Politics & Economics

Labour bureaucrats gerrymander free movement motion ahead of conference

20 September 2019

Internationalists in the Labour Party might feel like they are waking up to Groundhog Day. Yet again, in the run up to Labour Party Conference activists have worked hard to pass policy proposals through local Labour Parties to defend migrants and freedom of movement, and yet again the party bureaucracy has stitched up its members by shutting down debate.

This manoeuvre has come from the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC), whose role involves sorting the hundreds of received motions into categories. Motions then undergo a compositing process where delegates from the motivating CLPs meet to agree the final motion which will go to a vote on the conference floor.

The motions

The Labour Campaign for Free Movement (LCFM) motion, submitted by 6 CLPs, called on the party to defend and extend free movement and shut down all immigration detention centres.

The Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF ) motion, which has been proposed by 7 CLPs, calls for the end of the UK’s “detention estate” of 8 detention centres – the largest in Europe – and “adopt a community-led response”.

The latter suggests, “those seeking to settle can do so whilst remaining in the country, working within their local communities and receiving legal advice.” It does not mention on what terms migrants may “seek to settle” and is silent on deportations.

These two motions would clearly benefit from a political discussion between activists where they could be composited together. To its credit, the LARAF motion presents a detailed and passionate case for the closure of detention centres, however the problem it describes has a solution: defending and extending freedom of movement as proposed by the LCFM motion. Migrants wouldn’t need to “receive legal advice” whilst they await possible deportation if they already have freedom of movement as a lawful right.

But the LCFM motion should go even further. Socialists in Labour should explicitly call for the borders to be opened to all refugees, economic migrants and asylum seekers, with full and equal citizen rights for all, as well as an end to deportations.

The Labour-left bureaucracy

It is unsurprising that LARAF would choose to dodge the question of freedom of movement given their recent history. LARAF, an anti-racist organisation started by rank and file activists, was subjected to a hostile takeover by Labour and Momentum party bureaucrats with the help of the stalinist clique Red London in January in an effort to suppress the views of grassroots members, freedom of movement being a key issue.

The two sets of motions have been split into separate categories (subject groupings) by the CAC which means that they will remain separate, uncomposited motions. And since Momentum has announced it is lobbying members to prioritise the LARAF motion, the LCFM motion is unlikely to even make it to the conference floor.

In recent years Momentum has conducted massive campaigns to lobby members during conference, including with a bespoke app, but Momentum itself operates highly undemocratically, and decides which motions should be prioritised and voted for behind closed doors.

The distinction between the subject groupings, “Immigration” and “Immigration Detention” is plainly ridiculous and reeks of party bureaucrats gerrymandering the conference motions process, trying to secure their desired outcome before the membership delegates even take their seats.

The intention from the bureaucracy is clear: to remove freedom of movement from the debate because it cannot possibly be countenanced by a Labour leadership committed to Brexit and the end of freedom of movement.

The two members of the CAC elected by the membership, Corbyn-supporting Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes report that they both argued for the motions to be put in the same category, but were outvoted by others on the CAC, first on Monday and again on Wednesday where the decision was appealed.


The rest of the CAC consists of Harry Donaldson (Chair), Emily Rowles, Mick Murphy, Tracey Fussey and Lynne Morris. The representatives behind the separation must be held fully accountable and made to explain their actions to the grassroots.

One of Corbyn’s first acts as Labour leader in 2015 was to speak at a Refugees Welcome demo, where he urged the government to “open your hearts… towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live”.

Four years later and a year on from the Democracy Review, it is inexcusable that such bureaucratic wrangling is still rife within the party, shutting down debate on vital issues.

Red Flag encourages Labour Party delegates at conference to prioritise and vote for the Labour Campaign for Free Movement motion. The membership must express its will to make Labour a pro-migrant, pro-freedom of movement party that can bring about a Labour government that finally casts British detention centres, deportations and anti-migrant chauvinism into the dustbin of history.

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