“Since Starmer’s election, there has been a worrying trend where the machinery is partisan against the left. Not only does the referee only give red cards to the left team, he’s happy to foul us himself when given the chance.”James McAsh
By James McAsh, Elected Representative to London Labour’s Regional Executive Committee
Last December, London Labour’s Regional Executive Committee (REC) met to decide a date for our next Regional Conference. This should be a lively and vibrant event. It’s where members and affiliates can set the political priorities for the region, through the motions debate. And it’s where the next REC will be elected.
It is for the REC to decide when the conference is held. This is crystal clear in the rule book (“at a timing determined by the REC”). So this is what we did. The Regional Director proposed a July conference. We discussed this at some length but decided against it. The main argument in favour is that the committee is due an election, so we should host it as soon as possible. This is, of course, completely true. But it is perhaps understandable given the last year we’ve had.
There were many arguments against July. First, we anticipated elections in May and knew that everyone – from the Regional Office to the party membership – would be busy fighting the elections. It seemed like completely the wrong priorities to ask CLPs, staff and members to focus on a conference before the election. And if we waited until afterwards then everything would be rushed.
We were also keen to make the most of the conference. After all, if we’ve waited for so long to hold it, surely we want it to be the best it can be. Back in December it seemed unlikely that a physical conference could go ahead by July. Time has proven us right.
So instead we opted for a November conference. London Regional Conferences are often around this time so it makes sense. It would gives CLPs plenty of time after the May elections to prepare and it would make a physical conference more likely. We have important council elections next year so we wanted to use the conference to engage and enthuse our membership and to shape the campaign plan across the capital.
The decision was taken and it seemed uncontentious. As far as we were concerned, that was the end of the story.
Then, on June 1st, REC members were sent an email by the Regional Director announcing that the conference would be in July. CLP Secretaries were sent something similar.
We were taken aback. How could the date have been sent without our knowledge, nevermind our authority? The Rule Book is clear that this is our decision. We were told that the NEC had over-ridden us but it was never clear how they had the authority to do so. When we asked NEC members about it, they could find no evidence of such a decision being taken anyway. Other regions are not having their conferences until much later – why are we different?
All our reasons for rejecting July have been confirmed. A July conference must be online whereas a November one could be in-person. Our worries about having insufficient time to prepare are worse still. When we first considered a July date we anticipated that CLPs would have 7 months notice. Instead they have just 7 weeks. Worst of all, the chosen date is in the first weekend of the summer holidays, making attendance all-but-impossible for many parents.
What’s going on? Since Starmer’s election, there has been a worrying trend where the machinery is partisan against the left. Not only does the referee only give red cards to the left team, he’s happy to foul us himself when given the chance. In this case, the machinery is clearly making the rules up as they go along. We’ve done what we can to overturn it but we’ve not been successful.
Presumably some on the right-wing of the party think an early conference will benefit them in some way. Perhaps it will – it’s hard to say. But whether it does or not, it’s clear that it will not benefit the party as a whole. We could have had a vibrant and exciting launch to our local election campaign in November. Instead, we’re getting an underwhelming, underprepared online conference in July.
The Labour left still represents the mainstream of our party. That much is obvious from the NEC election results. And Starmer himself was only elected because he stood on a platform of party unity and socialist policy. It can be demoralising to see some in our party directly sabotage our electoral chances for factional gain. But we must turn that frustration into resolution. We’re the ones offering hope for the future and a path to electoral victory. Let’s make sure our voices are heard at the Regional Conference.