Obscure NEC rule could delay IHRA debate – and play decisive role in Labour democratisation

As the SKWAWKBOX showed earlier this week, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is essentially certain to vote the remaining IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Association) ‘working definition examples’ of possible antisemitic behaviour into the party’s Code of Conduct when it meets to discuss the issue – and Labour members concerned about the protection of free speech need to devote their energies to campaigning for the Code’s caveats to be retained and strengthened.

The retention of those examples is already under attack, with the Jewish Chronicle calling the plan to adopt the examples but keep and strengthen the clarifications to prevent them being abused a ‘sham’, even though the need to protect free speech and the right of Palestinians to define their own oppression is clear.

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But that meeting to discuss the adoption and clarifications may not take place as soon as everyone seems to be assuming – at the NEC meeting scheduled for 4 September, or even at the pre-Conference meeting on the 18th.

The NEC’s ‘Terms of Reference’ (TOR) obtained by the SKWAWKBOX – which include its standing orders – contain a provision that, if respected, means that the discussion cannot take place before October at the earliest.

The key provision sits in rule thirteen of a sub-section of the TOR titled “NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE STANDING ORDERS “. It states:

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The NEC’s decision to accept the Code of Conduct proposed to it took place at its meeting last month – to be precise, on 17 July 2018. Based on the rule above and the date of that meeting, no attempt to change the Code should be allowable until at least 17 October.

The terms of reference and standing orders do not appear to contain any provision for the NEC to set aside the three-month rule.

This means that any change to the Code of Conduct cannot be attempted before 17 October – and that if it is attempted anyway, any resultant change would be immediately vulnerable to legal challenge.

In the long term, this is only a difference of a month, a relatively trivial matter. But in the immediate context the difference could be huge.

The Labour ‘Democracy Review’ instituted by Jeremy Corbyn has put forward to the NEC a package of recommended changes to the party’s rules and procedures that would, if passed, re-democratise Labour, empower its members and put a power-grab by the Labour right beyond realistic reach indefinitely.

The Labour right, desperate to prevent the changes being passed forward to September’s Conference by the NEC for ratification by member and union delegates into the party’s rule-book, has been desperately trying any tactic it can in order to disrupt the process. The leak of an illicit recording of comments made by Peter Willsman during the 17 July NEC meeting – and the misrepresentation of the comments as antisemitic by the ‘MSM’ and right-wing Labour figures – were almost certainly aimed at sidelining Willsman from the process, neutralising the currently-narrow pro-Corbyn majority on the NEC.

The approval of those rule-changes for a Conference vote is on the schedule for 4 September – but only subject to time permitting the completion of the discussion. If there is insufficient time after other business, it would be postponed until the 18 September meeting, allowing another two weeks for attempts to neutralise Corbyn’s NEC advantage.

In addition, right-wing groups have been quietly trying to collect the names of Conference delegates that each constituency Labour party (CLP) is sending to next month’s annual Conference in Liverpool.

While the most likely reason for this is an attempt to contact and influence delegates to vote against rule changes, it is (tragically) far from inconceivable that a targeted attempt might be made to rush through complaints against uncooperative delegates if the right succeeded in getting the IHRA examples adopted, without the important protections needed to protect free speech and natural justice, in the hope of having administrative suspensions imposed that would rule delegates out of attending and therefore out of the vote.

If the Code of Conduct/IHRA examples issue – sure to be a lengthy and involved discussion – is barred from the 4 September meeting agenda by the application of the 3-month standing order, the chances of the democratisation rule-changes being approved for debate and votes at Conference in Liverpool are higher.

An obscure standing order, if applied, could play a pivotal role in the future of Labour as a democratic, member-led party.

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  1. The battle is perhaps about the brand ‘Labour’ and when the Right were hammered by Corbyn supporters twice I joked quoting Brecht that perhaps the Right “needed to find a new public” (membership).
    And I wonder if this is their end game – the expulsion of many?
    There is a lot of talk of a new Centrist Party but perhaps what they really need is the ‘Labour’ name which gives access to and is listened to by many millions.
    It is frustrating for many of us because perhaps instead of trying to become a majority based on ideas, debate, and democracy some perhaps have preferred the dark arts and procedural moves which actually demonstrates their intellectual vapidity?
    It is perhaps like a battle between the Well Read and the Poorly Read?
    Between those who want to really transform v those who really want crumbs for working people whilst having nice careers for themselves?
    Between treating members of Labour and the public as adults v treating both groups like children and then back to what the old revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg called “Parliamentary Cretinism.” (?)
    I would really love Labour to become a fully left wing democratic socialist party and guess I would support the Code+ but what no-one is asking is why are we focussing on one BME group when we should be supporting all BME groups plus Women, the Disabled Community and LGBT citizens.
    I would really like a simple code with three brief points:
    1. Labour is a party that fundamentally belives in EQUALITY and to achieve this we totally oppose anti-Semitism and Racism in all its forms plus we totally oppose discrimation shown towards Women, LGBT communities and Disabled citizens.
    2. Within this context Labour also totally supports the right of all Labour members to criticise ANY Government in the World and we fully endorse the right of members to free speech.
    3. As a Democratic Socialist Party we also declare that if the Far Right were to ever rise again Labour and our allies in the Trade Unions would mobilise our memberships to confront this threat head on whilst at the same time appealing for diverse citizens from all communities to join us on the front line.
    Or words to that effect but as this is not on the table I support the Code+.
    Oh and all of this reiterates the need for the Left to show maturity and to have discipline by voting for the Left NEC slate – the full JC9!
    Solidarity and Diverse Working People of the World Unite!

  2. Have they subsequently resolved via standing order to stay adoption of the code as agreed on 17.7-that is the question.

    If not, I think you are right.

  3. ‘Labour’ are an autonomous political party that must never be dictated to by any other organisation or parties within the Party. The IHRA definitions, if adopted, will not allow criticism of Israel & will cause havoc & more divisions in the Labour Party. It is a threat to freedom of speech & not surprising that some Jews ‘feel’ threatened because the Zionist state of Israel will always conflate religion & nationalism. Many members of the Labour Party ‘feel’ righteous anger @ the atrocities carried out in Palestine. If any other country did the same the so-called international community would be outraged, but this is Israel, ‘Gods Chosen People’, but more importantly, the 51st state of America.

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