Mike Phipps

Campaign for Labour Party Democracy: Changing of the Guard?

Mike Phipps

AS ONE WOULD EXPECT in a year of intense internal discussion about the Labour Party’s democratic structures, the CLPD, now 45 years old, is undergoing something of a revival. Over 100 people attended its AGM, with many more unable to travel in unseasonably bad weather.

The left in the party has made important gains in the last two years. One of our achievements was the election of Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes to the party’s Conference Arrangements Committee. Both drew attention to the way some parts of the party apparatus are still trying to thwart the wishes of the majority of members.

This includes the ruse of telling CLPs that they are entitled to fewer conference delegates than is actually the case.

Concern was raised from the floor about the rapid increase in affiliations to constituency parties from trade unions whose leaderships have not always been the keenest supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. While the union link is a vital feature of the life of the party, there is a worry that 30-odd affiliations from one trade union to a CLP could be a means to thwart the wishes of individual members at some future point.

CLPD’s strategy for the year ahead was passed in the usual manner - little debate and an overwhelming vote. But real excitement was generated by demands to take an emergency motion to set aside the deadline for the nominations of CLPD officers and immediately hold an election for the post of secretary, currently held by Labour NEC member Pete Willsman.

The call came in a leaflet circulated by long-standing party NEC member Christine Shawcroft, which said:

“Helping organise the CLGA [Centre Left Grassroots Alliance] slate for NEC elections is one of the most crucial things we do… The delays in putting together a slate this year are totally unacceptable. It should have been agreed before Xmas, so information could have been sent round CLPs. A draft slate was not opposed by CLPD, yet during February attempts were made to overturn it with biased and incomplete emails around the executive, and threats to take it to the AGM. All in the name of keeping someone on the slate who has consistently voted against us in the last two years, often in ways very damaging to the Leader.”

The subtext here was a frustration with the determination of some officers to keep Ann Black on the CLGA slate, despite her unsupportive voting record on the NEC and widespread opposition in the CLPD executive, and more broadly the CLGA.

With no motivations for or against, the chair went straight to a vote on whether the AGM felt this was an emergency motion that could be taken. After several recounts the AGM voted against doing so by the narrowest of margins, a sign that many present may also have opposed the behaviour highlighted in the leaflet.

There are exciting opportunities for democratising the party ahead. The CLPD could play an exemplary role in building an inclusive movement for change in the party. If some of the old guard can’t see this - well, expect some changes.