Centrist MP Chuka Umunna’s Streatham CLP (constituency Labour party) has already been at the centre of controversy, when members complained of a ‘stitch-up’ by the CLP’s right-dominated executive as it nominated challenger Owen Smith during the 2016 leadership election.
Now some of the CLP’s executive officers have been accused by members of a series of anti-democratic measures to further the interests of the Labour right, which the SKWAWKBOX will look at in turn – beginning with the CLP’s ‘decision’ to nominate the right-wing ‘slate’ of candidates in the election of six new members of Labour’s National Constitutional Committee, the party’s senior disciplinary body.
Members report that among other problematic events the nomination, which took place at the CLP’s October ‘GC’ – the ‘general committee’ meeting of delegates elected by member and union branches – allowed nine or ten members from the right of the party to vote who arrived around two hours late.
Those additional right-wing voters were enough to swing the result and ensure that the CLP was recorded as nominating the full right slate supported by Labour First – and by Progress, to which Umunna is closely linked:
A Streatham Labour member present at the meeting told the SKWAWKBOX:
Around two hours into the meeting, around ten activists from the right of the party, among whom I recognised former national youth officers [redacted] (a current heavyweight in the Community union which was fined £25,000 by the TUC for breaching GMB bargaining arrangements, and [redacted], a council candidate who lost in May’s local elections and hasn’t attended a single branch meeting since, burst in.
The chair then announced that he was suspending the requirement to arrive on time in order to be given voting papers (ostensibly because he had not had an official taking names at the front – although this was clearly not the reason because he had chosen not to run the entry hall the usual way) and the latecomers formed a long queue to be handed them.
It came across as an insult to the ethnic minority forum who had just finished running the first part of the meeting to mark Black History Month. The impression given was that these late individuals wanted to cast their vote but could not possibly be expected to sit through two hours of black people discussing mental health, and so timed their arrival for the conclusion of this, and the rule was relaxed accordingly.
When the votes were counted, there was a seven vote difference between the main slates of candidates – meaning that the latecomers’ votes had been decisive and had they not been permitted to vote in accordance with ordinary procedure, the other slate would have won.
In addition, some branches had passed a motion calling for the CLP to begin the process of deciding whether to switch to an AMM (all-member meeting) structure.
This was not reported to the GC. Delegates were therefore not given notice that the next meeting in November would be an all member meeting to consider this change – and were not advised that this should be discussed at their next branch meetings to give members time to think about the merits and disadvantages of such a move.
While this is not explicitly required under the new rules good practice and respect for delegates would indicate that responsible officers would have made such announcement.
The way this meeting was handled left me genuinely expecting the November special meeting to be run in such a way that the will of the wider membership is suppressed and the position favoured by the officers is unfairly advantaged.
I strongly believe that at least two officers should be suspended pending the outcome of the party’s investigation into the handling of the meeting. But whether they’re suspended or not, it is vital that the meeting due to be held on 29 November is presided over by regional or national party officials.
Complaints about these events were submitted to the national party, but handed back to the London regional office and the complaints were dismissed.
The CLP chair was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.
Fortunately, the results of the NCC elections – won massively by the full left slate of candidates – shows that the events described above were not able to impact the final outcome. However, the issues faced by the genuine left in Streatham are no less serious for that and are typical of the obstacles placed in the path of members in many CLPs around the country in their pursuit of democratic change.
The articles to follow will highlight even more areas of concern in one of the most right-dominated CLPs in the country as left members attempt to have their voices heard.
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