LP conference voting guide: Life-long bans and significant silences

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Unfortunately, Momentum’s 2017 Rule change guide for this year’s Labour Party conference simply ignores the controversial motions around the weaponised issue of anti-Semitism. In fact, it is vital that these three motions sponsored by the Jewish Labour Movement are voted down, says Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

This LPM voting guide deals with all rule changes submitted by Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) before conference in 2016. In accordance with one of the plethora of undemocratic clauses in the LP rule book, these procedural motions were then ‘parked’ for almost 14 months before they can be finally discussed by delegates at this year’s conference. (Note, motion 12 from Filton & Bradley, Stoke and Newport West proposes to do away with this crassly anti-democratic rule. Absolutely correct!)

Not every motion published in the Addendum to the 2016 delegate’s report will make it to conference floor. Some have already been implemented by the NEC, some might be ruled out of order by the Conference Arrangements Committee and/or the NEC meeting on September 19. The final, detailed agenda and all motions will only be published a few short days before conference and might well contain a package of clumsy compromise ‘reforms’.

For example, there is talk of the ‘McDonnell amendment’ (no:14 in our list below), being tweaked so that any future candidate for LP leader or deputy leader would need nominations from 10% of the “the combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP”. Currently, the threshold stands at 15%. The original motion below suggests reducing it to 5% per cent.

In our view, it should be 0%. The relatively tiny numbers of Labour MPs and MEPs should not have any inbuilt constitutional right to thwart the democratic will of our mass membership!

If Corbyn and his allies on the NEC opt for this 10% ‘compromise’, it may be prompted by uncertainty about the political balance at conference – despite Luke Akehurst and the mainstream media suggesting that the left will score important victories in Brighton.

So, the battle lines are clearly draw up, but the actual balance of forces remains blurry. Lukehurst could be reducing expectations on the right with his downbeat comments. This wing of our party is fighting hard to keep its hold over the party apparatus – but its supporters are painfully aware they constitute a minority amongst the grassroots membership. In addition, many CLPs have chosen pro-Corbyn supporters as representatives and have filled their whole quota of delegates with left-wingers. But it’s not a done deal, however. There are also reports of many more CLPs where the right has again cited the “financial burdens” of sending more than one delegate – ‘and, hey, why not send our experienced [read, “rightwing” – CR] comrade X, who represented us in previous years, knows the score at conference…”, etc, etc?

Indeed, if we consider the rule changes as an indicator of the balance of forces in the party, then a clear victory for the left is far from certain. It is remarkable how few progressive, left-wing amendments have been submitted – and how tame they are. Yes, this is partially explained by the 14 months delay, which means we have a snapshot of where our party was over a year ago, not how it looks now. But there’s no doubt that the motions are also a reflection of the fact the left is still playing catch-up with the huge challenges presented to us by the election of a left-wing leader and a mass influx of a left-leaning new membership – some two years after these historic opportunities landed in our laps.

Bluntly put, we are still woefully unprepared and unorganised.

Momentum played a very effective mobilising role in the general election. However, its leader Jon Lansman – and Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter – clearly have no coherent plan for a root and branch political transformation of the Labour Party. The organisation deserves credit for publishing some useful guides to and information on the 2017 conference. (With the partial qualification that its most useful sections have already been covered by NEC member Pete Wilsman’s excellent overview, published last year and which is still available on the website of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.) Momentum’s generally useful contribution has a very loud, symptomatic silence, however – it has nothing to say on the energetic witch-hunt against the left in the party, under the banner of purging of ‘anti-Semitism’ in our ranks. This finds reflection in three rule changes submitted to conference – and the fact that the National Policy Forum wants to end Labour’s opposition to the occupation of Palestine (see Tony Greenstein’s article in Weekly Worker September 7).

There must be no bowing to this foul provocation against the left of the party, or equivocation on the defence of comrades who are caught in the net of the witch hunters.

Motions to oppose

The Momentum 2017 Rule change guide lists six motions that delegates should support (copied from CLPD and LPM) – and only two that should be opposed. Both of those deal with the anti-Corbyn attempt of removing the category of ‘registered supporters’ (who paid £3 and £25 respectively to have a vote in the leadership elections) and ‘affiliated supporters’ (ie, union members and members of affiliated societies). Of course, LPM also opposes these two motions (there are actually three: the Momentum office seems to have forgotten about motion no 1 from Kingswood). You can bet your bottom dollar that neither of the movers of these motions are concerned about the ‘power of the fully paid up Labour Party member’ – this is all about reducing the power of the unions, Jeremy Corbyn and avoiding the possibility that he could be replaced by a fellow left-winger.

