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Things Labour needs to do to beat UKIP #1: destroy the political elite’s career structure

Westminster bubbleOne comment on the website of a Clacton local paper this week summarised the attitude of so many:

If it means that the lying, corrupt political elite of this country finally wake up and realise that they must start to serve the people of this country and not themselves then maybe some good will come of this.

People hate politicians of all parties because they see them as self-serving careerists not ordinary people with principles they share, trying to do their best on behalf of their constituents. Politicians are not like them above all because politicians have professionalised politics, and created jobs for people like themselves shedding ideology and principles in the process.

In the last 30 years, our leaders have created large numbers of jobs for professional politicians which can provide a career path from university to parliament: salaried councillors, new tiers of full-time elected politicians in the European parliament and national/regional parliaments and assemblies, and thousands of political posts working for MPs and all these other elected politicians. The growth of lobbying and PR has supplemented these.

It has happened across all parties but New Labour was especially enthusiastic and created what I have previously described as:

the Blairite machine, created under New Labour and surviving intact, to provide a career(ist) structure for Labour students plucked by Progress, backed for student union posts, placed in part-time jobs working for Labour MPs, helped into full-time jobs as more senior bag-carriers, advisers to council Labour groups or party campaign posts, helped in council selections and, for those who play the game and never step out of line, eventually, parliamentary selections.

Roy Hattersley was vilified by New Labour apparatchiks when he explained in 2001 what Tony Blair had done:

after casting round to find himself a philosophy – including announcing his support for The Third Way and then calling a conference to decide what it is – Tony Blair discovered a big idea. His destiny is to create a meritocracy. Unfortunately meritocracy is not the form of society which social democrats want to see.

Hattersley based his rejection of meritocracy on the argument of Michael Young – author of Labour’s 1945 manifesto – in his satirical essay The Rise of the Meritocracy who defined ‘merit’, the concept he goes on to reject, using the equation “IQ + effort = merit“. As Roy explains:

Both intelligence and enthusiasm are inherited characteristics. So Young concludes, as all socialists should, that “being a member of the lucky sperm club confers no moral right to advantage“. Yet that is what meritocracy aims to provide. To them that hath, more shall be given.

A majority of Attlee’s first cabinet had left school to take manual jobs like Ernest Bevin who’d left school at 11 to be a farm labour and had manual jobs for 18 years before becoming a union official, which he was for 30 years before becoming an MP. Morrison left school to be an errand boy, Bevan, HallIsaacs, Lawson, and Williams miners, Shinwell a machinist in a clothing workshop, Isaacs a printer, Westwood a draper’s apprentice, and Alexander to work for a leather merchant. Now Labour’s front bench, like those of the other parties consist almost entirely of the “lucky sperm club”. Small wonder that they fail to challenge the legitimacy of business leaders who believe that their advancement comes from their own merits and therefore they deserve whatever they can get.

If Labour wants to restore its reputation, to renew its connection with the working class, it must destroy the career structure that pretends to be a meritocracy. We have to ensure that we select candidates who value ideology, who have demonstrated their commitment to political principles and public service but who are also ordinary people who have held normal jobs, representative of the people we seek to serve. And these are ways in which we can do it

1. Freeze and cap the salaries of MPs

Freeze salaries of MPs and all other British elected politicians (including MEPs, MSPs, assembly members and executive mayors) until they are no more than twice average earnings (currently about £54,000). Senior Ministers should perhaps be allowed to earn a little more – say three times annual earnings. Westminster MPs now earn £67,060 but these are due to rise 10% next year. Cabinet ministers earn twice that. Politicians who are expected to be full time need to be compensated financially but what they do is public service not “a job”. Many people who perform public service as school governors, charity trustees and volunteers or all sorts get no compensation whatever. MPs who live in the communities they represent, where they are beyond reasonsable

2. Abolish the salaries of local councillors

Most councillors should be able to perform their responsibilities in their spare time. They should be entitled to expenses and a modest allowance that would enable them to attend some meetings during their normal working hours but we do not need professional councillors when councils pay staff to run their services. Some councillors do take on significant extra responsibilities and they should be entitled to some time off for public duties without loss of pay. Employers below a certain size should be able to recoup the salary costs involved up to a reasonable limit. However, no councillors with the possible exception of council leaders should need to be full time.

3. Remove most salaried political staff from the ambit of political patronage, and restrict their ability to seek salaried public office

MPs and many other full-time elected politicians need good quality support from professional staff – performing administrative functions, communications, casework and research. There is no reason why most such staff need to be hired and fired by the MP for whom they work. They could be employed by the political party to which they belong (or an arms length agency) and, when constituency MPs are replaced by another in the same party, they could continue to perform those functions, providing continuity and professional expertise. Such staff should not be actively involved in intra-party politics (which would in any case not be an appropriate use of the public money spent on their salaries) and they (like all party employees) should be barred from selection as prospective candidates for salaried public office for three years after leaving. Unpaid interns should never be used in any case, but paid interns should also be used only as part of a proper training programme.

4. Remove the meritocratic pretences from the candidate selection process

Labour’s current selection process for MPs is skills-based just as if we were seeking to employ a professional “politician”. The Labour Party’s person specification for an MP is almost entirely about skills and knowledge: the knowledge relating to the world of professional politicians and the skills largely those that can best be acquired by being employed in a junior role in the world of professional politics — campaigning and communication skills, “representational and problem solving skills” which are about casework — or management skills. Evidence that we aren’t seeking the sort of people we actually represent is provided by the requirement to “give evidence of your ability to deal with the public” (who are perhaps an entirely different species).

