It’s been two months since my last report. It has been an exciting and eventful time! I can’t summarise everything here. So I will concentrate on the two most important things – the general election and the conference motion poll. The rest will come out in the wash as things re-occur on the LICC agenda and new reports are written. In future these reports must be written more often. They will be. Others will share writing them with me from now.
But first one important detail:
Labour International Informal Discussion Group
Join it! Either search for it on Facebook by name or click on https://www.facebook.com/groups/LIinformal/ This is a place with a lot of lively discussion. I hope everybody participates. It is not called an ‘informal’ group for nothing. Colin compared
it to a pub discussion, and I think that describes it exactly. Sometimes things can get a bit overheated in a pub. And sometimes one has had enough and wants to just go home until the next occasion. But surprisingly often, the best discussions are held in the informal atmosphere of a pub once the formal business of the meeting is over.
General Election 2017
It has been generally reported that Labour had its biggest surge since 1945. Less known is that only once in the past 50 years has Labour got more votes, which was in 1997. And, in proportionate terms, it was among the three best results since 1970. All this was achieved in just seven weeks! Yes, the Conservatives won enough to form a government with a little help from some
friends. But it is already being proven a pyrrhic victory. As Alex Massie (from Thatcher’s favourite think-tank) put it, “May’s Government is barely in office and a long way from power.” The whole Tory Party, the LibDems, and UKIP are all in a shambles. The Labour Party and Corbyn are continuing to surge in the polls. What an excellent base from which to win the next election.
The Labour International Coordinating Committee (LICC) met within two days of the election being announced. We threw ourselves into the election campaign. Four more meetings followed rapidly after that. The last one was on May 11. In the weeks that followed we instead had open campaigning meetings every week on the internet. All members were invited to participate in these
meetings. Despite problems with time zones, somewhere between 12 and 20 attended.
Initially, we were a bit in a quandary as to what to do from abroad for a general election in the UK. Naturally we wanted to encourage members to go and participate in the UK. From the LICC, Lorraine, Jenny, and I canvassed in the UK. Our Brussels Branch organized a special tour of members to the UK. And others also travelled to the UK to do their bit. The next thing was
to organize donations from abroad. There were problems with the Labour party app for this. Our treasured treasurer David worked hard to fix this. Tragically, he passed away during the election. Similarly, the Labour Party app ‘Dialogue’ for phone-banking in the UK was not ready in time to be used outside the UK. (Momentum did manage to produce a phone-banking app, as well as a
text-message app, that some of us used abroad.) Our hope to be twinned with key marginals in the UK was never realised. Unlike previous elections, Labour HQ did not draw up a list of key marginals. Their strategy was more defensive. We have had many discussions with Labour Party HQ about all these things and hope that for the next election all this will be in place. As part of the whole Labour Party’s evaluation of the election, we are also preparing a report about this to the NEC.
Given the difficulties for most of our members to participate in the UK itself, we had to become imaginative about what to do about the wish from many members to help out. We started with gearing up our communication platforms. Rowan, responsible for communications, organised volunteers to rapidly build up our website. It had crashed the day after the election of the
new LICC and before we got the passwords. We also started a new Twitter account, @LabourInt, as we had not been given the password for the old one. And a new facebook page https://www.facebook.com/LabourInternational/, because the old one had disappeared. One of our most effective platforms was a new Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/LabourInternationalVictoryin2017/. This was a group exclusively for arguments in favour of a Labour victory and against the Tories, and with ideas about how to reach Brits abroad. Many members contributed excellent items there. We are keeping it going in preparation for the next election.
Once we had the means of communication in place, we could begin to fill it with tools and ideas for campaigning. Many of them are collected at http://www.labourinternational.net/labour_victory_on_8_june. There you will still find leaflets with basic information
- how to register, how to get a proxy vote; a collection of the best arguments needed when talking to people; a canvassing pack; a guide of how to campaign together on social media sites.
Members swung into action. All kinds of initiatives were taken. In Ireland, members held a street meeting to call on Irish people living in the UK to vote Labour. In France, young members bombarded the universities where many Brits study with posters encouraging people to register and vote. The first virtual meetings of young members was held to discuss how to reach young people during the election. Left parties in Poland, Cyprus, and Belgium were contacted to get messages of support from them and encourage immigrants who were British citizens to vote. Chain emails spread. Press releases were made to media in countries where we reside. Members volunteered to write content, but also to offer their layout and graphics skills. We also created several videos, including one about how to register to vote and one aimed at getting out the youth vote.
