Labour policy “not competent business” for members

A circular emailed on Wednesday to Constituency Labour Parties by General Secretary David Evans states that certain subjects are “not competent business for discussion by local parties”.

It strongly suggests that the current leadership does not want members to be able to influence or change Party policy.

Members have every right to protest at this attempt to limit their democratic right to freedom of discussion and expression.

Labour Party members of all political persuasions have been shocked at the email to CLPs from General Secretary David Evans (see full text below) which in effect forbids members from discussing certain important political issues, in contravention of Labour’s clearly stated policies on free debate.

The email appears to undermine, contradict and violate the following declarations in the 2020 Party Rulebook :

  1. “At all levels the Party will ensure that members, elected representatives, affiliated organisations and, where practicable, the wider community are able to participate in the process of policy consideration and formulation.” (Chapter 1, Clause V.1) of the Party Rulebook 2020, p.3)
  1. “The Labour Party welcomes all who share our aims and values, and encourages political debate and campaigns around the vital issues, policies and injustices of our time.”(Appendix 9.2 Code of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism, Party Rulebook 2020, p.116)
  1. “(To these ends we work for…) AN OPEN DEMOCRACY, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed.” (Chapter 1, Clause IV.2.C of the Party Rulebook 2020, p.3)

To be true to these values, Labour must lead by example through internal open democracy where fundamental rights, including rights of freedom of speech and belief, are guaranteed.

There is nothing illegitimate in members seeking to debate the differing views that are widespread at all levels of the party, about the NEC’s decision to adopt the IHRA definition and its eleven examples; about the forthcoming EHRC report; and about whether the leadership’s decision to pay large sums of members’ money to settle the claims of the Panorama participants was wise or necessary. Declaring these subjects to be “not competent business for discussion by local parties” suggests that our new leaders do not want members to be able to influence or change party policy.

The three issues specified by Evans’ directive relate to how the party deals with antisemitism. Let’s be clear – we will never deal with it effectively unless there is widespread political discussion and education about racism generally in society. Under the previous general secretary Jennie Formby, Labour committed itself to “ a programme to educate our members and empower them to confront oppression, wherever it arises.” In the light of Black Lives Matter, this is now required more urgently than ever. Instead we have an authoritarian edict coming from Formby’s successor seeking to silence the membership.

We applaud Rachel Garnham and other left NEC members who have written to Evans demanding to know on what authority his edict was circulated.

We understand that many members may be inclined to defy the diktat, inviting disciplinary action against themselves by submitting motions on the very subjects Evans is attempting to rule out of order.

Rather than commit collective acts of hara-kiri, we urge party members and the various groupings that represent their interests, including the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, to join us in calling on David Evans to withdraw his draconian directive, and in its place to facilitate a comprehensive programme of discussion and education on issues of racism in our society at all levels in the party.

We trust that CLPs will not soon receive another directive declaring that the General Secretary’s email is itself “not competent business for discussion by local parties.”

Model motion for LP organisations and affiliates, based on the above arguments

We call on General Secretary David Evans to withdraw his draconian directive instructing CLPs that certain subjects are “not competent business for local parties”, and in its place to facilitate a comprehensive programme of discussion and education on issues of racism in our society at all levels in the party.

Below is the full text of the email from David Evans.

FAO: CLP secretaries & chairs

As CLPs and branches are now able to meet online, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on a few pertinent issues. This will ensure that the business your local party is conducting is appropriate, minimises any challenge to its decisions and does not leave the party – locally and nationally – or its officers open to potential legal liabilities. Apologies for the length of this email, but I hope you will agree it covers some very important issues.

NEC nominations – voting procedures

We have received a number of requests for further clarity on the voting systems that are to be used for the nomination of NEC candidates. Nominations should be made by secret ballot, not by a show of hands.

• Where a voting system is specified in your CLPs standing orders, this is the system that should be used to make your nominations;

• Where a voting system is not specified in your CLP standing orders, you should rely on previous custom and practice from your CLP.

We would usually expect that to be either multi-member First Past The Post (‘Approval Voting’ on Choice Voting) or Single Transferable Vote (‘Electoral Reform Society 97 STV’ on Choice Voting). CLPs should not be devising new voting systems of their own.

