Tag Archives: Labour Party conference

Free Speech in Brighton!

Brighton Labour Left Alliance has pulled off an amazing feat by setting up a range of events on the theme of ‘Freedom of Speech’ during Labour Party conference. On Saturday, almost 100 activists packed into an upstairs room in the Rialto Theatre. Greg Hadfield, the key organiser of these events, spoke of the threats made against a number of venues booked by the left, leading to their cancellation. It says a great deal for his determination and courage, and that of his Brighton comrades, that we were able to listen to militant speeches from Ann Mitchell (chair of Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign), Tina Werkmann (Labour against the Witchhunt), Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson. The efforts of the witch-hunters had the opposite effect intended.

Chris Williamson spoke of his determination to continue to speak out honestly and to fight oppression, and of his determination that he would not be cowed, even if he was reinstated. Tina Werkmann warned of the rule change by the NEC which fast tracks expulsions. The right-wing are determined to destroy the left. But they have a fight on their hands.

Events will continue all week, click here for more info.

Labour conference 2019: A rough guide for delegates

Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists looks at some of the proposed rule changes and motions to be debated by conference

Due to a rule change passed at the 2018 annual conference, Constituency Labour Parties and affiliates that submit rule changes will no longer have to wait for a year for them to be debated. So this year’s conference agenda will feature rule changes that were submitted in 2019 as well as 2018.

The most significant of these is the motion submitted by Rochford and Southend East, Doncaster Central, and Wallasey (taking inspiration from Socialist Appeal’s campaign), which seeks to reinstate the following paragraph from the original clause four, discarded under Tony Blair:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

This Fabian version falls far short of what is required, but it would certainly strike a blow against the Blairite right and mark a significant advance, which is why we recommend a vote in favour. However, in addition to campaigning for a far more inspiring formulation, the left should be highly critical of the fact that this motion leaves most of the existing clause four untouched: for example, this formulation upholds the current international order, which deserves to go into the dustbin of history:

Labour is committed to the defence and security of the British people and to cooperating in European institutions, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.

We also note that according to The Times, the NEC meeting of September 17 has “set up a working group to examine changing the document” – ie, to kick Socialist Appeal’s proposals into the long grass. The NEC’s proposal will presumably be taken first at conference, which means that  the motion from Rochford et al would automatically fall. This would be the worst possible outcome, so we hope delegates will vote against the NEC’s delaying tactic.


Moving on to the conditions of party membership, Labour International has proposed amendments. It wants to remove the requirement for members to be “subjects” of the UK: from now on they would merely have to be “residents”. This is certainly a step forward and worthy of support – and it also removes all reference to the length of time (“one year”) a person would have to be resident to qualify for membership. No bad thing.

For their part, Weaver Vale and Birmingham Hodge Hill CLPs propose to amend the ‘Procedural rules for party conference’ by giving all CLPs and affiliates the right to propose not only one motion, but also one amendment – either to motions or the constitution.

It is certainly undemocratic that conference currently has no right to amend motions and only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – take it or leave it. Having said that, without a total reorganisation of conference, this proposal is almost impossible to implement, as conference motions are being merged and changed in the compositing process to a degree which makes some of them unrecognisable. Nevertheless, delegates should vote in favour of this principle.

In similar vein, Kingston Upon Hull North wants to remove the restrictions on the type of motions that are permitted. Currently those deemed to be ‘organisational’ are ruled out of order, on the grounds that only the national executive can propose them. So ‘organisational motions’ that instruct the NEC to speed up the trigger-ballot process or re-admit Chris Williamson MP to full membership cannot be debated. Obviously delegates should vote in favour of this rule change.

Liverpool West, Derby, Mid-Sussex and South Derbyshire all want to amend the undemocratic three-year rule, whereby a motion or constitutional amendment with a “similar primary objective” to one just debated by conference cannot be moved within three years. The three CLPs want to make an exception if “five or more identical resolutions to amend the constitution or rules have been submitted”.

Clearly this is insufficient – the 2017 Party Democracy Review actually proposed scrapping the three-year rule altogether, but this recommendation was rejected by the NEC last year and not put to conference. In the absence of such a proposal in 2019, delegates should vote for this marginal improvement.

However, we cannot recommend support for the change proposed by New Forest East, which wants to amend the rules for the election of national officers. This correctly insists that the position of general secretary should be subject to re-election, once he/she is appointed – but only after a five-year term and following a bureaucratic procedure. The motion insists that applicants – at least half of which must be women – must first be considered by the NEC, which will interview the eight candidates with the most support from NEC members. It will then select four of them, to be put to “a national ‘one member, one vote’ … ballot of all members of the party”.

It is correct to insist that the GS must be accountable and instantly recallable, but wrong to make this a matter for individual members, who are not in a position to judge who is best suited to a particular post. The principle ought to be that of representative democracy, whereby the NEC elects its officers.

Neither are we particularly enthusiastic for the proposal of Daventry, which wants to amend the ‘Procedural rules for elections for national committees’, using “the Single Transferable Vote system with constraints to ensure gender balance”. Yes, STV is generally more democratic and, for instance, unions would have to hold democratic elections to choose their representatives, who are at present usually appointed. But we must emphasise that the insistence on “gender balance” is wrong-headed – we need to elect the best candidate for the job, not focus on quotas. Nevertheless, on balance, I would recommend a vote in favour.

But for the same reason we should oppose Derby South’s amendment to the same rule, which stipulates that “No more than two members of any region or nation can be elected to represent CLPs unless there are insufficient nominations to fill all places”. Once again, we need to elect the best people for the job.

The same applies to Luton South’s proposed amendment to the ‘General rules for selections for public office’. This insists on “all-women shortlists” to “rectify the underrepresentation of women in elected public office”, but also the designation of “BAME representation priority areas, in which shortlists shall have a fixed number of places for BAME candidates”. While we are, of course, in favour of the full participation of all sections of the working class, we do not believe the problem of the existing lack of engagement of some sections can be solved by using quotas.

Accountability and discipline

Wirral West’s amendment to ‘Rights and responsibilities of elected members’ wants the NEC to publish a “code of conduct and ethics for those in public office”. That includes a warning about accepting “donations from third parties with perceived links to foreign or corporate interests” – quite right. Labour MEPs and MPs should be handing over an agreed amount of what they get anyway. We should expect our “elected members” to live on the average skilled workers’ wage. Delegates should vote for.

Ceredigion CLP wants to insert a whole new clause into the section on ‘Action by the national party’, relating to a “complaints and disciplinary procedures code of practice”. While this is rather vague, it insists that all decisions relating to disciplinary matters against individuals and local party organisations must be “fair and transparent”.

There must be “an initial presumption of innocence” and “All complaints should begin with a clear and detailed statement of the exact nature of charges.” Most of all, “The NEC should at all times act to maintain and strengthen a diverse culture of responsible free speech, discussion and debate within the party.”

As I say, while this is a little short on concrete proposals, it is clearly a long overdue step in the right direction. Similarly, Enfield Southgate wants cases of suspension to be dealt with “in a timely manner” through the setting up of an appeals panel independent of the NEC for all those “currently under suspension, or suspended in the future”. These two proposals will probably be merged.

I am less keen, however, on Cambridge’s proposal to amend ‘Rules for CLPs – Officers’, which goes into far too much detail about the appointment by branches of substitutes to attend CLP executive meetings. Is this really a matter for the party constitution?

Both Dulwich and West Norwood, and Leyton and Wanstead, want to amend the ‘Rules for Labour Party Local Campaign Forums’ – or local government committees, as they are now to be known. Currently, the composition of the hugely powerful LCFs (mostly still in the hands of the right) is a little opaque. The amendment wants to reduce some of the disproportionate power of Labour councillors and make the composition of LCFs more transparent – although, as with so many amendments, it is all still a bit vague. However, on balance, I would recommend a vote in favour.

But we should not support Brent Central’s amendments to ‘Selection of nominations for civic offices, council leadership and other council appointments’. This stipulates that the right to elect the council leader should be removed from Labour councillors and devolved to the entire membership of the area concerned. Once again we must stress that committees should elect their own leaders, so that they can instruct them and hold them to account.

