Part 1 of this delegates’ report has been discussed by a meeting of six of the 2019 delegation (Val, Theresa, Leonie, Ty, Elaine, Lewis) and circulated to other delegates. Part 2 of the report consists of delegates’ personal experiences and additional observations (see separate pages from Leonie Barua, Juan Baeza and Claire Wadey).
Delegates, especially those with little or no previous experience of conference, were struck by the strategies employed at conference to enable a democratic process to ensure that all participants can be heard and take decisions. In particular:
- Deciding constitutional changes
- Prioritisation of topics/motions for debate
- Compositing of motions with delegate participation
- Debating motions, in which delegates can speak directly to conference
- Policy formation by referencing back policy reports
- Voting on motions – show of hands/card votes
- Balancing of affiliate and CLP votes
Some of these procedures have been improved with the move to a more democratic Conference since Jeremy Corbyn became leader.
First-time delegates were impressed that delegates could have so much input into political decisions and party organisation. More experienced delegates were concerned that, following the Democracy Review, conference and delegates still have so little effect on policy-making.
Our delegates identified the following issues requiring review before conference 2020 and intend to bring a motion covering these points to a future CLP meeting:
1) Constitutional changes
Delegates were given 36 pages of complex constitutional amendments when conference opened at midday on Saturday, then had debates or speeches timetabled for every minute of the rest of the afternoon until being called upon to vote for or against these amendments at the end of the afternoon. This was impossible and undemocratic.
It was extremely stressful and demeaning to be required to vote, for some without understanding or even having fully read some of the amendments (which were often more than a page long and very technical). In recent prior years, rule changes have been taken on the Tuesday of conference, possibly for exactly this reason.
It seemed that affiliates’ delegates had already seen these amendments and had a clear position on each change, however many CLP delegates were totally confused.
Solution: There has to be some co-ordination with these motions and union conferences, to allow unions to vote on their preferences. However, in order for delegates to have read, and discussed at CLP level, the deadline for the CAC to receive rule changes from the NEC should be made much earlier. Other rule changes, such as those from CLPs, have to be submitted in March, so the NEC could easily be given a June deadline for its proposals, which could then be sent to affiliates and CLPs to allow opportunity to discuss changes and direct delegates.
2) Prioritisation of debates
Although a far less complex set of information, there is a similar problem with the priorities ballot, which has to be undertaken on the first afternoon of conference, so that compositing can proceed where there are multiple similar motions submitted on a topic prioritised for debate.
Solution: If delegates had the list of approved motions a few days in advance of conference, a wider consultation could direct delegates on priorities. Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) should review the deadlines for ordinary motions and timetabling of appeals, with a view to issuing the list of priorities to delegates and CLPs a week before conference.
The screens (in the conference hall) could also be used to inform/remind delegates of crucial deadlines for the priorities ballot and other decisions.
Delegates received two minutes speaking time in a debate and could not speak more than once throughout conference, other than when proposing a motion (3 minutes) or referencing back (1 minute). So, one had to choose what to speak on without knowing how each debate would progress or even what some would cover (as composites were released day by day).
Solution: Our 6 delegates thought those wishing to speak could give their name/organisation to the Chair at the beginning of each debate. This would save the Chair and conference a lot of time (and bother) selecting speakers, and might free up more speaking time for each delegate. Other delegates noted that the CLP’s Disabled Members’ Branch has previously made detailed proposals about how this aspect of conference (and others) can be improved and made more accessible.
There also needs to be a clock clearly visible to speakers, as there has been in previous years. It was farcical having a clock behind and to the side of speakers which was also not always working.
4) Referencing back
Perhaps the CAC had not expected this procedure to be used diligently. There was some debate whether the procedure had not been thought through or was deliberately sabotaged by CAC.
Conference is provided with the National Policy Forum Report. Some Policy Commission reports were very weak (see later point) and contained inaccuracies or confusion which needed clarification. Our delegates each read and reviewed part of the NPF Report, then followed the strict procedure for “referencing back” issues of concern to the National Policy Forum.
Delegates at conference were required to vote on all references back, so needed to see the NPF Report (circulated with conference papers), plus the reference back AND the reason given for the reference back, in order to make informed decisions before voting. But for two days CAC refused to provide to conference the details of references back, despite this having had to be submitted to CAC sometime in advance. In one session, conference was delayed by approximately two hours as delegates demanded a series of card votes with conference chairs having to read out relevant text (not without some errors).
Outrage at such delays and shenanigans was rightly laid at CAC’s door and CAC was forced to publish subsequent reference back in each CAC report. Once the text was available, references back were routinely carried whereas previously most had fallen as delegates were uncertain of what they were voting on. Accordingly, it is vital that this major democratic gain is not withdrawn or in any way reversed at any future conference.
a). Every CLP should be reminded what reference back is for and to review policy reports before Conference, to identify reference backs. If several organisations select the same area for reference back, these could be linked and delegates asked to submit a joint (or composited) reference back to save time.
b). In future years the text of the reference back (the reason given and the policy report text referred to) must be included in the relevant daily CAC reports and displayed on conference screens, both while the delegate proposing the reference back is speaking and also at the time of voting, so that all delegates are informed of what they are voting on.
Delegates hope that referencing back will be used more in future, including “reference back whole document” which Elaine notable achieved on the Environment Policy Commission report this year.
5) Policy Commission Reports
Our constituency delegates each examined at least one of the Policy Commission reports. Overall, we were not convinced that they are fit for purpose. Members expect the National Policy Forum to develop the Party’s policy via these reports but, too often, they were simply a record of the information and advice that had been received by each commission, more akin to minutes. They were often very repetitive and failed to offer many conclusions in terms of policy. There were also some glaring errors and/or misunderstandings in some reports.
