In late November, Peter Rowlands wrote to Labour’s general secretary, David Evans. He’s still waiting for a reply
‘I write with some concern that policies agreed at our recent conference, in the form of resolutions, are in some instances being spoken about or acted upon as though they were not policy. Thus the leader has denied that a £15 minimum wage is Labour policy, and has said that sanctions should not be used to promote Palestinian rights; the shadow chancellor has denied that there is any need for the nationalisation of energy; and the party has adopted a policy which gives the NEC the main voice in shortlisting for by-elections. All of this is very clearly in opposition to policies agreed at conference.
What this could mean, if we were to accept what the leader and others have said, is that there is no point in holding a conference that determines policy, and that this should now be controlled by the leader and NEC. However, our rules clearly state that this is not the case, and that conference has the ultimate say in determining policy. I believe that legal opinion would support such a view. In 1960, as you will know, conference voted against the deployment of nuclear weapons by the UK, which prompted Gaitskell, then leader, to oppose this policy in a well-known speech (“I will fight, fight and fight again…”). The relevant point here is that it was accepted by Gaitskell that there had been a change of policy, and he did not attempt to claim otherwise. We should do likewise in my view. I hope therefore that you will seek to ensure that the promotion of policy is always in line with what has been agreed at conference.’
The lack of response from Evans is predictable, but it is something I will pursue. More disturbing is the relatively poor response from the left where, despite opposition, there has been no organised campaign, based on model motions, letters, articles, demonstrations and meetings, which surely could have been taken up by the ‘Labour Left for Socialism’ umbrella organisation that mobilised for the conference, or by the SCG, Momentum or CLPD. Unfortunately, the same applies to other issues, notably the reinstatement of the whip to Corbyn, the move to the right on policy, the ‘future candidates’ programme and other issues. Hopefully this will change in the new year. Arguably this issue is the most important of all, not just for the left but for all who think that members should have a voice in determining policy and rules. If the denial of policy agreed at conference is not successfully challenged, the way is open to turning conference into a rally, where policy is determined by the leadership, as was the case under the ‘Partnership in Power’ arrangements from 1997 to 2016, although those were agreed by conference.
Skwawkbox carried a piece recently about a claim that conference does determine policy, but only for the few days that it is sitting. This is obviously absurd, and perhaps indicates a recognition by some on the right that there must be plausible reasons for opposing policy agreed at conference. We must strongly argue that there are no such reasons.
This should now become the key issue for the left in the Labour Party. We must strongly assert the right of conference to determine rules and policy, and insist on confirmation of that. If we cannot do so then we cannot make progress on any other issue. It’s as simple as that.