Exclusive: New party rule changes criticised as “bureaucratic power grab”

Sienna Rodgers
©️ Jakub Junek/Shutterstock.com

LabourList can exclusively reveal the rule changes being sent for review by Labour’s ruling body on Friday before going to party conference – some of which have been labelled a “bureaucratic power grab” by left-wing group Momentum.

Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) will be asked at its next meeting later this week to approve constitutional amendments – known as rule changes – including compulsory training for any member standing for selection.

The rule changes proposed by the party, seen in full by LabourList, include the statement: “Members must meet all relevant qualifications for the role, including undertaking any course of training that the NEC may prescribe”.

It also allows waivers to the one-year membership requirement “to be delegated as the NEC sees fit”, which suggests Labour wants to welcome more candidates like Kim Leadbeater – who had not been a party member for a year when selected.

Some on the Labour left have expressed concern about a potential “professionalisation” of candidates, which could see more selected from outside the movement who have limited connections to the unions and membership.

Another new rule change would see a “probationary period of provisional membership” formally introduced, during which time an application for members can be “rejected for any reason which the general secretary sees fit”.

Sources critical of the leadership have slammed the reform, saying it looks like a mechanism to prevent those who left under Starmer from rejoining. Others have said provisional membership already exists and this move is only codifying it.

The rule changes also include giving Labour’s NEC the power to “consider any conduct” by Labour representatives and candidates that does not comply with party guidance as “prejudicial and grossly detrimental”.

Commenting on the range of rule changes that will be voted on by Labour’s NEC on Friday, a Momentum spokesperson said: “If these reports are correct then this amounts to a bureaucratic power grab.

“David Evans simply cannot be trusted with greater power. He has shown himself incapable of acting fairly and he has used what power he does have to conduct a wide-ranging anti-democratic crackdown of grassroots members.

“The clique at the top at the party seem more interested in faction fighting than in winning the votes of working people with transformative policy. Conference must reject these anti-democratic rule changes and focus on a vision for getting into government.”

Responding to the Momentum criticism, Luke Akehurst, NEC member and co-director of pro-Starmer group Labour to Win, said: “I’m puzzled by the attitudes that might have led to Momentum finding uncontentious rule changes like this problematic.

“It’s obvious that any political party needs to have the right to reject membership applications from people who do not share its values, e.g. racists, to insist that people who run for public office are properly trained, and to take action if people who hold office as Labour MPs or councillors do something that is grossly detrimental to the party.”

In light of recent litigation that has damaged Labour’s financial situation, the party is also seeking to protect itself by specifying in its rulebook that any member who “instigates, brings, lodges, issues or funds” legal action that is partly or wholly unsuccessful must reimburse Labour for costs incurred.

In a separate bid to discourage legal action, members will also need to go through a form of mandatory alternative dispute resolution by the Labour NEC before issuing some types of legal proceedings against the party.

Other changes implement the rules legally mandated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, such as ensuring that:

  • Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) will not hear disciplinary cases involving protected characteristics after the end of 2021;
  • An independent review board (IRB) of lawyers is introduced to review disciplinary decisions involving protected characteristics;
  • An independent complaints board (ICB) is introduced to adjudicate cases involving protected characteristics, made up of four lawyers, four Human Resources or other regulatory expert professionals and four members who have been in the party for at least five consecutive years. These board members will be picked by a ‘standing recruitment committee’, the members of which will in turn be picked by the general secretary.

The ‘Charter of Members Rights’ section of the rulebook will become the ‘Charter of Members Rights and Responsibilities’. This is among other changes, such as:

  • The cut-off date for those eligible to vote in internal elections will be no more than eight weeks before ballot opens;
  • Constituency Labour Parties will need the permission of the NEC affiliate with organisations;
  • The priorities ballot may be held before Labour conference;
  • The new local party post of ‘political education and training officer’ will be introduced.

The NEC will consider 83 pages of rule changes on Friday – some substantive, others part of a ‘tidying up’ exercise such as removing references to MEPs. The NEC is expected to consider further rule changes just before conference starts next weekend.

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