Leeds Central is proposing something a little different in relation to the same section of the rules. It wants the leadership of all local council Labour groups to be elected by an “electoral college”, to be made up by all individual members and local union affiliates on a 50-50 basis. This should also be rejected for the same reason.

Finally, let me mention Battersea CLP – whose priority is the establishment of “a Cornish Labour Party”. This will have its own “full-time professional organisers, including a general secretary”, and will “hold an annual conference to consider policies relevant to Cornwall”. This would put Cornwall on an equal footing with Wales and Scotland, which already have their own sections. It is difficult to understand why Cornwall should have a different status to other counties – and why this is not being proposed by CLPs based in Cornwall itself. But perhaps all will be explained when the motion is moved.

CLP motions

As I write, the list of all CLP motions has just been leaked to Labour List. These are not usually published and delegates only discover the motions at conference itself, and which have been accepted or rejected – or referred to the NEC (where it usually dies a quick death). It is only from this list that we find out that there were also a number of rule changes that will not be discussed because they fall under the undemocratic ‘three-year rule’ (see above).

As readers will understand, I do not have the time to go through all 404 of its pages (!) – and this would be a bit of a waste of time, as most motions will be merged in the compositing meetings at conference. Just to note though that some of the most interesting motions are among those that have sadly been referred back to the NEC. Four of them relate to deputy leader Tom Watson. One asks him to step down, because his “actions seek to undermine the party leader, twice overwhelmingly elected by party members, and are not compatible with his remit as deputy leader of the Labour Party”.

Can you imagine if conference had been allowed a vote on such a motion? The man would have been slaughtered in front of the entire assembled media. But, not surprisingly, considering that Labour HQ has been doing everything to appease the right, delegates are not allowed to show this bully what they think of him.

For its part, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has concentrated its fire on rule changes to further lower the threshold for leadership elections. The current rules “require a candidate to receive a minimum of 10% of Labour MPs’ and MEPs’ nominations for a place on the ballot paper – allowing MPs to veto who can stand and potentially block the preferred choice of Labour’s members”.

Around a dozen motions on this issue have been referred back to the NEC. The CLPD seems to be hoping against hope that the number of such motions will convince the NEC to submit its own rule change on the issue – under current rules, that is the only way to get around the three-year rule, as the issue was debated at last year’s conference. The NEC however can submit whatever rule changes it wants.

For example, it seems that the NEC wants to get rid of ‘Labour Students’, which has been dominated by the right. No objections.

Fast-track expulsions

However, we strongly oppose another NEC rule change, which would fast-track expulsions from the party by allowing members of the NEC to get rid of “anti-Semites”. We’re still waiting for the text of that motion, but this is definitely not good news, coming, as it does, because of pressure from the pro-Zionist lobby and the right in the party.

Currently, the national constitutional committee (NCC) is the only body with the power to expel members, “having been created following a high court injunction against expulsions by the NEC in the 1980s”, as The Guardian puts it. “The court ruled that the NEC could not both investigate complaints and make a final ruling on complaints. However, as investigations are now carried out by party staff, the power to expel can be restored to the NEC.”

Certainly, the NCC quite rightly deserves its nickname of ‘national kangaroo court’ – most of its 24 members have been appointed by rightwing unions and affiliates while only 11 are elected by Labour Party members. But handing the power to expel members to the NEC – under current conditions – is no good thing. Contrary to what often appears in the media, the NEC is not dominated by the ‘left’ (even if you include witch-hunters like Jon Lansman and his followers in that category). This rule change would make the witch-hunt in the party a whole lot worse.

Brexit: Reject the 
fudge composite motion

TUESDAY fullRed Pages, Tuesday September 25

Articles in today’s issue:

Request to affiliate
Ex-Militant wants to rejoin

Constitutional amendments:
Voting recommendations

Brexit: Reject the 
fudge composite motion

Instead, the labour movement should fight for 
working class independence and unity in Europe

No to a People’s Vote!
Paradoxical as it might sound, Marxists have always argued that referendums are inherently undemocratic

Download the PDF version of Red Pages here and our supplement on voting recommendations here

Request to affiliate

Ex-Militant wants to rejoin

The former Militant Tendency, now known as the Socialist Party in England and Wales, has applied to affiliate to Labour, and the SP  has published correspondence on the matter between Labour’s general secretary, Jenny Formby, and its own leader, Peter Taaffe.

This is of particular interest, since for more than two decades the SP insisted that Labour was now just another capitalist party – like the Tories or Liberal Democrats. But in its letter of April 6 the SP describes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as “the first step to potentially transforming Labour into a mass workers’ party”, standing on an “anti-austerity programme”. So now “all genuinely anti-austerity forces should be encouraged to affiliate ”.

As an aside, why does the SP stress the need for an “anti-austerityprogramme” above all else? It does this even though it correctly states: “When the Labour Party was founded, it was a federation of different trade union and socialist organisations, coming together to fight for working class political representation”: ie, nothing so mundane as opposition to spending cuts.

Eventually, on July 27, Jennie Formby replied, beginning her letter, “Dear Mr Taaffe”. She pointed out  that Labour rules prevent the affiliation of political organisations with “their own programme, principles and policies”, unless they have a “national agreement with the party”. Also groups which stand candidates against Labour are automatically barred.

In his next letter (August 23) Peter Taaffe answered the first point by saying that the SP wanted a meeting precisely to discuss the possibility of such a “national agreement”. And, in response to the second point, he said the SP would much prefer to be part of an anti-austerity Labour Party “rather than having to stand against pro-austerity Labour candidates”.

Following this, Jennie Formby replied rather more quickly. On August 29 – this time starting her letter “Dear Peter” – she ruled out any meeting: “Whilst the Socialist Party continues to stand candidates against the Labour Party … it will not be possible to enter into any agreement.” Therefore “there can be no discussions”.

The first point to make is that it is good news that the SP has at last started to take Labour seriously. But obviously it needs to stop standing against anyLabour candidates, including those who it says are “implementing savage cuts”.

The second point is that the second letter from our general secretary appears to leave the door open to the possibility of affiliation by left groups. Such a change would be highly significant, possibly marking the return to the principles upon which Labour was founded in 1900.

Our party should change its rules in order to end all bans and proscriptions, all of which were introduced by rightwing leaders. It should indeed return to its founding principles – it needs to become a united front for the entire working class.

Brexit: Reject the 
fudge composite motion

Instead, the labour movement should fight for 
working class independence and unity in Europe

The row between Theresa May and the European Union over Brexit has been dominating the news during the Labour conference. That has led to an internal crisis in the deeply divided Tory Party, with May’s position as leader under imminent threat.

In response to all this, the Corbyn leadership and sections of the Labour right have been able to find some common ground: the Tories are in disarray, which means that our priority must be to call for an immediate general election, so that a Labour government can negotiate a sensible deal with the EU “in the interests of the country”.

The advantage of this from the point of view of both sides is that the question of a second referendum can for the moment be pushed to one side, although Corbyn has said that a ‘People’s Vote’ cannot be ruled out and he will abide by any decision taken by conference. In other words, a continuation of Labour’s ‘studied ambiguity’.

The demand for a general election settles nothing, of course – which is why sections of the right have opposed it as a fudge. On the other hand, we all hate the Tories and want a Labour government as soon as possible, don’t we? That’s why the leadership is confident its position will win the day.

Loudest amongst the voices calling for another referendum are those of the right, including those who see the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’ as yet another chance to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. The media coverage in advance of the conference and the publicity given to the demands to reject Brexit demonstrates the existence of a coalition being built in the latest attempt at a slow coup. For example, Sunday’s March for a People’s Vote in Liverpool brought together sections of the Labour right, such as Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger, along with a rag-tag band of Liberal Democrats, rural Tory rebels and confused Green activists in an attempt to sway the conference vote. Similar moves are underway in the unions, as leaders like Tim Roache of the GMB lined up to call for a second referendum.

Unite’s Len McCluskey has said that any new referendum should not include the ‘remain’ option – it should focus solely on the terms of Brexit. But what if the terms are rejected? However, for the majority of union bureaucrats, Brexit – particularly of the ‘hard’ variety – is viewed as likely to have adverse economic repercussions in Britain, such as higher unemployment and greater pressure on wages and working conditions. It is purely from this narrow perspective that they would like to see the decision reversed. In parallel with this, the likes of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and its Clarion journal, with their ‘Love Corbyn, hate Brexit’ slogan, are openly calling for Brexit to be abandoned through a ‘People’s Vote’..

