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At last, let’s have a policy process which empowers members

Last week we welcomed Ed’s replacement of Liam Byrne with Jon Cruddas and his nomination of Angela Eagle to chair Labour’s national policy forum. The fact was that Liam Byrne had wasted 18 months without any genuine advance in the policy review, and Peter Hain had failed to establish a working model of member participation in policy during his term as chair of the national policy forum. Whilst discussions between party officials and the unions do continue about how it might be reformed, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) has now circulated a rule change which would deliver Ed’s promised of making Labour a “living, breathing party” with a real voice for members.

Constituency parties have until 22 June to submit a rule change. This draft rule  change  (click to download) would institute a rolling programme based on amendments from party units, giving grassroots party individual and affiliated members direct input into policy making. These would be consider by the national policy forum, forst by policy commissions and then in plenary. The outcome would then enable party conference to make the final decisions on policy, choosing between any options which commanded more than 25% support at the national policy forum. The proposal is based on a submission to Refounding Labour by the Trade Union & Labour Liaison Organisation (TULO). The whole party, left and right, want party members to have a real voice. Let’s make it happen.

Another draft rule change would end the choice between all or nothing on policy reports, allowing conference to vote in parts. Party conference has always had the right to refer back any section of an NEC Report but the platform has always refused to extend this right to NEC or other policy statements (except in 1974 when Tony Benn chaired the conference). When Partnership in Power was introduced in 1997 delegates were led to believe that national policy forum reports would be voted on in parts if Conference so wished but in practice this has not happened. Conference has to vote for the whole document on a take-it-or-leave-it basis which means, inevitably, that documents are always passed, although delegates may be unhappy with one or more particular section. This proposed rule would allow Conference to have a separate vote on any part of a policy document.

CLPD is also circulating two important rule changes on the selection of MPs — one of the party’s most important tasks. One would reform trigger ballots. The existing trigger ballot process, which is a ballot of members and affiliated branches, does not provide a sufficiently responsive mechanism to ensure the accountability of sitting MPs as was clear in the experience of East Lothian CLP with their MP prior to the last election. In this case, in spite of widespread dissatisfaction with her performance, she survived a trigger ballot. After a long-running campaign, and the temporary suspension of the local party, the NEC did eventually allow the local party to deselect their MP. Although many would prefer a return to full mandatory reselection, this is a sensible compromise which means that where sitting MPs had only a small majority in a trigger ballot, a full selection procedure would be held. It, too, is in line with the TULO submission to Refounding Labour.

The other would provide full involvement by party branches and branches of affiliated organisations in the selection of Westminster candidates. Since some MPs serve for 40 years, every effort is made to secure the very best candidates. That should mean involving all party members and affiliated members through their branches, and seeking to select PPCs that are representative of their communities. Unfortunately, in recent years, the opposite has been happening. Party branches nominate from CVs without interview, affiliated branches are not properly involved at all, and, according to a recent survey, as few as 9% of current Labour MPs have a manual background, whereas 27% are from the Westminster village.

A further rule change would allow a local electoral college to choose leaders of Labour groups, as was floated in the first draft of Refounding Labour but was regrettably dropped from the final document presented to last year’s annual conference. A wider franchise for electing council leaders would be an important step towards giving party members the greater role and influence within our party Ed Miliband promised during his leadership campaign. In recent years, central government has made many changes to local government structures which have increased the power of group leaders and weakened their accountability to the rest of the group. A local electoral college would enhance the accountability to both councillors and party and strengthen the link between group and party.

Other rule changes provide for the election of Labour’s conference arrangements committee by OMOV (the last significant group of CLP representatives not to be so elected), for the creation of a post of party ombudsperson, and  to limit the length of administrative suspensions. Full explanations are given on the documents you can download.

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