‘Chuka’s mates’ at centre of stealth attempt to change local party’s rules of democracy, say left members
Democracy is under attack once again in Streatham Labour, according to left members of the constituency party (CLP) – and they have asked for help rallying support. The attack is in the form of a renewed assault – part of Keir Starmer’s general war on party members – on the democracy of a CLP that had to be democratically wrestled away from the right when the unlamented Chuka Umunna was its MP, with a massively significant and completely transparent vote in favour of switching the CLP’s decision-making meetings to an all-member (AMM) ‘one member, one vote’ system.
By contrast, the right’s attempt now to force it back to the old ‘general committee’ structure – one that has routinely been used by the right to neutralise left-wing membership majorities – is being conducted as opaquely as possible.
A Streatham member described the situation:
We understand that CLP Officers intend to hear a motion on the 27th January at 7:30pm proposing to exclude up to 90% of local members from voting at our monthly constituency meetings.
The motion to scrap all member meetings was put forward at the last Lambeth Co-Op AGM in November but not publicised at the time.
Streatham-based members of Lambeth Co-Op have raised concerns that this item didn’t feature on the agenda in advance of that meeting, whilst others report not receiving meeting notice at all. There are also outstanding questions over whether Lambeth Co-op has paid its affiliation fees for 2021, with our CLP Officers refusing to answer whether or not this is the case.
From start to finish, officers have played fast and loose with the rules and sought to keep the proposed rule change as quiet as possible. The rulebook clearly states that upon receiving such a motion from a branch or an affiliate, “the CLP Secretary shall declare the next-but-one scheduled meeting to be a special all member meeting” to decide whether to change the structure.
Our CLP Secretary is claiming he received this motion literally moments before our last November AMM meeting – which was inquorate. He also claims he disclosed this motion at the end of the meeting – something which is untrue and would otherwise have triggered strong reactions from the left.
Even if it were true, to argue that a passing reference to such a major decision about our democracy in front of an inquorate meeting constitutes a “declaration” hardly satisfies the letter of the law and it tramples over the spirit of the law.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask that members receive proper advance notification of a vote that could totally alter the democratic balance of our local party.
Pushing ahead with this meeting quicker than the specified time frame in the rulebook is bad enough. Perhaps even worse is the fact that our CLP Secretary is suggesting we discuss this as a 10-minute add-on to our next meeting (January 27th) rather than as a “special” meeting as specified by the rules.
Buried in a recent email from our CLP Secretary (16th Jan) was an acknowledgement that “we will be debating the structure of the CLP” at our next meeting, but zero effort has been made to inform members about what this means.
Compare this with Streatham Labour’s decision to move to AMMs three years ago, which came after a thorough debate at branch and CLP level, proper consultation of trade unions and socialist societies and both sides making their case in print and online.
So what’s it really about?
In a really good and detailed article outlining what’s at stake and how the GC system was systematically abused in Streatham, local members Linda Milbourne, Jeremy Isaacs & Rod Smith wrote:
“Under the GC system, branches vote annually for delegates, who in turn vote at monthly CLP meetings. This means members newly arriving in a CLP have to wait until the next annual general meeting for the chance to become a delegate. In Streatham, the GC system formed an effective barrier to newer and particularly more transient younger members – often renting on short tenancies – taking their place in party decision-making structures. It meant that older, more established members were over-represented and created a situation where the CLP was promoting positions and making decisions that a majority of its membership simply didn’t back.
It was a system of elite control, with two classes of members attending monthly meetings: a minority with voting rights and a majority unable to vote. No doubt those advocating for a return to the GC will claim that the AMMs have too many attendees to be manageable, but this overlooks the fact that all Streatham members were allowed to attend monthly CLP meetings under the old system – the difference was that only delegates could vote. The purpose of a GC isn’t crowd control – it’s about restricting the franchise at the top level to members trusted to endorse the position of the group in control of the CLP. It is about maintaining and concentrating power.”
Fundamentally, it’s about restricting top table decision-making to members who can be trusted to endorse the position of the group in control of the CLP – it’s about insulating those at the top from accountability and limiting transparency.
The move follows a series of meetings at which CLP officers have refused to take questions or procedural interventions, conducted closely contested votes by show of hand and refused to hold a ballot on the full slate of delegates nominated by local branches for last year’s Regional Conference.
At the end of the day this is about democracy and the principle of everyone having the same voting rights.
Whoever’s running our CLP, they should be elected by and accountable to all members.
As we struggle with declining levels of membership and activism, prepare for upcoming local elections and attempt to re-engage party members after the hammer-blow of the pandemic, sneaking through this big change, which seriously undermines our party democracy, is the last thing we should be doing.
Another member told Skwawkbox:
This is all about Chuka’s mates wanting to have things back how they like them again and making sure the rest of us don’t get a say or inconvenience them.
Left members in Streatham are asking all local Labour members who support democracy to attend the CLP Zoom meeting at 7.30pm on 27 January to stop the suppression of the hard-won – and properly won – ‘one member, one vote’, open and transparent AMM system. The meeting can be joined via this link at the appropriate time.
If you’re a Labour member in Streatham, do everything you can to attend. Whether you are or not, share this article widely so those who are members hear about it and can mobilise.
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