FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW – LABOUR CONFERENCE 2017
It was an impressive Conference – with the Brighton Centre crammed full of Labour members and trades unionists united behind our Party’s leadership and determined to push forward to a Labour Government which seemed not just within touching distance at Westminster, but often as if it had reached out from the Conference hall to take power from the Tories. It was a real honour to be present as one of Pavilion’s delegates.
Unlike last year, there was no hint from any MP, councillor or any other elected Labour representative or Labour staffer of anything but full support for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader – twice over the choice of a clear majority of all members – and his policies which had realised such strong gains for Labour at the 2017 election. Jeremy was praised for Labour’s manifesto which was attributed to him by speaker after speaker from the Shadow Cabinet, as well as for his campaigning strengths and indefatigability.
The size of Conference really was incredibly striking and is worth noting again. This was a Conference “for the many not the few” in more than one sense. It was clear that the platform could no longer manage delegates as it has become used to doing in recent decades. The organisers had been wise to cut down on platform orations as the very many first time delegates expected to be able to have their say and to be listened to.
At the start of the week delegates made some great speeches to little effect. As the days wore on delegates who had watched and learnt were using rostrum time much more wisely to reference back key passages in reports as if they were old hands. The way the platform responded by refusing to acknowledge and call to the podium all delegates moving the procedural motion to “reference back” part of a policy document was worrying and an undemocratic subversion of the rule change passed by Labour Conference 2016. What was most clear from this is that the salami slicing of time from Conference now needs to be reversed. Conference needs to be restored to a full week. It can no longer be neutered and contained in three days.
Conference gave an encouraging assessment to Labour’s front bench. Delegates responded supportively to shadow ministers and enthusiastically applauded election triumphs, but this was well-deserved applause and rarely the runaway standing ovations whipped-up in previous years. Delegates were genuinely full of goodwill for a united Shadow Cabinet but were rarely left with sore hands, except in a few notable cases including Angela Rayner, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn.
Having nominated four local members for Party Merit Awards, I found myself unable to join in enthusiastically when these were presented to others. I am sure that the recipients well deserved their awards, but I could not help thinking that none compared to Connie French, in particular. These awards symbolise our inheritance within the Labour Party, built ‘brick by brick’ by men and women over many years, and our responsibility, to safeguard it and play our part in making it an ‘engine for change’ – as Connie has done for 75 years!
PAVILION’S RULE CHANGE on Contemporary Motions
The NEC via the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) had asked all CLPs to remit constitutional amendments tabled at this year’s Conference to the Democracy Review announced at the start of Conference. Our delegates were subject to intense lobbying by NEC members and various groups to remit. We listened to the points made to us (some less polite than others, it must be said) and discussed the situation between ourselves over the days in Conference until constitutional amendments were taken on the Tuesday morning.
As I waited to move our rule change, one by one all other CLPs with a rule change went to the podium, made a speech as if to move their rule change and, at the last moment, remitted. Some demanded guarantees that their proposals would be looked at and made it clear that they would be back next year if not, but Brighton Pavilion CLP was the only CLP not to remit its rule change, which became card vote 8. Interestingly, at the last moment the actual vote was delayed by the Chair from its scheduled spot at the end of the morning session until after lunch. Conference was running late but this action did not recover any time, it merely gave more time for lobbying against our rule change. The card vote was lost by 66% to 34% but was notable as over 64% of CLPs supported our change but 97% of affiliates opposed it, following the deal at the NEC which agreed the Democracy Review. Clearly, there is still a way to go to democratise our Party.
PAVILION’S EMERGENCY MOTION on Lengthy Suspensions of Members
Having received no response from the General Secretary or any Party official or committee regarding the lengthy suspension of Patcham member, Greg Hadfield, the Executive Committee decided to express widespread concerns with the question of delay by putting an Emergency Motion to Conference.
After our emergency motion was rejected by the CAC, I moved reference back on CAC Report 3, seeking to have our motion admitted to the Conference agenda and debated. I stressed that our motion was a bona fide emergency and urged delegates to vote to discuss it, as whatever the rights and wrongs of any particular case, there can be no justification for lengthy suspensions of Labour Party members – justice delayed is justice denied to both sides, including Greg Hadfield and anyone who has submitted a complaint about him.
Although the card vote that resulted passed the CAC Report by 63% to 37%, our Emergency Motion received a positive response from many CLP delegates who voted 63% to support reference back, whereas 89% of affiliates opposed reference back. Our motion’s submission highlighted widespread concerns across the Party nationally about lengthy suspensions of members and delays in dealing with cases and our CLP is now better placed to pursue this matter together with other CLPs who have similar concerns and with the NCC. Members of that committee told me directly that it is not busy as is popularly imagined by Party members. Rather, I was told that the NCC has had less than a handful of cases referred to it this year and NCC members are waiting on Party staff to provide them with papers on members’ cases so that matters can be brought to a conclusion.
