In the run up to this year’s conference, one of the major talking points, alongside ‘Brexit’ strategy and the ‘anti-semitism’ slurs, was open selection. Thanks, particularly, to Chris Williamson MP’s ‘Democracy Roadshow’ it became a keynote discussion on Novara Media and other left news outlets. Momentum nationally eventually backed open selection over the trigger ballot.
Against this background, and despite explicitly excluding it from the Democracy Review, at the eleventh hour, the NEC hurriedly horse-traded a new plan for MP selections, easing some barriers to calling a trigger ballot.
The Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) proposed taking the NEC recommendations from the Democracy Review on the first day (Sunday). The seven original consultations now had appended an eighth rule change shoehorned into the list. If passed, all constituency motions on Parliamentary selection scheduled for Tuesday would fall. We arrived early morning with leaflets, banners and badges to promote our motion. I hadn’t anticipated such a positive response from so many delegates, who were already aware and fully behind it.
Steve HudsonOur Steve Hudson, to great applause from the floor, spoke first for rejection of the CAC circumvention of the debate. Rejection was put to a show of hands. Votes for? – a forest of hands and cheers. A flushed chairman looked taken aback. Voting counts 50% each for trade union block votes and CLP votes. So next a separate show of hands was taken for CLPs and then TU blocks. The resounding support from CLPs was in sharp contrast to the overwhelming opposition from the small TU block near the front. No clear result, so we moved to a Card Vote. Such overwhelming CLP resistance was unexpected and unprecedented, a serious misjudgement for a ‘left’-led NEC. The Card Vote 53% for the CAC report (90% of CLPs against) was shockingly close.
In the Democracy Review, a handful of delegates raised concerns about disabilities and BAME issues, and that recommendations for Party Leader selection would make it even harder to nominated a left candidate. However, the debate was dominated by open selection, including our own Jonathan Clyne and Katy Tyrrell McCafferty, ironic for an item not even part of the review. All eight chapters passed, but only with about 65% for open selection and the Party Leader. 70% of CLPs had rebelled against the NEC and a Momentum leadership, which backslid on its support for open selection.
Although disappointed by the loss of our motion, the debate was far more open and extended than was scheduled for Tuesday. The Sunday debate was very comprehensive and fair. Opponents of open selection, in my opinion, made some false or strawman critiques, but these were fairly rebutted. Throughout conference the quality and breadth of debate was excellent, with many first-time speakers. The NEC proposal was presented as the moderate position, but is a strong shift towards greater democracy and accountability, and would never have been considered without our motion on the agenda. A third of CLP branches is now sufficient for a trigger.
LI has positively raised its profile. In the later Brexit debate, our Ann Bonner was loudly cheered as she mentioned our CLP, as well as for her subsequent speech. This was vindication for the enthusiasm and co-ordination of Momentum’s mass membership (speaking as a non-member) for promotion of open selection before Conference. With other CLP delegates, they also demonstrated they are nobody’s puppets. Some TU delegations, such as Unite, voted against the spirit of their official conference decision to support open selection, so accountability of the TU-Labour link through block votes is critical. Conference was very positive and enthusing – our Party is clearly prepared for Government.