It being New Year’s Eve I am intending to attend the Labour Grassroots online party in order to look back at one very minor aspect of the awful year now passing, associated with one rather minor petty bureaucrat who brought a little tedium and, in some cases, discomfort, to the lives of Constituency Labour Party (CLP) officers over the past two months.
On October 29th David Evans wrote to us all about the publication of the EHRC report, sending us a guidance note for CLPs. This was followed up on November 5th with guidance on discussion of individual disciplinary cases and the EHRC report, followed, on November 26th by updated guidance on motions with a further update of guidance on motions on December 8th.
It was in the third of these four communications that the Acting General Secretary, whose appointment still has to be be endorsed by Labour Party Conference, addressed the question of his authority to issues these edicts. He correctly identified that the National Executive Committee (NEC) can delegate its powers to the General Secretary in accordance with Clause VIII Part 5 of Chapter One (although he has not told us whether, and if so when, it did decide to delegate any particular powers).
However, the National Executive only has - and can only delegate - the powers given to it by the Rule Book, and when it comes to the conduct of our Party meetings these are very clearly set out in Clause VIII Part 3 paragraph E of Chapter One which empowers the NEC to “issue guidance and instructions on the conduct of meetings.” Since the Rule Book identifies guidance and instructions separately it is clear that the two are not the same thing.
An instruction is just that, a precise command to do - or not to do - something, whereas guidance is something which is to be taken into account and followed in so far as it is reasonable and appropriate to do so. That is how I have treated the guidance from David Evans - and this is how any fair disciplinary process should consider his correspondence when dealing with the cases of CLP officers who have been suspended because they refused to follow his guidance as if it were an instruction.