Defending Party democracy and due process

By Rachel Garnham

Last week 13 left members of the National Executive Committee walked out in protest at the lack of respect for Labour Party democracy and the role of the NEC.  In particular, they cited the failure to respect due process following the withdrawal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn MP despite him being cleared of rule-breaking by the NEC; and the disrespect and disregard shown to trade unions by refusing to back the usual progression of the FBU’s Ian Murray from Vice Chair to Chair, instead backing Margaret Beckett MP.  The walkout was much welcomed by grassroots members, desperate to see support at the highest levels for their fightback against the leadership’s apparent desire to emulate the Kinnock era and purge the left – making this a priority above building a broad movement that can win elections.

These are important points to make.  From the start of Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign there has been a lack of respect for Party structures and a seeming lack of understanding that the NEC is the administrative authority of the Party and the Leader does not get to make all the decisions.  For example, we have heard many times that the Labour Party has accepted all the recommendations from the EHRC report, yet as far as I am aware, no decision on this has actually made by the NEC. The legal requirement is for an action plan based on findings not for full acceptance, so due process would require an NEC decision.

Shenanigans around the position of Chair were to be expected.  In the absence of Party conference, the rulebook and NEC terms of reference are open to interpretation as to when an election should take place. However, it is up to the Officers of the Party to interpret the rulebook and agree the agenda for NEC meetings – and elections for Chair and Vice Chair were not on it.  

The first ‘point of order’ is that it was not up to staff to overrule elected Officers and subsequently add an agenda item for an election, which appears to be what happened.  It is, however, unsurprising that the right of the Party wanted to get hold of such an important position and ignore custom and practice in supporting the Vice-Chair to take on the role.  

It is a crucial role – one which Andi Fox has used effectively to stand up for a Labour Party where members – both individual and affiliated – are valued; as well as running the important decision-making meetings in a fair and inclusive way. She has tried to work constructively to support Keir Starmer’s  and Angela Rayner’s pledges on Party unity, and in doing so I believe she has been a thorn in the side of those who would prefer to drive the left away. Both Andi and Ian have been serious and committed allies of Jeremy Corbyn and what he represents – a mass membership Party, with a strong trade union base, building a movement that can deliver a transformative Labour government.

The left has held a majority on the Officers group until this point, providing an important brake on some of the worst instincts of the so-called ‘moderates’ and providing leadership in key areas of upholding governance, developing the equalities agenda and fighting for fairness in our disciplinary processes, much of it behind the scenes.  Not only can this group take key decisions between NEC meetings, and (usually) set their agendas, the chairs of sub-committees themselves have some delegated powers – although despite three years of asking, NEC members have never seen a schedule of delegation – something that is often promised but never delivered.

The left’s influence diminished with the loss of Ann Henderson as sitting Chair of the Equalities Committee in the CLP section of the NEC elections. Then, bizarrely and in contravention of all usual election practices, I understand that Ann Black has resumed her position as Chair of the National Policy Forum despite it being newly elected since her election loss in 2018 and her not being a member of it for two years and with no fresh elections.

Now we have lost the left majority on the Officers group with the election of Margaret Beckett and Alice Perry as Chair and Vice Chair of the NEC – both have some reputation as not being on the right of the Party, but this is not a reputation I ever saw justified in their voting habits in NEC meetings over the past two years. For example, Margaret Beckett put a completely undemocratic proposal some weeks ago that all remaining scheduled meetings for the outgoing NEC, of which there were several with important business to discuss, should be cancelled until a new membership could be elected. This was defeated but it has been quite clear that Labour’s right have been waiting for a new NEC make-up to make it easier to achieve their goals.

For the left, we continue to have the CWU’s Andy Kerr as Chair of Organisation Committee and CLGA-backed Yasmine Dar as Chair of the Disputes Panel, representing grassroots members and trade unionists on the Officers group at least until the January meetings of their committees hold fresh elections. But it will be up to our five newly elected Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance CLP reps to really lead the fight for the future of our Party in upcoming meetings – because we must make sure that members’ voices are heard at every level, that abuses of the rulebook are called out and that we build the Party we need to win a transformative Labour government.

Rachel Garnham is Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and former CLP representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee.

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