The idea of a ‘quorum’ – the minimum required level of attendance required at a Labour meeting for it to make valid decisions and resolutions – might seem the dullest, most mundane topic imaginable at first glance.
But for Labour members and observers, in the context of developments this week, it’s huge.
At Labour’s conference, which ended yesterday, delegates from unions and CLPs (constituency Labour parties) passed a new rule recommended by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) regarding the rules for local members to begin a selection process to potentially replace their MP at the next parliamentary election.
The new rules, backed by party leader Jeremy Corbyn, lower the threshold for triggering a selection to just one in three branches in a CLP and remove the ability of affiliated organisations to influence the decision via their own branches. However, advocates of ‘open selection’ – an automatic selection process before each election – were unhappy.
One of the principal objections voiced since the new rule passed is that the number of members who would have to attend a meeting for it to be a valid vote – 25% in Labour’s rule-book, although varied down to 10% in many areas by CLP ‘standing order’ – would be unachievable.
Most local meetings are technically not ‘quorate’, but proceed anyway either informally or in line with the varied ‘standing orders’.
But a senior Labour insider has told the SKWAWKBOX that the democracy review recommendations also passed at Conference have reduced the quorum for all CLP and branch meetings to just five percent.
This means that in a branch of, say, two hundred members only ten need be present for the meeting to be quorate and its decisions consequently official and binding.
Most meetings on the topic of whether to select another MP would be expected to far exceed such a level – and if they don’t, then it’s probably safe to assume the branch members have no particular appetite for change.
This change has huge implications for Labour’s democracy and the ability of its members to begin the process of selecting a new candidate if they’re so minded. But of course, the sword cuts both ways and places responsibility on the shoulders of members with a good MP to organise and turn up when needed to defend them.
As the new quorum figure applies to all meetings, that responsibility applies to leadership nomination meetings and ordinary CLP/branch business, too. Democracy comes with responsibilities as well as entitlements.
Those who have shouted loudest for ‘open selection’ this week should be leading the way if they’re serious about democracy.
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