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The BBC docu-drama on CLPD and the fights for an accountable leader and mandatory reselection

“For connoisseurs of the Labour party this was vintage stuff.”

So says John Tusa, who introduces and narrates this film. Here’s an introduction to a fascinating period of Labour’s history – the BBC 1983 docu-drama all about the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the struggles for mandatory reselection and an accountable leadership. It was part of a series of hour-long films based on political events from the recent past.

In Brighton this week, a seasoned CLPD activsts was asked by a first-time delegate who attended the campaign’s packed opening conference rally: “How long has CLPD been going?”

Well, the answer is since 1973 – and CLPD launched in response to the record of the Labour governments in the sixties, and the way that Annual Conference decisions were continually ignored on key domestic and international issues. The launch came shortly after Harold Wilson’s rejection in 1973 of any decision by Annual Conference to adopt an alternative economic policy involving the possible public ownership of some 25 strategic companies.

But the struggle for democracy accelerated some years later, in the late 70s and early 80s. This the increasing lack of accountability to party members shown by party leaders and MPs such as Reg Prentice alike. And CLPD united around clear objectives: mandatory reselection of Labour MPs; election of the party leader by an electoral college rather than by MPs; and the election manifesto to be controlled by Labour’s national executive.

This film captures the campaigns, activities and strategies of CLPD. Director Frank Cox intersperses archive footage of Labour conference and meetings with dramatisation. Actors play key CLPD players such as Vladimir Derer, Victor Schonfield and Left Futures’ very own Jon Lansman and Peter Willsman. The actress Yvonne Bonnamy, who stars as a CLPD activist,  joined CLPD some time afterwards and later served as chair.

Apologies for the visual noise right at the beginning – it soon clears up. Now sit back, and enjoy it full-screen! But don’t get carried away down memory lane. CLPD is needed now more than ever – with a Labour party where centralism and bureaucracy are still at large, and that still has yet to offer a coherent alternative to austerity. You can join here.


  1. John – if you watch the documentary, you will see that it is all about attempting to unite the left and prevent the sort of splits on the left that Monty Python satirise.

  2. John Reid says:

    So the union leaders decided after this proposition was passed what policies labour should have,I recall after the 1992 election one trade union boss got up on stage at the TUC conference and said this is the third election we’ve funded this is the third one we’ve told them what policies to have this is the third one we’ve lost, I think we’ve been back ing the wrong horse, without spending a seconds thought o think it was the policies that tey told labour to have ,was the. Reason that we lost,

  3. Robert says:

    hahahahahahah ha, John you make my night mate..

  4. peter willsman says:

    Actually,it was Manifesto to be controlled by the NEC.In those days party staff were civil servants, which is what they should be under their terms and conditions.Sadly, as we saw at Brighton,this is not always the case now.We must all stand together to insist the undemocratic abuses are ended once and for all.

    1. My slip-up, Pete – now corrected.

  5. Rod says:

    Peter: “insist the undemocratic abuses are ended once and for all.”

    But they’re not listening. They carry on as before, beavering away like the Trotskyist sects whose management style they replicate.

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