This is going to get very detailed, very fast. If the technical details of the internal mechanics of the Labour Party are not something that interests you, then I recommend you watch a video of Barack Obama singing a Justin Bieber song instead.
From the review recommendations…
Electorates and branches will have fewer formal meetings and will be freed up to engage in meaningful policy debate, tackle community issues, campaign in local and general elections, recruit members and supporters, raise funds and organise social activities. To support this, Branches will only be required to hold a minimum of three formal meetings each year; an Annual General Meeting, which also agrees branch goals, a meeting to elect delegates to Regional Conference and discuss the issues which they will be debating; and a meeting to debate policy proposals and elect delegates to Annual Conference. Other meetings can be focused on the branch goals. Similarly, LECs will only be required to hold a minimum of four formal meetings a year, and branch-based LECs are the preferred model.
See attached rule changes affecting rules 23, 35, 36, 37, 38, 48-76,171, 197 and new rules 33, 40A.
Almost all Labour Party members will have been to a meeting that has been bogged down by over half an hour going over needless correspondence, perhaps another half hour with a line-by-line review of a financial report, and by that point, everyone has lost interest.
This part of the review is trying to address that problem, and I think it certainly solves some of the problem. I’m going to break this down into the Branch and Electorate Committee components.
The change to rule 23 gives branches an actual objective (their exact purpose used to actually be quite nebulous), and requires them to set annual goals and report to their Electorate Committee on them. I will be very interested to see how many branches will actually observe this rule, but I certainly think it is a step in the right direction.
Rules 35 and 36 are being changed so that branches are required to hold two different types of meeting – formal and informal. They will be required to hold three formal meetings: an AGM, a “regional conference meeting” where they discuss policy proposals and elect delegates for regional conference and an annual conference meeting where they elect delegates to annual conference. They can then hold informal meetings as and when required, which presumably wouldn’t be burdened with as much bureaucratic overhead.
Ironically, this actually creates more requirements than already exist. Not only does it create added complexity, but it actually adds more meetings than are currently reading. By my reading (and I may be wrong here!) branches are currently only required to meet once a year (rules 36 and 42).
My gut feeling as that the problem that is trying to be addressed here is cultural, not constitutional. As it stands, if a branch wants to spend its time having social events and talking about politics, there are very few barriers to that in the current constitution. I think the rule changes proposed are much of a muchness- they don’t really create less work for branches, but perhaps they will encourage a cultural change.
Local Electorate Committees (LEC)
The rule changes around LECs also aim to remove the meetings-for-the-sake-of-meetings phenomena. However, instead of requiring three formal meetings, LECs are required to hold four. The purpose of the fourth meeting is left undefined. Perhaps someone just couldn’t let go of that meeting to read the correspondence? The existing rules did express a preference that LECs meet monthly, but again, they were already able to resolve to meet less frequently (existing rule 62). I was under the impression that they had to meet at least six times per year, but can’t seem to find mention of that rule.
For simplicity’s sake, I think it would have been preferable if both branches and LECs had the same meeting requirements. Given I can’t seem to find any particular reason for LECs to be required to meet once more often than branches (please tell me if I’m missing something obvious!) I think I will propose an amendment to remove the requirement for the fourth formal meeting.
There has also been an attempt to require a gender balance on the LEC, though there are some problems with the way it has been drafted. Rule 50 now states that no more than 60% of the LEC can be of one gender, whereas rule 171, which deals with how delegates are selected for the LEC, now states “Where there is more than one delegate at least half of the delegates must be women.” The inconsistency is slightly sloppy, and could lead to problems should more than 60% of the total LEC delegates end up being women, or if lots of small branches with only one delegate end up selecting men. The new rule 50 is inadequate as it does not provide a mechanism for dealing with either problem, and doesn’t indicate a consequence if the 60% gender balance is not met.
In addition, there is a very minor change which adds a requirement for a Youth Liaison Officer to be co-opted onto the LEC. Nothing controversial there.
At the end of the day, I think many of the bureaucratic problems faced by branches and LECs are cultural problems of their own creation. While the proposed rule changes may provide some with a good reason to re-evaluate what they’re doing, I suspect many will be stuck in their old ways. Already around the country there are some great branches and LECs who are doing new and exciting things within the existing framework. I’d be more interested about hearing about those, and getting the message out to people that we don’t always require constitutional changes, just a willingness to be open and try new things.