Which key rule changes are being sent to Labour conference 2021?

Labour Party conference 2021 is fast approaching. Members will gather in Brighton between September 25th and 29th for the annual meeting, the first physical one since Keir Starmer became leader.

Each local party, affiliated trade union and socialist society can make one submission to conference – either a policy motion or a rule change. Factional groups have preferred submissions, which they encourage members to send in.

Our round-up of key policy motions backed by internal groups, and therefore more likely to make it to the conference floor, can be found here. This article is our equivalent summary for constitutional amendments (also known as rule changes).


Labour to Win

Labour to Win, the umbrella group bringing together Labour First and Progressive Britain (previously Progress), has not circulated any endorsed rule changes so far, but the organisation is expected to support any put forward by the party leadership.

This will include the rule changes legally mandated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission after its investigation into Labour antisemitism – in particular the new internal complaints process first revealed by LabourList.

Although the deadline for submitting rule changes has passed, Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) can always put through proposals at the last minute, as it did in 2019 with Jon Lansman’s abolition of Labour Students.

This year, the Labour leadership may want to change the rules for leadership elections and/or the trigger ballot process for sitting MPs, as both of these were changed during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party.

In 2018, party rules were changed to allow members in a Labour-held seat to trigger a full selection process – rather than automatically reselect the sitting MP – when one third of either party branches or affiliate branches vote in favour of it.

Corbyn’s Labour also set a new threshold for leadership candidates to get on the ballot, which means those seeking to run now need – as shown in the 2019 race – 10% of MPs plus 5% of CLPs or 5% of affiliated trade union members to nominate them.

To limit the threat of deselection and to prevent a Corbynite MP emerging as a candidate in a future leadership election, some supporters of Keir Starmer will want to reverse these changes. The leadership may also have new rule change ideas.


Open Labour

LabourList understands that the campaigning focus of soft-left group Open Labour is on policy and building the next Labour manifesto, rather than rule changes.

Since its creation, however, OL has called for the single transferable vote system to be used for Labour’s internal elections. The group will support Momentum’s proposal to extend STV to more sections of Labour’s NEC, rather than only the local party representatives.


Momentum

Left-wing group Momentum has put forward seven rule changes this year. LabourList understands that, in addition to these proposals, the group will be in discussion with other organisations across the party and the labour movement to consider supporting further rule changes over the coming weeks.

1. “Ensuring a member’s say in all parliamentary selections”

This amendment would make changes to the selection of parliamentary candidates when there is not time for a normal process, requiring a five-person panel to undertake shortlisting. The panel would comprise: three representatives from the constituency party, appointed by the local executive committee; one representative from the regional executive committee, appointed by the chair and vice-chairs of the REC; one Labour NEC member.

The rule change would set a minimum of one week between shortlisting and voting. It specifies that, where there is not enough time for a hustings and vote among local members, the selection should be made by the executive committee of the constituency party from a shortlist approved by the panel.

2. “Democratising the election of the general secretary”

Labour’s rulebook currently states: “The general secretary shall be elected by party conference on the recommendation of the NEC.” This means in practice that the NEC elects the general secretary and the appointment is then rubber-stamped by the next conference. This proposed change would see the general secretary elected by members instead.

Under the proposal, the general secretary would serve for a term of up to five years, at the discretion of the NEC. Eight candidates would be selected for interview through a single transferable vote (STV) ballot of NEC members. After the interview, the NEC would vote again to select four candidates to be put to a one-member-one-vote ballot of Labour members.

At least 50% of candidates advanced at each stage would need to be women. The first election would take place within three years and ten months of the rule change being agreed, unless a vacancy arises before then, and in the event of a vacancy the NEC would have the power to appoint someone on a temporary basis until an election takes place.

3. “Spending limits on leadership elections”

Momentum is seeking to reduce the spending limit available to candidates in leadership elections. It would set a cap of 50p per Labour member and 25p for each affiliated or registered supporter for each validly nominated candidate. At the last leadership election, a cap on all cash expenditure, resources and donations in kind was set at £1 per member and 50p per affiliated or registered supporter.

