Rachel Garnham, vice-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, looks ahead to Labour Women’s Conference.
Labour’s Annual Women’s Conference (AWC) takes place 19-20 March online; and left representatives on both Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee (WCAC) and Labour’s National Women’s Committee (NWC) are working hard to try and ensure women members’ voices are heard and that the conference is as democratic and transparent as possible.
CLPs have until 10th March to nominate Grassroots Labour Women candidates for the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee, and only slightly longer for activists to ensure that their delegates vote for the GLW candidates. Gillian Arrindell, Jean Crocker and Selina Norgrove, make a formidable team of activists who will be one hundred per cent committed to building a democratic, inclusive, transparent Annual Women’s Conference. These women bring a track record of fighting for democracy and equality in their CLPs, trade unions and communities and will ensure grassroots voices are genuinely represented in the work of the WCAC, which is so important for trying to hold a democratic conference where women’s voices are heard.
In relation to the Conference, left representatives have been calling for as much time as possible to be allocated to policy-making and rule change debates rather than set-piece speeches and panels from ‘big names’ which do not allow grassroots women from CLPs and trade unions a look in. The most powerful elements of recent Labour Women’s Conferences has been hearing from women across the country with different backgrounds and experiences about situations in their area, how women are impacted and how women are working together across communities to make a difference. These speeches aligned to the policy motions proposed and the ensuing discussions and contributions are what our conferences should be all about. Let us hope there is plenty of time for the discussions we need and that left CLP rep calls for greater transparency in speaker selection are heeded.
Similarly left representatives on the WCAC, spear-headed by CLPD’s Jean Crocker, who is standing for re-election, have been tireless in trying to ensure as many motions as possible from CLPs reach the compositing stage and thereby the floor of Conference. Too often motions are put into smaller categories than necessary meaning too many motions are ‘lost’ (or sent to the black hole of the National Policy Forum) after the Priorities Ballot stage. Jean has been arguing for larger groupings and fewer motions ruled out, while paying important due attention to accessibility.
Delegates are also being supported and encouraged by CLPD to ensure they take ownership of their wording in composite meetings. We are aware that many CLPs have picked up CLPD’s model motions, which is encouraging. They are in some cases rightly critical of the current leadership and its retreat from the popular and necessary policies promoted in 2017 and 2019. We have heard too often of Shadow Cabinet members applying undue pressure in meetings to adapt or remove words from composites and delegates not feeling empowered to stand up for the positions they want to see debated by Conference. Delegates must be ready to argue for the policies women need to make it through to the floor of Conference for full debate. CLPD will be holding a briefing for women delegates on 11th March – more information from www.clpd.org.uk/category/labour-womens-conference/.
Finally, this year for the first time, Women’s Conference will have the opportunity to debate and pass Rule Changes. CLPD promoted a range of rule changes (available from https://www.clpd.org.uk/campaign/suggested-rule-changes-for-submission-to-labour-party-womens-conference-2022/) that would support a more democratic conference with more say for grassroots members. These range from enabling access to membership systems to ensure Women’s Branches and Officers can contact women members, to enabling CLPs and affiliates the opportunity to submit both a Rule Change and a motion. We know that several of these Rule Changes have been submitted and we look forward to these being debated and hopefully passed so that we can build on the good work to rebuild our democratic women’s structures after many years.
In 2021, Labour Women’s Conference voted decisively left, both on policy and in elections to the National Women’s Committee. It has been a difficult year for the left with demoralisation resulting from the leadership behaviour, such as the abandonment of Starmer’s 10 pledges and the proscription of organisations leading to the expulsion of amazing hard-working activists based on tiny and irrelevant social media transgressions. Nevertheless, we hope that Women’s Conference will demonstrate members are still willing to fight for a democratic women’s organisation and the policies women need.