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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Brown wins emergency motion vote
Gordon Brown
Mr Brown's plans were criticised at the TUC earlier this month
Gordon Brown has won party backing for changes to voting rules at Labour's conference after an expected showdown with the unions failed to materialise.

The move means the end of emergency motions submitted for debate at Labour's annual conference.

Some on the left of the party have accused the leadership of trying to stifle debate.

But unions and constituency Labour parties overwhelmingly backed the move in a conference vote in Bournemouth.

There were two votes, the results of which were identical, with 84.5% voting in favour of Mr Brown's reforms.

The only significant protest, during Sunday's debate on the issue, came from former minister Michael Meacher.

Private

He warned the changes would be "a huge step backwards" for the party and reduce it to "virtual impotence".

The unions - which have inflicted a string of embarrassing defeats on the leadership over issues such as pensions and housing in recent years - will still be able to table motions but, crucially, not vote on them.

They would instead be referred to the party's national policy forum and discussed in private.

Another key change would see Labour's draft manifesto put to a ballot of all members on a one-member, one-vote basis.

The unions as a block hold 50% of the vote at conference.

Urging delegates to back the reforms, Cabinet Office minister Ed Miliband insisted they were not intended to sweep difficult issues under the carpet or to stifle dissent.

'Serious work'

Instead they would boost engagement with Labour's grassroots and help policy development, he said.

Most of the unions have backed the move on the understanding it will be reviewed in two years.

Outlining the moves, Mr Miliband pledged: "Under these reforms, the debates at conference will not just take place for four days and then disappear.

"They will shape the work of our policy-making throughout the year."

He added: "Under the proposed changes debate at conference would not be the end of the matter but the start of serious work.

"The national policy forum with ministers, trade unions and constituency Labour parties will get down to business on the detail and thrash out the tough questions.

"For the first time, the people who moved the motion, delegates at this conference, will be part of the discussions."

'Working people'

And he insisted: "It's not about sweeping difficult issues under the carpet because after a year, if conference isn't happy it can send the issue back."

Mr Miliband also sought to reassure delegates about the implications for trade unions, stressing: "Let me be absolutely clear. We need the voice of working people in this movement."

But Mr Meacher, who earlier this year failed to gather enough support from MPs to mount a leadership bid, warned: "To remove contemporary resolutions and votes on important policy issues is a huge step backwards.

"It is not an advance in party democracy. What is the point of conference if it is merely a talking shop and there is no way we can seriously influence the party leadership and the Government into changing course?

"The Labour Party isn't a discussion organisation. It is about power."

Mr Meacher urged delegates to "forget any idea" that the issue would be brought back in two years' time.

"Enough is enough," he said. "If we let this through the Labour Party as a power organisation is reduced virtually to impotence."




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