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Ray Apps

Re-selection: Support the Minority Report!

(September 1978)

From Militant Labour Party Conference Special, p. 4.
Insert in Militant, No. 425, 29 September 1978.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ray Apps is Brighton Kemptown’s delegate and a signatory to the Minority Report

A year ago, just after last year’s Party Conference, Reg Prentice announced on television his open defection to the Tory Party. The only surprise about this step that, unlike most of his friends who still peddle Tory ideas in the Parliamentary Labour Party, Prentice has the barefaced cheek to actually “cross the floor”.

Other right-wing Labour MPs were shocked and embarrassed, not because of his reactionary statements, but because Prentice’s action clearly revealed to the Party membership the logic of thinking that they share.

Prentice’s treacherous step was a complete vindication of the long campaign by Newham North East Labour Party to exercise its democratic right to replace him as their parliamentary candidate in the next general election.

Not only had they to contend with all the difficulties arising from an attempt to activate section 7 (B) of Party rules, but they had to fight expensive legal battles with right-wing infiltrators evidently financed by the worst enemies of the Labour Party.

This whole bitter episode in the Party’s history was also a vindication of the rank and file’s demand for rule changes that would supplement the “last resort” right of recall embodied in 7 (B) with a thoroughly democratic procedure for automatic, mandatory re-selection.

For a number of years Constituency Parties had been battling for proposals for re-selection to be debated at Conference. Such was the pressure that last year, despite 67 resolutions representing the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s position being arbitrarily excluded, there was a debate on Composite 29 moved by Brighton Kemptown.

At the end of the debate, delegates were persuaded to remit the composite with a promise from the chairman, Ian Mikardo, that:

“We shall put down at next year’s Annual Conference all the amendments to the constitution necessary to provide automatic re-selection in the way and in the sense that the sponsors of those 60-odd resolutions want. I do not think there is the least chance of the Executive reneging on that undertaking.

Even before the Working Party set up to frame rule-change proposals had started work, however, it was clear that prominent members of the PLP, including James Callaghan himself, with the help of a number of Transport House officials, had started a campaign to dilute drastically any new re-selection procedure.

From the first meeting of the working party, it became clear that a majority was, in reality, opposed to the idea of mandatory re-selection which Conference had demanded and which delegates had been promised. That is why it was necessary for Jo Richardson, Bernard Kissen, and myself to produce a Minority Report.

Regrettably, the NEC accepted the Majority Report by 15 votes to 5 – with only Frank Allaun, Nick Bradley, Eric Heffer, Joan Maynard, and Emlyn Williams opposing this retreat from the NEC’s previous commitment.

Majority Report

The Majority Report of the working party which appears in Appendix 1 of the 1978 Report (page 172), can in no way be described as providing for automatic re-selection.

The majority proposes that not earlier than 18 months and not later than 36 months after an MP is elected a special General Committee meeting would be held, the date to be determined in consultation with the sitting Member. The MP would be invited to address that meeting and a resolution would be put appointing him or her as prospective Parliamentary candidate.

If the resolution were not carried then the meeting would consider a second resolution, to set in motion procedure for a normal selection meeting. This could not be held, however, until the NEC had considered any appeal from the sitting Member is the first revolution was defeated.

Whatever the majority claims, these proposals amount to a two-stage procedure. Far from establishing the constituency party’s right to re-select, the first meeting would have the character of a rally in support of the sitting MP, with the onus for change placed on the rank and file.

The two-stage procedure, which could drag on for months, will give them a field day. Divisions in the Party would be fostered and played upon.


Career MPs in safe seats will be determined to hang on even if they wreck the party in the process. Prentice demonstrated this clearly enough.

That is why automatic re-selection is an extension of party democracy vital to the growth and success of the Party. The argument that CLPs ought not to have to go through the selection procedure if they do not wish to is fatuous. If an MP has the support of his or her constituency, successful re-selection will simply reaffirm confidence.

Minority Report

The rule change proposed in the Minority Report (1978 Report, Appendix 1, page 177) makes it mandatory for every Constituency to hold a Selection Conference, the sitting MP to be placed on the short list unless he or she wishes to retire. If this became part of the normal democratic process of the Party, without the need to pass a vote of ‘no confidence’ first (because that is what the proposal of the majority would mean in practice) the press would be given less opportunity to intervene to stir the pot, MPs would be more aware of Party policy as decided by Conference, and local parties would be re-invigorated, leading to growth in membership and activity.

One of the arguments – put forward by Ian Mikardo and others – against automatic reselection as proposed in the Minority Report is that it runs into trade union opposition over sponsored MPs. This is fully answered in the minority report.

It is right that trade union should have a say in the selection of MPs. But this should be exercised through the trade union delegates to General Management Committees. No trade union – or other affiliated bodies – has the prescriptive right to a parliamentary seat.

This is, in fact, recognised by the unions, and it is common practice for candidates to be sponsored after selection, and many unions sponsor candidates even if they are not members of that union.

Section 7 (B)

The proposals for re-selection proposed in the Minority Report would ensure that all MPs had to go through the same process, as a matter of course, the intervention by a hostile press would be minimised.

The minority report, however, also proposes the retention of paragraph B of section 7. It is vital that in any new procedure this clause, which is in effect a final right of recall, be retained as a reserve power.

The call to retain Section 7 (B), incidentally, is also supported by Eric Heffer MP (see letter, 1978 Report, page 178).

Composite 29 from Kemptown Labour Party, which I moved at last year’s conference, included the call for Section 7 (B) to be retained precisely because we feared the parliamentary party would accept a new, milk-and-water re-selection process in return for the abandonment of their parties’ real power of recall.

Our worst fears have been confirmed!

The right to move a vote of no confidence at any time of our choosing is to be exchanged for a paltry opportunity to move a vote of ‘no confidence’, if the majority proposals go through, just once, at a time pre-arranged to suit the sitting MP. Having got through a procedure heavily weighted in his or her favour, the MP would be safe to do what he liked in Parliament for up to seven years without the membership being able to do anything about it.

But when it became clear to the majority on the working party that the majority’s proposals would not amount to genuine automatic re-selection, it became even more necessary to insist on the retention of (7) B.

The majority’s report includes the recommendation that before a general committee may consider a vote of no confidence in a sitting member, it must obtain the permission of the NEC. This takes away an existing democratic right and gives the NEC a new power of veto.

If this had applied before, Prentice and other Tory entryists removed under section 7 (B) – with all its limitations – would quite likely still be masquerading as Labour MPs.

Even if the minority’s proposed re-selection procedure is accepted, however, it would still be necessary for CLPs to have the ultimate power to recall their MP other than at a once-and-for-all re-selection meeting.

Conference is now faced with a clear choice: either accept the diluted proposals of the Majority Report – which would leave the Party worse off than before – or support the proposals of the Minority, placed before conference in the constitutional amendments from Brighton Kemptown and Chorley CLPs (Agenda, page 15).


Whether or not the genuine proposals for mandatory re-selection carry the day, one thing is clear: the Party will not indefinitely tolerate disguised Tories of the Gaitskell school within the ranks of their parliamentary representatives.

In the coming period of sharpening political battles constituency parties will not tolerate this situation – whatever the limitations of the re-selection rules. Nevertheless, both to safeguard the internal democracy of the Party and to minimise dissension and outside interference by the press, it is vital that the mandatory re-selection procedures demanded by the membership for so long are carried through at this Conference.

Support the Minority Report! Vote for the Brighton Kemptown Amendment!

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Last updated: 20 August 2016