“Next time we would hope for actual engagement with the issues rather than nods to ‘important points’ followed by a platitudinous kick into the long grass.”
Report from a CLP Secretary
David Evans, Labour’s General Secretary, made his much anticipated appearance before the CLP secretaries forum on 16 December. It is impossible for those of us present to know how many others were there, as we were in webinar format but lots of secretaries introduced themselves in the chat before it was pointedly switched off at the request of Ann Black in the Chair.
Nevertheless, the forum was the result of prolonged pressure from hardworking secretaries on Party Head Office, asking for the issues faced in running Constituency Labour Parties at a local level to be addressed, and the questions had been selected by some of the secretaries themselves so not as stage-managed as some might have anticipated.
Unfortunately getting serious answers to the important questions raised was much harder, and a popular and very important question about the increasing numbers of suspended secretaries and chairs went unasked.
Many of the questions raised, although apparently straightforward to address, will be familiar to those who have been involved in running local parties over several years. Requests for proper equality data to be collected and then made available to local officers to organise equality branches were rebuffed. A suggestion for a single space for all emailed guidance to be made available for ease of access, seemingly an obvious suggestion but still not actioned.
Several questions of course related to the seemingly endless stream of guidance or ‘directives’ coming out of Party HQ in response to each new way CLPs find to have a discussion about the issues they want to debate. One secretary asked for some consistency and clarity, pointing out that even motions that appear to be fine under the guidance, can find themselves ruled out by regional offices in an apparently arbitrary fashion. More than one secretary pointed out the toll taken, particularly on the mental health of local officers, of the role being carried out. Worryingly, Evans talked about responsibilities being more important than rights at this time.
A further set of questions related to the accountability and transparency of the disciplinary processes. Many secretaries raise the lack of information provided and the ridiculously long wait that so many complaints take to be dealt with. A request was made for better information about suspensions locally, as well as better communication and regular breakdowns of the number and type of complaints and the length of processing from start to finish. There was some acknowledgement from Evans that ‘the buck stops here’ and the ‘unacceptable backlog’ meant no justice at all if the process takes so long.
The time taken by David Evans to talk to CLP Secretaries is of course to be welcomed but there were no serious answers to the very serious questions asked and next time we would hope for actual engagement with the issues rather than nods to ‘important points’ followed by a platitudinous kick into the long grass. The letter to Evans raising issues with guidance clearly needs to be built on and a new initiative to defend those wrongly suspended will be important as we continue to fight to defend our CLPs and those that volunteer so many hours to keep them active.