Conference should be setting an alternative agenda


“Delegates will need to be on their guard and ready to make a fuss if they witness rules being broken.”

Rachel Garnham, CLPD

Rachel Garnham, Co-chair, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, previews Labour Conference

This year’s Labour Party Conference looks to be the most difficult for the left in well over a decade. With Labour’s comfortable poll lead as a result of Tory collapse and economic mismanagement, and a general election in the next 18 months, there will be strong pressure not to rock the boat. And the constant ignoring of the rulebook, due process and natural justice, and the many broken pledges and continuing austerity economic agenda, means thousands of left members are now outside the Party or not willing or able to attend Conference.

Nevertheless, there are multiple areas where the left, trade unions and mainstream Labour opinion needs to make their voices heard.

First on policy, the Labour leadership has lurched so far to the right that it has left a gaping hole where popular opinion and public need sits. The leadership’s economic agenda, which will not significantly increase funding to crumbling public services that so desperately need it, such as the education system, the NHS and local government, is not one that appeals to voters as we saw in 2015. Labour is seemingly keen to avoid ANY funding commitments – other than on defence – and yet is quick to rule out sensible revenue raising measures that would reduce inequality, such as equalising capital gains tax with income tax – a policy so radical it was advocated by Nigel Lawson. Wealth taxes are popular and essential to rebuilding public infrastructure. Like Liz Truss, Reeves advocates a ‘growth’ solution but without a coherent economic narrative as to where that growth comes from. Conference should be supporting motions that set out an alternative popular agenda for government that advocates rebuilding public services, renationalisation of essential services such as water, rail, Royal Mail and the NHS and promotes investment not cuts. We should also be committing to scrapping the regressive two-child benefits cap, which could lift so many children out of poverty; and to reversing horrendous Tory legislation on immigration, right to protest, Voter ID and so much else where Starmer is being, at best, timid. We can be optimistic that the unions will promote this agenda – which must include proper commitments to new rights at work, pushing back against Leadership efforts to water these down. I hope CLP delegates will join them.

No CLP rule changes will be on the agenda of this year’s Conference after last year’s Conference reintroduced the completely unjustified and unjustifiable ‘one year rule’ which had been scrapped as part of the rule changes arising from the mass engagement of Jeremy Corbyn’s Democracy Review. This means CLPs have to wait a year before submitted rule changes can be heard. Nevertheless the NEC are treating us to an array of right wing factional changes that in many ways show a lack of imagination in simply reversing democratic gains made under Corbyn, rather than reimagining an alternative democracy – this is seemingly beyond the current Leadership’s capabilities, and they would really rather get rid of unions and individual members altogether it seems, troublesome as we are.

The NEC’s rule changes can all be classified as ‘for the few not the many’. CLP Executive Committees will be narrowed to six members, excluding most of those pesky equality officers who might actually speak out and bring the experiences of Britain’s diverse communities. CLP Vice Chairs are merged – which seems out of touch with what those roles actually entail when done properly. The rule to make it easier to democratically switch between a delegate or all-member structure introduced, again, as part of the Democracy Review will be undone. It all smacks of the misnamed Labour to Win faction’s efforts to get everything controlled by a small number of mainly white men because they’re incapable of actually engaging with diverse communities or winning the political argument for the Tory-lite policy agenda they promote. Most alarmingly, rules around supporting other ‘individuals’ (not even specified as candidates) are tightened up and the NEC gets to not only define what it means by ‘support’, it then gets to rule on whether those accused meet that definition. Essentially, as now for proscribed organisations, if a small handpicked NEC panel decide something is ‘support’, even if it doesn’t meet any usual definition of support, they can exclude someone without any nod to natural justice. All these NEC rule changes should be opposed.

There are important elections taking place at Conference – for the Conference Arrangements Committee and National Constitutional Committee. Delegates are urged to vote for candidates supported by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance who will stand up for grassroots members and for due process. If the experience of recent years is anything to go by, the right of the Party is likely to pull out all the stops, fair means or foul, to ensure their candidates are elected. But the left has a much stronger set of candidates and we should also pull out all the stops to encourage delegates to vote for them.

Finally, with Starmer and Evans at the helm, we have seen antipathy towards members and unions, and towards democratic process, plumb new depths. Delegates will need to be on their guard and ready to make a fuss if they witness rules being broken – such as putting leaflets on the seats in the Conference Hall or worse. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy will be producing Yellow Pages on a daily basis advising delegates on what’s coming up – please do get in touch with if you want to report on untoward conference happenings or visit for more information. 

  • Join 3 CLPD events this week – CLPD Women’s Conference fringe meeting, Friday 6 October, 5-6pm // CLPD rally, Saturday 7 October, 6.30pm // CLPD Conference assessment, Tuesday 10 October, 6.30pm. All at Quaker Meeting House, 22 School Lane, Liverpool L1 3BT.
  • Rachel Garnham is the Co-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), you can follow her on twitter here. You can follow the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy on Facebook and twitter.
Featured image: Keir Starmer at Labour Party Conference. Photo credit: Red Green Labour

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