The SKWAWKBOX has reported on many abuses of democracy by the right of the Labour Party – and has heard of many more than have been reported. Few have matched the sheer scale of the apparent attempts to gerrymander the results of tomorrow’s AGM (annual general meeting) of Lewisham Deptford CLP (constituency Labour party).
The CLP is organised on a branch/delegate basis – ward-based units meet as branches and select delegates to be sent to the ‘GC’, the general committee meeting, where decisions affecting the whole CLP are made.
Branch/delegate structures are common within the Labour Party, but are notoriously easier for a minority right to rig – and local members have grave concerns that this is exactly what’s happening in Lewisham Deptford.
The branch ruses
The left in Lewisham Deptford has organised well last year and 2017 branch AGM results have tended to reflect the left majority in the membership. But the right – still in control of the GC and ‘exec’ until the AGM – appears to be determined to ensure that the same does not happen in at CLP level.
Tricks and abuses so far include:
- members not being informed about meetings
- unequal and retroactive application of gender balance rules to different branches – whichever application would favour right-wing delegates being applied
- tellers not known to the branch members being imposed on a branch
- members who had recently changed address being barred from entering meetings
- wrong results only being prevented by tellers spotting errors in the declarations
- ballots at that branch’s AGM being taken home by two of the tellers for a second count – and then those tellers lodging a complaint about the result when their ‘out of sight’ count favouring the right was not accepted by the branch(!)
- the sudden appearance of ‘affiliates’ with the right to attend and vote at the AGM who have never been formally affiliated via the GC as required
- the CLP exec being prevented from meeting until just before monthly meetings, to prevent exec members having an influence over the meetings
- CLP members being barred from attending the AGM as is their right under the rules
On top of all this, the CLP secretary, with the support of London ‘region’, has informed members of the Brockley branch that – because of the spurious complaint about the vote count mentioned above – their newly-elected delegates will not be allowed to attend the AGM at all.
Instead, Brockley’s defunct 2016 delegates will represent the branch at the AGM – resulting in a massive advantage for the right:
- a drop in the number of delegates from 28 to only 18 people last year – costing the branch more than a third of its representation
- only three left delegates among the eighteen – instead of the twenty-one elected in 2017
- six people who stood for election this year and lost are back on the GC. Five of them did not even attend this year’s branch AGM
- four new female members and five new members in total can’t get involved in the party.
- three BAME people are denied representation – last year’s delegation had two BAME members, this year’s has five
- one less woman on the GC
- and the key point, for the right: the left loses eighteen delegates in the branch and the right gain eleven for the crucial AGM
The manoeuvre used to block Brockley’s democratically-elected delegates from attending at all is probably the most unpalatable in a set of deeply-unpalatable actions – using a complaint that a totally unacceptable, secret count was not accepted to block the whole group of delegates.
Between the blocking of delegates and the expected ‘stacking’ of improper affiliates into the AGM, left-wing – or merely fair-minded – members of Lewisham Deptford Labour fear that Thursday night’s AGM will be a travesty in spite of their democratic efforts and majority.
And, while this is a relatively extreme example, it is far from outlandish in comparison to other situations about which the SKWAWKBOX regularly receives information from around the country.
Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘democracy review’ is desperately needed – and its conclusions need to be fearlessly reached and implemented if Labour’s internal democracy is to be fit for the vision of the party and the movement it is becoming.
And those responsible for such measures in Lewisham Deptford need to be put on notice that if they carry out their plans on Thursday evening, a spotlight is on them.
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