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Labour’s still chipping away at local democracy

Whilst we celebrate that Labour’s clean up of the party machine has started, we nevertheless continue to find that the remaining relics of the old corrupt regime are still up to no good. And so it is with what’s left of democracy and accountability in local government which we have criticised before. Recent changes, reinforced by those agreed in November by the organisation committee of Labour’s executive, remove many of the last vestiges of accountability of leaders to Labour groups, and of councillors to the local party. Amongst them are the following:

  • Labour groups will now draw up their own manifestos, once the responsibility of the local parties.
  • Directly-elected mayors will automatically be leader of the Labour group (in spite of the need for “balance within the system” previously accepted by an working party on the issue).
  • Nominations to civic appointments, outside bodies and other council positions are made by the group Leader – gone are the days when these are agreed by the Labour Group.
  • Although the Group Leaders are supposed to consider the views on these appointments of the party and Group,they have no responsibility to discuss them with anyone but the Group executive.
  • In relation to Police and Crime Commissioner elections, although the proposal to allow the party to support independent candidates was not supported, selection will be dominated by the NEC. By passing local party structures which already exist in a number of cases and could be easily established in others, NEC members will choose a “long-list” of no more than 5 “high calibre candidates”, chair a “regional panel” to pick a short-list of 2 or 3. Only then will local members be allowed any choice.
  • Local Campaign Forums have to be established under the new rules. Although local parties are supposed to be free to continue with traditional loca party structures which contain enough representation to provide a framework for accountability, labour leaders in many areas are presing for the small groups which were originally proposed and, unfortunately, the party’s advice does not clarify who is entitled to make the final decision.

Local parties who wish to preserve the structures necessary to maintain accountability are advised to ensure that existing district/borough/county determine when they will discuss the new structure and ensure they give notice to all relevant CLPs and local councillors. You do not have to make a decision until after the elections in 2012, according to the Refounding Labour Implementation Guide. You could then pass a motion which determines that, having undertaken a “fit-for-purpose” test, the existing structure or something close to it fulfils the party’s objectives. You should not allow local parties to be bounced into any other decision by council or Labour group Leader.

Next year, you could consider proposing a rule change to restore greater democracy to Labour groups and local parties. Even last year, in one of the many Refounding Labour interim  reports, the possibility of council leaders being elected by local electoral colleges. Needless to say, it disappeared without trace. Perhaps, it should return!

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