We advise that wherever possible nominations are taken by email in advance of the meeting to allow the ballot to be set up before the meeting. Any such email nominations would only be valid if the member making the nomination is in attendance at the subsequent meeting. Should there be fewer nominations than, or an equal number to, the total positions available, there is no need to progress to a ballot.

Panorama settlement

The Labour Party recently agreed a settlement with seven former members of staff who appeared on an edition of the BBC’s Panorama programme, as well as with the journalist who hosted that programme. Those settlements included an unreserved apology and a withdrawal of the allegations previously made by the Party about those individuals. The withdrawal and apology are binding on the party and any motions which seek to undermine or contradict them will create a risk of further legal proceedings for both the national party and local parties. As such, motions relating to these settlements and the circumstances behind them are not competent business for discussion by local parties.

CLP officers have an important responsibility to ensure that they and other members conduct themselves in a respectful and comradely manner. We therefore take this opportunity to reiterate to local Labour Parties and officers that they should be aware of the potential liabilities to them should the allegations that have now been withdrawn by the national party be repeated.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report

On Monday 13 July 2020 the party announced that it had received the EHRC’s draft report into allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. This draft report has been provided to the party by the EHRC on a confidential basis as part of its investigation.

When we are able to provide more information about the EHRC’s report we will do so. Until that time speculation as to the contents of the report is not helpful. It is therefore not competent business for CLPs to discuss.

IHRA definition of antisemitism

We are aware that some CLPs and branches have had motions tabled to “repudiate” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and its examples was properly adopted by the Labour Party in September 2018. CLPs and branches have no powers to overturn this decision. Furthermore, such motions undermine the Labour Party’s ability to tackle racism. Any such motions are therefore not competent business for CLPs or branches.

As per the previous general secretary’s instruction, any discussion about ongoing disciplinary cases remains prohibited.


David Evans

General Secretary

Comments (14)

  • RC says:

    Nominations, like every other party proceeding, should be made openly. If intimidation has proceeded so far the this is impossible, the police should be called in. immediately. Wasting of police time is a criminal offence.

  • Bernie Corbett says:

    I am not a member of JVL, nor am I Jewish, but I did object to David Evans’s email and my response to him follows:
    Dear David Evans
    Thank you for your email.
    I can understand how worried you are about reincarnating topics that were thought to be safely buried, but I think you go a bit too far.
    As for NEC nominations I agree that local Labour parties should stick with their established procedures, and not rush to change them now. I don’t see why email nominations would be invalid if the member making the nomination is unable to attend the subsequent meeting (perhaps for a good and unconnected reason, particularly in these times). Surely it should be open for a member who is in attendance to adopt the nomination and allow it to go ahead?
    But within those procedures, I am worried about your use of the phrase “competent business”. In my experience Labour Party meetings, at whatever level, have always been able to discuss and debate anything they like, even if it comes under the rubric of “any other business”.
    I don’t understand your concern about discussion of the “Panorama Settlement”. Surely an open public discussion of this issue would escape any risk of defamation procedures on the grounds of “fair comment on a matter of public interest”, unless an unwise individual made insupportable allegations, in which case the legal liability would be on that individual, not the Labour Party (locally or nationally). Actually I think you are (probably unintentionally) scaremongering on this point.
    Your paragraph about “CLP Officers” seems to me to be (perhaps I am mistaken) almost threatening. It seems to say that even in a well-run meeting, any consequences would be on the individuals involved and be disowned by the national Labour Party. Surely if a party means anything, it will use all of its resources to defend its members and activists if they find themselves in trouble. It may not succeed, but it should try. I am a trade unionist and I believe in the collective, so that is where I am coming from. The Chair and Officers at a party meeting are volunteers and may not have much training, and cannot easily shut down someone who goes too far. If that happens, there should be a complaint and investigation and conclusion, not a denial of support for anyone who happened to be there at the time.
    EHCR Report. You say: “speculation as to the contents of the report is not helpful. It is therefore not competent business for CLPs to discuss.” When and how did you gain the power to decide what is “helpful” or to order what CLPs are allowed to discuss? In my 40 years plus as a Labour Party member I can never remember any such order. Politics is full of speculation. If you want to abolish speculation in politics you will have to start a lot higher than CLPs.
    IHRA definition of antisemitism. It is true that this definition has been adopted nationally by the Labour Party, but over many years the Labour Party has adopted positions on many things (e.g. nuclear weapons) and that has never stopped members in their meetings debating these subjects and trying to alter the policy of the party. What is different now?
    You appear to be issuing an order that certain things cannot even be discussed between Labour Party members at a party meeting. I believe the opposite. I believe we should all discuss these difficult issues all the time, and by understanding each others’ points of view, perhaps reach a collective direction forward, even if a few members are uncomfortable with some of the details.
    It is worrying that you seek to place restraints on political debate within the party, and appear to be saying that some points of view are banned from being expressed. I think you should reconsider.
    Yours truly
    Bernie Corbett