All in all, we can be proud of our election campaign. There were of course some disappointments. We were insufficiently prepared for our first public meeting via the internet and the audience for Jon Trickett was quite small. But it was all part of a learning curve for us. We have worked out many avenues to wage a successful election campaign outside the UK. And our membership surged from 3108 in April to 3542 in July. There will be no stopping us when the next election campaign comes along. We are ready!
Motion to Labour Party Conference
This year, the snap general election disrupted the process for sending a motion to Labour Party conference. Normally, there is much more time. Labour Party rules are such that all normal Labour Party business is suspended during the election. After the end of the general election, Frederick Gent, a member in Finland, wrote in the Facebook informal discussion group that he
would like to write a rule change motion. I encouraged him to do so and on June 16 sent him a collection of model resolutions from the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s website. He liked none of them sufficiently to want to send
them, and decided he would write one. Suddenly, it became clear that there was a great rush to write it, as the deadline was July 7. Frederick managed to rapidly write a draft to the motion about reforming the selection procedure for candidates to Parliament. I suggested some changes and once we had discussed things out, he proposed it and I seconded it. Nobody else had sent in a motion.
The next step was in the hands of the LICC. According to the rules, the LICC is entitled to decide on motions to conference without
consulting members. That has been done in the past. However, we felt that this was completely unacceptable and unanimously decided members should be polled and we would follow the result of the vote.
Things were further complicated because we are only entitled to send one motion. The choice was between a constitutional amendment to be discussed at conference 2018 or a contemporary motion to be discussed this year. Those preferring a contemporary motion (which had a later deadline) were encouraged to vote against the motion.
A further complication was the rule that any subject can only be discussed every third conference. We knew that motions about the selection procedure, but different from ours, were being discussed in other CLPs. The possibility was there that ours would not have been discussed at a conference before 2021, and that the present system might have remained by default until then.
An intense and lively discussion ensued in the informal discussion group and some branches. Some branch leaderships also contributed to the discussion by sending out email to their members opposing the motion. Voting was done online via SurveyMonkey. Unfortunately, a mistake was made when the survey was set up. It was possible to vote several times. Fortunately, this was discovered. We had to rerun the poll with all the necessary safeguards. Despite this, the turnout at 21.76% (771 people) was relatively good and the motion was carried with 61.74% (476 people) in favour and 38.26% (295 people) against. Ann Black, member of the NEC and LI’s contact person, said that the procedure agreed at the previous LICC meeting was followed and that it was a clear result. The LICC therefore decided to send the motion to Labour Party conference. The LICC also recognized that a review the whole process of sending in motions was necessary and that members should be invited to contribute.
I would like to end this report by citing (slightly edited for clarity) my last contribution to the discussion in the informal
“Polling for our motion is about to end. I want to thank everybody who has participated in this debate. I especially want to thank those who have opposed the motion. You have put up a great fight, and I am very grateful to each and every one of you. Your arguments have been hard-hitting. I have enjoyed debating with you and learned a lot. Whatever the result of the poll, I
believe this debate opens up a great new chapter for Labour International. The free flow of ideas is the only way to make the best decisions. I am sure there will be no problem for us all to cooperate on making a success out of Labour International. We will make an important contribution to the election of a Labour Government!
For me, the debate here was long and intense enough. But the points that have been made about broadening the discussion in future are absolutely correct. The discussion should be as lively in the branches as here. And every member should belong to a branch. Today, 80 percent do not. Fortunately, modern technology allows branch meetings to be held via video
conferencing. My most important task now as Liaison Officer for Branches, Groups and Members is to ensure that every member belongs to a physical or virtual branch. Then we can take the next step towards creating a virtual General Meeting or a virtual General Committee elected by the branches. For now these bodies would have no formal status, but would give members a chance to consult the LICC directly. In the future this change could be officially recognised in the rules. The most important decisions should be taken there rather than in the LICC. Labour International can become fully democratic and have the best discussions and decisions. To infinity and beyond!”
Liaison officer for members, branches, and groups