Sunday, September 22, 2019

UK Labor Party Conference Report.

Delegates listen as Colin Monehen, a delegate from Harlow, proposes the motion to end British arms sales to Israel, at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, 25 September.
Asa Winstanley

Labour Party Conference Day 1, Saturday

By John Pickard, Brentwood and Ongar LP member
September 22, 2019

The press on the first morning of conference was full of news of the move by Jon Lansman on Labour’s NEC to abolish the post of deputy leader, thus immediately undermining Tom Watson’s position in the party. It is completely true that Watson uses every opportunity he can get to undermine the Party and Jeremy Corby especially. He is failing utterly to fulfil his obligation to ‘support’ the leader and he is very unpopular, and deservedly so, among Party members.

But that said, the move by Jon Lansman was a bit of grandstanding by him, to big up his shrinking credentials as a leader of the ‘left’. His move to get conference to vote on a rule change abolishing the position was at the NEC just prior to conference and it was entirely unexpected, taking not only Watson but Jeremy Corbyn and the NEC by surprise. There was no campaign, no political basis to the abolition move and most on the left would far rather have Watson democratically replaced by someone from the left of the party. Lansman’s proposal had a majority on the NEC, but apparently not the two-thirds majority needed for a rule change and not surprisingly, a subsequent NEC meeting agreed to leave the issue off the agenda. Most left delegates saw the exercise as a spectacular own-goal, the only result having been to give the press an excuse to have yet another dig at Labour. Thank you Mr Lansman.

The Momentum leader is badly in need of some boost to his left credentials, because it looks like they will be out of kilter with the majority of the left and many, if not most CLPs over the issue of the so-called ‘fast-track’ disciplinary proceedings. It would seem to be common sense and in keeping with natural justice for a disciplinary process to be reasonably quick – far too often Party members are suspended and left hanging, in some cases for years, without due process.

Expect a blizzard of ‘anti-Semitism’ charges if fast-tracking is introduced

But the proposed rule changes coming out of the NEC for a fast-track process are being pushed by Labour’s right wing as a means of suspending or expelling members on the flimsiest pretexts. If this measure is passed there will be a blizzard of fake ‘anti-Semitism’ charges flying about and those ‘charged’ for whatever reason will have more limited scope for defending themselves. Most delegates on the left are correctly opposed to the new fast-track process, but the Momentum leadership were urging delegates to support it.

In the debate on this proposed rule change, the delegate from Southampton Hitchin, opposing the fast-track disciplinary process, suggested that the LP would open itself to litigation in the absence of natural justice and, being himself a lawyer, offered to represent pro bono any member suspended through this process. The longest-serving member of the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), which currently deals with disciplinary issues as an ‘arms-length’ separate committee, opposed all the rule changes from the NEC on discipline, because it effectively removed the functions of the NCC on disciplinary issues and takes them back to the NEC. She explicitly denied that the slowness of disciplinary processes were due to the operations of the NCC and demanded “open accountability for any member who is charged.”

Discussion on Clause IV and Labour’s socialist aims

Another important rule change discussed on the first day is from Blyth Valley CLP, aimed to reintroduce Clause 4, Part IV of the old Labour constitution. This was seen as the bedrock of the socialist aims of the Party in the past and it was removed in the Blair years.

The full text here is what used to be on the membership card of every Labour Party member:

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.

Jim Brookshaw, spoke on this and was frequently interrupted by applause from delegates. The abolition of the old Clause IV by Blair, Jim said, was “a stitch-up that sang the praises of the market.” Clause IV is more relevant today than it was when it was first written. “We need to get back to our socialist roots…” Jim said, to lots of applause. Mick Hogan, of Liverpool Wavertree supported the resolution, referred to Carillion’s collapse and the failure to complete The Royal Liverpool Hospital. He mentioned the failures of the market, particularly in relation to the scandal of PFI: “we are still suffering from the policies of New Labour”, he said, “what people want is for us to be radical and be decisive. It is time to restore the socialist heart of our party.”

This NEC, dominated by Momentum ‘lefts’ opposed this rule amendment and it seriously poses the question of what exactly it means to be a ‘left’ on the NEC today.

Conference Arrangements Committee Report – always the first battleground

The Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) is always the first item of contention in any conference and as expected, it was moved that it be referred back. The delegate from Vauxhall CLP complained that in her Labour Party “We have had Kate Hoey imposed on us as parliamentary candidate for 30 years” and yet there was seemed to be no end to this problem. She complained, furthermore, that their CLP resolution on disciplinary issues was ruled out of order.

The ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ moved reference back on the grounds that disciplinary issues (presumably including charges on anti-Semitism) were being discussed on the Sabbath. Several delegates moved reference back because complex rule changes had been brought forward to delegates without notice, with little time to read and understand them and in some cases they were not even clear. The chair made two attempts to have show of hands on the CAC report and it was clearly lost. A third show of hands, section by section was even clearer – the CLP delegates were overwhelmingly against the CAC report, but the trade union votes were mixed.

It looks like a repeat of the 2018 conference, when the CLPs were largely on the left and the trade union votes (worth 50% weighting in a card vote) saved the day for the right-wing and the soft left. Eventually, the chair called for a card vote on the CAC report and thanks to the TU votes, it was passed by the margin of 6%.

Labour Left Alliance

Conference continued to consider other rule changes, many of which were intended to democratise local party mechanisms so as to involve more members in selecting local council candidates, with more women and BAME, candidates, for example, and in determining local government policy.

One of the most important developments in this conference is the attempt to establish an organised broad left – the Labour Left Alliance – as an alternative to the Lansman-controlled Momentum organisation which has drifted relentlessly to the right over the past two years. The LLA is potentially a very important development and supporters of Left Horizons are participating in it. Labour Left Alliance supporters, by means of a collective WhatsApp group, are talking amongst themselves at conference and this is potentially very significant.

Most CLPs support the reinstatement of Clause IV

On Sunday morning, the results of the previous day’s card votes were published and they showed a similar split to last year, with the CLPs further left than the NEC and the trades unions saving the day for the soft-left and right wing.  Card vote 6, on fast-track disciplinary changes proposed by the NEC, was agreed by 72%, but this included 97% of the trade union vote and a minority, 48% of CLP votes.

Card vote 9, on the reinstatement of Clause IV, was defeated, as the NEC had recommended, by 72%, but, remarkably, 56% of CLP delegates voted for it.                     

Some key debates will undoubtedly be Climate Change and Brexit the two issues attracting the greatest number of resolutions. Brexit had over 90 CLP resolutions and Labour’s New Green Deal had over 130 CLP and TU resolutions.

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