CLPD Newsletter No.10

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CLPD Newsletter

No.10 August-September 1977

Reselection - conference must decide

One in every ten conference resolutions this year urges that the present practice of automatic re-adoption of sitting Labour MPs as parliamentary candidates be ended. The demand is that a normal Labour Party selection conference be held in Labour seats once during the lifetime of each parliament.

Members from forty-five CLPs and affiliated organisations have informed us that they have submitted an amendment to the rules to this effect (see list), but there are almost certainly many more. In addition there are eight resolutions on the provisional agenda which also demand re-selection though they have not been phrased as direct amendments to the constitution. Thus the total of re-selection resolutions is likely to exceed sixty - the largest number on a single subject not just this year but possibly ever submitted to a Labour Party conference.

This is a significant indication of the overwhelming feeling among Labour's rank and file that to ensure that Labour pledges are honoured, Labour MPs must be made more accountable to the Party. Yet despite the massive support for this democratic reform, it is by no means certain that conference will decide the issue this year. Some will argue that no decision should be made until the NEC has had the opportunity to consult all sections of the party and to make its own recommendations. This argument may seem eminently reasonable but it does not stand up to close examination.

In fact the question of re-selection conferences for Labour MPs has already been exhaustively discussed within the Party and by the NEC. In 1973 a resolution on re-selection of members of parliament, submitted by Dulwich CLP and amended by Croydon North East CLP, was remitted to the NEC which reported, in the following year, that "matters contained in the resolution and amendment were taken into consideration" when the section on procedure in the report on Reorganisation of Party Structure was prepared. When this document was considered at the 1974 Party Conference, the proposal to amend the constitution to allow for re-selection was debated, but - largely because of the recommendation of the NEC against it - defeated, though relatively narrowly. In 1975 some ten CLPs submitted resolutions to conference asking the NEC to look at the question again. They were ruled out of order.

A few months later, in January 1976, Eric Heffer and Ian Mikardo put down a motion at the NEC recommending that a CLP with a sitting MP be permitted to hold a normal selection conference without having to go through the present cumbersome and lengthy "no confidence" procedure. After months of discussion the NEC rejected the proposal. Later in 1976 forty-one CLPs, concerned at the grave damage which the present procedure was causing, particularly in Newham NE and Hammersmith North, submitted resolutions to conference asking the NEC to look at re-selection afresh. Despite the strong feeling in the Party that the matter should be raised again, the Conference Arrangements Committee ruled out the forty-one resolutions. A motion at the NEC put down by Joan Maynard asking that the resolutions be placed on the agenda was defeated by 11 votes to 7.

At the 1976 conference itself Terry Hunt, delegate for Basingstoke CLP, supported by Bernard Dix, Assistant General Secretary of NUPE, moved the reference back of the Conference Arrangement Committee's Report so that the forty-one resolutions could be discussed. The motion was lost, but the card vote showed that there was widespread support, 2,280,000 votes being cast in favour.

During all this debate the NEC showed itself to be deeply divided divided with the majority firmly opposed to change. In these circumstances not much can be expected from referring the matter once again to the NEC. This impression is confirmed by the way the NEC dealt recently with another controversial issue, that of the election of Party leader. At 1976 conference a resolution from Rushcliffe CLP was passed which asked the NEC to establish a sub-committee to consider ways of widening the electorate involved in the choice of Party leader. The report of the sub-committee was to be published in time to permit amendments to be presented to the 1977 Annual conference. However, it was stated in Labour Weekly (29. 7. 77) that the NEC decided by 12 votes to 11 to accept a motion from Tom Bradley that only an interim report would be put forward this year and that "more clear-cut proposals are expected to be put to the 1978 conference".

This record strengthens our belief that nothing positive would emerge from further delay and that a demand for further consideration, however well intentioned, would merely assist those intent on blocking the re-selection reform by providing an "interim" solution. Those opposed top re-selection would particularly welcome delay at this stage because of the possibility of an autumn general election in 1978 which would make the holding of a normal Labour Party conference unlikely. If this were to happen the re-selection proposals might have to be resubmitted in 1979.

It is therefore absolutely vital that conference decides this year.

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