On Saturday December 11th, the AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy met for the first time in over two years. Since it last met, the political situation in the Labour Party has altered fundamentally, with an authoritarian right wing leadership using the Party machinery as a factional instrument against the still large numbers of Jeremy Corbyn supporters in the Party.
Rachel Hopkins, the new MP for Luton South, gave a parliamentary report. She lambasted the Tory government for its inhumane policy towards refugees, and its health and social care legislation which will facilitate further privatisation in the NHS. The Police Bill further underlines the government’s authoritarianism, severely curtailing the right to protest.
Nadia Jama reported from the Party’s National Executive, pointing out how the left on the NEC had tried to challenge the attacks on members and the factional use of the disciplinary process and raise the delay to the Forde Report on the Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, as well as – repeatedly – the removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn. She also highlighted some positives, including the new structures for BAME members and the new code of conduct to address Islamophobia and racism.
Other speakers included Amy Jackson, the Director of Executive Policy for Unite, who highlighted the use of retrospective exclusions in the Party, where members are being expelled for having links to a proscribed organisation, long before it was proscribed. On a positive note, the left swept the board in the northwest regional conference and Unite is backing Lewis Dagnall, the left wing candidate now on Labour’s shortlist for the mayoralty of South Yorkshire. Lewis is standing on a platform that includes taking buses and trains back into public ownership.
Jeremy Corbyn MP also spoke, thanking people all over the country who had shown their support. He expressed his shock at the numbers of people suspended and expelled and spoke of the trauma that some members go through, when they receive letters excluding them – because the Labour Party is their life.
“The left around the world is at a crossroads,” he said. “We can either bow down before neoliberalism and the rise of the far right or we can stand up to resist it.”
In a packed agenda, over two dozen motions were tabled, and many were debated, notably on the Party’s blanket proscriptions of socialist groups, the suspension of Jewish members, the lack of natural justice in the Party’s disciplinary procedures, the Forde inquiry and leadership elections.
Poor time management, however, meant that the most controversial issue of the day – what attitude CLPD should take towards electoral reform – fell off the agenda, and not for the first time. This left a sour taste in the mouth of many attendees, who felt the issue had been deliberately talked out by those keen to avert any change in policy.
Currently CLPD supports the first past the post electoral system. There is a danger that in clinging to this view it will find itself increasingly out of touch with the broader Party membership. At the 2021 Conference, CLPD argued for members not to prioritise a debate on electoral reform, despite 144 CLPs having submitted a motion on the topic. Around 80% of members support reform, and now Unite the Union have come out in favour, CLPD seems out on a limb on this and could face reputational damage as the voice of the grassroots members.
At the very least, the Campaign needs to discuss the issue. If endorsing electoral reform feels too drastic, CLPD needs to at least drop its support for first past the post and adopt a neutral position while concentrating on its priority of democratising the Party.
Image: Party Conference 2021, by Emma Tait.
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