Exclusive: Members challenge party as conference motion ruled out of order

Elliot Chappell
© DrimaFilm/Shutterstock.com

Labour members in local parties who have had their ‘Only Stand to Win’ campaign motion blocked from being heard at the upcoming Labour Party conference are challenging the decision, LabourList can reveal.

The conference arrangements committee (CAC), which decides the agenda for the annual conference, has told Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) that to hear the motion would be a breach of the Labour rulebook’s ‘three-year rule’.

The motion, if passed by a vote of conference delegates, would effect a rule change allowing CLP members to decide whether or not to stand a candidate at the next general election. A similar motion was heard at the 2018 conference.

According to Labour’s constitution, a motion with “the same or a similar primary objective” cannot be submitted at the following three conferences unless the national executive committee (NEC) decides that it is “of immediate importance”.

Those supportive of the motion have argued that the decision not to hear the motion at the 2022 conference is “spurious” as four years have passed since the motion was heard. The Labour Party did not hold its annual conference in September 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter seen by LabourList, the chairs of High Peak and Scarborough and Whitby CLPs and members of Richmond, Yorkshire, and Colne Vally local parties have requested that the CAC reconsider the motion.

The members wrote that, as an unincorporated association, the party’s relationship with members is “governed by the law of contract” and the test a court would apply is an objective one as to what the “intention of the contracting parties” was.

They argued that the CAC has misinterpreted the rulebook, and that the intention of the express term in the constitution is to “restrict conference from debating rule change proposals for the next three years, or some lesser period where there was to be more than one party conference in any particular year”.

They posited that the cancellation of the 2020 conference was a breach of the rulebook, which states that one should be held each year. The authors acknowledged that this was for “entirely understandable reasons” but said counting 2020 “expands the three-year rule to well beyond what was originally envisaged”.

“It would be unfair for the [NEC]) and CAC to rely on the cancellation of party conference for reasons relating to Covid to stifle and delay important and popular rule change proposals and we would invite the CAC to allow the motion on this basis,” they wrote.

They also said the motion is “of immediate importance” because the leadership of both the Tory Party and Labour Party have changed since it was last considered and the Labour Party is currently selecting its candidates for the next election.

“Should the motion be delayed until the next Labour Party conference, it is likely to be too late as general election candidates will have already been selected in the remaining CLPs where they have not yet been selected, and the motion will thereby have rendered futile,” the authors told the party.

The campaign to encourage local parties to submit the motion for consideration at conference was launched in January this year by Compass supporting Labour members. Writing for LabourList, campaigns and project officer Lena Swedlow highlighted support found among Labour members in recent polling.

She told LabourList today that the organisation ran the campaign to ensure that “as many Labour candidates are winning as possible and as many Tories losing” and said with its decision “the CAC and the Labour machine makes that task harder”.

Compass member and policy officer for High Peak CLP Peter Allen told LabourList: “Last year, High Peak was one of the very many CLPs that submitted the motion in support of proportional representation.

“Members recognised that we would probably need some cooperation with other progressive parties to elect a government which would legislate for proportional representation. The proposed constitutional amendment would be an important contribution to achieving this.”

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

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