A SUPER-SIZED CONFERENCE!
Our Party has held another huge Conference! Thousands of Labour members attended in a cavernous venue – creating an incredible impression of the sheer scale our Party now operates on, so totally different to other parties – but also presenting real issues for delegates with disabilities. The unexpected honour of being present as one of Pavilion’s delegates was totally exhausting, involving as it did crossing from one part of the vast arena to another far flung corner several times a day, coping with the massive crowds milling around and trying to locate meeting rooms down numberless corridors, let alone following debates on multiple subjects (a particular bugbear).
Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) had clearly considered the control delegates had wrestled back from the platform in 2017 and taken steps it deemed appropriate. These included introducing a one-minute time limit on reference back of National Policy Forum (NPF) reports – the effect being that a proposer got just one minute but anyone opposing got three minutes, since the general time limit for all floor speakers applied. That seemed particularly ill-conceived but could it have been intentional?
Another obvious flaw was discussing different sections of the NPF report together in long, wide-ranging debates. While these reduced the number of platform speakers, they caused confusion and a lack of order – as no one could be sure what the next speaker would cover, making some delegates so anxious that their concerns would go unheard that Conference became victim to persistent false “points of order”. In organising debates in this fashion CAC had also failed to consider the access needs of delegates with learning disabilities.
Throughout the week delegates made some great speeches to little effect. Unlike last year delegates did not learn how to best utilise rostrum time to reference back key passages in reports. Indeed new procedures laid down by CAC (requiring advance notification of reference backs on policy documents) gave delegates no incentive to do so. A cynic would suggest that was CAC’s intention – as it effectively curtailed such references back since almost all delegates had received the NPF and other reports so late that it was not feasible for them to have lodged references back sufficiently in advance. Indeed the pitifully low number of advance references back meant that even CAC relented to allow references back up to a later point. But the new procedure robbed Conference of the momentum delegates experienced in 2017, when sections of the 2017 NPF report were revised and developed dynamically during the conference debates.
Somewhat astonishingly for old hands, it had become known just before Conference that the Party had obtained a legal opinion that “referencing back” of points covered by CAC reports is not within the Party’s rules. Accordingly, delegates were informed that the CAC report could only be questioned and, if necessary, opposed. The effect of this was to make it virtually impossible to obtain any substantive answer from CAC, even to the most straightforward question – as myself and Judy found out when asking, for example, when questions to the Annual Report would be timetabled.
In essence, our super-sized Conference urgently needs to be longer with procedures to register in advance which debates delegates wish to speak in and to fairly select the maximum number – to allow all delegates a fair chance to speak and for proper debates of all priority issues. Conference needs to be restored to a full week and an obvious step towards this can be taken in 2019 with the option of extending Conference to open on the Saturday since Women’s Conference is returning to the Spring. With so many more delegates, representing our Party’s larger membership, it is quite obvious that Labour Conference can no longer be contained in little more than three days.
PAVILION LABOUR at the PODIUM
Despite sending a smaller delegation to Liverpool, Pavilion Labour still packed a punch at the Conference podium befitting its position as one of the larger Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) nationwide. Our delegates were called to speak in several debates, unsuccessfully sought to speak in others and pursued the CAC on points of interest to the CLP. These interventions are summarised below and video clips will be made available on our CLP’s website in due course.
- 2017 Priorities Ballot – in the opening session of Conference on Sunday 23/9, I encouraged Chris to question CAC on the CLP’s still outstanding query concerning our vote in the priorities ballot at Conference 2017. A subsequent email from CAC contradicts last year’s communications, so I am seeking further clarification.
- Boundary Review – also in the opening session on Sunday 23/9, Judy asked when CAC would report to Conference on the CLP’s appeal against the ruling out of our emergency motion and when that motion would be timetabled for discussion if our appeal succeeded.
- Boundary Review – on Monday 24/9, I followed-up Judy’s question by noting that Pavilion Labour’s appeal had been rejected by CAC but not reported to Conference, so the CAC2 report ill-informed delegates who could now decide to overturn CAC’s decision and restore the Boundary Review to the Conference agenda.
