Gains for the left at Labour North conference despite organisational manoeuvres

Andrew Hedges reports on the 2022 Labour North annual conference, which took place in Newcastle on 26-27th February.

Despite the challenging times for many in today’s Labour Party, Labour’s northern regional conference, which took place last weekend, demonstrated the power of left organising and the strength of collective action in the face of some very difficult obstacles placed in front of us. The main takeaway was the strength of a united socialist organisation – the Northern England Labour Left (NELL) grouping. However, there were issues that faced us as the left, and also key issues of principle, supposedly protected by the rule book, that were not, in our view, either protected or observed.

The most flagrant breaches of issues of principle at this conference were around the equalities Regional Executive Committee (REC) positions. The most important was undoubtedly the issues surrounding the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) position. The rules in the Labour Party rule book clearly state that the BAME network must elect its representative to the REC. However, at this conference that was not the case.

The BAME Network for Labour North was not allowed to directly elect their representative on to the REC. Why? We were told  by the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) that this was due to issues of ‘synchronicity’ – other equalities committees (LGBT+, Women’s and Youth) were not established and therefore, the reasoning went, the BAME committee should not be used for selection. One delegate put it to me that this was a “silencing of black voices” and establishing a lack of self-governance for BAME people. What is clear is that, regardless of arguments around synchronicity, this was the most peculiar, let’s say, reading of the rule book at this conference.

The election of equalities roles was a contentious issue throughout the conference. I ran for election as the REC youth delegate – an election that was not completely straightforward. Youth ballots, given to delegations from both CLPs and affiliates, had written on them “only a member of each delegation who is under 27 years old may complete and cast this vote”. However, despite this rule, all delegations, even those with no under 27 year old within them, were given a youth ballot paper, thereby enabling anyone to cast the youth vote, regardless of their age.

When the CAC was challenged on how they were implementing the regulation, they stated that they could not implement it as they were not implementing other equalities ballots due to issues of self-identification. This argument would be entirely acceptable were it applied to the women’s, BAME or LGBT ballot – these are complex and often subjective categories – age, however, is firmly objective. The left lost this election by a slim number of votes – 2% of the vote share in a two-horse race. It is obviously a point of interest to us as to whether our position would have been different had the election’s regulations been implemented.

There were other issues surrounding Carlisle’s REC positions. Votes were lost by as slim a margin as 0.5%. These were votes that, some believe, would have gone the other way had the most up-to-date CLP and union membership statistics been used. There are clearly still question marks hanging over some of the results declared this weekend.

Notwithstanding these issues, the left should be proud of what they achieved at this conference. Despite elections, such as the youth and the Carlisle vote, not being conducted in a manner that reflected our understanding of the rule book, we still won 11 seats on the Regional Executive Committee for the left. That’s an increase of seven since the last regional conference, held four years ago. This was largely due to the tireless action of Northern England Labour Left that transformed our position to a point where we are more organised now than we were when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

However, we must redouble our efforts. At the next conference we must increase our position again and aim to get a majority on the REC and we must make sure that we win the next chair and vice chair elections. But most importantly, at the next conference we must ensure, to the best of our abilities, that BAME members are empowered and not constrained. This is not a factional issue – it is a basic democratic and anti-racist principle.

Andrew Hedges is a member of North West Durham CLP and was a youth delegate at the Labour North conference. Contact: andrew.ian.hedges.ah@gmail.com

Watch North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll’s powerful closing speech to the Labour North Regional Conference on 27th Feb 2022 here

Image: Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Source: Newcastle-upon-Tyne-bridges-and-skyline.jpg. Author: JimmyGuano,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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