A Labour Party delegate outlines the strengths and weaknesses of the left post-Conference
We should be clear that the left has emerged from Labour Party Conference in a weaker position than it entered, particularly institutionally. There are however significant glimmers of hope and a political coalition to be built upon if we are organised.
The most striking example of the institutional damage inflicted on the left at Party Conference is in the package of rule changes rained down in the run-up to Conference, with little scrutiny from NEC members or delegates to Conference.
Election of Leader
The most high-profile rule change related to the election of Labour’s next leader. Starmer had to roll back on the botched proposal to move to an electoral college to elect the next leader but did succeed in increasing the threshold of the PLP needed to be on the ballot to 20%. This will reduce the diversity of candidates on offer to Labour members and make it much harder for a socialist candidate to have the chance to make their case to lead the Party.
So, while we should celebrate the success in stopping the more fundamental and regressive proposal to move to an electoral college, this rule change undoubtedly leaves the left in a weaker position.
There were changes to the rules to re-select sitting MPs ahead of an election. The proposals changed the system from needing 1/3rd of party branches OR affiliated branches being needed to trigger an open selection to 1/2 of BOTH party branches AND affiliated branches. This effectively gives sitting MPs in safe seats a job for life, which is damaging for democratic accountability and for Party members to have their say.
6th Month Cut-Off
The amount of time needed to be a Labour member in order to vote in a future leadership election was increased to six months, which is an attempt to consolidate power among Labour’s current membership, as opposed to those who joined under Jeremy Corbyn and have left in disappointment with Starmer’s leadership. If you need any further reason to not leave the Labour Party, it is surely this. If you stay you will have a chance to vote for the next leader, if you leave you will not. And clearly the next leadership contest is on the minds of the people currently running the Party.
The other major change to the rulebook concerned the new disciplinary process related to protected characteristics, following the EHRC report. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy was opposed to this particular set of proposals as we didn’t believe it represented a genuinely independent process as was claimed. The proposals create a system whereby the General Secretary effectively oversees the complaints and investigations process and recruits the panels to judge the complaints, which is clearly against the principles of natural justice in which these elements should be independent of each other.
The appointment of Labour’s General Secretary was actually put to a vote at Labour Conference. David Evans won by 57% – 43% in the Conference as a whole, but only by 52% to 48% from CLP delegates. For it to be this close among CLP delegates is a damning indictment of Evans’ stewardship of the Party, in which he has pursued a deeply factional agenda which damages the Party’s ability to engage our membership and fight elections.
Labour’s New Student, Disabled and BAME Structures
Conference did approve a new set of democratic structures for Labour’s student wing, and for disabled and BAME members. These will hopefully give these groups space to self-organise and campaign. Anyone familiar with the old anti-democratic ‘Labour Students’ will be happy it has been deleted and replaced by a new democratic structure.
Snap Elections and By-Elections
Conference also approved a rule change which appeared to slip under the radar of the leadership. The rule change means that in snap general elections or by-elections, CLPs will have the majority representation on the committee to select their parliamentary candidate. This is a very progressive rule change that will give party members a real say in who represents them in parliamentary elections.
The left had significant success in policy motions at conference, which included the most progressive motion ever passed on Palestine, a motion calling for a £15 per hour minimum wage, opposition to the governments ‘AUKUS’ military agreement to continue a new cold war against China, as well as an expansive Green New Deal motion.
This shows that Labour’s members and trade unions recognise the necessity for a bold socialist policy programme on which to oppose Tory rule and to fight the next general election.
Coalition between left in CLPs and Unions
Related to this was a very good coalition between the left in the constituencies and the left trade unions: Unite, CWU, FBU, ASLEF, TSSA, NUM, which voted together on key rule change issues and policy motions.
In fact, Unison had to break their own union policy in order to vote against the rule changes on the leadership rules. Things are changing in Unison. The left only lost the General Secretary election because its vote was split, which didn’t happen in its NEC elections where the left now has a strong majority.
Unison could become the single most important factor in terms of the balance of forces on the Conference floor – so if you are a member of Unison or in a Unison-organised sector, get involved industrially, become a rep, etc., and from there engage in the political structures to ensure the Labour Party is standing up for public sector workers.
There are elections to the Unison Labour Link which has oversight of the union’s relationship with the Labour Party. Please vote for the Real Change candidates.
So to conclude, while we are institutionally weaker, we still have an important base from which to organise with: a coalition between the left in the constituencies and trade unions and a policy programme which Labour members and trade unions support.
If the left wants to move from support on the Conference floor to broader institutional power in the Labour Party, its task must be to mobilise this coalition and to articulate a coherent vision of how Labour can win with a radical policy platform. Labour members want a radical policy platform, and they want to know it can win elections for Labour. We know it can, and that it is the only response to the multiple crises facing society, so we need to be clear in making this case.
In the words of Diane Abbott in the final edition of CLPD’s conference Yellow Pages, the left is down but not out, so let’s keep up the fight inside the Labour Party.
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