- Annual Report & 2017 Emergency motion – later on Tuesday 25/9 – I asked when CAC would be timetabling questions to the Annual Report as this directly impacted Pavilion Labour’s emergency motion referred to the NEC after being ruled out of 2017 Labour Conference, noting that the CLP has heard nothing further since then.
- Parliamentary candidates – on Tuesday 25/9, I spoke against Richmond Park’s rule change (card vote 22 – which sought to allow CLPs not to stand Labour candidates in all elections), criticising the Progressive Alliance for pressurising Labour to stand down in Pavilion.
- Justice for Windrush – on Tuesday 25/9, Judy demanded justice and fair compensation for the Windrush generation following the dreadful impact of the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy.
- Annual Report – on Wednesday 26/9 Judy pursued the point I had previously raised, asking at the start of the last day of Conference when CAC intended to allow delegates a chance to question the Party’s Annual Report, noting that the report contained new information of relevance to a long-suspended member of our CLP.
THE BOUNDARY REVIEW – Our CLP’s Emergency Motion
Following established Pavilion Labour policy, the Executive Committee (EC) submitted this emergency motion to 2018 Labour Conference:
CAC ruled that our motion was not a valid emergency, following which our whole delegation contributed to an appeal, and were also delighted to be joined in that appeal by Brighton Kemptown’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP – apparently the first time an MP has appeared at CAC. Despite the apparent support of Seema Chandwani, one of the CLP representatives on CAC, our appeal was dismissed. It really did feel as if the points we made were dismissed rather than considered, since CAC has not provided any detailed grounds for this decision (or any of its others) to the CLP and an informal request for feedback has also failed to garner any response.
PAVILION’S 2017 RULE CHANGE on Contemporary Motions
Last year Brighton Pavilion was the only CLP to push its rule change to a vote – which was lost by 66% to 34% but, in doing so, highlighted that over 64% of CLPs supported our proposal. It was notable that this year our rule change was one of very few, possibly the only one of those from the CLPs, which the National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted in the constitutional amendments it proposed following the Democracy Review. Brighton Pavilion CLP was congratulated by very many other CLP delegates for having championed this rule change nationally, so that it has now taken place. Well-known Labour figures had criticised us for pushing our rule change to a vote at 2017 Labour Conference. This year very many apologised, admitting that we had been correct to do so and that, unlike us, they had not understood that doing so could have no negative impact on the Democracy Review. This success by our CLP was also remarked upon to us by many other CLPs.
Given these widespread observations, it was disappointing and surprising to see a series of CLPs (who had only agreed to remit rule changes at Conference 2017 pending the Democracy Review), troop to the podium to only withdraw or again remit their rule changes, despite matters not otherwise returning to Conference 2018. This was most disappointing in relation to the rule change being proposed by the City of Durham CLP which advocates the return of Local Government Committees and the greater democratic accountability of Labour councillors to local Labour Parties, as members were historically used to for many years before the introduction of Local Campaign Forums. However, given that other decisions taken by Conference scrapped the one year delay to debating rule changes (although not the choice constraining CLPs to submit only either one rule change or one policy motion), it will be open to Pavilion Labour to submit a constitutional amendment if we wish to ensure that this (or any other rule change) is discussed at 2019 Labour Conference.
This year the biggest impressions were made on me by Rebecca Long-Bailey and Dawn Butler – who both delivered tremendous speeches to Labour Conference and Women’s Conference, as well as Richard Burgon MP – who was truly impressive with detailed and frank answers to delegates’ questions on a wide range of topics in the Justice and Home Affairs policy seminar. This was the first time I have ever thought a policy seminar worthwhile attending. In my view these are MPs to watch for the future leadership of our Party.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell again made a captivating and barnstorming speech and, in my view, was certainly the top performer from the front bench.
