The aim of this document is to help new members understand how the Socialist Party runs its meetings. We aim for all meetings to be conducted in an inclusive, democratic and organised way. Most most importantly we strive for all meetings to be effective in their decision making.
The simplest way this can be done is through the establishment of rules or ‘standing orders’ for meetings of the organisation. Organisations ranging from trade unions, football clubs, school councils, and political parties all have a set of rules which are agreed upon by their members and which relate to how a meeting should be conducted. Most are based on standard meeting procedures which are consistent across many meeting forums. The following is an outline of the way the Socialist Party runs its meetings.
It is important to remember why meetings are held. The Socialist Party’s meetings are generally split into two parts, the political and the organisational discussions, the two parts are importantly linked but kept separate for clarity. The political discussions help us analyse events both past and present and to outline our perspectives for the future. The organisational part of the meeting flows from these perspectives and in general the organisational discussions aim to serve three main purposes.
1. to organise the activities of the party
2. to allow for the party to make decisions
3. to inform comrades about what’s happening inside the organisation
The best way to ensure that these aims are met is to have organised and democratic meetings. Establishing standing orders alone will not ensure this occurs, considerations must be given to a number of other factors including the chair person, the minute taker, the agenda and the time.
The chairperson plays a vital and pivotal role in any meeting. They have the ability to make or break the meeting. The role of the chairperson is to:
1. facilitate discussion (draw the discussion together, question the meeting and remind the meeting of important points that have been made)
2. organise the discussion (not allow the meeting to skip from one topic to another, follow the agenda in its order, keep speakers time in check, keep the meeting time in check and not allow things to drag on)
3. maintain democracy within the meeting (keep a call list, discipline offensive behaviour, conduct voting on motions)
The minute taker
Minute taking is an important aspect of any meeting; it records decisions and summaries of major debates. Minute taking is not about recording every word that is spoken in the meeting, this would be impossible to do. In general minutes should always contain:
1. The date and time of the meeting
2. apologies from people unable to attend
3. the people in attendance
Then working through the agenda briefly summarise discussions that did not contain formal motions. Where formal motions are presented to the meeting the minute taker should write down the motion, the mover and the seconder and whether the motion was carried or defeated.
It is also important that the minutes are available to the members and when possible members should receive a copy (especially if they are unable to attend). The minutes of each meeting should be kept together as a record of the organisational decision making.
The agenda is the plan for the meeting. It outlines what is to be discussed and when it will be discussed in the meeting. Usually an agenda will include most of the following components:
1. The date and time (starting and finishing) of the meeting
2. a call for apologies from people unable to attend the meeting
3. the items for discussion for the current meeting including the political lead off
4. business arising from the previous meeting
5. reports from any sub committees of the party
6. general business
When setting the agenda it is preferable if members have a copy before the meeting. If the agenda has not been set prior to the meeting it is the role of the chair person to call for items to be placed on the agenda at the start of the meeting and to organise the items in order of relevance or importance and the to confirm the agenda with the meeting.
Time is one of the most important elements of a meeting. Time and timing are the jurisdiction of the chairperson. Members attending the meeting need to be certain that where possible discussions do not become repetitious and time consuming. However members of the meeting also need to take responsibility for timing their own contributions and allowing time for others to speak on the topic.
The chair person must establish reasonable speaking times for members who wish to make contributions during discussions (3 minutes is usually a good time limit) and to strictly enforce this.
In addition the chair person must ensure that the meeting flows and is finished within the prescribed time. This means setting times for agenda items and reminding the meeting how much time is left, how long an item has been under discussion and so on.
These are the rules and procedures which allow the meeting to be conducted in a democratic manner. The ones outlined below are the most commonly used in Socialist Party meetings.
A motion is the formalisation of a meetings decision. It may outline action the meeting wishes to endorse or undertake, or it may be a statement or sentiment the meeting wishes to make on an issue.
