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Ed fails to deliver on his promise of empowering members

Where next for the party?At Labour’s national executive yesterday, Ed Miliband failed to deliver on his leadership campaign promise to give members more say in policy making. The final package of Refounding Labour measures they have agreed is shrouded in the language of empowering members, as were those introduced by Tony Blair in 1997 and Gordon Brown in 2007.

The reality, once again, will be very different. If party members want a democratic party, they will have to fashion it themselves. And if trade union members do not want their members’ interests and concerns to be ignored again, they would do well to support those efforts, starting with rule changes submitted by CLPs for debate this year.

In the leadership campaign, Ed’s official line was:

I do think members should have more say in policy making. Sometimes we looked as if Labour felt as if it was in government despite its members, not because of them. We need a living breathing party of which people are proud to say they are members and proud to call their own. We did many good things in government, but we also got things wrong – things like the 10p tax – which perhaps we could have avoided if we had listened to members.”

The latest package may make it easier for members to feed in their views into a new “policy hub” (though similar promises have been made before); it may enable more national policy members to participate in discussions (though what relationship these will have with the policy review being led by Jon Cruddas is unclear); it places much emphasis on the new “power” for conference to choose a small proportion of the topics which will be considered each year, but that is all that conference will choose. The intention is that it will have no real choice but to accept whatever the national policy forum puts forward: no options, no minority positions, no amendments…. just take it or leave it as a whole.

Ed Miliband was quoted as saying “we need to look at voting shares at conference before we look at amendments“. No cut in union votes…. no choice for conference! Not a good basis, you might have thought, for trade union leaders giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The latest Refounding Labour report is committed to:

re-establishing the original stated purpose of Partnership into Power – a deliberative, consensual system which ensures members, local parties, affiliates as well as other stakeholders have the opportunity to shape future policy.”

Actually that is a total misrepresentation of Labour history. The original promise of Blair’s Partnership in Power review of party structures in 1997 promised (on page 7) that with its new national policy forum:

annual conference would for the first time have the opportunity to debate and vote on alternative positions within policy statements.”

Of course, in practice, New Labour control freakery quickly sought to discourage dissent and then remove those dissenters who persisted. It is therefore deeply disappointing, given Ed Miliband’s genuine renunciation of control freakery, that his avowed commitment to more democracy has come to nothing.

Two years of deliberation on Refounding Labour has resulted in no transfer of a share in decision-making power to party members — that means no improvement in the level of internal democracy. Indeed, there have been some backwards steps — at local government level, for example, as well as the apparent abandonment of choice at party conference.

All that those who wish to see an extension in internal party democracy can do is to support those proposals which come from constituency parties to achieve a modest shift on the balance of power towards party members.

The reason the national executive settled for so little is especially disappointing. When it met in June, as we reported then, there was widespread support across the party for radical reform along the lines that had been proposed by the trade union consortium TULO, reaching across the political spectrum (no NPF representatives like going to pointless meetings), and including the new Chair Angela Eagle and policy review overseer Jon Cruddas. Since then the main resistance has come from party policy staff, fearing a loss of the control to which they are used. In the end, they had the ear of the leader and the trade unions clearly preferred to avoid a showdown.


  1. Pam Field says:

    The left in the Labour Party awaits the conference with baited breath. I do feel that Ed Miliband wants to move away from New Labour and Blairite policies. Is he being held to ransom? How many of us would welcome a break in the silence and some straight talking? In the words of Tony Benn, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” The press frightened Labour over Benn and Foot, but spin is not the way to win over the electorate. Be strong, Ed, and take the party with you.

  2. Mike says:

    ‘Is he being held to ransom?’

    Is anyone else reminded of the stories of Stalin’s victims who, so convinced of his greatness and goodness, felt sure that if he was free to act as he wished he would surely liberate them and save them from their fate.

    Technocrats like Miliband have spent the past 30 years wresting the policymaking and implementation process from control of the members. Did you REALLY think they were going to reverse that process now? Are you completely blind to how the Labour Party, and social democractic parties more generally, have changed in recent decades?

    I suppose if you start from the pre-critical position that the Labour Party is all there is and ever can be as a vehicle for the British left, you then have to keep deluding yourself that ‘real change’ is always possible and worth fighting for – even when the odds are overwhelmingly against you.

  3. Patrick Coates says:

    I am confused, having joined LRC, they asked me to write an article for the Labour Briefing Magazine, they did not print it!
    I was asked to send a Motion to Conference by again LRC and CLPD, according to the Labour Party, it did not pass muster, it was the same motion given to me by the NPF.
    Should i join this thing Progress or give up?

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