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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Lib Dem democracy versus Labour control-freakery

Having spent four days participating in intense debate on key issues at Liberal Democrats conference, including a highly controversial discussion about housing targets in which members asserted their authority over the leadership, it comes as no surprise to find Labour rejecting such democratic participation in favour of its normal control freakery.

The Guardian reports that a series of rule changes by the Labour National Executive Committee has effectively squashed debates sought by local activists at the party’s future annual conferences if the leadership considers that they are not relevant to current policy platforms.

The paper says that the NEC voted to approve rule changes, including one that requires motions for debate to be deemed “contemporary”:

While it is not completely clear what this means in practice, some Labour MPs and internal party groups had feared it could be used to prevent debate on areas beyond the bounds of the national policy forum document, the basis for the manifesto agreed upon earlier this month.

Some had raised concerns it could be used to exclude issues on which the Labour leadership has set out a policy, such as maintaining the two-child benefit limit, or areas like Brexit and electoral reform.

However, the rule will not be in force for the imminent Labour conference taking place in Liverpool this week, meaning such debates can go ahead on this occasion.

A Labour source said the stipulation would be unlikely to be interpreted very strictly at conferences when the policy forum was less detailed, for example just after a general election rather than just before.

Some Labour activists had feared the rule change could have been used this year to rule out motions to debate the party’s stance on Brexit, including calls for Labour to commit to future membership of the EU’s single market.

Another possible area of contention is calls for electoral reform and proportional representation. Last year’s conference overwhelmingly backed a motion calling for PR, an idea ignored by Keir Starmer.

Based on a text submitted by 140 CLPs, it passed after trade unions, which had previously blocked the idea, changed their stance.

The internal campaign group Open Labour criticised the rule change, saying: “A party that can’t listen to its own members at conference seems far too fragile and uncertain for a party leading in the polls.”

Of course, if the successful motion on PR at a previous Labour Conference is any example, the Labour leadership take no notice of whatever their conference passes anyway.
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