CLPD Newsletter No.46

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CLPD Newsletter

No.46 (Conference Edition) September/October 1992

The long march backwards

Labour's Programme 1973 stated "enlargement of the public sector has always formed a major part of our industrial policy...Our fundamental commitment [is] to attack structural inequality in ownership, and to control the basic levers of economic planning and power...The National Enterprise Board...will, for the first time, provide an instrument for exercising control of profitable manufacturing industry...For the range of tasks suggested, some twenty-five of our largest manufacturers would be required" to be publicly owned. This was never implemented - despite Labour's 1974 Manifesto promise of "a fundamental shift in the balance of wealth and power".

Disillusioned with the Labour governments of the 60s and 70s, and following the 1979 election, the rank and file were determined to prevent the PLP ever again ignoring Labour policies. 1979 Conference voted for Mandatory Reselection - making MPs accountable to local parties. At the January 1981 Special Conference CLPs and affiliated organisations won the right to vote in leadership elections - hitherto the sole prerogative of MPs. Thus ordinary members gained, for the first time, the power to influence Party policy. Conference was to become Labour's sovereign body in more than just name.

1981 Conference

The PLP starts its counter-offensive. In the NEC elections opponents of democratic reform regain their majority. But Labour women for the first time raise their demands for Women's Conference to elect the NEC Women's Division and for positive discrimination on shortlists.

1982 Conference

Members' freedom to campaign together to promote their views is restricted. A Register of non-affiliated groups is introduced in preparation for expelling Militant. Resolutions to remedy under-representation of Labour women in Parliament are defeated.

1983 Conference

Neil Kinnock is elected Leader and Roy Hattersley Deputy. Opponents of democratic reform consolidate their hold on the NEC. A composite demanding a "campaign for democratic public ownership and socialist economic planning" is voted down at the NEC's behest. So are resolutions demanding full representation of women at every level of the Party. Militant's Editorial Board are expelled.

1984 Conference

First attack on Mandatory Reselection. Under the guise of "participation", the NEC proposes removing from General Committees - which monitor MPs - the task of reselecting them. Conference rejects this. But it goes along with the NEC's recommendation to reject "mandatory inclusion of at least one woman on every shortlist". The demand for self-organisation of black members is raised; it's opposed by the NEC and defeated.

1985 Conference

First NEC attack on trade union rights. An NUM composite urges that the next Labour government reinstate sacked miners and review sentences and fines resulting from the strike. This is carried despite NEC opposition. The NEC also opposes a composite which warns against reopening "internal divisions" over reselection. The Chair, ignoring calls for a Card Vote, declares the composite lost. But the NEC issues a statement promising not to bring changes in reselection procedure to 1986 Conference. Again the NEC opposes resolutions on positive discrimination for women and black members. Conference follows their advice.

1986 Conference

The NEC sets up a Working Group "to examine widening the franchise" for selections. But, despite its opposition, a composite upholding Mandatory Reselection is carried. On women, the NEC accepts a pious resolution, but opposes specific commitments. The same fate befalls black self-organisation. The NEC sets up a National Constitutional Committee - in fact a machine for expulsions - to deal with Party discipline.

1987 Conference

A resolution upholding MPs' accountability is opposed by the NEC and defeated. The NEC defies the 1986 Conference decision on parliamentary selection by proposing a new system, which Conference accepts. Once more the NEC gets Conference to vote down the demands of women and black members, and to endorse its decision to close Labour Weekly. The NEC also successfully opposes an NUM resolution that privatised industries be renationalised. But it supports composites reaffirming Labour's non-nuclear defence policy. These are carried overwhelmingly.

1988 Conference

Benn and Kinnock are nominated for Leader and Hattersley, Heffer and Prescott for Deputy. The NEC promptly raises the percentage of MPs needed for nomination from 5% to 20% - making future challenges virtually impossible. Amendments to NEC statement "Democratic Socialist Aims and Values" are disallowed. A rule change providing for mandatory inclusion of at least one woman on shortlists is carried against NEC advice. But NEC manages to persuade Conference to overturn its policy of repealing all Thatcher's anti-union laws. NEC gives ground on black members' right to set up Black Socialist Societies, but still rejects Black Sections. Conference follows suit. The NEC now seeks to undermine Labour's commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament. But Conference reaffirms Labour's anti-nuclear stance.

1989 Conference

46 resolutions urge that composite resolutions contradicting the Policy Review should, if carried, be treated as amending it. NEC gets Conference to vote this down. This means Policy Review documents can only be voted on on an "all-or-nothing" basis - taking precedence over any resolutions Conference may carry. The NEC's People at Work fails to restore union rights and restricts workers' solidarity. Britain in the World reverses Labour's policy on nuclear disarmament. Unilateralist resolution is lost, but one reducing defence spending to the West European average is carried - against NEC advice. Black Section resolutions are lost, but so is the NEC "compromise" of a Black Socialist Society with white members.

1990 Conference

Against NEC advice, Conference affirms that "the need for accountability" be met by Mandatory Reselection and rejects the NEC-proposed "trigger" ballot. It reaffirms that union branches should retain their vote in selections. "One Member One Vote" for electing the NEC Constituency Section is agreed, and a resolution reaffirming the present right of CLPs and affiliated organisations "to submit one resolution and one amendment" onto Conference's agenda is remitted. A resolution demanding "a phased programme over the next 10 years or 3 general elections so that at least half the PLP should be women" is carried with NEC support.

1991 Conference

NEC opposes a resolution regretting its failure to act on 1990 Conference's instruction "to bring forward proposals as to how the commitment to a 50% quota" [for women] "for the PLP might be achieved ... including a proportion of CLPs to consider women only shortlists". The resolution is lost.

NEC also opposes a resolution reaffirming 1990 Conference's decisions on reselection. This upholds "the automatic right of ward [and] trade union branches affiliated to CLPs to nominate the candidate of their choice once in a lifetime of every parliament" and the right of union branches to "retain a share of the vote at CLP level". The Chair declares the resolution lost, ignoring calls for a Card Vote. Had one been taken, it would have been carried; many unions, including TGWU and GMB, would have supported the resolution.

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