By Liam McNulty (Hornsey and Wood Green CLP, Noel Park branch chair – pc)
The Annual General Meeting of the Labour Party Irish Society on 25th October has been mired in controversy, after many LPIS members have complained of widespread irregularities.
A mid-week meeting held in Westminster at 6:30pm was always going to be an issue for those not working in central London. The venue, Portcullis House in Westminster, compounded the problems, as it is well-known that security checks at the entrance can take time, especially in busy periods.
Despite instituting an electronic RSVP system which predicted a large turnout for the AGM, the AGM was held in the Grimond Room in Portcullis House, which has a capacity of 70. The meeting spilled over to a nearby room but still members were queuing outside.
This could all be explained away, potentially, as an unfortunate logistical problem if it were not for the blatantly partisan way in which some sections of the LPIS used the situation to their political advantage.
Joining the queue at 5:45pm, I saw some arrivals being cherry-picked and brought to the front of the queue or in through other entrances. Worse, at one point, Stephen Pound MP came outside Portcullis House and told those in the queue that the AGM had been cancelled. Many people left at this point, as only those who knew people inside the meeting already were able to verify that it was still on. Both of these factors meant that the AGM was dominated by people who worked in Parliament, including several Progress-aligned MPs such as Chuka Ummuna and Stella Creasy, staffers and political advisers. A less representative AGM it would be difficult to imagine.
After I finally got through security after about an hour, I arrived outside the Grimond Room only to be informed that I was not allowed in. Even though I had been nominated from the floor as a candidate for the LPIS committee, I was not allowed in to address the meeting and speak to my nomination about why I was standing and what I wanted to do if elected. At one point, the organisers called the police, who ran up to the room, asking if there had been a “disturbance”. There hadn’t been but, when the police were informed that candidates for election had been denied entry, even they sought to remedy the situation and gain admission for legitimately nominated candidates. It comes to something at a labour movement event when the Met are amongst those showing the more democratic instincts!
A number of other left candidates were also denied entry. This was despite comrades inside the room offering to leave to make room for me. Indeed, candidates seated in the second room were brought in to the first room to address the AGM, so there was really no problem with capacity in that regard. Candidates could have simply addressed the meeting from the front and then left again. I was told later that when it was pointed out I was still outside, heckles included “why did he not arrive on time?” despite me arriving nearly an hour early. Perhaps next year I will try to get a job in Parliament!
The Labour Party National Executive Committee should investigate urgently how the LPIS AGM was conducted. It is clear to me that if the LPIS wants to retain any credibility as an affiliated socialist society, the AGM should be re-run in an appropriately-sized and accessible venue, in which there is time to carry out proper checks to ensure that all those voting are paid-up members of the society, and that all paid-up members who wish to attend and vote are able to.
Here is an excerpt from the speech I was not allowed to give:
“I am standing for the position of Community Liaison on the following principles.
“When James Connolly founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York in 1908, he declared that: ‘To the capitalist organisation of Irish-American we will oppose a socialist organisation of Irish-America.’
“That was because the Home Rule party drew much of its financial support from what John Redmond revealing called ‘the better class of Irish men’ – the very same who exploited Irish workers and who broke strikes. Connolly was not interested in a cross-class alliance, reconciling labour and capital, on the basis of a shared Irishness.
“The Labour Party Irish Society must, of course, be a crucial link between the Irish diaspora and the Labour Party. But our focus should be on integrating Irish workers living here in to the labour movement, and forging links between workers’ organisations in both countries: standing side by side with those opposing austerity, not imposing it; standing with those fighting for reproductive rights, not those denying them…
“If elected, I would push for active support for movements like Repeal the 8th as we approach the referendum next year.
“I would continue LPIS’s work in opposing a hard Brexit, which could leave Irish people in Britain in limbo, and copper-fasten partition on the island of Ireland.
“Finally, LPIS has a big role to play in this decade of centenaries. We’ve had the Dublin Lock-Out and the Easter Rising but next year is 150 years since Connolly was born, and the centenary of the Irish general strike against conscription and the December 1918 General Election, to name but a few.
“LPIS should be a place for political education, and collective discovery of our historical past, and the history and traditions of Irish people in the labour movement.”
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