Unions and left organisations also object to attempt to bypass members in rule-change to elect NEC members
Four Labour members have sent a detailed legal letter to the Labour Party attempting to block an attempt, tabled for tomorrow, by right-wingers on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to bypass member democracy and change the way NEC representatives are elected – which activists on the left believe would permanently stack the NEC in favour of the right..
Left unions including Unite, the Bakers, FBU and Aslef, along with left activist groups, have raised objections to the move, which would change the party’s rules without the approval of Labour’s conference – which the rules require.
But four members have engaged legal firm Bindmans to contact the party to advise that unless the NEC follows Labour’s rules and defers any change until the next annual conference, they will take legal action.
Bindmans’ letter, of which the key elements are shown below, is addressed to new general secretary David Evans and begins by outlining the power-grab of which their clients have become aware:
The firm reminds Evans that conference is sovereign according to the party’s rules – while the NEC’s powers with regard to elections to places on the NEC are limited to executing what the rules set by conference say:
Our clients’ concerns regarding the STV Proposal
3.1 The relationship between the members of the Party, including the members of the NEC, are governed by the Labour Party Rule Book (the “Rules”), which constitutes a contract between those members. That contract includes rules relating to the powers of the NEC and the election of representatives to the NEC, including Division III (CLP) representatives.
3.2 The Rules make clear the supreme authority of Party Conference as to amendments to the constitution and rules of the Party, in
particular at Chapter 1, Clause X.4
3.3 No other constituent part of the Labour Party is given such overarching powers [as conference is]. It is therefore the case that the powers of any other constituent body within the Party, including the NEC are strictly limited to those delegated to them by the Rules.
3.4 The NEC’s powers in relation to the election of representatives on national committees are in this respect are limited to the determination of procedural matters and guidelines on the conduct of such elections and do not extend to the method of election.
Thus, Chapter 4, Clause III includes the following introductory words: “The NEC will also issue procedural guidelines on nominations, timetable, codes of conduct for candidates and other matters relating to the conduct of these elections.”
After providing legal precedent for their interpretation of the party’s rules, Bindmans makes clear that if the NEC attempts to exceed its powers by changing the rules, legal action will follow:
4.1 In light of the above, should the NEC proceed to introduce STV for Division III (CLP) representatives at the NEC meeting on Tuesday 30 June 2020, our clients will have no choice but to consider a court challenge.
4.2 We therefore look forward to a response to this letter by return confirming that the STV Proposal will not be considered by the NEC at the meeting on 30 June 2020. We would otherwise welcome a full substantive response to this letter within fourteen days, that is by 13 July 2020.
Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) assistant secretary Jake Rubin has described the implications of the change:
[T]here is a real danger of the party sleepwalking into a change that Labour’s members have not scrutinised or debated through its democratic structures, at either local CLP level or at party conference…
Saying that STV would risk NEC elections becoming a ‘beauty contest’, Rubin went on:
This sudden decision to change the voting system so soon before the election will happen is even more suspicious given there is no conference this year and calls into question whether the motivation is really to improve the party’s democratic process or actually to change the make-up of the NEC for factional advantage.
Activists fear that STV – single transferable vote – would render the NEC elections far more complex for the left to coordinate and would permanently entrench a right-wing advantage on the body responsible for key organisational and disciplinary decisions – which also has the power to summarily expel members.
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