Keep up the pressure
Labour’s NEC has opened the door for much-needed change - now the left needs to take advantage of that opening, says Carla Roberts
Meeting on September 19, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the Labour Party national executive committee made good use of their wafer-thin left majority, which is down to the resignation of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and her temporary replacement by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley.
The NEC agreed to put to this year’s conference a ‘reform package’ that sees a compromise on the so-called McDonnell amendment (see below) and, crucially, an increase in the number of NEC delegates from Constituency Labour Parties from six to nine, to be elected by the whole membership within the next three months. The unions will get one additional seat and, despite the fact that this seat will go to the ‘moderate’-led Usdaw union (which will take up the seat in three months’ time) it is looking good for the left. Even if (and that’s a big if)1 Labour Party members in Scotland vote for a rightwinger to replace Dugdale on the NEC, this leaves the left in a majority on the NEC, albeit a very slim one.
But the NEC is also proposing to conduct a review of party rules, to be led by Corbyn’s political secretary, Katy Clark. The “terms of reference” of the “Party Democracy Review”, which “will aim to produce a first report within 12 months”, include a review of the method on how to elect the party leader (“including the role of registered supporters and the issue of nominating thresholds”) and the “composition of the NEC”.2 In other words, much of the compromise agreed at the September 19 NEC meeting is temporary. The battle is not yet won.
This is, however, a watershed moment for the future of the party. The left must make sure that it uses this review to full advantage, pushing for the kind of changes needed to transform it into a real party of the working class. The review could easily become a pseudo-democratic exercise, where thousands of people send in their blue-sky thoughts and we end up with another compromise between the left and the right. This is, of course, the way the national policy forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party) currently works. The NPF report produced in time for this year’s conference is truly atrocious - full of blurb about the wonderful “process” employed in compiling it, but devoid of any concrete policies.3
But, judging from Jeremy Corbyn’s conduct so far, we are not hopeful that he is prepared to fight - for example, to abolish the NPF and bring policy-making back to conference, which must become the truly sovereign body of the party. We are not convinced that he is prepared to abolish the compliance unit and invite in the thousands who have been barred, expelled or suspended for the ‘crime’ of having once supported another organisation such as Left Unity or being a member of Socialist Appeal. We are far from hopeful that he will change his mind and start to support the mandatory selection of all MPs. Corbyn’s method of operation is still characterised by the ill-conceived attempt to appease the right in order to achieve some kind of ‘party unity’. But the right, with the aid of the assembled bourgeois media, will not rest until they get rid of him (and the entire left). It is high time he came out fighting - and the left will have to push him along in this.
Why the compromise?
Currently any candidate for leader or deputy leader of the party requires the nominations of 15% of the Parliamentary Labour Party and European parliament combined. The ‘McDonnell amendment’ wanted to reduce this to 5%, but the NEC settled on 10%. In our view, it should actually be 0% - MPs and MEPs should not have the right to obstruct the will of the membership. (Incidentally, 21 CLPs have voted through an amendment that would change the current requirement for nominations dramatically: any candidate for the position of leader would require the support of 15% of either the MP/MEPs, or the affiliated sections or the CLPs. Presumably, this very good motion will now not be heard at the 2018 conference, but instead be superseded by the report from the ‘Corbyn review’.)
Maybe Corbyn and his allies on the NEC were forced to agree to the 10% compromise in order to get the increase of CLP reps onto the NEC through. But the compromise might also point to their fear that conference might not actually go the (left) way that Luke Akehurst and the mainstream media had been suggesting. According to The Guardian,Momentum has conducted its own ‘survey’, which apparently shows that, of the 1,155 delegates chosen by CLPs, 844 “back reforms proposed by Momentum, while 236 are opposed and the views of 75 are unknown”.4
But Corbyn is probably right not to rely on the scientific basis of this ‘survey’: Delegates received a text message that read: “Hi XY, this is Morgan, and I’m a volunteer from Momentum. Congratulations on being elected as a delegate to the 2017 Labour conference in Brighton. Do you intend to vote for a rule change that will make it easier for leftwing candidates to get on the ballot in future leadership elections?”