However, the TUC basically voted two weeks ago for the Corbyn position, stating only that another referendum should not be “ruled out”. That is why today’s Brexit debate will be on a composite that includes both the leadership’s ‘general election’ call and the possibility of a second referendum. It will include the fudged statement: “If we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”

The composite is all that survives from over 140 contemporary motions submitted on Brexit. This followed a marathon meeting attended by around 250 delegates representing those who had put forward the various motions, which ended in the early hours of Monday morning. Once again, this episode exposes the democratic deficit within our party. Why can’t we have the true debates out in the open, with different motions representing different viewpoints being properly debated?

There is, of course, a minority of both Labour members and union leaders – most notably the RMT – who take a pro-Brexit view, and it seems that only the CWU has adopted something approaching a principled position. General secretary Dave Ward has insisted that we should not be “elevating the debate about a second referendum, or a ‘people’s vote’, or on the details of our relationship with the EU, above all other issues.”

He has pointed out that during the referendum campaign we “had a choice between two Tory alternatives: the status quo or a Conservative-led Brexit”. To put it mildly, “it is a mistake to continue to allow the terms of the debate to be dictated to us in this way”.

This is correct. Both the EU and the UK are run in the interests of capital, not the workers, and what Labour should be proposing is a position of working class independence. Our call should be for a workers’ Europe – neither a capitalist-driven Brexit nor the current capitalist-driven EU. Delegates should vote against both of those by opposing the Brexit composite.


No to a People’s Vote!

Paradoxical as it might sound, Marxists have always argued that referendums are inherently undemocratic

The drive to commit Labour to a second referendum on Theresa May’s final Brexit terms is undeniably highly coordinated and well-financed.

It is true that to many a ‘People’s Vote’ seems like an attractive prospect. After all, during the referendum campaign we were told a pack of blatant liesby the Brexiteers: who could ever forget the infamous red bus claiming that leaving the European Union will create an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS? Further, a Tory ‘no deal’ Brexit would only lead to more attacks on the working class.

Therefore, why object to a second referendum? Paradoxical as it might sound, Marxists have always argued that referendums are inherently undemocratic, as they act to fool enough of the people enough of the time: eg, the 1998 Good Friday referendum, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – and the 2016 Brexit referendum, of course. They all offered bogus choices. This does not mean that that we oppose allreferendums allof the time, as ultimately this is always a tacticalquestion. For example, Marxists supported the recent abortion vote in Ireland, as it represented a genuine gain for the working class.

Nevertheless, the general principle of hostility to referendums stands. They are not a higher form of democracy than the process of electing well-tested working class representatives following extensive public debate. Referendums tend to divide the working class, weaken its party spirit and produce the strangest of bedfellows – as when the Socialist Workers Party and Ukip lined up together in support of Brexit.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels knew all about the undemocratic nature of referendums, given the bitter experience of Louis Bonaparte and his self-elevation to emperor in 1852, when each autocratic power-grab was legitimised by a referendum. In turn, opposing referendums became the common sense of the Second International, which dubbed them a “cruel trick”. In 1911 Ramsay MacDonald, future leader of our party, spoke in similar terms: referendums are “a clumsy and ineffective weapon, which the reaction can always use more effectively than democracy, because it, being the power to say ‘no’, is far more useful to the few than the many” (the final phrase is, of course, particularly pertinent when it comes to the current Labour Party!).

The main argument against referendums is that there are very few situations where there is a simple binary choice in politics. Even assuming there is a straightforward ‘right thing to do’, its exact details are rarely obvious and there will be a wide range of contending ideas. But referendums reduce complexities to a mere option between black and white.

Also, Marxists want to strengthen the system of party politics. It is vital for the broad mass of the population to think about, organise around and vote for competing party outlooks – in the process bringing class divisions to the fore. Referendums do the opposite, blurringthe fundamental conflict in society between class and class, and the corresponding conflict between party and party, between Labour or Tory.

All this explains why Marxists fight to extendrepresentative democracy and the process of debate, through motions, detailed votes and binding legislation – which is why we call upon conference to reject all calls for a ‘People’s Vote’ and the pseudo-democracy of referendums. We have the same essential approach to all those proposed rule changes seeking to expand the use of ‘one member, one vote’: members ought to be able to elect accountable representatives., whose duty it is to explore and analyse all the complications surrounding decisions to be made.

The Party Democracy Review contained recommendations for more “digital democracy” and “secure online voting systems”, with a new sub-clause added on Sunday, which promised: “the NEC shall invite CLPs to take part in pilots of staggered meetings; electronic attendance, online voting and other methods of maximising participation”.

However, for Marxists there are some serious problems with Omov. Just as we are opposed to referendums, as a general rule we are also against plebiscites in the party. There is a good reason why the move to Omov for the election of party leader began with the likes of Neil Kinnock and culminated in Ed Miliband’s Collins review – it was a rightwing ploy to dilute the working class nature of our party and atomise members by bringing the ‘common sense’ politics of the BBC or even The Suninto Labour.

The same goes for so-called digital democracy, which too has the effect of atomising members – making it easier for them to be manipulated by unscrupulous bureaucrats. Bear in mind the farce that was Jon Lansman’s Momentum coup – cynically presented as ‘democracy from below’. Omov, in Lansman’s hands, was a profoundly undemocratic plot against the interests of the membership – one that stymied Momentum’s potential to be an effective, dynamic left trend in the party

Online voting also marginalises the role of the unions. Yes, the representatives of rightwing unions have played an entirely negative role on the NEC. But in general the affiliation of unions is an enormous strength. While their bureaucratic leaders should not be allowed to prevent the democratic selection of parliamentary candidates, unions have clearly played an important role in preserving the character of the Labour Party as a workers’party, even under Tony Blair.

But our main point remains this: our most powerful organising tool is representative democracy. We need to elect representatives who are totally accountable to and recallable by the party, and empower them to take informed decisions on our behalf.

Constitutional amendments:
Our recommendations

We really wish we could use this article to recommend a vote for the rule change moved by International Labour in favour of open selection. Unfortunately, due to the betrayal and manoeuvring by Unite leader Len McCluskey and Momentum owner Jon Lansman on Sunday, delegates will not be able to vote for the mandatory reselection of all Labour’s parliamentary candidates.

We believe that this was not just incredibly undemocratic, as the vast majority of CLP conference delegates clearly expressed their desire to have an open and fair discussion on the different options (most of them were no doubt in favour of mandatory reselection). It was also incredibly inept from a tactical point of view. If Labour wins the next general election, members of the rightwing PLP  have demonstrated that they will not subordinate themselves to Jeremy Corbyn. They will make his life hell at every opportunity. They are very likely to launch another no-confidence vote against him – he will, in effect, be unable to govern. The only way to avoid that, of course, is through such measures as mandatory reselection to get rid of the plotters and saboteurs.

While most NEC rule changes coming out of the gutted Party Democracy Review were voted through with a majority of well over 90%, the two disputed – sections 6 (leadership elections) and 8 (selection of parliamentary candidates) – received much lower votes: 63.94% and 65.94% respectively. Taking into account the massive size of the trade union bloc vote – which makes up 50% of the total – this means that the vast majority of CLP delegates rejected the NEC’s proposals on these two issues. This clearly represents a massive democratic deficit. And, owing to the undemocratic three-year-rule, this now also means that both issues cannot be revisited until 2021.

18 of the 33 submitted CLP constitutional amendments have been taken off today’s agenda because of the NEC’s rule changes – without any proper debate on most of them. To make matters worse, some of the NEC’s changes do not actually deal with the substance of the original CLP proposals and in our view the conference arrangements committee (CAC) was wrong to declare that they were ‘consequentials’ and would thereby automatically fall. For example:

–   Sefton Central CLP proposed that the members of the powerful National Constitutional Committee should be elected directly by all Labour Party members. The NCC is incredibly important in the ongoing civil war. This is where the NEC sends all disciplinary cases it does not want to deal with itself. Ideally, it should be abolished. But, seeing as this was not an option, we agreed with this rule change, which would have taken away the right of the affiliates to choose who should judge over party members. The NEC’s amendment, which increased the size of the committee from 11 to 25, does not specify at all how the members should be elected. This will guarantee that the right will continue to dominate disciplinary matters in the party.