Priorities ballot for contemporary resolutions – It was known that the affiliates were going to prioritise debates on Brexit, An Economy for the Many, Government Contracts and In-work Poverty. Consequently, after discussing the relative merits of the resolutions submitted on tenants’ rights and housing (as, yet again for another year, CAC had chosen to separate off a topic which many might have expected to be included within the wider debate), Pavilion Labour’s delegates decided to prioritise debates on Housing, Schools System, Justice for the Windrush, and Palestine – and those were the topics prioritised in the constituencies’ ballot.
NB: As a result of one of the constitutional amendments adopted, from next year the top 10 priorities of each of the affiliates and the CLPs will be timetabled for discussion, making the return to a longer conference even more vital.
Card Votes – Eight (8) rule changes were proposed by the NEC and, in the end, five (5) by CLPs. There was one other card vote on accepting CAC Report 1 – card vote 9. This was the first and major controversy at conference as it determined whether the NEC’s 8 prepared rule changes would be taken separately and in advance of those submitted by CLPs – the implication being that a number of the most keenly anticipated proposals from CLPs would fall from the agenda without any discussion if the NEC’s proposals were passed, as was most likely.
The result of card vote 9 underlined what our CLP learnt last year – that a handful of CLPs voting with the five big affiliates (Unite, UNISON, GMB, CWU, USDAW) are too much for almost all other CLPs even with the support of all other affiliates. To advance any change we wish to see in our Party, it is now essential to ask for the support of our local affiliates in promoting those policies within their national bodies – as we were successful in doing on a regional level at 2018 Labour South East Regional Conference in order to get our CLP’s motion on support for transgender rights debated and adopted.
Our CLP’s four delegates voted as shown in the last column:
NB: Other card vote numbers from 11 – 23 refer to withdrawn or remitted rule changes.
National Constitutional Committee – Pavilion’s vote was cast for Daniel Blaney, who was elected with 79.87% of the vote.
Conference Arrangements Committee – Pavilion’s votes were cast for Tracey Fussey (nominated by CWU, Unite), Catharine Grundy-Glew (nominated by Socialist Health Association), Mick Murphy (nominated by CWU, TSSA, Unite and USDAW) and Omolola Oyewusi (nominated by Chatham & Aylesford CLP).
As in previous years, the result of this election was determined by an agreed vote by the major affiliates: Tracey Fussey and Mick Murphy were elected, as were Harry Donaldson (nominated by GMB, UNISON and USDAW), Lynne Morris (nominated by UNISON and USDAW) and Emily Rowles (nominated by UNISON, Unite and USDAW).
Auditors – Pavilion’s votes were cast for Chris Kitchen and Steve Jennings, who were elected with 47.04% and 45.79% of the vote respectively.
Women’s Conference was hugely improved on recent years but still far from the separate policy-making conference which the Labour Women’s Organisation used to enjoy each Spring. I look forward to further steps being taken towards that at the 2019 Telford conference and commend Jill on her comprehensive report.
My involvement with the fringe was very limited as I was still quite unwell so prioritised attending Conference.
WHAT NEXT FOR LABOUR CONFERENCE?
Conference is now simply too short to accommodate democratic debate between the number of delegates representing our enlarged party. To allow for full debate, Conference needs to be restored to a full week and all delegates must receive Conference reports at least one and preferably two months before – there is no reason, for example, why all Conference reports must be issued together. Further, Conference should be separate from training events, so that delegates do not have to decide between learning new skills to bring back to the local party and the key task of determining Party policy.
Over the next year it will remain important for Pavilion Labour and all CLPs to keep a watching brief on the detailed rule changes to be issued by the NEC, to check that these follow the conclusions of the Democracy Review and positively advance member-led democracy in our Party. With local government elections in Brighton and Hove, members will be especially interested in the ongoing review of Party structures relating to the Labour Group and the possible replacement or strengthening of the Local Campaign Forum.
The lessons of card vote 9 are especially important for Brighton Pavilion CLP’s constitutional amendment submitted to Labour Conference 2018, which will be debated at Conference 2019. If we wish to pass our rule change, building support among the affiliates, especially the big five – Unite, UNISON, GMB, CWU and USDAW – will be key.