Julie Davies wrote this to Iain McNicol:
Yesterday I was a delegate at the London Labour conference. Although I have been in the party for many years this was actually the first Party conference I have been sent to by my CLP.
I have attended NUT conference since 1997 and have served on the NEC of my union for eight years. During this time I was vice chair of its Organisation and Administration standing committee. The department serving the committee (headed for some years by Lucy Anderson) is responsible for organising annual conference and for the rules of the union. I have also been a delegate to the TUC conference.
I’m sorry to say I was profoundly shocked by yesterday’s London Labour conference. It was terribly disorganised, leaving it open to security breach, fraudulent voting and personation. Apart from the catering, every bit of it fell short of the standards I would have expected.
Confirmation that I was registered as a delegate arrived on November 7 containing just an agenda. The conference pack arrived by email at 1.00pm the day before the conference. It contained no standing orders or conference credential. We were sent candidates' information and three composited motions with no explanation about the way in which they were to be debated or whether they were open to amendment. (Were they? We tried to find out. Len Duvall didn’t know.)
Registration for the conference was shambolic. Business started forty five minutes late because there were not enough staff on the desk. Delegates and guests queued in the rain.
No checks were made on identity. Anybody could have walked in off the street and claimed a credential. There was no security over the issuing of ballot papers. These were piled up on the table in front of the queue and it would have been very easy to grab one, or even a handful, and vote. I was shocked by the potential security risks of the whole set up, throughout the day, too. Has the Party learned nothing from the death of Jo Cox?
There were five delegates from my CLP but it became apparent that only the first to arrive would be issued with a ballot paper. (This explained why it was that one of our local rightwingers was at the front of the queue at 7.30 in the morning, in the rain. Because why else would anybody do that? Honestly?) As it was, our delegation sat together and filled in the ballot with the names of the people nominated by the CLP, but the system was open to abuse. How many other delegations did what we did? How can the party be confident in the outcome of the election it ran yesterday? I’m certainly not. And if only one person votes, why send five people?
There were no standing orders. We were informed that there were some, but for some reason these would be sent to us after the conference. I am used to the first business of conference being the adoption of standing orders so that all those present know what to expect and how to engage.
If there is one place where Citrine rules should be followed, surely, it’s a Labour conference. The ‘debate' was little more than an open mike session. Two motions were debated at once. The chair varied the order of business without asking for a show of hands and the voting that did take place was desultory. It was unnecessary anyway. The three motions were so anodyne after compositing that they were barely worth voting for. It isn’t a debate if there are no amendments and nobody says a single word against. Surely we can do better than that if we’re serious about any of our conferences setting, or steering, Party policy? (I think I’ve just answered my own question, haven’t I?)
There was no real distinction between voting delegates and observers; I’m used to observers having different coloured cards and sitting separately in the hall but then I’m also used to voting that makes a difference and genuine debate.
There are a lot of new people in the party and our practices should be seen to be scrupulous, efficient, inclusive and democratic. We have the resources to organise events like this properly and we should use them.
I look forward to your response on the points I have made.
Jennie Formby: Labour's new general secretary