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Labour Party Democracy

Support Conference demands for reselection and
recall – demands NEC working party member

(April 1978)

From Militant, No. 400, 7 April 1978.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There are growing fears within the rank and file of the Labour Party, reflected in resolutions to this week’s Southern Region conference, that a majority of the working party set up by the NEC to formulate proposals for a new procedure on reselection are far from determined to implement the spirit and terms of last year’s Annual Conference resolutions.


There is certainly the danger, the way things are going that the sub-committee will come out with watered-down proposals for re-selection, and at the same time give up the cast-iron, ultimate safeguard that the constituency parties now have (in paragraph (B) rule 7 clause XIV of the Party rules).

The strength of feeling in the party on re-selection was clearly shown at last year’s conference. No less than 75 resolutions, the highest ever submitted on one subject, were sent in. When most of these were ruled out of order, a further 17 emergency resolutions were submitted to ensure debate on the issue.

Despite a well-supported reference back, the Conference Arrangements Committee successfully ruled that all constitutional amendments must go straight to the NEC. It was fortunate that a number of constituency parties were far-sighted enough to frame their resolutions in a way that ensured debate.

Without composite 29, which proposed automatic re-selection and included an ultimate right of recall in a clause similar to the present paragraph B, the question would never have been brought up. It was the debate on this composite that ensured that the NEC through the chairman, gave an undertaking that they would present proposals providing for automatic re-selection to the next conference.

After the conference, the NEC set up a working party to frame new proposals for the necessary amendments. There is no doubt, however, that there were those on the right wing of the party leadership who, once the immediate problem of placating conference delegates was behind them, saw the working party as a means of sliding out of the NEC’s promise to conference. This has been made all the easier by the working party’s terms of reference, which actually call into question issues on which conference was firmly agreed.

While the working party was beginning its discussions, Joe Ashton brought out his own proposals. These are rumoured to have the backing of Jim Callaghan. They have certainly been seized on by many grateful members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and have received considerable – and very favourable! – publicity in the capitalist press.


Joe Ashton’s proposals, however, which have had a considerable influence on most members of the working party, would if accepted, completely undermine the basic principle embodied in composite 29 – that of a CLP’s automatic right to re-select its parliamentary representative.

Under Ashton’s plans, there would be a special GMC within a specified period after an election. The MP would be invited to address the meeting and answer questions. There would then be a ballot to decide whether or not the MP should face a re-selection conference. If the vote went against the MP, he or she would have the right to appeal to the NEC. Then, if this hurdle is crossed, a re-selection meeting could take place. If this goes against the sitting MP, he or she can again appeal to the NEC.

It is obvious that such a complicated, and inevitably long-drawn-out process, would be heavily weighted in favour of the sitting MP. The emphasis would not at all be on the right of the CLP to call its MP to account and select a new parliamentary representative.


Past experience shows that such a complicated procedure gives an MP – or infiltrators like Lewis and McCormick – plenty of opportunity to find procedural discrepancies as the basis for appeal, and even resort to the courts. At the same time, a lengthy procedure gives an MP the maximum opportunity to exert pressure on the Party, especially when they have the fulsome support of the Tory press, as did Frank Tomney, Reg Prentice and others who have recently resisted democratic re-selection.

Studying Joe Ashton’s proposals, one might think that they were designed to produce a rally for the sitting member, rather than a democratic process for checking and control. In ‘Labour Weekly’ Joe recently stated that over 50 Labour MPs might cross the floor, like Prentice, and join the Tories if they were forced to retire by their CLP.

What an astounding admission! But surely the presence of such MPs, who will undoubtedly desert the Labour Party in the course of future political battles, is an argument for a thoroughly democratic re-selection procedure, not for a “moderate”, watered-down process to placate potential traitors!

The proposals now being formulated by the working party, if they are the ones it sends to the NEC, are in all essentials similar to Joe Ashton’s. They are not based on the principle of automatic re-selection embodied in composite 29, and do not include a clause similar to the existing paragraph (B), rule 7 clause XIV, which at least now provides an ultimate safeguard for CMPs who want to remove their MP.

Paragraph (B), referring to sitting MPs, states: “The general committee at a specially convened meeting intimates by resolution its desire that he or she must retire at the next general election.” In spite of all the difficulties, this is the clause which allowed Newham NE to remove Tory-in-disguise Reg Prentice. To lose this, without gaining cast-iron procedures for automatic re-selection would actually be a step backwards!

At this point, however, it is necessary to take up the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. The organisers of the Campaign have put considerable effort into the fight to give organised expression to the aspirations of the rank and file to have democratic control over MPs and Party leadership.


But the Campaign’s suggested amendment for last year’s conference had the effect of deleting paragraph (B). If this was intentional, it was seriously mistaken advice. Even if mandatory re-selection is achieved, the CLPs should nevertheless,retain the right of recall over their MP, not just once in the life of a parliament, but at any time. If, however, the right of mandatory re-selection is not achieved now, the “reserve powers” of paragraph (B) remain vital.

In a circular concerning the Southern Region LP Conferencem however, the Campaign says:

“Brighton Kemptown has put down an amendment to the Basingstoke resolution (supporting CLPD demands) calling for support of Composite 29 which Conference remitted to the NEC. The reason for remission at Conference was that the wording of Composite 29 included additional demands unacceptable to Conference. This prevented a clear decision being made simply on the principle of automatic reselection…”

This is entirely misleading! Composite 29 was the only motion on re-selection debated, as the others had been ruled out of order. How can it be said that it included demands “unacceptable to Conference”, when no vote was taken because it was remitted on the clear undertaking from the chairman that proposals for “automatic re-selection” would be introduced next year? Prior to the Conference, moreover, leading members of the Campaign informed movers that they agreed with Composite 29 and would support it. It was Composite 29 that ensured that the issue was debated, and also the reason, presumably, that I (as mover) was invited on to the NEC working party.

In the light of these points, we would ask the supporters of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy to reconsider their position, and we urge delegates to the Southern Region conference to support the Brighton Kemptown amendment. It must be made clear to the working party and the NEC that nothing less than the proposals of composite 29 will be acceptable to the rank and file as far as Party democracy is concerned.

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