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Refounding Labour attacks union influence and will disappoint members

Refounding Labour — the review of party structure which was supposed to make good Ed Miliband’s promise of a Living, Breathing Party that would give members back their voice — is about to disappoint, big-time. The draft conclusions and recommendations of the Refounding Labour review are being considered by Labour’s national executive this afternoon (now published here). Although it is couched in the language of “clearer lines of accountability” and giving members a voice, its recommendations frequently work to strengthen command and control. And though there are a number of positive references to working with trade unions, the proposals actively seek to reduce trade union influence at several levels, especially at conference (including the conference arrangements committee) and in leadership elections.

The report’s conclusions are “supported” by references to the submissions received — including rom 184 party organisations and 3,255 individuals — but these are unreferenced and unquantified, and therefore lack transparency and credibility. In some cases, recommendations don’t even claim a basis in submissions, or are justified by such phrases as “consultation has exposed…”. Fortunately, LabourList’s exposé of this has succeeded in extracting a commitment to transparency from @Ed_Miliband (albeit as yet undelivered).

On the party’s national policy-making process, the report (which was largely written by Blairite deputy general secretary, Alicia Kennedy) white-washes past practices with statements such as:

Policy Commissions have been given an important role in taking forward contemporary issues from one Annual Conference to the next.”

And the claim:

succeeded in producing a policy programme around which all members can unite.”

There is no adequate recognition that even most NPF members are excluded from most of what happens within the NPF (just a reference that they “should be kept in touch“) and nor is any reform of the undemocratic JPC proposed. As for conference, all that is promised is further consultation on such things as the “weighting of votes”, how contemporary resolutions might be modified and whether NPF policy statements could contain more options or be considered (and voted on) in parts rather than as a whole. The sub-text is that unless the unions agree to a reduced vote for them and the CLPs (with votes going instead to elected representatives), reform might be blocked.

No extension to CLP representation on the national executive is proposed (currently six places out of 33) but new places are suggested for Scottish and Welsh leaders (or their appointees) as well as for LGBT and Disabled members organisations, although again more consultation is offered.

“Registered supporters” are to be introduced, theoretically “not at the expense of the rights of members” but they could be given votes in leadership elections as if they were affiliated members. This would provide the same benefit as an affiliated member who pays a levy and, based on the turnout at the last leadership election, half the benefit of an individual member. This does devalue the rights of membership and, since registration could be done online and is without any payment, opens the door to widespread electoral malpractice. Furthermore, it is possible that registration of “registered supporters” could be based simply on canvassing returns. Potentially, this could reduce trade union influence on leadership elections very significantly.

Proposals for developing Young Labour are an improvement on the current position but stop far short of creating a new autonomous youth section with local branches in the CLPs which is what is needed. Nor do they do anything to liberate it from the control of party officials, or from the grossly disproportionate influence of Labour Students.

There is also a serious move to enshrine elective dictatorship in the rulebook by empowering the Leader with:

  • the right to attend any party meeting (or to appoint representatives to attend on his or her behalf)
  • the duty to “uphold and enforce the constitution, rules and standing orders of the party”;
  • overall responsibility for all elections and (s/he) shall appoint a Campaign Co-ordinator and a Campaign Committee to ensure that all Labour Party election campaigns report to the Leader”.

Although these are  to be exercised “in conjunction with the NEC” (apart from the first), since these functions are currently vested in the NEC of which the Leader is a member, it represents a formal shift in power from the NEC to the Leader.

Command and control is also to be extended at local government level. Local government committees and district/county parties are to be replaced with small “coordination forums” dominated by council leaders and agents which will concentrate on “local election campaign coordination, candidate recruitment and candidate selection”, and will reduce accountability, undermine campaigning potential across local government areas and undermine members’ right to choose their candidates.

This outcome is very disappointing but it is not yet final. The fact that there is further consultation means that CLP and trade union members may still try to influence the outcome. Further decisions will be made by the NEC in September, with final decisions to be made at conference.

4 Comments

  1. Gary Elsby says:

    Have NATO been informed?

    The command and control section of local Government came into effect in Stoke 18 Months ago and is not new to us.

    Out went the local Government delegates from all 3 CLps and in came the new structure demanded by Eric Wilson and his Org sub Committee.

