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.
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.