–   The current period following an expulsion or auto-exclusion of a member is currently set at a fixed “minimum of five years”. The amendment by Bracknell CLP would have given the NEC the right to choose a shorter period. There would still have been unfair and unjust expulsions, but it would have been slightly better than the status quo. Again, the NEC’s rule changes do not deal with this point at all – but delegates will still not be able to discuss the proposed change, as it has been deemed ‘superseded’.

After removing these excluded ‘consequentials’, we believe that the following rule changes remain on the agenda to be discussed today.

Mid Worcestershire et al demand an important change to    the rule book’s “conditions of membership”. They propose to delete this half-sentence: “joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the Party, or”

Vote For

Our reason: This rule had not been used for decades – until the election of a certain Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the Labour Party, that is. Since 2015 though, it has been liberally applied to “auto-exclude” dozens of supporters and alleged supporters of Socialist Appeal, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Labour Party Marxists – many of whom had been active Labour members for many, many years. It was, for example, used to expel professor Moshé Machover after an article of his was published by Labour Party Marxists, which was handed out at last year’s Labour Party conference (he has since been reinstated after an international outcry). It has also been used to auto-exclude people who have merely shared articles online published by the three organisations.

Members of Progress or Labour First – clearly very highly organised factions in the Labour Party – remain untouched. To be applied consistent, the party would also have to expel supporters of the Stop the War Coalition or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But, of course, it has exclusively been used against the organised left in the party. It is a McCarthyite, anti-democratic rule that must go.

Broxtowe CLP proposes (in the same section) that only a party member who “joins and/or supports a political organisationthat is in conflict with the aims and principles of the Labour Party” should be ineligible for party membership (amendment in italics).

Vote Against

Our reason: This proposal begs the question as to how on earth you prove that the aims of an organisation are not“in conflict” with those of the Labour Party. This formulation has been used, for example, to expel supporters of Socialist Appeal, because they self-define as Marxist. The CND clearly wants to abolish all nuclear weapons; while Jeremy Corbyn is prepared to rearm Trident – incompatible, surely?

Copeland CLP proposes stricter rules on delegate selection.

Vote Against

Our reason: The rule book already states that, “at least every second delegate from a CLP shall be a woman”. While we encourage the participation of women at all levels of the party, this rule effectively punishes the CLP if it cannot find enough female volunteers. It seems to us that this is a pseudo-democratic, unnecessary addition that makes the rule book even more unwieldy than it already is.

 Islington North & South Derbyshire are proposing the introduction of proper standing orders for party conference.

Vote For

Our reason: This is sorely lacking at present. While each morning delegates and visitors wade through the huge pile of papers, composited motions and votes cast the previous day, the CAC plays hard and fast with conference standing orders (many of which are not written down anywhere). It has a huge amount of power. It can decide, for example, if there should be a show of hands or a card vote.

The unions and other affiliates have around 300 delegates at conference, while the CLPs have about 1,200. But in a card vote the affiliates count for 50% of the total vote; ditto the CLPs (whose vote then further divided according to how many members it has). Roughly, a union delegate’s vote counts for four times as much as that of a CLP delegate – and that can make all the difference in a dispute.

Blackley & Broughton et al insist that rule changes should be heard in the same year they are submitted.

Vote For

Our reason: The practice currently employed is actually not part of the rule book. It delays debate of constitutional amendments to the following year. An utterly unnecessary block on the democratic will of Labour Party members. Apparently, this was also discussed as part of the Democracy Review, but rejected by Katy Clark.

Wirral West wants a second (female) deputy leader.


Our reason:We have sympathy for this rule change, which is clearly designed to curb the power of Tom Watson. But we are in favour of doing away with the position of deputy leader altogether. Incidentally, we are also in favour of abolishing the position of leader, as there are serious issues of how members can effectively hold to account somebody in such a strong position.

Hornsey & Wood Green propose the same, in more words.

Vote Against 

Our reason: as above.

Kingswood proposes to abolish the category of registered supporters.

Vote For

Our reason: We are against the Americanisation of politics; only members should have a vote. Supporters actually made no difference to the outcome of the leadership elections.

Canterbury et al want the general secretary of the party elected directly by members.

Vote Against

Our reason: We also have a lot of sympathy for this rule change, which has no doubt been inspired by the disastrous reign of Iain McNicol. He had to be bribed out of his job after undermining Jeremy Corbyn for two long years, during which he was responsible for facilitating the witch-hunt against thousands of Corbyn supporters, creating the hostile and fearful atmosphere we can still feel today.

Currently, the GS is elected at conference “at the recommendation of the NEC” and usually stays in the job until s/he dies or retires. We therefore welcome the fact that this rule change seeks to give the NEC the clear power to sack the GS, because that is clearly missing from the current rules. However, this also creates a certain democratic deficit: all party members can vote for the GS, but s/he could then be sacked by the NEC.

In our view, it would make more sense for the GS to be truly accountable to the NEC by being elected by this body too: it is, after all, the NEC that the GS is supposed to serve.

We also disagree with limiting the term to three years. If the person is doing a great job, why get rid of him or her? On the other hand, if s/he is terrible, s/he can be sacked straightaway anyway. There is no point to this limit.

New Forest East as above, but instead of a maximum term of three years, it proposes five years.

Vote Against

Our reason: See above.

Swansea West proposes to elect the leader and deputy leader of Welsh Labour via an OMOV election.

Vote Against

Our reason: Again, we have a lot of sympathy with the motives behind this proposed rule change: a truly undemocratic, weighted electoral college, adopted only recently by the Welsh executive committee, has led to the election of Carolyn Harris MP, who is deeply unpopular among individual members (but was favoured by the unions and elected representatives). But if there has to be a position of ‘leader’ – a position we think should be abolished – we would prefer this person to be elected by the (democratically chosen) Welsh/Scottish executive directly. After all, s/he is supposed to be accountable to and recallable by that body.

Dartford wants to double the number of NEC reps elected by councillors, mayors and police commissioners.

Vote Against

Our reason: Instead of doubling the figure from two to four, these NEC positions should be abolished altogether.

Richmond Park proposes that CLPs should be able to decide themselves if they want to stand in a general election.

Vote For

Our reason: We presume that this rule change comes from the right and has been moved by people wanting to withdraw a Labour candidate in favour of Tory billionaire Zac Goldsmith, who was standing as an ‘independent’ in a by-election in 2016.

Nevertheless, it is entirely correct that local members should have the right to decide not just who they want as their candidate – but also if they even want to stand somebody. In the past, local Labour Parties stood down in order to support a candidate from the Communist Party, for example.

Cheltenham wants CLPs without a Labour MP to decide on a candidate within six months of the last election.  

Vote Against

Our reason: Is it really useful to have somebody in this position for over four and a half years? This rule change would not allow for the person to be replaced (unless they withdrew).

City of Durham wants to replace Local Campaign Forums with Local Government Committees, in which 75% of its members would be CLP delegates.

Vote For

Our reason: The current LCFs clearly need radical reforming: They are dominated by councillors and party officials and are little more than toothless debating chambers. They used to write the Labour group’s manifesto, but this has long been outsourced to the councillors themselves. We would prefer a much more thoroughgoing reform of this body.

In defence of Pete Willsman!

Even after everything that has gone before, the attacks on Pete Willsman for his comments at last month’s meeting of Labour’s national executive committee are truly incredible.

Comrade Willsman can be heard in a secretly recorded intervention questioning the allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ among Labour members. He said: “I think we should ask the … rabbis [who had been amongst those making such absurd accusations – PM]: where is your evidence of severe and widespread anti-Semitismin this party?” Some people, he said – including those whom he described as “Trump fanatics” – were “making up duff information without any evidence at all”.

And that is it. Yet, absurdly, comrade Willsman himself has been attacked throughout the media for anti-Semitism! The press has rushed to give space to the ludicrous responses of anti-Corbyn Zionists. For example, Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, described the above words as a “disgusting rant against the Jewish community and rabbis”, for which he should be “summarily expelled”! As for Luciana Berger MP, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, she absurdly declared: “Anyone listening to this recording will be appalled to hear the venom and fury directed by Mr Willsman at the British Jewish community”!

