By Rachel Garnham, Vice Chair, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy
One of the most positive outcomes from Jeremy Corbyn’s Democracy Review was the potential to rebuild and reinvigorate Labour’s equalities structures, starting with rebuilding Labour’s Women’s Organisation. The work of the radical, campaigning Labour’s women’s sections in the 1980s led to the introduction of all-women shortlists and built a strong voice for women and the left within the Party. No wonder these structures were earmarked for downgrading as part of Tony Blair’s so-called ‘Partnership in Power’.
As a result of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Democracy Review and the sadly short-lived centre-left majority on Labour’s National Executive Committee, Women’s Branches have been introduced. On paper these should have greater democratic rights than their predecessor women’s forums; an annual standalone policy-making women’s conference with a route direct to annual conference is now established; and in June for the first time in decades, Labour women will elect a National Women’s Committee to lead Labour’s work in this area.
Rules for the National Labour Party Women’s Organisation, Committee and Conference are available on the Labour CLP Hub and clarify the scope of what could be achieved in this new role. But it will take the election of left representatives to make the Committee relevant for women members and develop and strengthen these fledgling structures.
A series of left organisations including the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Women Leading, Red Labour, Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Representation Committee, Campaign for Socialism (Scotland), Welsh Labour Grassroots, Labour CND and North of England Labour Left have come together to back “Grassroots Labour Women” — experienced left-wing activists standing for a socialist, feminist and democratic Labour Women’s Organisation:
- Mandy Clare, a Cheshire Councillor who champions the cause of low income women, and has pushed the poverty emergency initiative through her local council; also a champion for Party democracy, the right of CLPs to political debate and opposing unfair suspensions.
- Pamela Fitzpatrick, a well-known community activist, trade unionist and Corbyn supporter, who stood as Labour’s PPC for marginal Harrow East at the 2019 general election and draws attention to the impact on women from COVID including the increase in domestic abuse.
- Ekua Bayunu, a spokesperson for the Labour Black Socialists’ Campaign for an Actively Antiracist Labour Party; Ekua campaigns in particular on mental health, housing and food poverty.
- Tricia Duncan, who has held a wide range of Labour Party and trade union positions and is currently Vice Chair of the Scottish Labour Women’s Committee and Vice Chair of the Scottish Policy Forum.
- Chloe Hopkins, who prioritises decentralising power in the party, as recommended in the Democracy Review, and supporting CLPs in establishing equalities branches, as well as raising awareness of the disproportionate impact of COVID and Climate Change on women
For the sixth place, left organisations are supporting Momentum’s Solma Ahmed – a strong anti-racist campaigner from the East of England.
CLPs have until 26th May to nominate candidates, and to elect delegates to women’s conference where the election will take place. The conference takes place online 26th/27th June.
It will be important that left delegates not only elect a women’s committee that will defend a democratic Labour Party for the many not the few, but also support the policy motions that will defend and take forward women in the future. This must include setting a left agenda at annual conference with the motions it prioritises, as it did for annual conference in 2019 with the debate on migrant rights. The deadline for motions is 12 noon on 26th May.
Finally, as a member of the National Executive Committee at the time of developing the rules for the new Women’s Organisation, I worked with sisters to ensure the Women’s Conference had the right to propose rule changes to annual conference. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is considering model rule changes that will improve how effective it is possible for Women’s Officers and Women’s Branches – which we appear to be currently blocked by Head Office from setting up – to be.
Rachel Garnham was a member of Labour’s NEC from 2018-2020 (CLP Section) and is a member of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy Executive Committee.
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