Hustings, volunteer costs, travel, and office space, staffing and infrastructure costs would be exempt. Any expense over £2,000 incurred in support of a candidate by a third party would count towards the limit. Candidates would also be prohibited from sending printed materials to Labour members.

4. “Democratic funding for the Labour Party”

This change would introduce a maximum limit on donations to Labour from any one individual or company, of £5,000 per year, with the aim of limiting “the role of big, undemocratic money” in the party.

5. “Parity of voting systems for the national executive committee”

Under this change, all elections for Labour’s NEC, apart from those involving affiliated organisations, would be held using a single transferable vote system. This amendment comes in the wake of the NEC decision last year º  to introduce STV for electing the local party representatives to the body.

6. “Abolishing shadow cabinet positions on the national executive committee”

Three frontbenchers currently sit on Labour’s NEC, in addition to the Labour leader, deputy and chair, plus three backbenchers. Momentum says this is an “overrepresentation” of MPs on the body. This rule change would remove the three frontbench positions.

7. “Subject of motions to party conference”

The Labour Party rulebook does not rule out motions concerning organisational matters, but in the past they have not been allowed as part of the conference agenda, instead being referred to Labour’s NEC.

This amendment would specify that affiliated organisations, the Association of Labour Councillors, Young Labour and CLPs can each submit one motion to conference “on policy, campaigning, party organisation or finance”.


Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

Left-wing group Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) has put forward 13 rule changes that it hopes conference will consider this year.

Its priority is a rule change on the “accountability” of the Parliamentary Labour Party to members. It would require the PLP and chief whip to report to conference, including on disciplinary actions taken against MPs, with conference empowered to confirm or reject any decisions.

While critics have warned that the rule change would be problematic in relation to cases concerning sexual assault and other sensitive allegations, CLPD has argued that the new conference power would be limited, allowing conference to confirm or void only the suspension of a parliamentarian from the PLP, rather than having any influence on normal disciplinary cases.

The CLPD proposal comes amid the ongoing suspension of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn, who is currently a Labour member but sitting as an independent MP. The former leader was suspended from the party over his comments on the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into Labour antisemitism. He was later reinstated as a member but the PLP whip was not restored.

A CLPD spokesperson told LabourList that its other major organisational focus will be the NEC recommendation to endorse David Evans as general secretary, saying: “We’re encouraging delegates to oppose on the basis that Labour needs a general secretary who will prioritise uniting the party around an alternative agenda to the Tories, not one who prioritises factional attacks on party members, which we believe has unfortunately been Evan’s primary focus.”

1. “The PLP should be fully accountable to Labour Party conference”

If passed, this rule change would require the Parliamentary Labour Party to provide a written report to conference and for the chief whip to detail “any, or all, disciplinary action taken, or ongoing, in relation to any MPs who were elected to parliament as Labour MPs”.

Labour conference would be given the power to confirm or void “any decision taken to suspend, or expel” an MP from the PLP. Any proposal to review disciplinary action regarding an MP supported by at least 30 delegates, put to conference in advance or from the floor, would receive priority consideration and be determined by a card vote.

The change would also require the PLP to make a verbal report to conference this year on its activity during the previous year with conference delegates again able to confirm or void any decisions taken to suspend or expel any Labour MP.

2. “Calls for card votes from annual conference delegates should not ignored”

The Labour Party rulebook states: “Voting at party conference on resolutions, reports, amendments, proposals and references back shall be by show of hands or, when the conditions laid down by the CAC require it, by card.”

Card votes are used when conference votes are close or if someone requests one and the chair agrees. Each local party and union casts the exact number of votes for the members they represent, and these are then weighted so each represent half.

CLPD argues that votes on policy motions by a show of hands can be unclear as to whether they meet the two-thirds majority required to be included in Labour’s programme, and criticises that the decision to hold a card vote is “in the hands of the [conference arrangements committee] or the conference chair”.

This rule change would set a qualifying quota of 30 delegates to invoke a card vote and the chair would have to call a card vote “where it is unclear if a policy motion has achieved the necessary majority required”.