Er, he was not attacking the “Jewish community” at all. He was angrily criticising all those – Jewish or not – who were responsible for so many false allegations. Quite right too. And just about everyone in the room knew that what he said was true, but no other NEC member dared say so, it seemed.

And now Momentum has responded by dropping comrade Willsman from its list of recommended candidates for election (in his case re-election) to the NEC. The statement from the “elected officers of the national coordinating group” noted: “While it is welcome that he has made a full apology and will attend equalities training, his comments were deeply insensitive and inappropriate for a Momentum- backed NEC candidate.”

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at such nonsense. But it is very much a pity that comrade Willsman felt any need to apologise – let alone accept the need for “equalities training”! While it was hardly a “full apology”, his expression of regret for failing to discuss “contentious issues” in a “fully civil and respectful way”, itself gave too much ground to his accusers. He was right to be angry at the campaign of slander directed against good comrades and he should not have retreated on this.

Hopefully those Labour members who have not yet voted will show Jon Lansman and co what they think of this by voting for all nine candidates, including comrade Willsman,on Momentum’s original recommended list.

Please join Labour Against the Witchhunt, which will be organising a number of interventions and events at this year’s Labour Party conference – including a counter-mobilisation to the demo planned by the right.

Transform the Labour Party: our proposals

Jeremy Corbyn says he wants to find ways to give more power to ordinary members and a conference that makes the final decision on policy. The democracy commission has now been agreed and will report next year. All this is very welcome. James Marshall presents a 13-point platform that will provide the basis for our submission

1. Mandatory reselection is crucial, though it terrifies the right. We read that this, “even more than nuclear disarmament and membership of the European Community, became the main catalyst for the launch of the breakaway Social Democratic Party” in March 1981.[1] In that same treacherous spirit as the founders of the SDP, Progress – Lord David Sainsbury’s party within a party – furiously denounces mandatory reselection as “a weapon of fear and intimidation”.[2] Yes, it is viewed as an affront by every rightwing wrecker, every hireling, every parliamentary careerist.

It is worth looking at the background. Interestingly, and with good foundation, we read on the Progress website that mandatory reselection carries “echoes of the Paris Commune, and of the Russian soviets, where delegates were subject to recall if they displeased their local citizenry. It rests on the idea that leaders will always be tempted to sell you out, once they get power.”[3] Well, surely, that is what history actually shows.

For decades, sitting Labour MPs – certainly those with safe seats – enjoyed a job for life (or as long as no better offer came along). They might deign to visit their constituency once or twice a year, deliver a speech to the AGM and write an occasional letter to the local newspaper. Meanwhile they lived a pampered, middle class life, frequented various London gentlemen’s clubs and spent their weekends in the home counties with Lord this and Lady that. Despite such evident moral corruption, they were automatically the candidate for the next election. Unless found guilty of an act of gross indecency or had the party whip withdrawn, they could do as they pleased.

With the insurgent rise of Bennism, that totally unacceptable situation was called into question. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, founded in 1973, committed itself to a range of rule changes – the mandatory reselection of MPs was finally agreed by the 1980 conference. What this saw, however, was not a Labour Party equivalent of the Paris Commune or the Russian soviets. There was no right to instantly recall. Nevertheless, once in each parliament, our MPs had to secure the endorsement of their local general management committee. Note, GMCs were made up of delegates elected by local party and trade union branches; they were sizable bodies too, typically consisting of 80, 90, 100 or even more delegates.

At the prompting of the bourgeois media, Neil Kinnock, desperately seeking acceptability, sought to extract trade unions from the voting process altogether. He failed, but accepted a compromise. A local electoral college for the selection and reselection of candidates was introduced. Ordinary members were given a direct vote for the first time, leaving GMCs with the right to nominate and shortlist only. This electoral college system gave unions and affiliated organisations up to 40% of the vote, with ordinary members having some 60% (the actual balance was different in each seat, depending on party and union membership).

Trigger ballots were a product of the 1990s. Formally honouring conference’s “desire to maintain reselection”, they made it significantly “easier for MPs to defend their positions”.[4] They allowed for a sitting MP to be subject to a full-scale ballot of the membership. But only if they lost a trigger ballot.

We say, all elected Labour representatives, whether councillors, MPs or MEPs, must, by rule, be subject to one-member, one-vote mandatory reselection. All must be brought under democratic control – from above, by the national executive committee; from below, by branches and Constituency Labour Parties.

2. We urgently need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be abolished. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, etc, have to go.

3. We are against the idea of electing the general secretary through an all-member ballot. The NEC should elect all national officers. Therefore the post of Labour leader should be replaced by the post of NEC chair. We favour annual elections with the right to recall at any time. As a matter of basic principle Marxists oppose all forms of Bonapartism.

4. In Scotland and Wales, Labour’s executive committees should likewise elect their own officers, including their representatives on the all-UK NEC. We are against a single individual in Scotland and Wales having the right to appoint themselves, or a trusted clone.

5. Scrap the hated compliance unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell).[5] There must be an amnesty for all those expelled for having supported leftwing organisations and publications. The compliance unit operates in the murky shadows, routinely leaks to the capitalist media and makes rulings in a completely biased manner. We want to welcome into our ranks the bulk of those who have been barred from membership by the compliance unit. Many of them are good socialists with a proven record.

6. Those expelled from membership ought to have the right to reapply – not after five years, but in just one year. All disciplinary procedures should be completed within three months, at which point suspensions must be automatically rescinded. Endless delay violates natural justice.

7. The huge swing towards Labour in the June 2017 general election happened in no small part due to the enthusiasm of young voters. Yet Young Labour is a creaking, uninviting, thoroughly bureaucratic construction. We need a one-member, one-vote organisation. That must include Young Labour’s national committee. At present, two-thirds of votes are accounted for by appointees from affiliated organisations: eg, the Fabians and Cooperative Party, and affiliated trade unions. Instead of the biannual policy and national committee elections, their must be an annual conference that can both decide on policy and elect a leadership. Young Labour has to have the right to decide on its own constitution and standing orders.

8. We need a rule that commits the NEC to securing the affiliation of all trade unions to the Labour Party. The FBU has already reaffiliated. Excellent. Matt Wrack at last changed his mind and took the lead in reversing the disaffiliation policy. But what about the RMT? Let us win RMT militants to finally drop their support for the thoroughly misconceived Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition project. Instead reaffiliate to the Labour Party. And what about the NUT? This year’s Cardiff conference saw the executive narrowly win an amendment, by 50.63% to 49.37%, which in effect ruled out considering affiliation … at this moment. This can be changed … if we campaign to win hearts and minds.

Then there is the PCS. Thankfully, Mark Serwotka, its leftwing general secretary, has at last come round to the idea of affiliation. Yes, that would run up against the Trades Disputes and Trade Union Act (1927), introduced by a vengeful Tory government in the aftermath of the General Strike. Civil service unions were barred from affiliating to the Labour Party and the TUC. The Civil and Public Services Association – predecessor of the PCS – reaffiliated to the TUC in 1946. Now, however, surely, it is time for the PCS to reaffiliate to the Labour Party. Force another change in the law.

9. There has to be a shift in the party, away from the HQ, regional officers, the leader’s office, the Parliamentary Labour Party, etc. CLPs must be empowered. Towards that end there has to be proper financing. CLPs should be allocated 50% of the individual membership dues. That will help with producing publicity material, hiring rooms, paying for full-time officers, providing transport, setting up websites, etc. That way, our CLPs can be made into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action.

10. Our goal must be a Labour Party that, in the words of Keir Hardie, can “organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”.[6] We therefore need rule changes to once again allow left, communist and revolutionary groups and parties to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only but strengthen Labour as a federal party. Nowadays affiliated organisations include the Fabians, Christians on the Left, the Cooperative Party and, problematically, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Business. Encourage the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Communist Party of Great Britain, Left Unity, Socialist Appeal, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, etc, to join our ranks.

11. Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder – not a way for university graduates to secure a lucrative living. A particularly potent weapon here would be a rule requiring all our elected representatives and officials to take only the average wage of a skilled worker – a principle that was indeed upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. Our MPs are on a basic £67,060 annual salary. On top of that they get around £12,000 in expenses and allowances, putting them on £79,060 (yet at present Labour MPs are only obliged to pay the £82 parliamentarian’s subscription rate). Moreover, as leader of the official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn not only gets his MP’s salary: he is entitled to an additional £73,617.[7]

Let them keep the average skilled worker’s wage – say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). Then, however, they should hand the balance over to the party. Even without a rule change Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott ought to take the lead here.

12. Relying on the favours of the capitalist press, radio and TV is a fool’s game. Yes, it worked splendidly for Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. But, as Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband found to their cost, to live by the mainstream media is to die by the mainstream media.

The NEC should, by rule, establish and maintain our own press, radio and TV. To state the obvious, tweeting and texting have severe limits. They are brilliant mediums for transmitting simple, short and sharp messages to the already converted, but, when it comes to complex ideas, debating history and charting out political strategies, they are worse than useless. We should provide time and space for controversy and the whole range of different opinions within the party. Without that our media will be dull, lifeless, pointless. We should also take full advantage of parliamentary immunity to circumvent the oppressive libel laws. Then we can say the unsayable. That would prove to be electric in terms of shaping and mobilising public opinion.

13. We should adopt a new clause four. Not a return to the old 1918 version, but a commitment to working class rule and the aim of a stateless, classless, moneyless society, which embodies the principle, ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’. That is what socialism is all about. Not a measly £10-per-hour “living wage”, shifting the tax balance and a state investment bank. No, re-establishing socialism in the mainstream of politics means committing the Labour Party to achieving a “democratic republic”.[8]

[1]. http://thirdavenue.org.uk/a-beginners-guide-to-the-labour-party-rulebook-part-2-reselection-of-mps.

[2]. www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/09/28/the-price-of-a-seat-in-parliament.

[3]. www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/09/28/the-price-of-a-seat-in-parliament.

[4]. http://thirdavenue.org.uk/a-beginners-guide-to-the-labour-party-rulebook-part-2-reselection-of-mps.

[5]. http://labourlist.org/2016/02/mcdonnell-and-woodcock-clash-over-plan-to-scrap-member-checks.

[6]. Independent Labour Party Report of the 18th annual conference London 1910, p59.

[7]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leader_of_the_Opposition_(United_Kingdom).

[8]. Labour Party Marxists July 7 2016.

Red Pages, Tuesday September 26 2017

In this issue:

  • Anti-Semitism witch-hunt: Conference fights back!
  • Interview with Jackie Walker
  • Labour First: Over the top … again
  • Mandatory selection: essential democratic demand

Click here
to download the September 26 issue in PDF format

Anti-Semitism witch-hunt: Conference fights back!

As Jonathan Rosenhead and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi note in Labour Briefing, “there is something relentless about the pressure on the Labour Party to be nicer to Israel and more inhospitable to its critics.”

Thus, it has been very encouraging to see delegates at this year’s conference push back against that “relentless” (and utterly cynical) pressure from the right. Fringe meetings organised by ‘Free Speech on Israel’ and ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ were packed out, as was Jackie Walker’s show ‘The Lynching’. Comrade Wimborne-Idrissi (a member of the new ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’) made an impassioned pro-Palestinian speech at conference yesterday and deservedly got a standing ovation when she concluded with “The Labour Party does not have a problem with Jews”. She clearly spoke for the overwhelming majority in the hall.

The comrade mentioned that the National Policy Forum’s international document had been updated, after Palestine campaigners had noticed a glaring omission. The election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic demands had been dropped, as had the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Presumably, this would have overridden the election manifesto. But after pressure from anti-Zionist campaigners (possibly Jeremy Corbyn himself?), it was put back into the NPF document by the CAC to avert a major controversy at conference itself. Excellent.

The same kind of pressure should be put on the NEC’s new compromise formulation on ‘prejudice and hate’, to be discussed on Tuesday morning. The Jewish Labour Movement’s fingerprints are all over this compromise and we hear that they are lobbying Corbyn and the NEC to be allowed to help write the new code of conduct. The JLM hopes this will enshrine the controversial ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’ into our rulebook. This conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and has been widely criticised.

Unfortunately, the NEC compromise is a deliberate fudge to appease the right. The response of Corbyn and his close allies to crude mendacious ‘anti-Semitism’ charges against the left has been disappointing. They seem to believe that the saboteurs can been pacified and ‘party unity’ consolidated by giving ground on this issue. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry showed the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetites grow in the eating.

But conference has shown that the wider membership has no interest in appeasing those determined to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – as the standing ovation for Naomi dramatically illustrated.

protest Jackie

Jackie Walker says…

Jewish anti-Zionist campaigner Jackie Walker, suspended from the Labour Party, talked to Red Pages ahead of her widely praised show ‘The Lynching’. This was staged with much secrecy on Monday night in Brighton

Things are clearly changing in the party. So, are you expected to be reinstated anytime soon? 

I don’t expect it to change soon, no. I’ve been told by somebody in the know that it could be another year before my case comes up. It will now involve a number of barristers on the Labour Party side and my solicitor. They have got to get their papers together. The state of the papers that were sent to the NEC was so appalling that they would be in bad trouble if they were distributed in a similar state again. It will take them some time to get it together.

You have been suspended for a year now; surely this cannot go on indefinitely? 

You’re right; this is an outrage. My solicitor will probably have to make some kind of application under national justice soon. But there are others who have been suspended longer than me – and they don’t even know what they have been suspended for! And this is all happening on the watch of general secretary Iain McNicol.

You took part in yesterday’s protest urging McNicol to go. 

Yes, but he is just one person. I think we need an overhaul of the whole disciplinary process, to ensure that it is not so easily manipulated for political interest. You would have to be a fool not to believe that behind the anti-Semitism witch hunt and the expulsions and suspensions of members is a political ideology.

Are you hopeful that so-called Corbyn review will look at these issues?

Oh yes, because if we keep the current structures we will be embroiled in this kind of nonsense forever. The data protection agency ICO had so many complaints about the Labour Party disciplinary process that enquiries now take three months to be answered – it was two weeks until recently.

What are your thoughts on Iain McNicol awarding the Del Singh memorial price for ‘best practice for a members-led affiliate’ to the Jewish Labour Movement?

It is very unfortunate. This award was established to honour a man who was a real supporter of the Palestinians. Del Singh would be turning in his grave. As I understand it, it’s the Conference Arrangements Committee that decides who wins the prize, so this just shows how right wing the outgoing CAC is. In terms of the JLM’s “best practice”, I have to remind people that this was the organisation that has allowed their official to make a secret film during a training session at last year’s conference, then sent it to the media – a provocation which got me suspended, of course.

You are a supporter of Jewish Voice for Labour, which had its inaugural meeting last night here in Brighton. 

It is a travesty that the Jewish Labour Movement, a Zionist grouping, is the only recognised Jewish voice in Labour. You can bend numbers as much as you want, but there are many, many Jewish members of the Labour Party who are not Zionists and we need to have a voice too.

Are you trying to affiliate to the Labour Party?

It takes time before an organisation can affiliate. I think first of all we’re trying to grow our numbers. We are having a very positive response and I would urge everybody to get involved in the organisation. You don’t have to be Jewish to become a supporter – though you can’t be a full member unless you’re Jewish.

I hear Tony Greenstein hasn’t been allowed to join? Barring people is not a very good start…

My personal view is that this should not have happened, but I am not a member of the executive.

Is the party too broad a church?

I believe in free speech. If you have Zionists in the Labour Party, they should be able to give their view. People should be able to hear both sides. Progress, Labour First – they have the right to speak. But they should not be allowed to shut down debate and silence opinions that they don’t agree with. The party is changing, but this censorship is still going on.

Labour First: Over the top … again

A first-time delegate from Wales gave his impressions of this year’s conference to a Red Pages distributor. He observed that the right was “near invisible, low key and shoddy looking”.

That just about sums up the 2017 ‘moderate left’ line-up that we have come across. We have reported the slightly weird attack on our comrades who attended the Labour First rally on Sunday. The two comrades we sent along to flood the event were blasted as “Stalinists” and subjected to a stern telling off for their adherence to the “hate filled ideology” of Marxism.

