Tag Archives: motions

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.

Mandate your delegates to vote for the following at Labour Party Conference 2017

We suggest you try and mandate your CLP delegates to conference to vote for the following candidates and motions:

A) National Constitutional Committee (dealing with disciplinary matters, expulsions etc): Vote for Emine Ibrahim and Anna Dyer

B) These following progressive rule changes
These were passed by CLPs in 2016 and therefore will go forward to conference this year. Please note however that they might not all make it onto the agenda at conference – it all depends on the recommendations of the Conference Arrangements Committee (all the more important you vote for Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes in the current ballot for next year’s CAC) and the decisions by the NEC, which is apparently meeting on September 19. We are currently working our way through the rest of the rule changes (critique to follow), but most of them deserve to be voted against – some with the utmost contempt! Contemporary and emergency motions are still being discussed. 

  1. Ensuring a democratic choice in Labour Leadership elections – when there is a vacancy (‘McDonnell amendment’)
  2. Abolish the obsolete one year’s delay re rule changes from CLPs
  3. Remove the arbitrary criterion of ‘contemporary’ in relation to annual conference motions
  4. Allow CLPs and affiliated organisations to submit motions even though their content might be addressed by reports of the NEC or National Policy Forum
  5. A new Local Government Committee structure (instead of the existing Local Campaign Forum)
  6. A democratic Young Labour


Motions in full:

1. Ensuring a democratic choice in Labour Leadership elections – when there is a vacancy (‘McDonnell amendment’)

The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 Chapter 4 Elections of national officers of the Party and national committees, Clause II Procedural rules for elections for national officers of the Party, Section 2 Election of leader and deputy leader, Subsection B Nominations, (i) (Page 14) reads as follows:

‘In the case of a vacancy for leader or deputy leader, each nomination must be supported by 15 per cent of the combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.’


Replace the words ‘15 per cent’ with the words ‘5 per cent’

Supporting argument

Prior to 1988 the threshold required for a valid nomination to stand for Leader or Deputy Leader was 5 per cent of Labour MPs, whether there was a vacancy or an incumbent in post. The current requirement, when there is a vacancy that a candidate has to be nominated by 15 per cent of the PLP plus EPLP, allows for an undemocratic restriction in the choice of candidates that can be voted on in a leadership ballot.

When there was a vacancy for Leader In both 2010 and 2015 some MPs got around the current rule and ensured a representative field of candidates by nominating a candidate they did not intend to vote for. This allowed Diane Abbott MP in 2010 and Jeremy Corbyn MP in 2015 to be included in the respective ballots. It was widely believed neither would win a leadership election. Since Jeremy’s election as Leader several MPs have indicated they will not again nominate to help widen the party’s choice.

That potentially means, under the current rule, that a candidate who perhaps has the support of 5 per cent of MPs and MEPs, but also would be the choice of 60 per cent of Labour Party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters, could be denied a place on the ballot paper.

It is undemocratic for MPs and MEPs to have powers to so tightly restrict the range of candidates running in a leadership election.
When there is a leadership vacancy the party should be free to consider a representative choice of candidates.

The purpose of this rule change is to re-instate the previous nomination threshold of 5 per cent, for when there is a vacancy for Leader or Deputy Leader. (This rule change would not alter the 20 percent threshold required when there is an incumbent in office.)


2. Abolish the obsolete one year’s delay re rule changes from CLPs

The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 (page 13) Chapter 3 Party Conference, Clause III (Procedural Rules for Party Conference), Conference rule 2 – agenda.

Add at end after Sub-clause H, a new Sub-clause I as follows:


‘All constitutional amendments submitted by affiliated organisations and CLPs that are accepted as in order shall be timetabled for debate at the first annual party conference following their submission.’

Supporting argument

The NEC can (and does!) agree rule changes one week and have them voted on by Annual Conference the following week. But for CLPs and trade unions it is an entirely different process. A rule change from CLPs/TUs submitted before the June closing date in one year has to wait well over a year (until the Annual Conference the following year) before it is timetabled for debate. This inordinate delay is due to an obscure convention, referred to as ‘The 1968 ruling’! In those more democratic days a complete verbatim of Conference was published and provided to delegates and CLPs. Thus we can read that the idea proposed in 1968 was that, during the year’s delay, the NEC would analyse the rule amendments in detail and present a considered assessment to the subsequent Conference. This may have happened once, but it has not been like that for years. Rather, in the lead up to the subsequent Conference, the Party officials simply make a one or two sentence written comment (usually to ‘reject’) and then this is nodded through by the NEC (although 2014 saw an exception to this pattern).
Thus, by its actions, the NEC has rendered the 1968 convention obsolete and it should be dispensed with. In any one year there is plenty of time between June and Annual Conference to assess rule change proposals from CLPs and TUs. The rule amendments should therefore be considered by Annual Conference in the year in which they are submitted – as set out in our recommended rule change.