Firstly, Momentum does not hold mobile phone numbers or email addresses for all delegates. It has contact details for lefties - so it probably multiplied however many returns it got by the number of actual delegates. We also know of quite a few leftwingers who did not reply. Some thought the unsolicited text message seemed a bit “fishy”, others have gone right off Momentum and some did not reply because it seemed such a stupid and obvious question to ask of a Momentum supporter.
While Momentum is playing a rather silly game of potentially inflating numbers, Luke Akehurst, on the other hand, might be playing a game of ‘reducing expectations’ in order to come back with a ‘surprise victory’ for the right, which is fighting to keep its hold over the party bureaucracy and middle layers. Yes, many CLPs have chosen pro-Corbyn supporters as representatives and have filled their whole quota of delegates with leftwingers. But there are reports of many more CLPs, where the right has succeeded once again in stressing the ‘financial burden’ of sending more than one delegate to conference and, hey, what’s wrong with sending our experienced comrade XY, who has represented us so admirably in previous years?
The main problem is that, even if there is a clear left majority of pro-Corbyn delegates, nobody is doing much with it.
Rule changes to oppose
In line with one of the many undemocratic clauses in the Labour Party rule book,5 a number of rule changes that were submitted by CLPs before conference in 2016 were ‘parked’ for almost 14 months, before they are finally discussed by delegates this year. Incidentally, a motion from Filton and Bradley, Stoke and Newport West proposes to do away with this anti-democratic rule. We could not agree more.
Not all of the motions, which were published in the Addendum to the 2016 delegate’s report,6 will make it to conference floor. Some have already been implemented by the NEC, while others were ruled out of order by the conference arrangements committee and/or the NEC meeting on September 19. The final, detailed agenda, together with all accepted motions, is only published a few short days before conference. As we go to press, there is no final list of motions available. The NEC will no doubt ask the movers of some of these to remit them to be part of the review in the party. If a mover disagrees, their motion will then fall when the NEC reform package inevitably gets a majority at conference.
It is actually remarkable how few progressive, leftwing motions have been submitted - and how tame they are. Yes, there is the 14-month delay, but the motions are no doubt a reflection of the fact that the left is still trying to catch up with the situation of suddenly having a leftwing leader. Clearly, we are still woefully unprepared and unorganised. Momentum played a very useful role in the general election, but its leader, Jon Lansman - and Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter - clearly have no coherent plan when it comes to transforming the Labour Party.
It is to Momentum’s credit that it published guides and various information on the 2017 conference.7 But it has to be said that the most useful bits have been copied from NEC member Pete Willsman’s excellent overview, which he published last year and which is still available on the website of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.8 The rest is mostly hot air - and, unfortunately, complicit silence when it comes to the witch-hunt against the left in the party: namely the ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal. The compromise formulation agreed by the NEC is not as bad as the original one proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement, but it clearly is another compromise with the right.
The Momentum 2017 Rule change guide9(which will also be updated in time for conference) lists six motions that delegates are asked to support - and only two that should be opposed. Both of those deal with the anti-Corbyn attempt to remove the categories of ‘registered supporters’ (who paid £3 and £25 respectively to vote in the two recent leadership elections) and ‘affiliated supporters’ (members of affiliated unions and societies). Of course, LPM also opposes these two motions (there are actually three: the Momentum office seems to have forgotten about motion No1 from Kingswood). You can bet your bottom dollar that the movers of these motions are not at all concerned about the “power of the fully paid up Labour Party member” - this is all about reducing the influence of the unions and of Jeremy Corbyn, and the possibility that he could be replaced by a fellow leftwinger.
