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Democracy is losing ground in the Starmer-led Labour Party as London Region force a July Conference

“If we are expected to adhere to the rules, & punished with suspension if we don’t, surely we should be able to expect London Region to adhere to them too?”

Maia Kirby

By Maia Kirby, a CLP Secretary

London CLP Secretaries were shocked to discover late in the afternoon of the first of June, an email from the London regional director, Amy Fodé, telling us that a London Regional Conference was to be held on 24th and 25th of July.  With no deadlines, no information on delegate entitlement, we are still left looking for answers as to how on earth we are supposed to pull off motions, nominations and elections of delegates in time.

What a way to be treated as volunteers who already do so much unpaid administration to enable party democracy, which equals at least a day a week, often more. Democratic process takes time. Members need to be notified and given time to conceive of, submit and discuss motions. Branch Secretaries need time to prepare the agendas, circulate these motions and then if passed by a majority of their members, submit them to Executive Committees to be collated, checked against criteria, then circulated by the CLP Secretary for consideration at a General Meeting. As the election of delegates is to take place online, we must also add a period of time for nominations to be submitted in advance of the meeting in order to use anonyvoter. Once the General Meeting has selected one motion from all those submitted by branches, the CLP Secretary will submit it to the party and the conference arrangements committee will organise all the motions into topics that will then be sent back to CLP secretaries for delegates to vote on their priority topic. Delegates from the CLPs submitting motions under the prioritised topics must then meet to composite the various motions. Given CLPs operate under standing orders which stipulate how many days’ notice members should be given of the business of a meeting and when the meetings should take place, it is simply not possible for a proper democratic process to be conducted under this snap timetable.

In imposing this timetable, Amy Fodé has overruled a decision made by the Regional Executive Committee to hold the conference in November, which is when other regions are holding their conferences. Overriding the Regional Executive goes beyond the powers delegated to the regional director by the General Secretary of the party. The rulebook is very clear – It is the Regional Executive Committees, democratically elected by members, which have the power to determine the date of regional conferences, not a Labour party staff member paid by these members to manage the administration of the party in London.

Labour Party staff have been at the forefront of some of the most controversial actions of Keir Starmer’s leadership. The General Secretary and Governance and Legal Unit surpassed all previous records of draconian Labour Party bureaucracy in their suspension of officers for allowing expressions of solidarity with the former leader of the party. This move was so absurdly Kafkaesque and such an attack on freedom of expression that CLP Officers and members are still reeling from it. Many officers are also still suspended, and in some instances the Labour right have taken over their CLPs. These and other CLPs that have fallen to the right have done so in large part because the left have given up their positions in disgust, rather than the right showing much sign of a resurgence of members on the ground.

The imposition of the date of London regional conference shows that whether left or right leaning, members appear to be considered at best an after-thought, and at worst an inconvenience. With the current timetable it is clear that most branches will not have any say in motions that come to the conference. In delegate-based CLPs this means that only around 1 in 25 members will take part in the process. At a time of climate crisis, increasing poverty, job uncertainty, and the decimation of our public services, the Labour bureaucracy appears to be dedicating itself to ridding the Labour Party of its most vibrant and energetic members with the ideas to shape Labour policy on these issues.

The Labour constitution states as one of its main objectives to ‘bring together members and supporters who share its values to develop policies’. We as members must stand up for our rights to take part in the democratic process. This imposition of a timetable that prevents the vast majority of members from participating sets a very worrying precedent: That the rule book and constitution can be ignored, that the workload and mental strain on members who volunteer their time to the party is unimportant, and most concerning of all that the political contribution of members and by extension the public, because members are all part of communities outside the Labour Party, are not valued by the party bureaucracy.

Twenty-nine CLP Secretaries and Chairs, across nineteen CLPs in London as well as members of the Regional Committee have this week written to Amy Fodé to object to this snap timetable. The Conference Arrangements Committee, elected by members to manage the conference, have also expressed concerns about the timing, but their communications have to date been ignored. Most branches have already met this month, but those that have not should consider writing to the London Regional Director to protest the fact that they have been effectively excluded from contributing to the conference. Executive Committees, many meeting this week, should also write to express their concerns that June agendas cannot be completed and circulated for General Meetings without further details on how motions should come to this meeting, how many delegates CLPs are entitled to and what the deadline for submitting these are. Finally, if you as a member have not been able to take part in this conference, please raise awareness of this issue and consider also writing to the party to complain. Delegates and those in CLPs with all member meetings should also be prepared to turn up to June and July meetings to vote for candidates who will defend democracy in the party.

As a CLP Secretary I hope that Amy Fodé reconsiders the timing of this conference. CLP secretaries and chairs are exhausted after a year of adjusting to online meetings, and in particular online voting systems. If we are expected to adhere to the rules, and punished with suspension if we don’t, surely we should be able to expect London Region to adhere to them too?

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