Labour Party Regional Conferences were held in November in both London and in Blackpool in the North West and, from thereports, represent a step forward for the left of the party.
Regional Labour Parties remain powerful, with regional directors empowered to oversee selections and regulate other democratic functions of Local Campaign Forums (LCFs) and CLPs. That is why it is important that the bodies elected to hold regional bureaucracies accountable, the Regional Boards, are comprised of left-wing and democratic-minded board members.
At the North West Regional Conference, candidates supported by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Momentum took every seat on the Regional Board and the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), the body charged with overseeing the regional conference. London elects its Board members again next year.
The London Regional Conference was important both in policy terms, and in CLP and union delegates' willingness and ability to counter anti-democratic procedural chicanery from the still right-controlled CAC.
In terms of policy, around 50 motions were submitted, with Housing being by far the most popular. The composite housing motion passed brings London Region in to line with national conference policy, supporting rent controls and long-term tenancies for renters, and binding ballot rights for residents in estates up for regeneration. These policies will pile on the pressure on the already-embattled Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), which increasingly looks out of step with the drift of Labour Party policy locally, regionally and nationally.
Regional Board Youth representative James McAsh reports, for CLPD, that the conference was in a bolshy mood: it was clear that members no longer accept being told what to do by their 'superiors'. Councillors who tried to defend poor decisions were politely but firmly rebuked, and when the Conference Arrangements Committee tried to deny delegates their right to debate rule changes they were challenged and easily defeated.
As of 2016, the Blair-era proscription on regional rule changes has been reversed, and it was agreed that the London Regional Conference would be annual, with CLPs and affiliates empowered to submit rule changes and motions.
Despite this, the right-controlled CAC attempted this year to prevent rule changes from being heard. This was on the spurious grounds that the Democracy Review led by the National Executive Committee was ongoing, and that any new rule changes would create a conflict. It is wrong to use the Democracy Review to rule out rule changes at Regional Conference just as it had been wrong, following a call from the NEC, to remit the rule changes proposed at the 2017 national conference.
The Democracy Review is, potentially, an opportunity to transform the party but there is a danger it will be controlled from the top-down, and it is already being used to stifle discussion. It should not substitute for a grassroots push for democratisation at all levels of the party.
Rule changes, in the end, were accepted at the London Regional Conference, to head off a potential rebellion from delegates. Two rule changes were proposed and accepted; one, that the CAC be elected by conference delegates and not by the Regional Board and, two, that CLP and Trade Union representatives on the board be increased, with CLP representatives elected by one-member-one-vote (OMOV).
In addition to the business of the London conference, nine workshops were held on policy areas, with delegates being prepared to take a critical approach to the platform speakers (made up primarily of local councillors or Assembly Members). Fringes were organised by liberation groups, affiliates, and campaign organisations such as Momentum.
McAsh reports one important lesson from the Youth fringe: Don't wait for permission from your CLP to organise young people, just do it!