Why Labour’s conference voting system is undemocratic – Kenny MacAskill

Conference delegates vote to decide the Labour Party's policy on Brexit. Picture: PA
Conference delegates vote to decide the Labour Party's policy on Brexit. Picture: PA
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The Brexit policy debate’s show of hands was reminiscent of the worst excesses of strikes decades ago, writes Kenny MacAskill

Close votes at party conferences can be hugely exciting. Often on contentious issues they can bring forth great speeches and provide a remarkable spectacle as a count takes place. I’ve been involved in a few myself. Close-run votes in the SNP on Europe or NATO have actually shown the party at its best.

Labour’s slightly different with its structures allowing for card votes to represent union and other interests. There have still, though, been some great debates with the only difference being a longer wait as the more complicated voting procedure is counted.

But the Brexit policy debate at their conference in Brighton was not just a travesty in outcome but also in its handling. The bumbling incoherence of the conference chair who seemed to think that the vote had gone the other way until directed by a Corbyn aide was frankly pitiful.

It was reminiscent of the worst excesses of strikes decades ago now. I opposed many of Thatcher’s trade union laws but I have to accept that strike ballots were right and appropriate. The mass meeting in which intimidation could take place when a call for “out brothers out” was made, was simply wrong.

For Labour then to have such an important decision made by a decibel count was preposterous and undemocratic. It seemed that even on the conference floor the vote was to close to call and that was before the weighting of union block votes. The spectre of “Red Robbo” rides again. Ballots were needed at British Leyland then and they’re required in Labour now.