A Reminder: Rule Changes Matter More Than You Might Think


“The policies we discuss and agree at our branches and CLPs, and eventually at Annual Conference, count for nothing without a democratic Party whose members have a real say in our manifesto commitments.”

Dave Beadle, Enfield Southgate CLP

From branch discussions through to manifesto promises

Fighting austerity and the cost of living crisis, defending the NHS and other public services, supporting workers in struggle, standing up to racism and prejudice, addressing the Climate Emergency, and solidarity with comrades internationally… motions on these and other policy issues can appear more interesting and can seem more important than the rule change proposals discussed at Labour Party Annual Conferences or recommendations on procedural strategies. However, the Rule Book and changes to it can have a far greater impact than the individual policy motions Conference discusses.

The policies we discuss and agree at our branches and CLPs, and eventually at Annual Conference, count for nothing without a democratic Party whose members have a real say in our manifesto commitments and whose MPs and leadership fight for what we’ve agreed.

Unfortunately, the Party currently has a leadership and PLP that is unwilling to respect Party democracy. So unless you’re happy remaining no more than a foot soldier at election time with no say in the policies the Party champions, the Party’s rules need to be changed. Which is why rule change proposals are so important. As are the strategies by which we can make things happen.

What, where, when, how, and who

Which policy issues are discussed matters, as does where, when, and how that happens. All of which depend on the rules for our branches and CLPs, Labour Groups, regional discussion groups and the National Policy Forum, and Conference itself. And guidance from CLPD and other campaigning alliances can be crucial in compositing and winning the priorities ballots.

Who decides what gets discussed matters, whether they’re our Executive Committees, the National Executive Committee, or the Conference Arrangements Committee. And who represents us and fights for our agreed policies also matters, whether they’re our delegates, local councillors, MPs, MSPs, MSs, or the Party’s leadership. The Rule Book determines how we elect them and how they should act, as well as how the process should be overseen by the staff we pay for. Meanwhile, slates like those of the CLGA determine who’s elected to such positions.

And let’s not forget the checks and balances by which we can hold our representatives and employees to account, and by which we can defend ourselves against unfair accusations. The rules which enable these are crucial, as are the changes we need to ensure justice.

It’s not even a question of left vs right (or ’Marxist hard left’ vs ‘moderates and modernisers’): many of us have had perfectly good working relationships for many years with comrades we disagree with on a range of policy issues, at the same time as we make our CLPs a welcoming place for all, whether we’re sharing a drink down the pub, attending picket lines, or door-knocking in all weathers to fight the Tories.

A democratic say for members

No, this is about political gangsters and sleepers and carpetbaggers who trample the Rule Book and Party democracy for their own ends and those of the establishment – before collecting their rewards as peers, knights of the realm, TV presenters, executive directors, grace-and-favour appointees in public sector organisations, or from JP Morgan-funded lecture tours.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) has been fighting to give rank-and-file Labour Party members a democratic say in how our party is run and what our policies should be since 1973. The Rule Book matters, as do the strategies by which we ensure our policies reflect our socialist values, and how we elect the representatives who will fight for them.

  • Originally published in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s Campaign Briefing 2022. Further information is available here.
Featured Image: Conference hall at the Labour Party Conference 2016. Wikicommons

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