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    This is the end of Labour democfafcy

  • John Bowley says:

    This dictatorial spin, coming down from an employee of the Labour Party, in an unelected position, in an elitist minority, is despicable. I feel sickened.

    Our ‘democratic socialist Labour Party’ is observably being perverted towards a top-down Fuhrer-style Conservative-aligning conformist sham.

    We recall that Starmer did his self-serving deal with the disloyal staff, which wasted so much of our loyal contributions, which went against the advice which he was given, which dodged consultation with most of the NEC and avoided any consultation with Labour Party Members, basically by himself.

    Sir Keir is observably staging another backward passe elite takeover grab, which goes far beyond his elected role within our democratic socialist party.

    There are clearly no proper or moral reasons why we should be intimidated by counterproductive fait-accompli obligations set up without consultation.

  • Ruth Sharratt says:

    I fully support that arguments in your statement.
    I have submitted the following motion to our CLP:
    “The decision as to what is on the Agenda of a CLP meeting resides solely in the members of the CLP. We are not subject to the diktat of our elected representatives, whom we elect to further our objectives, nor to any paid employees of the Labour Party.
    Arfon CLP therefore affirms that it has the right to determine what topics are on the Agenda of its meetings.”
    My reasons are as follows:
    I have looked at the 2020 Rules and Constitution of the Labour Party and nowhere can I find any rule that states that the General Secretary or the NEC can instruct CLP members not to discuss an issue at a general meeting.
    There are also points of principle which are raised by the email sent out by the GS which I believe must be challenged.

    The paid officials and employees of the Labour Party are NOT the Labour Party.
    The elected representatives including the Leader and the NEC are NOT the Labour Party.
    The Labour Party is its members. People who come together to determine a common set of objectives and who by working collectively hope to further those goals. The elected officers are elected by us, to represent our aims and to help further those goals decided by us, the members. They are accountable to us. Paid employees are paid for by us through our membership fees. Their job is to work to achieve the goals which we set out. Whilst I hesitate to use the term ‘servant’ they are responsible to us for their actions.
    Officials whether elected or employed are NOT, I repeat, NOT our masters. They have no right to tell us, the members, what to discuss or what not to discuss. We, the members decide on what we talk about and what we do.
    The power and authority in the Labour Party resides in the membership and can be used by the Elected Officials only to the extent that those powers have been delegated to them by the membership.

  • Doug says:

    Can the party respond to class action by Mark Howell and others which will be heard way before Forde report at end of the year
    All roads point to them not having a leg to stand on and settlement with Panorama drama claimants is another nail in the coffin
    Who authorised it

  • Gill McCall says:

    I stand by the JVL statement: a reasoned and considered document. I hope that my CLP will support the proposed motion, but sadly, that is not a foregone conclusion: indeed there is a lot of self-righteous posturing from the supporters of the GS, (a member of our CLP), who preceded Jenny Formby. Messrs Starmer and Evans have gone a long way to churning up the 5 years of resentment of that part of the Party that never did join us in the quadrupling of membership in our CLP, with the election of of Corbyn as Leader.

  • Vera Lustig says:

    David Evans writes: “… The IHRA definition of antisemitism and its examples was properly adopted by the Labour Party in September 2018. CLPs and branches have no powers to overturn this decision. Furthermore, such motions undermine the Labour Party’s ability to tackle racism. …”

    “Properly adopted”? As I remember it, the adoption, particularly of the “examples” was hotly contested. I sensed that the Labour Party was under extreme pressure from various pro-Israel groups to adopt this definition. So it’s perfectly right that CLPs should discuss this, especially in light of continued human-rights abuses by Israel, and of the proposed annexation.

