Jon Lansman, Tower Hamlets Borough Labour Party, urges members to participate in the review of party structures.
In the New Labour years, activists dropped out of the Labour Party in droves – not only because of government actions like the Iraq war, but also because there was simply no role for them in Blair’s Party. The party machine was redesigned to support Blair in power, for command and control, to ensure that anyone selected for any public office was on-message, that any policy proposal presented for discussion at any but the lowest level was in line with the leader’s thinking and that no unauthorised campaigning activity took place. Party members were surplus to requirements – except for their money and occasional appearances as extras on a film or photo set. A winning campaign could be managed from the centre, through the media… or so they thought.
In the leadership campaign, Ed Miliband promised to give Labour Party members back their voice:
“I want the Labour Party to be the most effective campaigning organisation in the country… Party members have felt they did not have a voice and that all the leadership wanted them to be is leaflet deliverers. We need a living, breathing party of which people are proud to say they are members and proud to call their own.”
A review of Labour Party structure is therefore now taking place. It is being overseen by Peter Hain MP, who now chairs the National Policy Forum, and it will report this summer. In September, Annual Conference is expected to agree rule changes which will give effect to its conclusions. CLPs must send their views to Peter Hain by 10th June.
This is the best opportunity for the left to restore democracy to the Party for decades. To assist with this task, a Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) Taskforce, in consultation with other left organisations and trade unionists, has prepared a response to the consultation entitled A Living, Breathing Party. You can download this from Left Futures (www.leftfutures.org).
The key proposals in the document, carefully devised in order to command the widest possible support while still restoring to the Party control over its programme, are as follows.
At a local level
Attitudes, imagination, openness and year-round activity matter more than structure, which should be flexible and pluralistic.
Primaries should be rejected, as they reward inactivity and non-membership at the expense of members, but fees should be reduced to help recruit new members.
The revamping of the Party’s intranet to facilitate improved communication between members – not just top down – and give access to information about what is being proposed or decided at every level.
A real, functioning democracy requires real debates and votes on motions from local parties and unions, as well as a rolling policy programme, with the majority of time devoted to contributions from delegates.
The principle of equality of representation between individual and affiliated members should remain at Conference and be extended to the National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Policy Forum (NPF).
l The NEC’s role in planning and overseeing policy development should be restored alongside its role on campaigns, organisation and finance, and as the voice of the Party in dealings with the leader.
l It should approve any arrangement with other parties in the event of future hung Parliaments.
Its primary task should be to facilitate debate and decision by Annual Conference on options for inclusion in the rolling policy programme. That would require a major cultural change and reform of its internal procedures.
All significant strands of opinion within the Party should be included on policy commissions and among the options included.
Policy proposals should be based on widespread consultation among members, affiliates and local parties making best possible use of the Party’s intranet.
No more coronations – thresholds should be reduced anyway (to 5%) where there is a vacancy, but should be ignored if only one candidate achieves the threshold.
The electoral college should be maintained as the only way of including affiliated and individual members as well as MPs. The involvement of “supporters” should be rejected for the same reason as primaries, as they reward inactivity and non-membership at the expense of members, and last year demonstrated that a leadership election can be a real incentive for new members to join.
Party members’ rights
A renewed right for members to select or reselect all candidates (parliamentary, council, assembly and mayoral) prior to each election, without any unnecessary interference, and without any prior vetting of the candidates.
Party officials must observe the civil service principles of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality and there must be a charter of members’ rights, an ombudsman and a whistleblowing policy.
A strengthening of the women’s and BAME structures in the Party, a renewed commitment to increased BAME and female representation in Parliament, and a new programme to increase working class representation.
A new autonomous Young Labour organisation at every level in the Party, integrating students and young members, with adequate resources and a sabbatical elected Chair, and able to feed into decision-making at all levels.
This exercise will not be concluded easily, however. The Blairites are likely to focus their attention on the introduction of primary-style parliamentary selections and leadership elections which exclude the trade unions, perhaps seeking to break the union link altogether. Whatever Ed Miliband promised last year, these Blairites still dominate the PLP and shadow cabinet – and are likely to do their utmost to preserve their control over policy making. It’s down to us to win the argument in our CLPs and unions.