For Example: Val studied the Health and Social Care document and was alarmed to find evidence of confusion re ACOs and ICSs. (Effectively the same thing, these are spoken of in the report as if different.) There was also misunderstanding of “integration”, which in this context refers to financial integration of public and private funds, NOT the integration of health services. There was only one very scant reference to the huge BAME issues in the health service – offering no evidence or plans for how Labour would roll back the hostile environment as it applies to health – and there was pitiful reference to Mental Health, none re children and no description of the way forward.
Language such as “champion” was used within this Labour policy text, yet this word was lifted straight from its USA context – of volunteers used to carry out health functions in private services, which, under the NHS, were once paid, qualified jobs. This seemed wholly inappropriate. The document also had a quote suggesting that NHS England would continue under Labour when this is the vehicle for removing our NHS from government management and is a quasi-company, so should be disbanded after re-nationalisation of the NHS.
There was no distinction made between the government’s professed “additional funding” and the fact that this was often: a) not NEW money, but simply being moved around and b) did not distinguish between money going to front line services and that being thrown at the privatisation process.
Some had expected these documents to reflect the consultations carried out in each constituency re each policy area, but this document contained less information and policy than our CLP’s submission to the process.
Some of the quotes used in these reports, from individuals and organisations, also displayed lack of understanding of the privatisation process.
Solution: There should be a review of the purpose of these documents and the National Policy Forum. Simply listing the consultation process is not helpful. The reports to conference should reflect input from organisations who sent in policy contributions, and they should give more in depth analysis of the direction of policy without contradicting existing policy.
The Health and Social Care report made reference to advice from Health Campaigns Together. While that campaign organisation could have been usefully involved in creating this report (as they have thoroughly analysed the events of the last 30 years and are often among the most informed commentators on policy, so could have proof read the final document draft, weeded out errors and ensured all aspects of Health were covered meaningfully), this might be contentious with other organisations being more formally involved in the development of Labour Party policy. But it could reduce referencing back.
(Please see References Back – Brighton Pavilion – Health and Social Care Policy Commission by Val Knight, and the references back made by our other delegates.)
The conference practice is to delay taking all votes until the end of the day on all matters debated. Our delegates found this nonsensical, undemocratic and a barrier to access. It was very difficult to retain or record all the information from the debates and to remember what had been said.
Solution Like most, our delegation would have preferred votes to be taken immediately at the end of each debate or at least at the end of each session.
7) CAC documents
Contain essential but lengthy information. They were distributed at 8am (in theory) and at the doors to conference each day. There was often no time to absorb content before events happened.
Solution: Some information should and can be distributed to delegates earlier; eg, all composite motions should be distributed in a report the morning after they are agreed, as well as being included in each daily CAC report. The CAC reports need to go out the night before, with an update at 8am if circumstances have led to any changes or additional content. This would give delegates more opportunity to use the information meaningfully.
8) Delegates, motions and debates
Our delegates were impressed with the quality of debate and the representative nature of conference, with many different demographic groups participating. Any differences of opinion were mainly managed well by both delegates and the Chair.
There is a time issue re length of contributions – delegates having only 1 minute for a single reference back, two minutes to speak in a debate or three 3 minutes to propose a motion or multiple reference backs. This was sometimes unsatisfactory when information needed to be given on many different aspects of a policy document, or as part of a response, as well as arguments.
Solution: There was some time wasted with speaker selection by chair. This could be resolved – either as suggested above or as proposed previously by the Disabled Members’ Branch.
9) Policy Seminars
Delegates were impressed by the Policy Seminars, held before and after conference business, with Shadow Cabinet members not only providing information and answering questions but clearly also keen to collect information and hear policy suggestions. However, the question remains as to how much conference time should be lost to these seminars, if any.
Solution: either a rolling programme of seminars could be organised throughout the year or there could be a dedicated extra day added to the conference timetable.
10) Policies and policy making
Our delegates were impressed by the range of policies revealed, some for the first time. The Green Industrial Revolution, Health and Social Care policy and responses to our colonial past, particularly impressed our delegates, but all policies were impressive.
Suggestion: Before being signed off, we believe every Labour Party policy decision taken should be seen through the lenses of:
- Equality in all spheres (BAME, disability, LGBT+, gender, age)
- Worker rights and access to justice
- International effect
Conference needs to balance sustainability and accessibility. This has particular implications for use of paper and travel. Some delegates would prefer far less paper whereas paper documents are essential for other delegates. More use could be made of the large conference screens but all presentations need to be accessible to all delegates.
11) International Conference
There was wide input on International Issues, with speakers from Ghana, Western Sahara and the Chagos Archipelago, a motion on Kashmir and policy to redress ignorance of Britain’s colonial history. Emily Thornbury reported on Labour’s intention to give Asian de-mobbed soldiers from WW1 the same compensation as white soldiers. Also, soldiers affected by nuclear testing 50-70 years ago would be compensated.
Motions were passed on Kashmir and the Amazon rainforest fires.
There were addresses from representatives of Welsh and Scottish Labour but not from Northern Ireland, because members from the North of Ireland are not able to organise or send delegates to conference and the CAC has repeatedly refused to table for discussion submitted motions and proposed rule changes on this issue. There were several impassioned interventions by Irish members, following which we expect this issue to be raised next year, but will there be any representation from a Northern Ireland CLP?
Pavilion Labour delegates to 2019 Labour Conference