With just over a month to go until Labour party conference in Liverpool, the party ought to be turning its attention to setting the agenda for the year ahead. Instead, there are doubts over whether the event will even take place.
Earlier this month, a leaked memo to Guido revealed that the party was facing a conference crisis. Following a decision to boycott G4S after over 20 years working together, the party had approached five firms but only one - Showsec - was willing to provide security for the event. As Iain McNicol -- the general secretary -- pointed out, this was an unsatisfactory option as the Liverpool-based firm do not have a unionised work force and, as a result, are in a row with the GMB union.
Three weeks on and things have taken a turn for the worse. After Showsec refused to sign a union agreement, the GMB claimed on Thursday that it would go against party rules to use them. Labour's NEC have said that they back the GMB's demand, following an emergency meeting. The union -- like McNicol -- are thought to prefer to work with G4S, a firm they have dealt with in the past.
However as G4S are on the boycott list -- with reports at the time linking Labour's decision to the firm's links with Israel -- the National Executive Committee would need to vote to lift the ban. Given that the recent NEC elections saw the committee tilt further to the left, there is no guarantee they would play ball. Even if it were lifted, G4S would then need to agree to take the contract. While it's already late notice, I understand that the greater issue at hand is how they have been treated by the party after years spent developing a good working relationship.
There is an alternative option on the table as Labour could go to the police for extra security. Although this would get round the union problem – the police are represented by the Police Federation – it would cost an eye-watering figure in total. Where security workers for Showsec cost around £9 per hour, a PC comes to £59.65 an hour.
While the conference is still widely expected to go ahead in some form, the ongoing confusion will fuel concerns that a party that can't be trusted with its own security should not be trusted with the country's.