Exclusive: Labour NEC member talks about ‘silent coup’ attempt

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the second attempted coup by right-wing Labour functionaries, through an orchestrated and concerted attempt to force through rule-changes at the party’s annual conference that would allow them to stack the National Executive Committee (NEC) with anti-Corbyn members, just before the NEC reconvened with a Corbyn-supporting majority, after all 6 ‘CLP’ positions on the committee were taken by left-wing candidates supported by the CLGA (Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance).

Since writing that article, a number of people have asked which Labour rules were broken in the anti-democratic action at the Conference, since it mentions NEC member Christine Shawcroft speaking from the podium to remind the Conference Chair Paddy Lillis that the rules mandate a properly-counted ‘card vote’ if a delegate asks for one.

So I thought it might be helpful to lay out exactly how the rules were broken and sought out an NEC member, who agreed to talk about the issue on condition of anonymity. It’s a discussion of rules and procedures, so may look a bit dry, but it’s absolutely crucial to showing how low the Labour right will stoop to try to seize back control of the party, so I hope you’ll bear with it.

It was a short but hopefully illuminating discussion. Here it is – S is the SKWAWKBOX and N is the NEC member:

S: The debate about the vote on the NEC rule-change package extended across 3 mornings, starting on the first day of the Conference, and became especially heated on the morning (Tuesday 27/9/16) of the vote. A number of delegates stood to remind the Conference and the Chair that the packaging together of an anti-democratic rule change (allowing extra members to simply be appointed to the NEC) along with good changes that unions etc had been campaigning for was against democratic principles – basically a ‘dodge’ to get it passed. One of your colleagues on the NEC even stood to remind the Chair that the rules state that if a card vote is requested, there must be a card vote. But some readers have said they can’t find anything in the rules that says that. Can you enlighten us?

N: The Labour party rulebook, in the ‘Procedures for Party Conference’ section, part 3A, states this:

“Voting at party conference on resolutions, reports, amendments, proposals and references back shall be by show of hands or, when the conditions laid down by the CAC require it, by card.”

The CAC (Conference Arrangements Committee) delegates report (number 1 that was presented on Sunday morning) clearly stared that voting is by show of hands UNLESS delegates request a card vote. The rules say the CAC will decide before Conference what the procedures will be – and the CAC agreed that a card vote would take place if requested.

S: Is this normal procedure?

N: Absolutely! In the past, a call for a card vote was always treated as a procedural motion, similar to moving next business, or whatever. In other words, if a card vote was called, it was taken.

S: So this is definitely a break with normal practice as well as contravening the rules?

N: Definitely. Recently, they started saying that a card vote would only be taken if the mover specifically asked for one – but Manuel [Cortes, head of the TSSA union] certainly did – twice, in fact. So it’s certainly custom and practice, and part of the CAC regulations, that card votes should be taken.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, protests anti-democratic moves at Labour Conference 2016

S: Paddy Lillis, who was Chairing both the Sunday and Tuesday morning sessions, ignored not only Manuel, who moved the card vote, but also a number of delegates who got up to demand that the rules be followed – and Christine when she stood to point out that the rules are not conditional, so if a card vote was requested, it must happen. What do you make of that?

N: I think it’s especially interesting that Paddy cited lack of time as his main reason, when he had allowed a whole stream of right-wing delegates to come to the rostrum and argue against the Reference Back [giving delegates a card-vote].

That has never, ever been allowed before. You could easily have held a card vote in the time taken up, so it’s pretty plain that there was another agenda for ignoring the rules and denying a card vote that had nothing to do with the reasons stated publicly.

S: The effect of the rule change that delegates were angry about was to hamper Corbyn’s leadership by stacking the NEC with unelected members who would vote against him – in other words, a ‘silent coup’ attempt. Do you think that was the real reason the Chair and those backing him were so determined to dismiss the request for a properly-counted vote?

N: I think you’d have to say that the facts support that view.

S: I think you’re right. Thank you for your time – and thank goodness that Corbyn was able to outmanoeuvre the coup-plotters this week to nullify their plan.


  1. The whole saga stinks to high heaven and “allowing extra members to simply be appointed to the NEC” rule should be thrown out on the next NEC meeting. Although Corbyn gained an extra 1 supporter on the NEC we also lost 2 because of the dodgy rule change.

  2. The rules were passed by 80% with CLP’s voting by 68% and TUs by 92% for the change. Hard to see that shifting by 30% simply because the votes were taken in a different way unless people are actually saying CLP and TU delegates at conference are pretty stupid, which I am sure we would agree they are not

    If they had been taken in parts and Unite had not abstained CLP’s would have voted at least 58% (based on lowest possible right vote) and TU’s around 79%, so the best possible vote that could have been achieved was a 68-32% defeat.If you don’t believe me read the data in CAC4 report and the NCC ballot results here and come back with your own estimates of how a 30%+ change would be achieved and which organisations would be switching:  https://members.labour.org.uk/conference-documents

    rather than go on about a vote that is not going to be changed again by conference of the NEC now, here are three much more practical things to do

    1. Ask new NEC members to hold open hearings across regions as to how the Party should operate in future. New members need to have a way to input their views. For example many want to be active ‘nationally’ (in the same way I have been a member of Greenpeace and FOE but would not want to be active ‘locally’ for them) and want mechanisms to express that more

    2. Talk to CLPD as to what are priority Rules Changes for next year that have a chance of winning based on the composition of conference (CLP’s and TU’s) and promote those over a long period of time to win the case for them Conference is likely to be around 5% more left next year based on CLP AGM trends so far. This would mean many would still lose some (understanding this means you don’t get stuck into ongoing ‘foul play’ narratives when you know you just don’t have the votes), but you then know what you might just possibly win

    3. Understand who all the NEC members are and work out effective ways to lobby them to put pressure on them before NEC meetings. I estimate the NEC is 14-9-12 after the Ashworth change (always on the cards and no different to a Welsh or Scottish appointment change nowadays), not 18-17 and no one has come up with a list that disputes me yet. Thus lobbying NEC members to put pressure on them is actually more important at the moment

    Hope those practical suggestions are helpful

    1. We’ve had that conversation before, Charlie – my issue isn’t whether they could have carried the vote. Given that by their own admission they’d worked for months to stack the delegate count in their favour, they might well have – although the unions might also have moved to kill that specific rule in isolation if they’d been allowed chance. The percentages were certainly inflated in the ‘fot’ column by the fact that they didn’t want to kill a package of rules containing many they really wanted.

      My issue is with the breach of the democratic process. The right-wing certainly wasn’t completely confident they could win a line-by-line vote, or else they wouldn’t have ignored rules and procedure to prevent one.

      By doing what they did, they overreached and left themselves open to challenge, regardless what the % in a fair vote might have been.

      Love your suggestions, though.

  3. This is exactly what is required by Corbyn supporters, don’t waste time name calling and moaning. Become smarter and better at things than our opponents.

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