In a packed hall a mile from London’s Olympic park, the London Labour Party’s biennial conference was in bullish mood this last weekend. In spite of the loss of last year’s mayoral election, delegates and platform alike sounded confident that London Labour is in good shape electorally, as well as determined and radical in its wide ranging policy discussions. Unfortunately the reality is that Refounding Labour passed by the London Labour Party. It’s run from HQ, and the only devolution that’s going is to town hall bosses.
In policy terms, in spite of the influence of Progress in London CLPs, London is to the left of the national party. In large part, that is the result of London’s extreme inequalities of income and wealth, acute housing deprivation for example alongside a still growing house price bubble especially at the luxury end of the market. There’s no support here, unlike at Westminster, for housing benefit caps that threaten social cleansing for much of London. Nor opposition to private sector rent controls and massive expansion of council housing.
This year, the conference had wide-ranging policy debates, increasing the number of topics discussed from two to three for the first time in many years. As well as those three — housing, health and the economy — emergency motions were discussed on cuts to the fire service and the introduction of free schools. These motions would provide a solid progressive basis for borough, Londonwide and even national elections, but unfortunately there’s little direct relationship between these discussions and policy at town and city halls.
When Ken Livingstone was first elected Leader of the GLC in 1981, his manifesto had been agreed at a London Labour Party conference after months of detailed debate within the London party. Last year, there was a mayoral policy conference as an afterthought, without votes and with no role in determining the manifesto. It’s Labour’s national executive that decides how mayoral candidates are selected at both borough and Londonwide levels.
And nor does the elected regional board have any real influence on any other aspect of what happens at borough level. The GMB complained about trade union exclusion from local campaign forums in London. Across London, CLP activists complain about being bounced by council leaders into small unrepresentative structures which eliminate any accountability of council leaders and executive mayors. Yet these matters are adjudicated by party officials who may, at last, have escaped being housed within party HQ, but it is still to HQ rather than the regional board that they are accountable. It is the national executive, not the regional board, that decided, for example, the timetable and process for the selection of London’s mayoral candidates.
Part of the problem is the lack of a rule book — the last one was torn up at the height of New Labour. Party managers then were prepared to tolerate a regional board whose election could be fixed or gerrymandered by party officials. The largest CLP division, for example, has over 60% more members than the smallest. The platform conceded that it was up to the incoming regional board to consider whether to adopt new rules. Fortunately, the new board has shifted to the left. The time for making up the rules as you go along is passed. They would be well advised to consider for inclusion in a new rule book:
- Establishing a proper policy-making process working towards the next mayoral and London assembly elections, with policy commissions and final approval by London’s party conference;
- Returning to an annual conference cycle;
- Giving the Regional Board oversight of borough local campaign forums to ensure that they not only maintain effective organisation and campaigning activity, but also ensure the accountability of elected representatives and the maximum involvement of affiliated organisations;
- Reaffirming the existing procedure for an individual ballot to select London’s mayoral candidate in an electoral college giving equal weight to individual members and affiliated members – and rejecting the sidelining of both in the Progress proposal for a primary;
- Redefining CLP divisional boundaries that make more geographical sense and produce divisions of a more equal size.
The new Regional Board elected was (London Labour Left backed candidates shown in italics):
Chair: Len Duvall AM
Vice-Chair: Linda Perks (Unison) 70% — down from 89% last time, beating Beulah East 20% and Narinder Matheroo 4%
National Policy Forum Reps x2: Lucy Anderson and Sam Gurney (unopposed)
Disabilities Rep: Sean McGovern 48% up from 31% last time, beating Nick Russell 22% down from 36% and Sally Mulready 24% down from 33%
Ethnic Minorities Officer: Raj Jethwa 71% down 94% beating Mandy Richards 18% and Fahim Ahktar 2%, neither of whom stood previously
LGBT Officer: Anton Johnson 52% beat Daryn McCombe 48%
North West CLPs (F): Lisa Homan 83% up from 55% beating Judith Atkinson 17% down from 45%
North West CLPs (M): Chris Payne (unopposed)
South & SE CLPs (F): Christine Bickerstaff 70% up from 37% beating Maggie Hughes 30% down from 40%
South & SE CLPs (M): Charlie Mansell 53% as last time but in an even more crowded field, beating David Gardner 18%, Jeff Hanna 15% and Will Martindale 15%
North & NE CLPs (F): Laila Butt (unopposed)
North & NE CLPs (M): Unmesh Desai 56% down from 57% beating Richard Price 44% at his first attempt
Central CLPs (F): Joy Johnson (unopposed)
Central CLPs (M): Francis Prideaux 71% up from 52% beating David Warwick 29%
Trade Unions x8: Leonie Cooper (Unite), Gary Doolan (GMB London), Mike Hedges (Unite), Gloria Hanson (Unison), Amarjit Singh (TSSA), Alan Tate (CWU), Sheila Thomas (USDAW), Maggie Ferncombe (Unison)
Co-Op x2: Joe Simpson, Rupa Huq (unopposed)
Socialist Societies: Huw Davies (unopposed)
Young Labour: Rachel Barker (unopposed)
MP: to be confirmed
MEP: to be confirmed
London Councils Labour Group x2: to be confirmed
Overall, the London Labour Left gained three places.