If you want an open, democratic party, keep your mouth shut…

JVL Introduction

David Evans, Acting General Secretary of the Labour Party is busy curbing debate about many things Party members happen to be interested in.

All in the interests of making “sure our meetings are a welcome space for all” which means that, while understanding “the desire of people to discuss contentious and controversial issues”, it is not going to happen on his watch.

Jon Rogers reminds us that the recently appointed General Secretary still needs to have his appointment by the NEC approved by Party Conference.

This article was originally published by jon rogers blogspot on Tue 8 Dec 2020. Read the original here.

Who should elect the Labour Party General Secretary?

Following my previous correspondence with the Labour Party General Secretary I have not, of course, received a reply – but (along with thousands of others) I got yet another circular email this afternoon;

Dear Jon,

I wanted to put on record my thanks to the Branch and CLP officers who have been implementing the guidance around motions that I circulated recently. The Labour Party is dependent on the hard work of its volunteer officers, and only with your support will we succeed in changing the culture of the Party and making sure our meetings are a welcome space for all.

I can understand the desire of people to discuss contentious and controversial issues that they feel deeply about. But to be clear, the Labour Party was found guilty of breaking the law on anti-Semitism. We are now not trusted to run our own affairs until we satisfy the EHRC that we have fully addressed the issues that meant our Party is not a safe space for Jewish members.  Just as we should have zero tolerance for all forms of racism, homophobia, sexual harassment and other prejudicial behaviour, our responsibility to double down on anything that may cause members to continue to feel unwelcome and unsafe must take precedence over our rights at this time.

I also wanted to confirm that the effect of my guidance was to rule motions on the topics mentioned out of order. This means they should not appear on the agenda or any other meeting papers, and that there is no requirement for Chairs of meetings to make rulings (nor should there be any resulting challenges to such rulings). I hope this clarification will help avoid any further unnecessary confrontation.

I replied;

Dear Mr Evans,

Thank you for your latest circular email. I realise you will have been too busy to respond to my earlier correspondence and it is nice to hear from you that you appreciate the effort of we unpaid volunteers who are the lifeblood of the Party. As a Party member of more than forty years standing I would have welcomed always finding Party meetings a welcoming space for myself, as a socialist, over many of the years of my membership in which I often found myself in a minority. I am not sure that I can agree with you, however, that our objective is to make our meetings a “welcome space for all” – I think you must mean by “all” “all those who share the aims and values of our Party”. I think that your correspondence generally could be better drafted as I think you sometimes sacrifice clarity for the sake of brevity.

Likewise, having read the EHRC report (and hoping to organise and  to participate in informed discussion among Party members locally of how we respond constructively to its important recommendations) I have to say that I do not recognise your abbreviated caricature of its conclusions. I am even less impressed with the non sequitur in the final sentence of your second paragraph – though if you really intend to “double down on anything that may cause members to feel unwelcome or unsafe” you might want to consider a period of silent reflection as opposed to further correspondence to CLPs.

I note that you intend to “clarify” your previous guidance as meaning that motions on “the topics mentioned” should not even be shown to members or delegates. I appreciate that you believe that the NEC has delegated to you (in accordance with Clause VIII Part 5 of Chapter One of the Rule Book) their power under Clause VIII Part 3 paragraph E of Chapter One to “issue guidance and instructions on the conduct of meetings.” I note that all of your correspondence, up to and including today, has provided “guidance” rather than “instructions” and that our Rule Book clearly differentiates between the two.

I draw to your attention the provisions of paragraph N subparagraph i of Part Two of Clause I of the Model Standing Orders for Party Units at Chapter Seventeen of the Rule Book as follows; “The chair’s ruling on any point arising from the rules or standing orders is final unless challenged by not less than four members; such a challenge shall be put to the meeting without discussion and shall only be carried with the support of two-thirds of the members present.” You have repeatedly circulated “guidance” on behalf of the NEC, but this “guidance” does not overwrite the role of the chair of a meeting and you have not issued instructions.

I welcome your desire to avoid  “any further unnecessary confrontation” and recommend that you read Appendix One to the Rule Book (the NEC Statement on the Importance of our Members) which states that “We do not believe that social change can be delivered solely by a top-down approach,” that “we value the role of our members and our affiliated members as progressive campaigners, community activists and social entrepreneurs who forge positive change in their own neighbourhoods” and that “Party members have the right to participate in the formal process of the Party, vote at Party meetings, stand for Party office and elected office as stated within the rules.” If you wish to avoid “further unnecessary confrontation” perhaps you should be guided by this NEC Statement.

All the best,

There is a growing body of opinion in the Party in favour of an election for General Secretary by the membership. I think the current incumbent may secretly be in favour of this, given how his conduct is increasing support for the proposal.

The Rule Book already specifies, of course that the General Secretary should be elected – but by Party Conference rather than the membership at large. The debate is not therefore about whether, but by whom, the General Secretary should be elected.

For now Clause II, Part 4A of Chapter Four of the Rule provides that;

“The General Secretary shall be elected by Party conference on the recommendation of the NEC and shall be an ex-officio member of Party conference. S/he shall devote her or his whole time to the work of the Party and shall not be eligible to act as a parliamentary candidate. S/he shall remain in office so long as her/ his work gives satisfaction to the NEC and Party conference. Should a vacancy in the office occur, for whatever reason, between Party conferences, the NEC shall have full power to fill the vacancy subject to the approval of Party conference.”

The recently appointed General Secretary still needs to have his appointment by the NEC approved by Party Conference.

I really hope never to have to blog about the General Secretary of the Labour Party ever again – but instead to be able to focus on the political campaigns which our Party should be waging as we emerge from a global pandemic, suffer from the hardest of “hard” Brexits and face a new wave of austerity.

Comments (5)

  • Deemac says:

    We are indebted to Jon for his assiduous study of the Rule Book!

  • Doug says:

    The point that the NEC has delegated power to the GS to issue guidance on conduct is key
    Show us the evidence, still waiting for legal advice and NEC authority, regarding £600,000 paid out on Panorama Drama
    Regardless, there is still no power to dictate content

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    Study of the rulebook should be part of the induction of new and old, sorry longstanding, members.
    Knowledge is power.

  • David Townsend says:

    The first duty of any Chair is to know their governing document(s). The General Secretary should know the governing documents of the Labour Party backwards. It seems quite clear that he does not.

  • Bernard Grant says:

    Did David Evans discuss with Keir Starmer what the content of his letter was going to be before it was sent out to the CLPs, that’s what I would like to know.

Comments are now closed.