3. “CLPs and affiliates should be allowed to submit a motion and a constitutional amendment to party conference”

CLPs and affiliates are allowed to submit either a policy motion to conference or a constitutional amendment (see our round-up of key policy motions). This rule change would mean that they can submit one of each.

4. “CLPs and affiliates should be allowed to submit motions on organisational issues to party conference”

This rule change would (like the one from Momentum, seven, above) specifically allow for local parties and affiliates to submit motions “on a matter of either policy, campaigning, party organisation or finance”.

5. “Popular rule change proposals should not have to wait three years to be discussed at conference”

The Labour Party rulebook currently provides that once conference has made a decision on a constitutional amendment, no motion with “the same or a similar primary objective” can be submitted at the following three conferences unless the NEC decides that it is “of immediate importance”.

This rule change would effectively remove the ‘three-year rule’ by allowing rule changes to be discussed in the year that they are submitted if they have support from at least five local parties or affiliates.

6. “Removing the three frontbench members of parliament would make the NEC more democratic”

This motion is the same as Momentum’s (see Momentum, six, above), removing the three frontbenchers from the party’s governing body. CLPD says this would reduce the “overrepresentation” of the PLP on Labour’s ruling body.

7. “The parliamentary by-election selection process should involve CLPs”

This rule change proposes creating a panel, including local party representatives, to undertake shortlisting in the event of a by-election, snap election or any situation where there is insufficient time for the usual local selection process.

The amendment is similar to Momentum’s (one, above), but puts forward a proposal for seven rather than five members on the panel. It would be comprise: the chair and secretary of the CLP; two representatives from the regional executive committee appointed by the REC chair and vice-chair; three NEC members.

8. “Full involvement by party branches and branches of affiliated organisations in the selection of Westminster candidates”

This would amend Chapter 5 of the Labour rulebook on the selection of Westminster parliamentary candidates, so that the guidelines “include provision for party branches and branches of affiliated organisations to both interview prospective candidates and make nominations to the long list”.

CLPD says all party members and affiliated members should be involved in the process to select their candidate for MP, but in recent years this has not happened, and it calls for the party to give the grassroots a “greater role”.

9. “Full selection for councillors”

This would insert a new sub-clause into the rules on councillor selections, stating that “Labour’s selections to local government candidacies shall not privilege incumbents”. This rule change aims to stop the reintroduction of the confirmatory ballot process for sitting councillors, used from 2016 and removed in 2019, which meant incumbents did not have to go through a full selection process.

10. “The NEC must decide on the powers to be granted to the general secretary, and conference take the final decision”

This rule change would mean the NEC adopting a “clear and precise scheme” of the powers it intends to delegate to the general secretary, ahead of conference, and would give conference the power to either agree the plan or ‘refer it back’ (i.e. asked for it to be reviewed).

The proposal comes in the wake of Labour’s general secretary telling local parties that they should not, for example, “question the competence” of the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into Labour antisemitism or discuss disciplinary cases.

11. “To establish the position of a Labour Party ombudsperson”

This rule change would create a Labour Party ombudsman, appointed by the NEC and ratified by conference, to deal with complaints alleging a breach of party rules and any other complaints the NEC decides should be referred to the ombudsman.

The ombudsman would be a Labour member and serve for a non-renewable fixed term of between five and ten years as agreed by the NEC. CLPD says creating the role would “give the whole party confidence and reassurance in relation to our, often very complex, rules and procedures”.

12. “Members’ rights and the European Convention on Human Rights”

The ECHR, encompassing rights including the right to a fair trial, right of effective remedy, freedom of expression and thought and right to privacy and family life, does not apply automatically to Labour rules as the party is not a public body. This amendment would mean that they do, in a change that CLPD says would strengthen members’ rights.

13. “Spending limits on leadership elections”

As with Momentum’s proposed rule change (see Momentum, three, above), this would set a cap of 50p per Labour member and 25p for each affiliated or registered supporter for each validly nominated candidate.

Hustings, volunteer costs, travel and office space, staffing and infrastructure costs would be exempt and any expense over the amount of £2,000 incurred in support of a candidate by a third party would count towards the limit. Candidates would also be prohibited from sending printed materials to Labour members with the exception of those not contactable by email.

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