    “…to tackle racism”? Criticism of Israel, however strongly worded, is not of itself “racism”. On the contrary: if you, say, accuse Maxine Peake of deploying “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories”, then you devalue the term “anti-Semitism”.

  • Dave Hansell says:

    Bernie Corbett’s observation about “fair comment” is fully supported legally in the case of Campbell v Dugdale and sovereign members should not be intimidated by this abuse of power on behalf of values which have no place in a healthy society.

    Evens’s diktat is very specific in terms of organisational Party Units rather than sovereign members, and in terms of motions rather than discussion topics.

    To that end the wording of the following template might be of use:

    “The Labour Party Members in this Constituency/Branch/LCF consider the following to be at odds with the Aims and Values of the Labour Party, under Rule 1, Clause IV, paragraph 2. A-D: and both detrimental and prejudicial to the Party, under Rule 2, Clause 1.8, in its objectives and ability to win elections at any level:

    1. Any policy or support for any policy based on or resulting in a hierarchy of oppression. Such policies are at odds with the aim of a just society.

    2. The sectarian application of Party rules, structures and procedures by existing and former paid staff at every level of the Party in conjunction with sections of current and former members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) which has resulted in;

    (i) A complaints and discipline structure and process which is not fit for purpose.

    (ii) Undemocratic commitments to third party organisations outside of the Labour Party to hand over control of complaints and discipline processes.

    (iii) A total absence of objective due process standards and principles based on the mob rule principle of subjective allegation equating to automatic guilt and denial of a right to defence which is selectively applied.

    (iv) Clear breaches of the GDPR rights of Party members by former employed Party staff which the Party at national level have failed to protect in reaching a settlement which is detrimental to the rights of Party Members.

    (v) Clear deliberate breaches of election law and the disenfranchisement of both Party members and UK voters arising from the consistent undermining of the Party at and between elections which continues to deny members and voters a meaningful genuine choice at the ballot box.

    3. The Stalinist attempts to deny voluntary members and Party Units any debate of these matters.

    The Party Members in this Constituency consider that until the above issues are resolved in line with Party Aims and Values the Party will be unelectable.

    We therefore resolve to affirm our primary democratic rights as both members and voting citizens by pursuing these issues in line with those Aims and Values using any means available.”

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    I first joined the Labout Party in 1956 as a Young Socialist. During that time I have experienced attacks on our democracy whenever the Right is in the ascendant members are told to shut up. We exist only to deliver leaflets and knock on doors. Questioning the leadership iis not for us. Probably the worst such period was after John Smith dies and a bunch of entryists took over the Party. Members resigned in their thousands. Labour was in government for 13 years. The administration promised to govern as New Labour which in fact meant following Thatcherite conventions. Major change was needed but nothing really changed. New Labour could have changed our country forever but instead instead ushered in the most right wing government since the Chamberlain administration in the 30s. The UK is in crisis everywhere you look. Labour policies are exactly what is needed to rescue the nation. Electing a pale blue Labour Government will solve nothing. Power without real purpose is useless.The membership must resist this attempt to end our democracy.

  • DJ says:

    A measured response to the General Secretary’s email designed to stifle democratic debate on important issues in the Labour Party. We are told that the Labour Party is “under new management”. Does this mean a new Party Rulebook is being drafted to insist on membership subservience to the new regime? Have we just been transported to Belorussia? Certain subjects are”not competent business for discussion by local parties”. Is the General Secretary on a power trip like a tinpot dictator? I think those who pay his wages should decide on the subjects they choose to discuss. I don’t see a lot of “competence” from the leadership on the very issues referred to in the email. £600,000 squandered on a pay out to saboteurs, failure to submit the leaked report to the EHRC and a disciplinary process that isn’ t fit for purpose.

  • DJ says:

    A measured response to the email from the General Secretary. We can’t allow democratic debate to be stifled on such important issues. If debate is cancelled in this way , what will be the point of Labour party membership?

  • David Carrier says:

    We in the party should have a right to decide what we debate at Labour Party meetings particularly if the subject is racism. What is a Labour Party if it cannot discuss racism? Mr Evans nor anyone else has a right to decide.

  • Margaret West says:

    I agree in principle with the article.

    The. only reservation I have is if discussions at CLP meetings potentially have repercussions on current legal proceedings .. ie there would be problems.

Comments are now closed.