Israel-Palestine: Have Labour CLPs been ‘gagged’ from debate or motions?

Tom Belger
Bartolomiej Pietrzyk / Shutterstock

Constituency Labour Parties should be allowed to debate motions on the Israel-Hamas conflict and members to air their views on the issue, according to a Labour spokesman.

A party spokesman told lobby journalists today: “Clearly this is an issue that people have got strong views on, and will want to have a discussion around.”

Asked about a memo sent to local parties, he apologised that he had not seen it but appeared to suggest it may relate to “concerns about the way in which the debate is being had”.

LabourList can reveal a member of one London CLP was recently advised his motion, which backed a ceasefire, would likely be ruled out of order – even though an official suggested it “does not explicitly” breach guidance in itself. “I am concerned that others contributing may [breach the guidance] and it would be difficult to chair,” the official wrote to them.

Evans blocks ‘detrimental’, Islamophobic and antisemitic motions

A memo sent by general secretary David Evans earlier this month, seen by LabourList, said: “I recognise that these tragic events in the Middle East will trigger great emotion and debate. However, I will not let that become a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all its members.

“This includes attempts to table motions at meetings that are prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party and risk infringing the Labour Party’s Codes of Conduct on Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Accordingly, and consistent with previous precedent, any such motions will be ruled out of order.”

Some had read this comment as indicating an effective ban. One Westminster-based reporter said there was a “complaint [CLPs] are being silenced”.

A letter by councillors who resigned from the party to leader Keir Starmer this week urged the party to lift “all restrictions placed on CLPs gagging them from raising motions, debating and discussing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Palestine”.

But Evans’ words could also be read as leaving open space for any motions, as long as they are not “prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party” or at risk of “infringing the Labour Party’s Codes of Conduct on Antisemitism and Islamophobia”.

National executive committee member Luke Akehurst wrote for LabourList earlier this week that Evans’ comments were clear that the party was “not” gagging CLPs per se, only in the circumstances listed.

London motion appeared set to be blocked despite not breaching guidance

Ian Martin, a Cities of London and Westminster CLP member, planned to submit an emergency motion at its all-member meeting on Monday night.

He is a former secretary general of Amnesty International, a former Fabian general secretary and has held multiple senior UN roles.

His motion urged Labour’s leadership to back the UN secretary general’s call for a ceasefire, demand a “complete lifting” of the siege and restrictions on humanitarian access in Gaza, and back an end to the “deliberate displacement” of civilians.

It also claimed air strikes had involved “disproportionate force”, and noted a United Nations human rights chief had said sieges depriving civilians of essential goods was “prohibited under international humanitarian law”. Meanwhile it condemned the “horrific” attack by Hamas, and called for immediate and unconditional release of hostages.

But the motion was never debated. A Labour official in London wrote to him: “Having consulted the guidance from the General Secretary I worry that any discussion of this motion could become a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all its members and risk infringing the Labour Party’s Codes of Conduct on Antisemitism and Islamophobia.

“Accordingly, and consistent with previous precedent, any such motions will be ruled out of order. I know the motion itself does not explicitly do this, I am concerned that others contributing may and it would be difficult to chair.”

Member: ‘Clearly no discussion can take place’

A party source told LabourList the officer’s advice was “in accordance with the guidelines laid out by David Evans”.

They also made clear the officer had issued “advice” but “did not specifically block the motion going ahead, which is clear from the text of the email.”

The comments suggest Evans’ advice means any motion risks being ruled “out of order” if there are concerns it may become a “flashpoint” that undermines the provision of a “safe and welcoming space” – even if the motion itself does not infringe the party’s code of conduct or have a “detrimental” impact on Labour, which was the more narrow example Evans gave.

Whether Labour’s stance amounts to an effective ban or not therefore appears to rest on how the guidance is being interpreted or implemented in local areas.

Martin said he had seen in Gaza himself as a UN official after Operation Cast Lead in 2009 the “physical destruction, the aftermath of civilian deaths and injuries, and the psychological consequences for children”.

He told LabourList that while it had been right for Labour to “condemn utterly” Hamas’ actions, saying Israel had the right to respond in accordance with international law was “meaningless” without criticising “gross violations” too.

He argued the party’s response to his motion “clearly means that no discussion of the most important issue on the world agenda can currently take place in the Labour party”.

Scottish Labour: A ban on all motions?

Meanwhile Scottish Labour appears to have gone further in explicitly saying it will not allow any motions.

Its message to CLP chairs and secretaries in Scotland accompanying a copy of Evans’ guidance, seen by LabourList, reads: “You should be aware of guidance issued by the general secretary of the UK Labour Party over the weekend relating to the current situation in the Middle East.

“For the avoidance of doubt, this guidance completely applies to Scottish CLPs and must be strongly adhered to. We would particularly reference the section on motions and that any motions no matter how well intentioned are out of order and should not be debated at party meetings.”

Several officials in a Glasgow CLP have called it an “attempt to shut down debate”, and resigned their posts.

A Scottish Labour spokesperson  told us Scottish Labour had “repeatedly and unequivocally condemned” Hamas, but there should be “no collective punishment” of the Palestinian people and Labour was “united” in demanding the free flow’ of medicine, food, water and power into Gaza. They did not confirm or deny the ban on motions.

Asked about the resignations at an event, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar then said: ‘The conflict’s bigger than that and anyone that wants to play those kind of games, frankly I’ve got no time for it.”

What are your local party’s or branch’s experiences? Get in touch at [email protected].

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