Monday’s new bulletin from our temperate friends has a very odd, over-the-top and laughably ignorant rant against the “cynical Leninists” who have wormed their way into the party. The majority of the Corbyn intake is just “a bit naïve”. Marxists, on the other hand, are “bullies”; fans of “secret police goons”; fetishists for “the violence of the Russian revolution” and South American “authoritarianism” and people who are “happy to impose political change through violent revolution”.

You get the idea. We’re definitely off their Xmas card list.

But then, shit is water-soluble – it washes off pretty easily. This idiotic rant is only worth noting for one thing – it illustrates that the right is under pressure, feels its grip on the party slipping away and it simply hasn’t got the politics to argue cogently against the left – Marxist or otherwise. LPMers confidently expect that LF types will refuse to even talk about these issues when we approach them; to just brush Marxists aside as irrelevant. Although, we note, not too irrelevant to spend well over 500 words maligning us.

They’re on the run, comrades!

Mandatory selection: essential democratic demand

MPs, like all our reps, must be under democratic control from above, by the NEC; from below by the CLPs. Unfortunately, this year’s conference will not hear any motions on the subject – though at least two have been submitted to the 2018 conference. Whatever happens in Brighton, this is a key issue for the left and must be part of the ‘Corbyn review’.

Mandatory reselection terrifies the right. For decades, sitting Labour MPs enjoyed a job for life. They might visit their constituency once or twice a year, deliver a speech to the AGM and write the occasional letter to a local newspaper. Unless found guilty of an act of gross indecency, they could do as they pleased.

With the insurgent rise of Bennism that situation was challenged. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy committed itself to the fight for mandatory reselection of MPs, finally agreed by the 1980 conference. What this saw, however, was not a Labour Party equivalent of the Paris Commune or the Russian soviets, as our friends in Progress foolishly warn on their website. There was no right to instant recall. Nevertheless, once in each parliament, our MPs had to get the endorsement of the local local party and trade union branches. Under Neil Kinnock, this was watered down and eventually today’s trigger ballot was introduced in the 1990s, which makes it significantly easier for MPs to defend their positions.

Clearly, this process is badly flawed. The ‘checks and balances’ that delay and complicate members ability to ‘sack’ the people who are meant to politically represent them and their constituency should be abolished. We need a system of true mandatory selection.

Two rule change motions (from International Labour and Rochester and Strood CLP) that would introduce this mandatory selection of MPs have been voted through CLPs in time for conference 2017 – but in accordance with one of the plethora of undemocratic clauses in the LP rule book, these motions have now been ‘parked’ for almost 14 months before they can be finally discussed by delegates at next year’s conference.

IL’s motion would delete any reference to ‘trigger ballots’ in the rule book and introduce a very simply system, where “The sitting Member of Parliament shall be automatically included on the shortlist of candidates, unless they request to retire or resign from the PLP. The CLP Shortlisting Committee shall draw up a shortlist of interested candidates to present to all members of the CLP who are eligible to vote.”

This is very simple, very fair and eminently supportable!

Red Pages @ LP conference: Sunday, September 24

Click here to download the September 24 issue of Red Pages in PDF format.

Articles in this issue:

  • Voting recommendation: today’s priorities ballot
  • ‘Corbyn review’: Now keep up the pressure
  • Vote against the NEC ‘compromise’ on anti-Semitism


Voting recommendation: today’s priorities ballot

Yesterday’s meeting of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy was so packed that a few dozen delegates were briefed on the lawn outside Friends’ House.  Barry Gray urged CLP delegates to vote for the following four thematic issues, so that they can be debated by conference throughout the week: Social care; NHS; Housing; Railyways.

The unions have already decided on the following four subjects, which means delegates should not vote for them, as they will be discussed anyway:

Growth & Investment; Public sector pay; workers rights; Grenfell. 

Comrade Gray explained that a staggering 185 ‘contemporary motions’ had been submitted by CLPs. As usual, about a third had been ruled ‘out of order’ – mainly because the motion was dealing with issues already “substantially covered” by the documents produced by the National Policy Forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party). However, the NPF documents are incredibly vacuous and bland and, as comrade Gray said, the application of this rule tends to be “very flexible” – ie, the conference arrangements committee rules out whatever it likes. This means we will not be hearing motions on, for example, Saudi-Arabia, grammar schools, fracking and nuclear weapons.

While left-wingers Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes have been elected onto next year’s CAC, this  year’s proceedings are unfortunately still dominated by a right-wing CAC. Incidentally, it was also this body that went well beyond its remit and offered  Sadiq Khan a speaking slot at conference, despite the NEC having previously decided against it.

We believe that conference should be the sovereign body of the party: The NPF should be abolished, as should the practice of “merging” all contemporary motions that fall into the same theme. The end result tends to be final motions that are so bland and uncontroversial that they really clarify nothing.



‘Corbyn review’: Now keep up the pressure
Labour’s NEC has opened the door for much-needed change – now the left needs to take advantage of that opening

Meeting on September 19, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) made good use of their wafer-thin left majority, which is down to the resignation of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and her temporary replacement by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley.

The NEC agreed to put a ‘reform package’ to this year’s conference that sees a compromise on the so-called McDonnell amendment (see below) and, crucially, an increase in the number of NEC delegates from Constituency Labour Parties from six to nine, to be elected by the whole membership within the next three months. The unions will get one additional seat and, despite the fact that this seat will go to the ‘moderate’-led Usdaw union (which will take up the seat in three months’ time) it is looking good for the left. Even if (and that’s a big if) Labour Party members in Scotland vote for a rightwinger to replace Dugdale on the NEC, this leaves the left in a majority on the NEC, albeit a very slim one.

But the NEC is also proposing to conduct a review of party rules, to be led by Corbyn’s political secretary, Katy Clark. It is a shame that the NEC is strong-arming CLPs to withdraw all rule changes submitted, even those dealing with issues not covered by the ‘terms of reference’ of the review. An open and frank discussion on various issues like the leadership elections, and, of course, the various amendments moved on the question of the entirely fabricated ‘anti-Semitism scandal’ in the party would have been very useful, in our view (see page 3 of this issue).

Unhappy CLPs

We also hear that at least two of the CLPs who moved the original ’McDonnell amendment’ are refusing to remit their rule change. Currently, 15% of the “combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP” must nominate a candidate for leader or deputy leader of the party. The original rule change suggests reducing it to 5% per cent; the NEC compromise is 10%. In our view, it should actually 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!

We therefore urge delegates – if they get the chance – to vote for the original McDonnell amendment. It seems Corbyn and his allies on the NEC were forced to agree to the 10% compromise in order to get the increase of CLP reps onto the NEC through.

But if Momentum’s “survey”, which apparently shows that of the 1,155 delegates chosen by CLPs, 844 “back reforms proposed by Momentum”, is half-way correct, then we do have enough delegates to fight for a more serious change.

Temporary compromise

The “terms of reference” of the “Party Democracy Review”, which “will aim to produce a first report within 12 months”, includes a review of the method on how to elect the party leader (“including the role of registered supporters and the issue of nominating thresholds”) and the “composition of the NEC”. In other words, much of the compromise agreed at the September 19 NEC meeting is temporary. The battle is not yet won.

This is, however, a watershed moment for the future of the party. The left must make sure that it uses this review to full advantage, pushing for the kind of changes needed to transform it into a real party of the working class. The review could easily become a pseudo-democratic exercise, where thousands of people send in their blue-sky thoughts and we end up with another compromise between the left and the right. This is, of course, the way the national policy forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party) currently works. The NPF report produced in time for this year’s conference is truly atrocious – full of waffle about the wonderful “process” employed in compiling it, but devoid of any concrete policies.

Unfortunately, judging from Jeremy Corbyn’s performance so far, we are not hopeful that he is prepared to fight for some of the reforms that are urgently needed to transform Labour into real party of the working class. Corbyn’s method of operation is still characterised by the ill-conceived attempt to appease the right in order to win some kind of ‘party unity’. But the right, with the energetic aid of the bourgeois media, will not rest until they get rid of him (and the entire left). It is high time he came out fighting – and the left needs to push him along in this fight to transform the Labour Party.

