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.
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:
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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