Labour conference: Anger as party awards unions half of votes for disability elections

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Disabled members of the Labour party are angry that new plans to elect a disabled representative to a key party body will see half of the votes in the election given to unions.

Members of the executive of Disability Labour, which is affiliated to the party, want to see elections for the new seat for a disabled member on Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) conducted on the basis of “one member one vote”, with only disabled party members allowed to vote.

But the party agreed at its annual conference in Liverpool this week that 50 per cent of the votes would be given to trade unions.

The same rules will apply to elections for a new seat for a disabled member on the party’s influential conference arrangements committee, which manages the annual conference every year.

Fran Springfield, Disability Labour’s new co-chair, told Disability News Service: “We want one member one vote.”

Wayne Blackburn, her fellow co-chair, added: “When it comes to something as critical for disabled members, it should be one member one vote for disabled members of the party.”

He said Disability Labour would be lobbying the party over the next year to change the rules.

Kathy Bole, a co-vice-chair of Disability Labour, said she was concerned that the rules could see a union-backed activist elected to the NEC rather than one backed by disabled party members.

The Labour party had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to a request for a comment on the decision to give unions half of the voting rights.

The Labour party also voted this week to set up for the first time an association of disabled members within the official party structure.

The new association – which will join groups already set up for women, LGBT and black and minority ethnic members – is set to be launched in 2020.

It could replace Disability Labour, although some disabled activists believe that Disability Labour should continue in a parallel role as an affiliated group, outside the main party structures, rather than being merged with the new association.

New members of the Disability Labour executive, who were elected earlier this month to provide a fresh start for the much-criticised organisation, had different views this week on whether they would like to see Disability Labour continue after the new association launches in 2020.

Springfield said: “Disability Labour will vote on whether members want to become part of the new association or whether they want to stay as a socialist society.

“I want them to become part of the main movement because then they will get the chance to contribute [to the party].”

Bole said it was an important decision to create an association for disabled members within the main party structure.

She said: “The biggest way we are going to be able to make changes is within the party.

“I think we will be taken slightly more seriously if we are within the Labour party rather than an organisation that functions outside.”

But Blackburn said: “Disability Labour has a really important position to have as a critical friend for Labour.

“Whether a disability association will be able to do the same I have some concerns.

“I think the association is really important because it can have important influence, but from my point of view I think there is still a place for Disability Labour, even if it is a small part.”

Meanwhile, efforts to make it easier for disabled party members to be heard during debates on the main conference platform appear to have been successful.

Concerns had been raised about party figures chairing debates in previous years being influenced in deciding who to call to speak by delegates jumping out of their seats and waving their arms in the air – or sometimes holding up inflatables or umbrellas – to catch the eye of the chair.

But efforts to change the way delegates were chosen to speak appeared to have been successful this week, particularly in Monday’s debate on education and social security.

Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite the Union, had reminded Labour MP Shabana Mahmood – who was chairing the debate – of a ruling by a chair the previous day who had said that delegates who stood up and waved things in the air would not be called to speak.

Mahmood then called a series of disabled delegates to speak during the debate, including several for whom a conference assistant had raised an arm on their behalf.

Pictured: Blackburn, Springfield and Bole (right) at the Disability Labour fringe

 

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