Motions are debated and voted upon by the meeting. They must be moved and seconded by a member of the meeting before they can be accepted for debate. (The mover and the seconder must be different people)
Once a motion has been moved and seconded the chairperson should call for any opposition to the motion if there is none usually the mover will speak to the motion and give reasons why the motion should be carried by the meeting. After this the chair person will call for votes for and against.
If however there is opposition to the motion the chairperson may decide to go into committee for a designated time agreed by the meeting. During committee the chairperson will take speakers from the meeting who wish to comment on the motion. This time allows members to form an opinion on the issue and gather information before a formal debate is held.
After committee time has ended the chair person will:
1. ask the mover to speak to their motion
2. ask the seconder if they wish to speak to the motion (they may formally reserve their right to speak – this means they will speak later in the meeting)
3. call for a speaker against the motion
4. call for a speaker in favour of the motion
5. continue to call for speakers for and against the motion until either there are no further speakers or until a set number of speakers for and against have spoken (this should be set when the formal debate begins)
6. the mover will have the right of reply (sum up)
7. the chair person will then call for votes for and against the motion and any abstentions (people who don’t wish to vote)
8. Depending on the number the motion will be declared carried or defeated.
9. Amendments may be made to motions but can only be adopted if either the mover accepts the amendment or it is voted on along the same lines as outlined above.
When motions are proposed or moved in meetings the mover should write down their motion and hand it to the chairperson and minute taker as soon as is possible. Often however motions will be the result of discussions within a meeting, in regards to particular business on the agenda.
When motions are being discussed it is important that the chair person keeps a call list of speakers for and against the motion so that the debate flows in a democratic and efficient manner. From time to time the chair should let the meeting know how many people and who is on the list.
It is also important that the chairperson keeps control of the meeting and makes sure that all speakers speak through the chair. This means that no one is to speak unless they have been given permission by the chair. Anyone who interjects over another speaker should be disciplined by the chairperson.
Additionally the chairperson has the responsibility to make sure that speakers speak to the motion and that their contributions are directly related to the debate.
If during the voting for a motion members feel that the vote is close and the chair person has mistakenly counted they may ask for division. This means that the vote must be called again and the votes must be manually counted by more than one person other than the chair.
Point of order
A point of order may be called at any time during a debate and does not require a person to go on the call list. It is directed to the chairperson who will put the question to the meeting. It is usually called over procedure when a member of the meeting wishes to draw the chairperson?s attention to clarifying or rectifying the procedure of the meeting. It may be used to conclude a debate or needs summing up or delaying. It may also be used to draw the chairperson attention to inappropriate behaviour by another member in the meeting.
Point of clarification
Similarly a point of clarification may also be asked at any time during a discussion or debate of a motion. Points of clarification are usually simple questions of the speaker or may be used when the speaker misinterprets the contribution of a previous speaker. Again the chair must facilitate the point without allowing it to become a discussion between two members of the meeting.
Dissent from the chair
This is rarely used in Socialist Party meetings but is useful to know for other meeting forums (for example debating in trade unions). Dissent from the chair is called when a member of the meeting does not agree with a ruling or interpretation of the chairperson. If this occurs the chairperson must step down from the chair and be replaced by another member in the meeting. The member who called dissent will outline why they have done so, the chair will outline their response and the meeting will vote for or against the call for dissent. If dissent is passed the chairperson must accept the new interpretation.
It is important to remember that this is a fairly drastic rule to use and is not often implemented as the chairperson should be able to remain neutral to any debate that is being undertaken.
It is important that Socialist Party meetings follow agreed procedures to ensure that everyone has the right to speak and be heard. This will help us to further develop the healthy culture of debate and discussion within the party. The Socialist Party realises that we have massive tasks ahead of us and therefore our meetings not just talk shops. They are designed for us to discuss the tasks at hand, inform our members, organise our work and make decisions that will allow us to take the class struggle forward.