But there are far worse motions among the 23 submitted - composed in exactly the same anti-Corbyn spirit. Motions 3, 4 and 6 were all clearly motivated by the entirely fabricated ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal in the party. All of them will now presumably be remitted. Motion 4 from Finchley and Golders Green is the worst of the lot. It proposes a life-long membership ban on anybody who is deemed to have engaged in “conduct which is motivated by hostility or prejudice based on gender; sexual identity; ethnicity or faith; age or disability; or other personal characteristic”. Such a person “shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member” (our emphasis). And how can you possibly disprove that you were “motivated by hostility or prejudice”? This proposed rule change is incredibly open to abuse.
Ditto motion 3, which defines a “hate incident” as “something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation” (our emphasis). This formulation basically does away with the need for any evidence. Somebody thinks you were motivated by something nasty - bingo, that’s your expulsion letter in the post.
Motion 6 has been submitted by, among others, the Jewish Labour Movement. It uses the same formulations as the two motions above - ie, the mere word of the “victim or anyone else” is enough to damn somebody as ‘anti-Semitic’, etc. Hard evidence is not needed - feelings will suffice and the person charged is guilty until they can prove their innocence. In addition though, the JLM proposal would read: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions, except in instances involving anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism” (we emphasise the JLM’s proposed amendment). Coupled with the proposal to remove any need for evidence, this is a truly anti-democratic motion and a bureaucrat’s wet dream.
Why is Momentum saying nothing on these truly atrocious motions? Unfortunately, Jon Lansman - who since his coup of January 201710 rules Momentum’s national office like an absolute monarch - has effectively been aiding the witch-hunters of the right in the party, in the mistaken belief that by not ‘attacking’ them, they might eventually be persuaded to rally behind Jeremy Corbyn.
Lansman, ironically, is politically rather close to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, when it comes to the definition of anti-Semitism: basically it includes anybody who criticises the actions of the state of Israel. Lansman famously threw Jackie Walker to the wolves when he had her removed as vice-chair of Momentum11 and then drew up a constitution which bars from Momentum membership all those barred from the Labour Party.
And, just like the CLPD, Momentum has, at least for the time being, given up its fight for mandatory reselection of MPs. And that despite the fact that the CLPD (with Jon Lansman playing a leading role at the time) had fought for this rule change for many decades - and eventually with success: from 1980 until the early 90s, a form of mandatory reselection of MPs was enshrined in the rule book. Noticeably, no constitutional motion on this subject has been submitted, despite all the debates on this subject in the last few years. Also, at least a couple of motions on mandatory reselection have been submitted (in time for the 2018 conference).12 This shows how far we still have to go: the left is a long way away from the power it wielded even in the 1980s.
Motions to support
The ‘McDonnell amendment’ (No 14) will not be tabled, but conference will instead get to vote on the NEC compromise. We urge delegates to vote in favour of it (and then help shape the review). We also support motion 9 from Blackley and Broughton Exeter, which wants to do away with the restriction that CLPs can submit either a contemporary motion or a procedural motion, but not both.
Motion 11 also wants to give more powers to the CLPs: it proposes that motions submitted are not automatically ruled out of order because they touch on a subject that is mentioned in the long documents produced by the national policy forum. We also recommend a vote for motions 7 and 23, which seek to increase the money from membership fees allocated to CLPs (at the moment, they scrape by with an allocation of a measly £1.50 per member - per year!). There are a couple of other motions that deserve support.
We will, of course, produce a final voting guide when the agenda and all motions have been finalised. They will be covered by our daily issue of Red Pages that we will be handing out every day at conference, as well as uploading to our website. We are keen to hear from delegates and observers - send your impressions, thoughts and short articles to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in Red Pages.
1. Scottish leftwing members are taking a motion to the Scottish executive committee to make Scotland’s NEC representative elected by ‘one member, one vote’. “This motion is expected to pass,” the usually well-informed Skwawkbox writes.
4. The Guardian September 18.