 15 and 16) did not make use of their time slots. Both put forward rule changes which sought to make the disciplinary process more transparent, enshrine the right to appeal and ensure that cases are dealt with promptly. Speakers could have bolstered the powerful speeches in opposition to card vote 6, the NEC’s proposals on the disciplinary process.
A (slim) majority of CLP delegates (52% against) voted against the NEC proposals – a rare occurence at Labour Party conference. Sadly, as the overwhelming majority of affiliates (unions, socialist societies etc) voted in favour of the proposals (98%), the rule change has now passed. This underlines once again that the democratisation of the unions and their participation in the Labour Party is a hugely important task for the Labour left.
Card vote 6 makes sweeping reforms to the disciplinary process. Momentum – on the wrong side of the debate once again – urged supporters in its delegate briefings to vote for the proposals, because “these changes are central to improving the Party’s disciplinary system.”
The new rules certainly tighten the system. For example, until now suspended members were able to participate in their branch meetings (“unless the reason for the suspension in part or in full is their conduct in party meetings”) and were allowed to attend any CLP meetings “to participate in ballots.” This has now been abolished, leading to the political isolation of the member.
The most important change is howeve on “fast track expulsions”. The NEC has given itself the right to arbitrarily expel members judged irredeemable. The key paragraph reads:
“The NEC and NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions except in any instance inconsistent with the Party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic.”
Supposedly, this formulation is the magic bullet that will finally end the anti-Semitism smear campaign in Labour. The rule change that will finally appease the right wing in and outside the party and end their relentless campaign against Corbyn.
Of course, this will not work. The Jewish Labour Movement complained immediately that they had not been consulted (enough). Sure enough, Mike Katz – opposing card vote 6 – commented during the debate that “our relationship is at an all time low”. The “Jewish community” (defined by who?) and the JLM have asked for “independence and this does not deliver it. We don’t trust the NEC to deliver fast track justice.”
The next speaker, Duncan Shipley Dalton, found himself in the “strange position that I agree with the previous speaker, [we should] strongly oppose card vote 6. We believe in natural justice. It is a travesty of justice. Adopting the IHRA didn’t solve this crisis and this will not solve it either.” Quite right. The comrade offered to represent any victims of this new rule on pro bono basis.
Maggie Cosin, former chair of the National Constitutional Committee (which richly deserves its nickname, the ‘National Kangaroo Court) spoke against sidelining the NCC and assured the audience that the current manifestation of this body ticked all the required boxes. However, the power to expel members in the hands of the NEC – in current conditions – is no good either. Contrary to the media’s febrile imagination, the NEC is not dominated by the ‘left’ (even if you include Jon Lansman in that category).
Labour HQ seems set on a path of self-destruction. The leadership’s fast track expulsions is a green light for a tsunami of allegations against Labour members, with the prospect – given the low standards of ‘evidence’ generally required – of 1,000s more vexatious allegations.
We need to reiterate the truth about this McCarthyite witch-hunt. Comrades like Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson, Stan Keable et al are simply collateral damage. The specific target is Corbyn and the general aim is to put the left “back in its box”, as one despicable rightwing Labour MP put it in a rare moment of candour.
The current tactics of Corbyn and his allies will more or less guarantee our defeat. Appeasement never works. Your opponent simply grows stronger.