Not quite caught up

Submitted by AWL on 29 September, 2015 - 5:40 Author: Martin Thomas

This Labour Party conference hasn't quite caught up with the Corbyn earthquake.

To a campaigner outside the conference entrance, selling papers, leafleting, lobbying, and so on, this 2015 Labour conference looks surprisingly undifferent from others since 2010.

2007 was perhaps the low point. Standing outside the conference, I could see almost no young person going in who wasn't sharp-suited, bland-faced, with all the insignia of a careerist.

Since 2010 it's become different. Socialist papers sell pretty well at the conference entrance, left-wing leaflets are welcomed. Surprisingly, there are no more paper sellers in 2015 than in other recent years: at some important times, Solidarity was the only left-wing newspaper on sale there.

That the conference does not yet reflect the dramatic change in the Labour Party is no surprise. The delegates were elected, and the observers booked their places, before the Corbyn earthquake.

Still, at the very start of conference, an attempt to overturn the exclusion from debate of several proposals for democratic rule-changes by Conference Arrangements Committee was defeated only 44-56.

The narrowness of the margin is without recent precedent. Since CAC does not publish the text of motions or rule changes which it declares out of order, since they have to be challenged right at the start of conference when many new delegates have no idea what's what, and since the unions habitually vote with the platform on procedural matters, it is very difficult to win a challenge.

The Constituency Labour Party have been able to choose four subject-areas for debate. After Blair changed all the rules drastically in 1997, and until 2003, only four subject-areas chosen by the unions — in practice, by the biggest unions — were debated.

In 2003 the unions secured a change, against Blairite resistance, so that: "At least the four priorities selected by CLPs will be time-tabled for debate, as will at least the first four priorities selected by Trade Unions and other affiliated organisations". But the conference managers then interpreted this so that if CLPs selected some areas already chosen by the unions, those selections were "wasted": most years the CLPs got only one or two areas of their own.

This year, the CLPs got their full four: refugees, housing, NHS, and mental health. The union-prioritised areas were Europe, rail, austerity, and the Trade Union Bill.

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