What are the key rule changes proposed at Labour party conference?
And what are the arguments for and against?
This year’s party conference is expected to include several key debates between the party’s factions—some of which could shape the future of Labour for years to come. Here are four of the most important.
The threshold for leadership elections
The so-called “McDonnell Amendment” (a name which originated with the right, but has been adopted by some on the left, who don’t necessarily see naming it after a long-time leftie MP a problem) sets out to reduce the nomination threshold required to secure an MP a place on any future leadership ballot.
Currently, each MP has to gain the support of 15 per cent of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) and European Parliamentary Labour Party to get a place on the ballot. In 2015, Jeremy Corbyn met this threshold after being lent votes by MPs from other factions, who wanted to provide the left with a place on the ballot. Left-wing activists argue that they are unlikely to do so again after Corbyn unexpectedly won the leadership. They’re advocating a reduction in the threshold to 5 per cent.
The most high-profile rule change proposed this year, the amendment is supported by left-wing Momentum and opposed by centre-left Progress and Labour First. The former argue that the PLP currently has an undemocratic veto on candidates, with the party’s moderate MPs effectively able to block their left-wing colleagues from the ballot (preventing, crucially, any continuity candidate should Corbyn wish to step down). The latter argue that the PLP deserves to have a say in who leads them. With the NEC supporting a compromise threshold of 10 per cent, not 5, following a sustained campaign from the party’s right, expect this to be one of the key issues this conference.
Removing the wait for rule changes
Currently, rule changes submitted by constituency labour parties or CLPs are debated at conference the year after they are proposed. Supporters say that this provides stability, preventing factions pushing through changes opportunistically. It also gives the party’s National Executive Committee time to consider changes before they are voted on—particularly with regards to any legal questions.
For the left, however, the measure unacceptably slows the pace of change. They argue that the NEC has enough time to consider rule changes in the summer months to consider proposals, and that Labour needs urgent democratic reform which will allow conference to respond swiftly to the fast-changing state of UK politics.
Women’s conference and Young Labour
Two other proposed amendments seek to increase the powers of Women’s Conference and of Young Labour. The former would allow the party’s women conference, which meets on the Saturday before conference, to submit two motions to the main conference, giving it the power to create policy.
The latter would give Young Labour its own constitution and standing orders determined by a Young Labour AGM. This would, according to the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, “increase its autonomy and stop the organisation being beholden to Labour Party staff’s interpretation of the rulebook,” subsequently “making a youth organisation that can be really attractive to young people,” in line with “the democratic spirit that we want in your youth movement.” Cynics might recall the popular maxim that we become more right-wing as we age…
Changes to voting eligibility
This amendment would change who is eligible to vote on the make-up of national committees and on the election of regional officers. Currently, affiliated supporters and registered supporters are allowed to vote; this amendment would narrow eligibility to only “fully paid Labour members.”
The motion is contentious as it sets out to limit the voting power of affiliated unions. Supporters say that this is appropriate, making sure that Labour membership remains meaningful and that union members cannot buy a vote for only £10 (compared to the £48 a year that members pay). Momentum argues that trade unions allow the working class access to Labour, and that maintaining a broad base is important, engaging more and more people with Labour. Either way, we can be sure that the debates will be lively.
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