3. Remove the arbitrary criterion of ‘contemporary’ in relation to annual conference motions

The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 (page 13), Chapter 3 Party Conference, Clause III (Procedural rules for Party Conference), Conference Rule 2 – Agenda, Sub-clause C reads as follows:

‘All affiliated organisations, the ALC, Young Labour and CLPs may submit one contemporary motion which is not substantially addressed by reports of the NEC or NPF to Conference. The CAC shall determine whether the motions meet these criteria and submit all motions received to a priorities ballot at the start of conference. The ballot will be divided into two sections. One section for CLPs and one section for trade unions and other affiliated organisations. At least the four priorities selected by CLPs will be time-tabled for debate, as will at least the first four priorities selected by Trade Unions and other affiliated organisations. Motions must be in writing, on one subject only and in 250 words or less. Alternatively, a constitutional amendment on one subject only may be submitted in writing. Contemporary motions and constitutional amendments must be received by the General Secretary at the offices of the party by the closing date determined by the NEC.’

First sentence: delete ‘contemporary’ and delete ‘which is not substantially addressed by reports of the NEC or NPF to Conference.’ And replace the latter with ‘on a matter of policy, campaigning or party organisation and finance’.
Second sentence: delete ‘determine whether the motions meet these criteria and’.


Last sentence: delete ‘contemporary’.

Supporting argument

CLPs have precious little scope to influence decision-making at annual conference and the right to submit a single ‘contemporary motion’ is one of their most important opportunities. Indeed, this lack of real influence is a major factor why less and less CLPs are sending delegates to conference.

Unfortunately the arbitrary criterion of ‘contemporary’ is not only not properly defined, but it is unnecessarily restrictive. It lends itself to being used by the platform to rule out controversial issues that the Party establishment would prefer not to see on the conference agenda. But in a democratic party, annual conference (the Party’s sovereign body) should have the right to discuss all subjects which CLPs and affiliated organisations consider are important. There should be no artificial barriers on this right. CLPs and unions should therefore have the right to submit whatever subject their members consider important. The original Partnership into Power proposals made it clear that motions on campaigning and party organisation were permissible. The above rule change spells this out.

4. Allow CLPs and affiliated organisations to submit motions even though their content might be addressed by reports of the NEC or National Policy Forum

(refers to CHAPTER 3 Clause III, Section 2C Conference Motions, Page 13) 


Amend the first sentence as follows:
delete “contemporary” and delete “which is not substantially addressed by reports of the NEC or NPF or Conference.” and replace the latter with “on a matter of policy, campaigning or Party organisation and finance”.

Amend the second sentence: delete “determine whether the motions meet these criteria and”

Amend the last sentence: delete “contemporary”. 

LPM’s supporting argument (we haven’t seen the original motion):

Currently, the Conference Arrangements Committee and the NEC rule out tons of motions, because they deal with a subject that is mentioned in the long documents produced by the National Policy Forum. We are strongly against this outsourcing of policy-making to a largely unaccountable and shadowy forum like the NPF. Conference must become the supreme body of the party.

5. A new Local Government Committee structure (instead of the existing Local Campaign Forum)

The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 Chapter 12 Rules for Labour Party Local Campaign Forums, Clause 4 Membership (page 44):


Delete all and insert new sub-clauses as follows:

  1. The membership of the LGC shall consist 75% of delegates from the local CLP(s) and 25% from affiliates. At least 50% of delegates from each group shall be women.
  2. Additionally, CLP campaign co-ordinators shall be ex officio members of the LGC. Any sitting MP, AM, MSP, MEP, PCC and / or PPC may attend their LGC. Where a Co-operative Party council exists for the area concerned and they sponsor candidates in local elections they shall be entitled to appoint a member to the LGC.
  3. The LGC shall meet at least four times per year with representatives of the Labour group where one exists.

Consequential amendments – elsewhere replace LCF by LGC

Supporting argument

The introduction of Local Campaign Forums, following the ‘Refounding Labour’ process in 2011, has not been a success.
In many parts of the country LCFs meet irregularly, do not provide an adequate forum for consultation and debate on local government policy, and do not organise sufficient campaigning activity.

Reinstating Local Government Committees, with defined representation for CLPs and affiliates, and regular meetings, would improve on this situation.


6. A democratic Young Labour

The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 Chapter 11 Rules for Young Labour, Clause V Structure (page 39):


Add at end after Sub-clause 3, a new Sub-clause 4 as follows:

‘Young Labour shall have its own constitution and standing orders, to be determined by the Young Labour AGM’

Supporting argument

The rule would clarify how Young Labour works, increase its autonomy and stop the organisation being beholden to Labour Party staff’s interpretation of the rulebook.
Much of the current rules simply say that the NEC will determine how Young Labour works as it sees fit, with no concrete rules to govern the organisation
The purpose of this rule change is to make Young Labour AGM into the sovereign body of the organisation. Self-organisation and democracy are crucial to making a youth organisation that can be really attractive to young people. An organisation where all the important decisions are made by distant bodies cannot foster the democratic spirit that we want in our youth movement; nor will it be convincing to young people wanting to be involved in politics.