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The real test of Ed’s commitment to democracy is on reform of the wider party

Labour MPs have voted today to back Ed Miliband in abolishing shadow cabinet elections, with 196 (76%, or 83% of those voting) in favour, 41 against and 20 not voting. Last September the same PLP had rejected the same proposal and, instead, voted to elect the Chief Whip for the first time (although in the end Ed Miliband ensured that his favoured candidate was elected unopposed).

Interestingly, the proposal will go to the Party Conference as part of the Refounding Labour process, led by Peter Hain. This will be the first time the party conference has voted on the rules of the PLP which, unlike every other section of the party, has always agreed its own rules. Perhaps that innovation will somewhat moderate the disappointment of many in the party outside parliament that internal party elections are being abolished. The real test, however, of EdMiliband’s commitment to democracy within the party will be in how he and Peter Hain propose to reform the party’s structure.

Their proposals, after an initial discussion at this week’s Organisation Committee of Labour’s executive, will go to the full executive in two weeks time. It is already clear, however, that there are substantial areas of agreement on the subject between the trade unions and the Centre Left of the party, and in many areas their view is likely to be supported by the Leadership – although some important differences remain.

The joint trade union submission to the review through TULO did not mince its words about New Labour’s tendency to:

sideline local power structures in favour of centralised command and control.

Contrary to the claims of a number of media commentators, the TULO submission seems  rather more concerned with the influence of grassroots members of the party than their own influence. It highlights, for example, “the weakness of the membership’s voice within our Party:”

  • On the National Executive Committee the 200,000 members have just 6 seats, compared to the 250 strong PLP who hold eight seats.
  • At our Conference, the 646 constituencies are entitled to just 4 contemporary resolutions. They are not able to submit resolutions on financial, organisational, or campaigning matters. They are not entitled to amend the policy documents presented to Conference.
  • Within the National Policy Forum, they are entitled to propose amendments to the policy documents just once in a four year cycle. At that point in the last cycle (2009), just one amendment was accepted without the agreement of the leadership.
  • In the leadership college, constituencies cannot make a meaningful nomination for a candidate. The 200,000 members have the same weight as the 250 strong PLP.
  • At the last leadership contest, the vote of 1 MP was worth 450 grassroots members, and worth nearly 1000 trade unionists.

They also express their concern about “excessive external influence on the process” of parliamentary selections. They propose to deal with these imbalances by:

  • Increasing the number of CLP seats on Labour’s executive from 6 to 11 (one fewer than proposed by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy).
  • A return to debating policy motions at conference (as well as those on campaigning, organisation and finance) which the National Policy Forum would encompass in the rolling programme if agreed, plus  the opportunity to submit annual amendments to the rolling programme, with conference voting on all options which receive the support of 25% of the policy forum.
  • A one-member, one vote ballot of individual and affiliated members in leadership elections.
  • On selections, “constituency members must make the final decision without interference” and they propose making it easier to hold a full selection where there are sitting MPs.

It now seems common ground between the unions, the centre-left and the Leadership that primaries are not the way forward, that the federal party and the party-union link are here to stay at every level of the party’s structure, and that there will be real debates and votes at conference on options (including minority positions which attract 25% support at the national policy forum).

The biggest issue which remains to be resolved is voting at conference where it has been much trailed that Ed Miliband wishes to reduce the votes of trade unions (as well as CLPs) in order to give the party’s elected representatives some votes. The unions are not budging on that — their submission makes it clear that they wish to preserve the existing equality of votes between iCKLPs and affiliates (which of course include  socialist societies as well as unions). The unions are, however, keen to widen the range of affiliated organisations and to facilitate the greater involvement of trade union members in the activities of local parties.

2 Comments

  1. john reid says:

    campaign for labour party democracy (apart from the word social) this siwaht the SDP said in1981, remeber the SDp, those people you bullied out in 1981 and they took 6million votes with them

  2. Gary Elsby says:

    It’s all so very odd that a democratic (?) party calling itself Labour in the 21st Century still fights with itself over democratic reforms.
    The very thought that such a party should have to debate something that should be a given is quite breathtaking.

    We know that selections in CLPs should be taken by local members without interference, but this isn’t the case either within Labour or Zimbabwe and goodness knows how much we try in Libya.

    The startling bit that left me reaching for my heart pills is the notion that our saviour, Ed (David’s little brother) wants to curtail even more democracy by members in favour of those already clased as ‘representative’.

    Now how do these two points gel together?

    More local democracy and more ‘less’ democracy in favour of the favoured few.

    I’d much rather see local people asking whomsoever they really want to represent them and as a further bonus for democracy, the unhibited right to alter course as we go along in favour of what we really want and desire in the form of policy.

    Ok, so my one fault is nostalgia.

    My other fault is pumpimg money into un-seating Labour Councillors and MPs in protest at the deliberate fixing of elections to gain a result no-one wants.

    I’ll stop when the demands above are met and honesty replaces dishonesty.

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