CLPD plans push for democratic conferences

The AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) on 23 February in London approved a plan for a "Charter for a Democratic [Labour Party] Conference".

Noting that at present delegates get only 18% of the conference time for their debates, the charter demands that they should get at least 50%.

It also demands an end to the present array of obstacles to submitting motions or rule-change proposals and getting them debated, and the right for conference to vote on National Policy Forum documents in parts.

The Charter will be discussed further at the next CLPD Executive, on 23 March, but I understand that the perspective is to get a number of unions, and other Labour Party groups, into an alliance behind it.

The AGM also discussed campaigning for democracy in Young Labour, which at present has no constitution of its own but operates under rules in the general Labour Party rulebook which enable Party officials to, for example, change the basis for Young Labour conference at whim. (In 2012, all young members could attend. This year, the conference is open to delegates from Labour Party regions, from trade unions, and from student Labour Clubs - but not delegates from Young Labour groups or CLPs).

Dominic Curran proposed that CLPD should campaign simply for the deletion of the relevant sections in the Labour Party rulebook, and for Young Labour to decide its own constitution. The CLPD Executive will discuss the idea.

The AGM was a bit better attended than in 2012, and membership registrar Andrew Fenyo reported that CLPD membership is increasing modestly.

CLPD secretary Pete Willsman reported that attendance at CLPD fringe meetings at Labour Party conference 2012 had been maybe three times the numbers of a few years ago.

However, sober consideration forces the conclusion that the chance to reshape the Labour Party in opposition, and undo the effects of what Pete Willsman described as almost the abolition of Labour Party conference by the Blairites in their day, is being missed.

We are only a couple of years away from the next general election; but Christine Shawcroft said in her report as a Labour Party National Executive member: "People keep telling me that things are getting better on the NEC with Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol [as general secretary]. I'm still looking for evidence".

Ann Black, also a National Executive member, noted that despite the slight improvement won by CLPD in 2009 in elections for the National Policy Forum, "the National Policy Forum is now irrelevant compared to the Shadow Cabinet and the policy review [run by Jon Cruddas, without reference to any elected structures]".

Christine Shawcroft said that a number of the trade-union delegates on the National Executive now do better than the union members used to when it was routine for them to vote in compliance with the Party leadership against their own unions' policies. However, that has not gone far enough to change outcomes decisively.

The story, in short, is that the union leaderships, under little pressure from union memberships battered by the ignominous defeat of the pensions battle and unconfident about political perspectives, are letting the Miliband leadership coast along.

The AGM voted to press for economic policies in the Labour Party which would include the TUC Congress call for public ownership of the banks, but it will take a lot more work to get the unions to push politically for the policy they voted through their congress.

Jon Ashworth MP, who was a guest speaker, noted a problem with selection of parliamentary candidates which goes beyond the issue of formal democratic rules (though those are still an issue, especially for by-elections),

He mentioned another Labour MP, leftish in terms of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who told him that he had spent £4000 of his own money (on fares, hotels, literature, etc.) to get a parliamentary selections. Ashworth said that it was much easier for people with a background like his own - he worked as a Labour Party backroom boy for the entire time between leaving university in 2001 and becoming an MP in 2011 - to get the time and availability to schmooze selection meetings than it is for people with ordinary jobs.