Recent moves by Labour HQ to quell or even ban debate on key issues is a grim sign for party democracy
CLPD (Campaign for Labour Party Democracy) and Momentum are encouraging Labour members to put forward a motion of solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn to their local Labour party groups (CLPs), after Corbyn was suspended by party general secretary David Evans and leader Keir Starmer for comments on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on the party that the report itself said he has a legally-protected right to make.
The groups have now also issued a further motion in defence of democracy and the right to debate key issues within the party, in response to attempts by the party hierarchy to block discussion and votes on the leadership’s recent decisions and such key areas as the EHRC’s report and recommendations. The motion reads:
To General Secretary, Keir Starmer and NEC
This Branch/CLP believes that guidance to CLPs, issued by the General Secretary (12 August, 29 October and 5 November) undermines local party democracy by placing restrictions on the areas of Party business that members can discuss in their meetings.
The guidance conflicts with the Party’s long-standing custom and practice and tradition, whereby both affiliates and CLPs have the right to engage in discussions and adopt positions on matters across the full range of party business and policy. The Labour Party Rule Book, quite correctly, makes no reference to ‘competent business’.
This apparent break with that democratic tradition within our Party is a matter of significant concern.
Therefore this Branch/Constituency Labour Party calls on the General Secretary to withdraw his guidance restricting CLPs’ rights to political debate.
The motion is accompanied by the following ‘guidance notes’ warning of an ‘unprecedented attack’ on members’ democratic rights and freedom of speech:
CLPs face an unprecedented attack on their right to discuss and take a view on some of the key issues facing the Labour Party.
Since August, David Evans, Keir Starmer’s choice as the new General Secretary, has sent out no less than three sets of instructions to Constituency Labour Parties detailing what they are not allowed to discuss, although he offers no reference to the rulebook in doing so. Neither has there been any discussion with the National Executive Committee in advance of issuing this guidance or any definitions offered about what is and is not defined as ‘competent’ or ‘incompetent’ business. Moreover, it has been reported that some CLPs who have attempted to take a view, have had their access to ‘Organise’, the Party’s emailing system, removed.
In August, CLPs were told they were not to discuss the EHRC report because it had not yet been published. Now they are told that they cannot discuss its recommendations, although again the rulebook or legal basis for this is highly questionable.
With the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn MP, the Labour left faces its biggest attack for a generation. It appears that for some, there is no future for a broad church Labour Party in which many strands of democratic socialism are represented and members are allowed to have their say. Yet unless we have a Party in which members can discuss and are heard, and which represents a cross-section of political opinion on the left, we cannot hope to reach the voters we need, and advance the policies and organisation necessary to win future elections.
CLPs are told they cannot debate the apparently factional suspension of Jeremy Corbyn MP because ‘This is necessary in order to protect the integrity of our processes, and to ensure that cases can be investigated and determined confidentially.’ This is nonsense – of course it is perfectly possible for due process to be followed and for CLPs to discuss and take a view on decisions that were, after all, known to the press before the individual concerned.
It is incumbent on all members, whether supporters of Jeremy Corbyn or not, to recognise that without discussion our Party is much the poorer.
Evans sent an email to local party officers warning them that such discussions were not permitted – and that the party “will not hesitate” to act against anyone who doesn’t toe Evans’s line – even though the EHRC has made clear that such debate is legally protected as freedom of speech under human rights laws.
With the motions above, Labour members have a chance to push back against the arrogance of the party’s leadership in seeking to ban dissent against its conduct, but structured in a way that will make it far harder for Labour’s hierarchy to claim its strictures have been breached.
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