Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Labour Party Conference

In the United Kingdom, each major political party holds an annual party conference. The Labour Party Conference, or national conference of the Labour Party, is formally the supreme decision-making body of the Party. However, the party leadership has made clear (particularly in recent years) that it will ignore the conference's decisions where it does not agree; constitutionally, a British government must be free to make decisions on behalf of the whole population and cannot be bound by any private body.

Delegates to the conference are elected by Constituency Labour Parties and affiliated unions. Currently, unions hold 50% of the votes at the conference - down from 80% in the era before Tony Blair, but still considerable.

Resolutions for debate are put forward by CLPs and unions before the conference begins. In recent years, party members have had less say in what is debated at the annual conference, as the party leadership has tried to move policy-making increasingly into the new National Policy Forums, which meet in private.

The National Executive Committee oversees the conference and if it does not agree with a resolution, the committee may put pressure on the backers to withdraw or remit it. Remittance means that the resolution's backers agree to "send back" the resolution to the National Executive so that it can consider the matter in more detail; this is viewed by some as a mere delaying tactic. The resolutions voted upon are normally composites, meaning that they have been compiled by combining several resolutions put forward by different bodies into a single wording agreed beforehand.

Many critics argue that the Labour Party Conference has become less democratic in recent years and more like a party rally; some would compare it disparagingly with the American party conventions, which are perceived in the UK in those terms. Others would say that, because divisions in a party are unpopular electorally, it has been to the party's advantage to move disputes behind closed doors; they would also argue that the Labour Conference is more democratic than that of the rival Conservative Party, which political scientists have traditionally perceived as a more top-down or hierarchical party than Labour.