A hard-left takeover of conference would change more than the odd policy, argues Luke Akehurst
This year Labour party members do not get balloted for the National Executive Committee but they will vote in a national one member one vote ballot for another very important national committee – the Conference Arrangements Committee. Nominations for the aforementioned CAC can be made alongside those for the National Constitutional Committee.
The NCC – elected by conference delegates – deals primarily with Labour Party disciplinary matters. It was created by Neil Kinnock in a response to entryism by the Militant Tendency and other Trotskyist groups into the Labour party during the 1980s. It has, unfortunately, become an increasingly important committee in recent years comprising of six members from trade unions, four from constituency Labour parties and one from socialist societies. This year, the sitting NCC chair Rose Burley and former NCC member Kevin are standing for re-election.
The CAC, however, has just seven members. Five of them are elected by the whole of annual conference by card vote, which in practice means these five seats are always won by a consortium of the major trade unions. At the moment Unite has two of the five seats, GMB, Unison and Usdaw the other three. The other two seats are CLP representatives elected only by individual party members.
In 2015, when these two CLP seats were last elected they somewhat surprisingly delivered thumping victories for two moderates, despite the ballot being held at the same time as the leadership election in which Jeremy Corbyn was first elected. Former member of the European parliament and NEC chair Michael Cashman got 100,484 votes and member of parliament Gloria De Piero got 109,888. They beat Momentum founder Jon Lansman (37,270) and former MP and now political secretary to the Labour leader Katy Clark (80,193). Independent candidate Harry Taylor got 33,077 votes.
This means that there is currently a 5-2 moderate majority on the committee but if Momentum’s candidates this time, Tottenham CLP secretary Seema Chandwani and former Communication Workers’ union general secretary Billy Hayes, unseat Cashman and De Piero the committee tips to a 4-3 majority for the left.
This matters because the CAC decides what gets debated at annual conference – and, importantly – how it gets debated.
In a crunch meeting on the Monday before each conference they have to look at every contemporary policy motion that has been submitted by a CLP or affiliate and decide which ones are genuinely contemporary and can go forward to the priority ballot where delegates decide what topics they want to debate.
Labour’s policy making process was designed under Tony Blair’s Partnership into Power system in 1997 to try to avoid the kind of spectacular clashes between the leadership and the grassroots that had characterised Labour’s history. It aimed to ensure that conference was a showcase rather than a bear pit and to produce policy in a calm, consensual, evidence-based and discursive way through considered submissions to the National Policy Forum, rather than confrontational debate on resolutions, with important issues being decided on the power of a two minute podium oration.
The only old style motions that are supposed to be debated at conference are ones about topics that couldn’t have been considered by the NPF because they are ‘contemporary’ and came up in a narrow window after the policy forum reports are published on 1 August each year.
But that doesn’t stop the hard left trying to debate anything they fancy by playing games with the ‘contemporary’ system where they stick new labels on very old debates. For instance in 2015, motions on unilateral nuclear disarmament nearly reached conference floor despite the fact this is a debate the party has been having since the 1950s, and had resolved at the policy forum in the run up to the 2015 general election.
The CAC is the thin red line stopping Momentum making conference a free‑for‑all where every fantasy politics piece of ‘resolutionary socialism’ gets debated and the proper NPF process gets sidelined.
During conference the CAC also ensures the smooth running of each day and takes key decisions such as last year ensuring all rule changes proposed by the NEC were taken as a bundle, a decision Momentum tried to overturn three times at conference because they wanted individual votes on each rule change. That would have meant conference spending an absurd amount of time voting and could have produced mutually contradictory outcomes rather than a considered, internally consistent package of rule changes.
CLPs can nominate Michael and Gloria at meetings between now and 23 June. Members can vote for them by OMOV later in the summer. Please give them your support.
Luke Akehurst is secretary of Labour First. He tweets at @lukeakehurst
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