Changes voted through by Labour at its annual conference this week have further marginalised disabled people within the party, activists have warned.
Because of the changes to the party’s constitution, constituency Labour parties (CLPs) now need to have permission from the party’s national executive committee (NEC) to create a disability officer role with a vote on how the local party is run.
The changes – which also apply to some other equality groups – were designed by the party to cut the number of executives with voting rights in each CLP, in most cases to just six.
The changes have delivered a further blow to disabled people’s voice in the party, less than a year after the party went back on plans to hold a national disability conference and set up a national committee of disabled members.
The NEC decided last year that it would be too expensive to set up national and regional committees for its disabled members and hold the disabled members’ conference, and it decided instead to focus funding on winning the next general election.
Two members of Disability Labour this week spoke out against the changes to the constitution.
Emily Pomroy-Smith told Disability News Service (DNS): “It’s marginalising us even more.”
She said the six CLP voting roles – such as chair, treasurer and vice-chair – are usually taken by non-disabled people.
She said: “It’s another roll back on inclusion for disabled people.
“It’s frustrating – if we can’t get it right internally, then how are we going to deliver it in government?”
She said the rule change on disability officers was added to other proposed changes and grouped under the heading “getting CLPs election ready”, which meant anyone voting against it appeared to be opposed to the idea of preparing for the general election.
Jonathan Farr, treasurer of Disability Labour, told DNS: “It means that disabled people don’t have any positions in the party that carry a vote and therefore any meaningful say in what happens in the party, except for the ability to vote for one person on NEC.
“I feel that as a disabled person and someone who has been active in the party, I am actually not welcome in the party.
“I found it triggering. The party doesn’t care about me.”
After hearing how Farr felt about the party’s move, Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told DNS: “I don’t think it’s nice if people feel like that. We need to do better.”
Some delegates spoke in favour of the changes when they were debated at the conference in Liverpool on Sunday.
Peter Swallow, chair of Ealing Central and Acton CLP, said: “Right now, too many CLPs are over-encumbered or have half-empty executive committees.”
He said that his CLP had almost 1,500 members but “even we can’t fill our exec committee”.
He said the “top priority” was “winning the next general election”, and he added: “This isn’t factional, it’s functional.”
Cllr Birgit Miller, from Hove and Portslade CLP, a newly-elected councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council, also said the focus needed to be on winning the next election.
She said: “I am a neurodiverse person. It doesn’t help to have a disability officer who struggles to make meetings. It doesn’t help to be a token person.
“I want people with disabilities, people who are LGBTQ+, people who are BAME, I want them in the centre, and I want them in those six important roles.”
But Miller’s comment about having a disability officer “who struggles to make meetings” was criticised the following day from the platform by disabled delegate Emily Pomroy-Smith, who told the conference: “If your disabled members struggle to make meetings, then you need to fix that, not use it as an excuse to deny us voting rights on executive committees.
“The very fact that this went unchallenged by the chair, as they should call out any discrimination on this stage, demonstrates why it is so important that disabled people always have a seat at the table.
“And I can tell you, from experience, that if that space isn’t mandated, then it is very rarely available to us.”
Wheelchair-user James Driver told delegates that “removing minorities’ voting rights on execs… removes the standard of inclusion at the highest level”.
He said: “I simply do not believe this is true to the Labour party’s most central values.”
Tommy Edwin Kirkwood, from Blackpool South CLP, who is dyslexic, said the changes represented a “blatant disregard for equalities”.
He said: “We think that people deserve a voice in this society… disabled and LGBT and young people like myself need to be listened to.”
Summarising the changes, NEC member Cllr Nesil Caliskan said: “We need to be election ready, an operational focus which means swift, agile, decision-making executive committees will be critical across the country.
“Very big executive committees are just not practical.
“These proposals are about functionality and reflect the NEC’s commitment to make sure every aspect of our party machine is election ready.”
She said CLPs could still choose to have equality officers, but they would not have votes.
Picture: Jonathan Farr (left) and Emily Pomroy-Smith
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