Meaningful reforms

ï All elected Labour representatives must be subject to mandatory selection based on ‘one member, one vote’. MPs must be brought under democratic control.

ï We need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be rolled back. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, etc, must go.

• Scrap the Compliance Unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell). We say, allow in those good socialists who have been barred, reinstate those good socialists who have been expelled or suspended.

• Winning new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. The FBU has re-affiliated, the RMT is in the process of doing so. But we should also fight for the NUT, PCS, NUJ and others to join.

• We need to remake every branch, every constituency – only then can we sweep out the right from the NEC, the HQ, the councils and the PLP. Elect officers who support genuine socialism and who are committed to transforming all LP units into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action.

• Our goal should be to transform the Labour Party, so that, in the words of Keir Hardie, it can “organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”. The left, communist and revolutionary parties should be able to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only strengthen us as a federal party.

• Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder. A particularly potent weapon here is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker – a principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. Let them keep the average skilled worker’s wage – say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). They should hand the balance over to the party.



Vote against the NEC ‘compromise’ on anti-Semitism

The Jewish Labour Movement claims its rule change has been adopted by the Labour Party NEC. That’s not the whole truth – and the left has to be very vigilant

The Guardian (September 18) claimed that Corbyn would be “backing” a Jewish Labour Movement-motivated rule change to this year’s Labour Party conference. This was a real worry: The JLM is an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many rightists in our party who have been keen to deliver the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

The next day, the Jewish Chronicle happily reported that the Labour Party’s NEC had “unanimously” passed the JLM’s proposal. However, leftwing NEC member Darren Williams wrote on social media that  the NEC approved a “rule change on dealing with prejudiced views and behaviour that avoided the more draconian approach favoured by the Jewish Labour Movement”.

So, what’s what?

Well, that depends on who you ask and what you ask them. Clearly, the JLM’s fingerprints are all over the NEC compromise formulation. The Jewish Chronicle quotes “a spokesman of Corbyn” passing on Jeremy’s “thanks all those involved with drafting this motion, including the Jewish Labour Movement and Shami Chakrabarti.”

It is also true, however, that the original JLM motion was not accepted. One of the key aspects of the original motion was rejected: the JLM wanted a “hate incident” to be “defined 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 was a clumsy JLM attempt to hijack the recommendations of the MacPherson report, established after the killing of Stephen Lawrence. This found the police to be “institutionally racist” and went on to recommend that when the victim or someone else feels an attack or hate incident is racially motivated, the police are obligated to record it as such and frame their investigation within these parameters.

So, there’s no question that JLM has failed in its attempt to lodge in the party rules the notion that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic. The NEC formulation requires some concrete evidence on “any incident which in their [the NEC’s] view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice”. The JLM also failed in its attempt to enable the disciplining of members for comments or actions made in “private” – a truly Orwellian proposal.

If it had been successful, this motion would have handed Iain McNicol and the Compliance Unit a devastatingly effective witch-hunting app, to be used of course against the left: members could have been punished for what others perceived to be their motivation for specific comments or actions, not what was said or done.

Why a ‘No’ vote

Yes, the worst excesses of the JLM motion have been removed. But the fact remains that the NEC – and Corbyn – now seem to implicitly accept the premise that Labour does have some sort of chronic anti-Semitism malady to be addressed. This is palpably untrue.

The response of Corbyn and his close allies to the flurry of crudely mendacious ‘anti-Semitism’ charges against the left has been deeply disappointing. Clearly, the belief in these leading circles is that rightwing saboteurs can been pacified and ‘party unity’ consolidated by giving ground to them on this issue. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry showed the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetites grow in the eating.

This is why – despite the fact that we recognise the healthy motivations of the comrades – we would also oppose the Hastings & Rye amendment stipulating that all accusations of anti-Semitism be based on concrete factual evidence. Implicitly, it still concedes too much to the falsehood that Labour has a serious problem with prejudice in the first place. But we understand why many delegates will probably vote for it, if given the chance: we hear the CLP has refused to remit their rule change.

First up, we should remember that the party already has sufficient powers to discipline members actually guilty of anti-Semitic comments or actions. Their vexatious nature aside, the suspensions of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Naz Shah and others clearly demonstrate this. The rulebook has lengthy sections on the disciplinary measures available to the NEC.

Further, the NEC compromise accepts the JLM’s suggestion that the following sentence in the rule book needs amending: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions.” The JLM wanted to expand this sentence to include “except in instances involving anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism.”

The NEC compromise now reads: “The 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.”

This formulation could still see party members disciplined for holding what are perceived to be prejudicial views – even without them acting on or articulating them publicly. What would be the basis for conviction? A hunch? Telepathy? Are we perhaps talking about petitions you have signed or Facebook posts you have ‘liked’? This formulation is wide open to abuse – it all depends on who looks at the rules, who interprets them for what purpose.

The NEC compromise also references “codes of conduct”. Again, these already abound in the Labour Party: Last year, our leading committee published a ‘Social Media Code of Conduct’; there is a code of conduct for “membership recruitment and retention” and there is one solely for the “selection of local government candidates”. Even the Parliamentary Labour Party has agreed on a set of “pledges” to facilitate its good behaviour. (We eagerly await the first evidence of its success.)

Notwithstanding this, it seems we might now have another ‘code’ to look forward to – on “hostility and prejudice”. Rumours circulate that a bone thrown to the JLM is the undertaking that some of its original draconian formulations could be shoe-horned into this new code of conduct. Word also reaches us that the JLM might be pushing for the controversial ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’ produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to be included in the new conduct protocols. The short IHRA definition is designed to conflate and confuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and has been criticised by many anti-Zionist campaigners.

No anti-Semitism problem?

Of course, there are a minuscule number of individual members who hold anti-Semitic views – most of whom you would expect to find on the party right,  by the way. Labour is not some chemically pure ideological sect of a few hundred acolytes. We are a mass movement and therefore, to varying levels, may find in our ranks trace elements of irrational minority prejudices that exist in wider society. The party – or, more specifically, the Labour left – has no more of an institutional anti-Semitism ‘problem’ than we have a problem with paranoid notions that 9/11 was an inside job or that shape-shifting space lizards run the world.

Clearly, the scale of the ‘scandal’ that broke over members in 2016 (and still reverberates) is in inverse proportion to the real size of the problem itself. Even at the height of the feverish hunt for ‘anti-Semites’, the NEC only ‘identified’ and took action against a grand total of 18 members. Quite a few (like MP Naz Shah) were fully reinstated. Others, like Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, should be fully reinstated – nothing they said was even vaguely anti-Semitic.

Sections of the right of the party have attempted to rebrand as ‘anti-Semitism’ even the discussion of some sensitive but accurate facts of Zionism’s relationship with the early Nazi regime or the left’s critical stance on the Israeli state’s savage oppression of the Palestinian people.

The latter is a particularly smart move on behalf the witch-hunters. With a few dishonourable exceptions, the Labour left is highly critical of the Israeli state’s ongoing colonial/expansionist oppression of the Palestinians and the appalling discrimination, displacement and denial of basic democratic rights that go with it. However, it is a crude and transparently false conclusion to draw from this that the left wishes to see the poles of oppression simply reversed. There are different strategic approaches amongst comrades in solidarity with the Palestinian people (a single secular state, two viable state formations, etc). But a common theme is the need for democratic consent of these two peoples to live side by side, sharing equal, substantive democratic rights. In other words, the left in the party is overwhelmingly anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.

These two very distinct categories have been conflated for the most contemptible of reasons. In the struggle between the left and right for the soul of the party, ‘anti-Semitism’ has been “weaponised”, as Chris Williamson MP quite rightly put it. It has been a successful tool in the drawn-out campaign to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn. Historically, Corbyn has been an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights. We are not so sure where he stands now. It is probably fair to say that his stance has become more ‘flexible’.

We sincerely hope he has not come around to the viewpoint of the National Policy Forum. The NPF is recommending a document this year that would dramatically alter the party’s position on Israel/Palestine. The 2017 election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic democratic demands have been dropped, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

We urge delegates to vote against the NEC compromise and to reference back the NPF international document. They come before conference on Tuesday.