But there are far worse motions among the 23 submitted – and they have been composed in exactly the same anti-Corbyn spirit. Motions 3, 4 and 6, all are clearly motivated by the entirely fabricated “anti-Semitism scandal” in the party. Motion 4 from Finchley & Golders Green is the worst of the lot. It proposes a life-long membership ban on anybody who is deemed to have engaged “in conduct which is motivated by hostility or prejudice based on gender; sexual identity; ethnicity or faith; age or disability; or other personal characteristic”. Such a person “shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member” [our emphasis]. And how can you possibly disprove that you were “motivated by hostility or prejudice”? This proposed rule change is incredibly open to abuse.

Ditto motion no 3, which defines a “hate incident” as “as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation” [our emphasis]. This formulation basically does away with the need for any evidence. Somebody thinks you were motivated by something nasty – bingo, that’s your expulsion letter in the post.

Motion 6 has been submitted by, among others, the Jewish Labour Movement. It uses the same formulations as the two motions above – ie, it is up to the “victim or anyone else” to charge somebody successfully with Anti-Semitism or related crimes. Hard evidence is not needed, feelings will suffice. The person charged is guilty until they can prove their innocence. In addition though, the motions also singles out “anti-Semitism (and ‘cleverly’, Islamophobia and racism) as being above the right to express opinions. Their full proposal would read: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions, except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism” [we emphasise the JML’s proposed amendment]. Coupled with the proposal to remove any need for evidence, this is a truly anti-democratic motion and a bureaucrat’s wet dream.

Why is Momentum not saying anything on these truly atrocious motions? Unfortunately, Jon Lansman – who since his coup of January 2017 rules Momentum’s national office like an absolute monarch – has been a willing accomplice in the witch-hunt by the right in the party, in the mistaken belief that by not ‘attacking’ them, they might eventually rally behind Jeremy Corbyn.

Also, Lansman, rather ironically, is politically rather close to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty when it comes to their definition of Anti-Zionism: basically anybody who criticises the actions of the state of Israel. Lansman famously threw Jackie Walker to the wolves when he had her removed as vice-chair of Momentum and then drew up a constitution which bars from Momentum membership all those thrown out of the Labour Party – for example, for the ‘crime’ of having been or being a member of another political group (like the AWL or Left Unity).

And just like the CLPD, Momentum has, at least for the time being, given up its fight for mandatory selection of MPs. And that despite the fact that the CLPD (with its member Jon Lansman playing a leading role at the time) fought for this rule change for many decades – and eventually with success: From 1980 until the early 90s, a form of mandatory selection of MPs was enshrined in the rule book. Noticeably, no constitutional motion on this subject has been submitted, despite all the debates on this subject in the last few years (though there is a slight chance that some of the contemporary motions submitted might touch on the subject – we’ll know after the NEC meeting of September 19. Also, at least a couple of motions on mandatory selection have been submitted in time for the 2018 conference). This shows how far we still have to go: the left is a long way away from the power it wielded even in the 1980s.

Motions to support

Among the motions that should be supported by delegates are, as already discussed, the so-called ‘McDonnell amendment’ (No 14). We also support motion 9 from Blackley & Broughton Exeter, which wants to do away with the restriction that CLPs can submit either a contemporary motion or a procedural motion, but not both. Motion 11 also wants to give more powers to the CLPs: it proposes that motions submitted are not automatically ruled out of order because they touch on a subject that is mentioned in the long documents produced by the National Policy Forum (to which Tony Blair has outsourced policy-making in the Labour Party). We also recommend a vote for motions 7 and 23, which seek to increase the money from membership fees allocated to CLPs (at the moment, they scrape by with an allocation of a measly £1.50 per member – per year!). There are a couple of other motions that deserve support.

Click here to read our voting recommendation in detail. We will produce more voting guides when the agenda and all motions have been finalised. They will be covered by our daily issue of Red Pages that we will upload online hand out at conference. We are keen to hear from delegates and observers – send your impressions, thoughts, observations and short articles to office@labourpartymarxists.org.uk for possible inclusion in Red Pages.