    3 MPs now made up the new local Government structure (or their representative-but not both) and a Chair, Scretary (of each CLP) a few TU members and a CO-OP memmber.
    Mark Fisher took the view that he would not attend due to a potential conflict of party and Constituency. He did not want to compromise his ability to speak out if needed.

    The end result was (and is) a complete stitch up via the Regional Director to shut people up and to disintegrate any internal opposition to central control of the party.

    Members were denied access to the panel and court cases were then pending.

    One member one vote became a non entity and any resort to the rule book will give you the total ambiguity of any rule you care to rely on.
    All rules in this years rule book back up central command at all points.

    What you see happening is what actually happened in Stoke. We fought, we lost (inevitable) and we walked away.

    In that year, 19 of the 20 candidates were hand picked by Eric Wilson and his Org Committee.
    All 19 would have lost in a proper ballot.
    1 was postal balloted in the branch because members attending the proper ballot voted for a person Eric Wilson did not want (National Merit Award/50 years Labour member/Former Councillor who is credited for removing our Elected Mayor-hint).

    This year, Labour actually managed to do the impossible and obtain more than 15 people willing to stand as candidates.
    44 came forward!!!
    Littered with people never heard of and considered ‘paper candidates’ by most people.

    Of course, in Cameron’s 1st birthday as PM it was a landslide and if these proposals come in for 2015, then all protests will be futile, no matter how democratically right the argument.
    Ask anyone in Stoke.

  2. Redshift says:

    Excellent article.

    Agree with the vast majority of your points and I am very disappointed this is where it has gone. The union influence is my biggest concern, being intentionally undermined with this wanky ‘supporters’ notion. As others have mentioned – it DOES devalue membership, something that isn’t financially cheap either. This has the stench of right-wingers persuading the naive that this is some sort of move to a 38Degrees model of structure – but 38Degrees petitions, it doesn’t fight election campaigns. Who is going to do the donkey work?

    I welcome any move towards Young Labour autonomy and Iain McNichol (new general secretary) has said ‘yes’ to giving Young Labour similar autonomy to the BAME, LGBT and Disabled members sections (see Labourlist), although we are yet to see what is going to happen. I fear I will be disappointed in the manner you describe but I have perhaps heard more positive things on this than on the party as a whole.

    The one point I do have a bit of a disagreement with is on LGC meetings that are normally tediously procedural to the extreme. I really don’t like the delegate structure, which tends to keep power in the ‘same old hands’ and is a barrier to member involvement. County parties, I don’t think it can be helped but is it really necessary in the case of an LGC?

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      The issue about LGCs and district/county parties is this: council boundaries, with a few exceptions, rarely coincide with CLP boundaries — I happen to live in Tower Hamlets which is one of the exceptions, not that we’re allowed to select our candidates bt that’s another story. With the forthcoming boundary changes this is going to get much worse with more constituency crossing local government boundaries and sometimes even with wards being split.

      Where councils are Labour controlled, there is a real loss of accountability if there is no suitable party unit to monitor the council. The creation of cabinets and the dispensation (or possible withdrawal) of salaries to cabinet members and others by those leaders greatly increases the need for accountability processes.

      The one good proposal in the Refounding Labour report is the possibility of local electoral colleges for electing the Leaders. That we should welcome but there needs to be discussion between elections too. Perhaps the electoral college itself would be a suitable framework, especially if it included trade union representation. Current financial pressures and massive service cuts cannot go undiscussed between councils and parties.

  3. Gary Elsby says:

    The removal of the LGC delegate structure, voted in by all members was replaced by ‘appointees’.

    Those appointees in stoke-on-Trent wouldn’t have got a vote between them if they went before the members.

    Shenanigans and new posts were created by the Regional Director and the Org Sub Committee to facilitate their friends.

    There first job, once put in place, was to bar a distinguished member from all meetings.

    It just so happened that he was the one who persuaded a referendum was needed to see whether we actually required a Mayor and Cabinet.

    It proved that we didn’t, according to votes cast by the public. You then gave him the National merit Award.

    Hilarious, but the ‘appointees’ (all Mayor loyalists) put the boot in.

    Give me the delegatre structure anyday who are answerable to the people who put them there and don’t give me an appointed system with people who want a short-cut to power and then abuse that power.

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