There were very many excellent speeches at Labour Conference 2017. Interestingly, for me, the speeches which really stood out this year were all from the floor, not the platform. Undoubtedly there were some great platform speeches, not least Naomi Klein, but those that touched me were the speeches by Darryl Telles (Hove CLP), Gary Heather (Islington North CLP), Dave Ward (CWU), Dennis Skinner MP, Leah Levane (Hastings & Rye CLP) and our own Elaine Bewley, Juliet McCaffery and Amanda Evans, who made excellent, effective and well-received contributions to Conference which I look forward to following-up as CLP Secretary.
Priorities ballot for contemporary resolutions – It was known that the affiliates were going to prioritise debates on Grenfell Tower, Public Sector Pay, Workers Rights and Growth & Investment. Consequently, in the constituencies’ ballot, Pavilion Labour’s delegates decided to prioritise debates on Rail, Housing, Learn Direct and NHS, as these topics best reflected the concerns of local members. Constituencies actually prioritised debates on the NHS, Housing, Social Care and Rail. Given the small number of motions on Social Care, I wonder if the CAC’s aim in splitting this debate from the NHS was to obstruct another discussion. It was certainly surprising that the strong motion on Learn Direct was not prioritised more widely given the importance of the education sector to Labour, and the relative paucity of the education debate otherwise on the Conference agenda.
Learn Direct was recorded as receiving only 2,385 CLP votes yet Brighton Pavilion CLP alone should have had approximately 3,500 votes (as votes match CLP membership at the previous 31 December). After querying the validity of the ballot with CAC I was informed by the national “Legal Queries” team that our CLP had only 1,806 members as at 31 December 2016. I returned to CAC seeking a further explanation for this error. None was or has subsequently been forthcoming. There was no further chance to raise this in the Conference hall but Pavilion delegates did try to alert other delegates to a possible balloting issue. More than one other CLP told us that they discovered the same problem. The Executive will be pursuing this with CAC, the NEC and, if relevant, the Democracy Review.
National Constitutional Committee – Pavilion’s votes were cast in accordance with the nominations made by the CLP for Emina Ibrahim and Anna Dyer. We were delighted to hear that Emina (145,662 votes) and Anna (145,578 votes) were elected with a combined 71% of the vote.
Card Votes – three rule changes were proposed by the NEC and one by Brighton Pavilion CLP. There was one other card vote on accepting CAC Report 3, which several CLPs had referenced back including Brighton Pavilion twice. Thirteen of our CLP’s fifteen delegates voted as follows:
|1. Composition of the NEC||NEC||Carried||14F, 1abs||For|
|2. Nomination Leader & Deputy (10%)||NEC||Carried||15F||For|
|3. Conduct prejudicial to the Party||NEC||Carried||8F, 7A||Against|
|8. Contemporary Motions||Pav CLP||Defeated||15F||For|
|14. CAC Report 3 (Emergency Motion)||CAC||Carried||1F, 13A, 1-||Against|
Sadly I was unable to remain in Women’s Conference due to the flash photography permitted and the absence of any access adjustments for neurodiversity. I was shocked to be told by Party staff that the access arrangements made for Labour Conference did not apply to Women’s Conference, and by their refusal to accept that Labour rules stipulate that no member shall be precluded from attending Party meetings or events because they cannot gain access for any reason (Chapter 15 Clause 1 Part (2)(O)(i)).
As CLP Secretary I was occupied at the evening fundraisers being run for Pavilion Labour’s benefit. Being so busy with our rule change, emergency motion and other procedural queries during Conference, I was also focussed on lobbying affiliate and other delegates during Conference break, so missed almost all daytime fringe events.
There was simply too little time to do justice to the opportunity of Conference and this was highlighted by training seminars organised to overlap with the main Conference sessions. I felt strongly that I should be in the main hall for all the sessions, as a delegate representing our CLP, and with a very visible seat at the front of the hall.
WHAT NEXT FOR LABOUR CONFERENCE?
This takes me back to one of my starting points – Conference is now simply too short at two and a half days, if that, with at least a day taken up by policy seminars and the Leaders’ Speech. The Conference timetable needs to be restored to a full week, to allow for full debate and so that members can take advantage of the training opportunities on offer.
Vitally, delegates need to receive all Conference reports at least a month before. Even the most dedicated and well-informed delegates cannot read, absorb and analyse several inches of reports in one week, as we were expected to do with the distribution of Conference reports being held back by Labour South East until its delegates’ briefing on 16 September.
Over the next year it will be of huge importance for Pavilion Labour to contribute positively to the Labour Party’s Democracy Review, taking forward the issues we raised at Labour Conference 2017, and ensuring that democratic procedures safeguard members and delegates’ rights, including to reference back policy at Conference, among others.
Furthermore, growing Labour into a party of a million will add huge weight to conference decisions to renationalise our NHS and railways, stop driver only operation, and more. Indisputably Labour now has the leaders and ideas to defeat the Tories. With courage, determination and solidarity we shall make another world possible.
Claire Wadey, 21 October 2017