“The new leadership has promised unity & it has promised to focus on winning elections – neither is possible with this approach & therefore members must continue to resist these gagging orders through whatever channels we have available.”Rachel Garnham
By Rachel Garnham, Vice Chair, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy
This week’s letter signed by over 200 secretaries and chairs of local Constituency Labour Parties marks an escalation in resistance to increasingly far-fetched and nonsensical guidance being issued by Labour’s General Secretary David Evans on a more regular basis than ever before. Of course we have to make sure our meetings are a welcome space for all. But cracking down on discussion of issues where there may be different views – or even fundamental issues of solidarity, which appear to be ruled out if the guidance is taken literally – serves only to escalate tensions, foster divisions and create intolerable pressure on local officers in interpreting the guidance which often appears in contradiction to the rulebook.
One of my final comments to a meeting of Labour’s NEC before I stood down last month was that if the current leadership was as effective at fighting the Tories as it is in fighting the left then the country would be in a better place. I was asked to apologise, but I stick by this assertion. The country is in a mess – tens of thousands of people have died because of Tory failure to prioritise public health and human lives. Unemployment is on the rise; public sector workers have been working flat out to support our communities, many putting their own health at risk and have been rewarded (with few exceptions) with a pay freeze. Our NHS, schools, colleges and universities, and local government are on their knees after a decade of austerity compounded by the pandemic – and yet Labour prefers to offer mild criticism of incompetence, abstain on issues of fundamental human rights and welcome huge and unnecessary defence spending, than to put up the fight that is needed. This before the prospect of no deal or very hard Brexit which will plunge us further into crisis; yet the current leadership continues to put political ambition before principles in its approach. The contrast with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who always put people before profit, and had anti-racism and internationalism at the heart of his approach, could not be more stark.
We would all prefer to be prioritising fighting for our communities and our public services – and most of us, of course, are doing this too – than being forced to defend our right to political debate and our democratically agreed rulebook. Yet we have been plunged into an entirely unnecessary struggle for the future of a Party in which representative democracy and members’ rights are embedded.
Labour’s rulebook Chapter 7 Rules for CLPs, Clause II Aims and Values 2.D commits ‘To provide the opportunity for all members of the Party within the constituency to contribute to the development of the aims and polices by ensuring that a full range of Party activities are available to them… and that they may participate fully in discussion to broaden the political education of members of the Party and to increase their influence over the formulation of the Party programme.’ As one CLP chair pointed out: ‘Significant effort is required to balance the rule book against changing instructions which are sometimes phrased sub-optimally. Members’ right to participate fully in CLP activities is both enshrined in the Rule Book and fundamental to the operation of the CLP and its effectiveness as a political organisation.’
As members we are embedded in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our educational institutions. We are in touch with other voters on a daily basis and evidence shows that an active campaign can make the difference between winning and losing seats. We should not have to shout to be heard. Members should be valued and democracy respected not just because it is the right thing to do, not just because it is enshrined in our rulebook but because it is essential to maximising our vote at election time.
The new leadership has promised unity and it has promised to focus on winning elections – neither is possible with this approach and therefore members must continue to resist these gagging orders through whatever channels we have available.