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26 September 2023

Labour set to block conference debate on “divisive” issues

Momentum has described the move as “another attack on members”.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Labour activists and unions will be blocked from using Labour conference to challenge Keir Starmer on policy already settled in other forums.

A new rule drawn up by the leadership, voted through by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee today, will restrict motions debated at Labour’s conference in Liverpool next month to those considered “contemporary”. The move, due to be introduced next year, could mean that conference organisers can rule motions trying to force a discussion on issues previously agreed by the National Policy Forum (NPF) document out of order.

Labour sources say the “contemporary” rule is intended to reduce battles on the conference floor over policy that has already been decided. But Momentum, a left-wing group within the party, has called the proposal “yet another attack on the rights of Labour members from a Starmer leadership which is patently hostile to party democracy”. It added: “From parliamentary selections to policymaking, the anti-democratic clique at the top of the party views members not as the lifeblood of the party, but as a problem to be managed. It’s clear they want to take Labour back to the bad old days of a small elite casting down decisions from on high.”

Meanwhile, Open Labour co-chair Amen Tesfay said: “A party that can’t listen to its own members at conference seems far too fragile and uncertain for a party which is leading in the polls. Trying to turn conference into a happy clappy performing seal show isn’t the direction of a modern, vibrant, democratic party.”

The NEC also voted through a motion on tightening rules around expelling members who campaign for independents. At present, Jeremy Corbyn is being touted as a potential London mayoral candidate and Jamie Driscoll, the Mayor of the North of Tyne, who resigned from Labour earlier this year, is preparing to run for the new North East mayor role. The party’s rule book would ban “providing financial support or assistance to, or otherwise supporting (as may be defined by the NEC), an individual that stands in opposition to, or declares an intention to stand in opposition to, a Labour Party candidate in a public election”.

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Another plan from the leadership involves cutting the number of Constituency Labour Party officers from 14 to six, which some say will reduce official roles for ethnic minority and LGBT members. Sources defended the move, however, saying some CLPs do not have enough members willing to fill each of the 14 roles.

[See also: Who owns your face?]

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