Brown put on trust as curtain comes down on conference

Written By: Tribune web editor
Published: September 20, 2007 Last modified: September 22, 2007

by Chris McLaughlin

GORDON BROWN is to bring down the final curtain on the trade unions’ long-running leading role in Labour’s policy making at party conference.

With the backing of the unions themselves, Mr Brown is to call on delegates in Bournemouth to support a package that completes the party’s staggered advance towards one-member-one-vote throughout the decision-making process.

The move is hailed as “milestone in party democracy” by Mr Brown’s aides but is seen by sceptics as the coup de grace for conference sovereignty after years of attrition of its powers under Tony Blair.

GMB leader Paul Kenny summed up the mood among unions following intensive talks to avert a “car crash” between the two sides in Bournemouth: “We have been asked to trust the Prime Minister. The GMB will recommend that we try the new system for two years.

“If it does not work, agreed mechanisms will be in place to restore the current system on contemporary motions.”

In an exclusive article for Tribune, Mr Brown defends the proposed changes, to be voted on by conference on Sunday, as a widening and deepening of the democratic structure of the party and as a means of “making us the mass party we aspire to be”.

With party membership currently standing at an official low of 180,000, there is no evidence of any link between the abolition of conference power and a widening of membership.

The reforms will remove voting at conference on contemporary motions in favour of the referral of issues to strengthened national and local policy forums, which will report to the following year’s conference with a final one-member-one-vote poll on what will then become the party’s election manifesto.

The aim is to break the 100-year stalemate between the conference and the party in Government over key policy though concerns remain that the reforms mark the death knell of conference-based democracy and the finalisation of centralised power.

This is strongly denied by Mr Brown’s camp. “This is a milestone in widening democracy in the party. It puts the policy making process in the hands of members and ends the block vote,” said one close aide.

Under a last minute addition by Mr Brown to the package the unions will also for the first time lose their majority on the Conference Arrangements Committee which determines what goes before delegates for debate.

Motions due for the priorities ballot at conference will include equities taxation (Community), gangmasters (UCATT), housing and food additives, all opposed by party officials, as well as Darfur, Remploy (GMB), equality and equal pay, (Unison), manufacturing (Amicus) and employment rights (T&G, USDAW, TSSA).