Grimmupnorth refered to this in her blog this am. I thought I would reproduce it in full for comment and discussion.
My last real conference?
Delegates must veto New Labour's bid to reduce the party membership to a glorified fan club Tony BennThursday September 20, 2007The Guardian
Next week's may be the last real Labour conference I shall attend after 65 years membership of the party. For if constitutional amendments put forward by the leadership are accepted, delegates will no longer be permitted to pass any resolutions on any policy questions.
The argument put forward is that when there is a Labour government it is unacceptable for members of the party, at conference, to be able to vote for policies that are in conflict with government policy. This process began in the 90s, when New Labour came to power and most proposals were referred to the national policy forum in which the government had a permanent majority.
But it was agreed that eight resolutions could be put to the conference every year - four from constituency parties and four from the unions. The conference was able, for instance, to vote for a restoration of the link between pensions and earnings. The government did, however, succeed in preventing discussion on other sensitive issues like Iraq and its decision to go ahead with Trident.
If the new proposals - now endorsed by the NEC and apparently some major trade unions - are accepted, delegates will only be allowed to identify issues they want looked at by the policy forums, and the manifesto that emerges will be put to a referendum of party members to accept or reject in full, with no possibility of amendment. This would complete the New Labour project under which the conference becomes a platform for ministers and a few handpicked delegates - and, of course, a big trade fair. There would be no point in joining the party locally or affiliating as a union in the hope of discussing policy.
In short, party members will only have one campaigning function - to get councillors and a government elected with policies which they have played no part whatsoever in formulating. If this divorce happens, policy campaigning will revert to those outside the party and parliament. This would be a tragedy, but it would indicate clearly that the New Labour leadership's attitude to the party and the movement is not only that they don't want certain policies passed but also that they don't want any decisions reached they do not control.
Of course this would also affect MPs, who would become elected "civil servants". I very much hope conference rejects the change, and makes clear that it intends to strengthen its role in policymaking; this the delegates in Bournemouth will have the power to do. But those who want to deal with issues not on the government's agenda will have to campaign vigorously outside parliament and build a body of opinion so strong no political party would be able to ignore it. Since I left parliament, all my work has been along those lines - against the Iraq war, privatisation, student loans; and for comprehensive education, union and workers' rights, civil liberties and public housing. The focus of these campaigns has hitherto been the conference, but if that opportunity is removed, the party will deprive itself of the support of activists when polling day comes.
Conference will then be an annual meeting for the fan club of the parliamentary bigwigs and their business friends. Even the fringe meetings which are now so vibrant could disappear, because those who attend them will know the issues they are interested in will never get on to the conference floor.
That is the choice that has to be made in Bournemouth - and it is the biggest decision since the party was founded, for it could also end the role of parliament as the buckle that links the demonstrations on the street to the legislation on the statute book upon which democracy itself depends.
· Tony Benn's latest book, More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-07, is published by Hutchinson next month firstname.lastname@example.org