Are All-Member Meetings (AMMs) More Democratic?

By Labour Hub staff writers

Labour Party Conference in September voted for an NEC backed proposal – arising from the Democracy Review – which allows any party unit to trigger a Constituency Labour Party meeting at which a simple majority vote of all members is taken to switch the basis on which a CLP organises between a “delegate” based General Committee structure and “all-member meetings” (AMM).   And, if they choose, back again. (There is no restriction on the number of these votes at present – a flaw which needs looking at again).  Many large meetings have already been convened to discuss this, with more set to follow.

The delegate-based structure is a historic feature of Labour’s method of organising at a Constituency level, since it allows not just local party branches to send delegates, but also other units of nationally affiliated organisations (trade unions and socialist societies).  Its proponents argue that it keeps decision making meetings to a manageable scale, ensures that all units of the party are democratically represented, and recognises the specific contribution of the trade unions. Local branches ought to be the units which allow people to participate in their immediate locality, and hold locally elected-representatives to account.

All-Member Meetings were introduced in the wake of the Blair/Brown years, as part of the Refounding Labour review undertaken to address a situation where many CLPs had become hollowed-out and membership had fallen significantly.   Some people felt that traditional delegate meetings – with the bureaucratic procedures about minutes and matters arising – were off-putting to anyone but hardened party activists, and tended towards internal navel-gazing discussions.   Theoretically, AMMs allowed routine party business to be dealt with at Executive Committee level, and allowed a more lively and engaging discussion.

The left at this time generally took the view that AMMs were being put forward by people quite happy to marginalise the role of trade union involvement in the running of the party (as indeed often happened with simultaneously with the transition from Local Government Committees to Local Campaign Forums).   It would also lead to less transparent decision making, as business was conducted behind-closed-doors by Officers, rather than in the more accountable setting of a General Committee meeting. Nothing stops a CLP having additional political discussions to which all members are invited.

Since then, and particularly following the explosion of new members who were recruited to elect and support Jeremy Corbyn as leader, a number of CLPs are seeing a new push to adopt AMMs from the left.   The theory here is that the traditional party structures are harder for the newer left members to make their presence felt through, and some who don’t have a vote at (and might not even be allowed to attend) GC meetings, feel like second class members.   AMMs offer a greater opportunity for the new membership to make its present felt and influence debates by weight of numbers.

But we might want to think twice before going along with this.  Firstly, the earlier concerns have not gone away. AMMs remove the specific role of trade union and affiliated society delegates, when we should be doing more to ensure that CLP members are open to a closer and more active collaboration with trade union branches.    It’s also tempting for Officers to restrict the agenda to AMMs to items of general discussion rather than take internal party business discussions which are of interest to the most dedicated activists.

It also centralises the organisational focus of the party, meaning people have less direct involvement in their immediate locality than is the case with branches.    Local Councillors are therefore less immediately accountable to local members in the areas they represent. Lots of members who might go up the road to a branch meeting, do not necessarily want to travel to a central part of the CLP area.  Plus with some CLPs having a membership running into the thousands, the cost and logistical difficulty of having monthly AMM meetings at which hundreds might turn up should not be underestimated.