Where is the requirement to show evidence of combatting injustice and exploitation, discrimination and poverty? Of commitment to causes, of  challenging unreasonable managers, mean landlords, and faceless or unresponsive bureaucrats? What we need from the process is not the means of selecting the ‘right’ skillsets, but a process which identifies those with a real passion to fight injustice and oppression, who can explain exactly what it is that gave them that determination, and who have thought through what stands in their way.

5. Reintroduce mandatory reselection by local parties for all candidates and offices within the party

Selecting the right candidates is one thing – making sure they stay the right candidate is another and it won’t happen without accountability. That is why we should have mandatory reselection of all elected public representatives, once in every term. We’ve always had it for local councillors, we should have it for MPs, elected mayors, MSPs, AMs and MEPs too. And that means shortlisting and selection by the members of local parties, not by the national executive. No more parachuting! And for all leadership positions, local (including elected mayors), regional and national, there should be term limits on holding such office – no more than eight to 12 years.

6. All elected public representatives should be obliged to report their daily activities

Public representatives work for the public who pay them. Westminster MPs may presume that their colleagues are honourable members, but the piublic do not share their confidence.The public have a right to know what they do, who they meet in their public capacities, what parliamentary business they engage in, and how much time they spend on these activities. And the reports should be appropriately audited.

7. Introduce a right of recall for all salaried public offices

And we must have a process whereby the public can themselves remove the public representatives in whom they have lost confidence. More than 70 MPs from all parties have signed an alternative recall bill developed by the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith (due for debate tomorrow!) which, unlike the government’s sham recall bill, meets this requirement. It would require 5% of the electorate to serve notice that they wish to recall their MP; 20% is required for a by-election to be called. The same rights should apply in the case of local councillors and members of the National Assemblies.

21 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Nothing on offer really from any of them labour have now swung in like with UKIP to try and win back those who are to the right and left for Farage, so really the offer is bit like the Living wage lets forget it nobody thinks we will give it so forget it. now Immigration the boarders need to close and well will do it because we are New labour.

  2. James Martin says:

    I think Jon that your article has merit (if you’ll pardon the pun) but perhaps misses the obvious origins of what has happened to the Party.

    Blair and Mandelson’s ‘Project’ was all about attempting to remove all the remaining links that the Party still had with the unions and socialist ideology (more successful with the latter than the former of course) and to remove the underlying threat of Labour being a party of workers. In other words the attack (that I would suggest had its origins on the other side of the Atlantic) was about class.

    And therefore when you look at the people who now tend to run the Party at regional and national level, and in particular the type of candidates that are pushed through as MP’s, most are middle class.

    And that is not anything to do with meritocracy. Large number of them appear to be pretty thick to start with, and the level of their understanding often pales against the level of politics you get discussed in many union meetings.

    That is not to say that being working class is a short-hand for being in any way socialist or left-wing (as the right-wing witch-hunter – and working lass trade union leader – Bevin showed), but it does have an impact.

    As regards your 7 points I’d make the following brief comments:

    1. For the Party a workers MP on a workers wage should be the starting point as regards salary.

    2. The problem with local government is not just about councillor salaries, but about how the executive cabinet system and elected mayors have further removed democratic accountability and transparency and made many councils remote and secretive from the electorate they are meant to serve.

    3. Agreed.

    4. Yes, or we could encourage and support more trade activists to become candidates, and not call the police (as idiot-boy Miliband did) when they do.

    5. Agreed.

    6. Agreed.

    7. Agreed.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      James: My purpose here is not to argue for reversing the Blair reforms (though I was against them and am in favo9ur of doing so). The Blair reforms were not intemded, I think, to alienate working class voters – their arrogance was that working class voters had nowhere else to go and could be taken for granted. They did want to detach Labour from the unions because they saw no future for the unions and even if they did, it wasn’t a future they wanted anything to do with – but that is not what we’re discussing here.

      Labour doesn’t have so many fewer working class MPs just because Blair wanted “business-friendly” identikit New Labour MPs in suits. It was also because of the decline of traditional industries and the union organisation that went with it. The NUM, for example, made sure that mining areas were well represented by miners. That is over.

      With the decline of trade unions with their industries, we lost a pool of politicised and connected working class activists. It will be harder to recruit working class candidates now than before until we have established effective union organisation in the new industries. That’s why I think we must take all the steps I have proposed.

      But Labour always had middle class and even some aristocratic MPs. That was the nature of almost half Attlee’s first cabinet – the half I didn’t describe in detail. That was OK then and would be OK now – if we can achieve it.

      When I talk about Labour representatives forming a meritocracy, it is because that is how they see themselves, that was the justification for doing things that way. But the “merit” is indeed false, an illusion, a cover for privilege. I agree with you on that.

      1. William Jones says:

        Yes James,you’ve raised a good point about the Executive Cabinet system in local Councils.I was always against this move.I much preferred the old system of comittees and the full Council making all the decisions.The present system reduces the individual Councillor to the rank of mere onlookers!

      2. James Martin says:

        Jon, yes there was a connection in what happened (or at least its speed) with the decline – and wanton destruction – of areas like mining. However, the unions are well represented elsewhere, even Labour affiliates like Unison and GMB, but we still despite that strong union link and organisation are not getting council workers coming through are we – no dinner ladies, teaching assistants, or refuse workers are taking the place of ex-miners union officials. And this is connected to the ‘Project’, of removing power and influence of organised labour (the trade unions) from the Party.

        1. Jon Lansman says:

          James: I agree unions can (and are now I think trying) to do better but the advantage the unions had in the industries that have gone had was concentration. Mining unions were concentrated in small mining areas, affiliated to those CLPs, got miners selected. Same with shipbuilding, steel etc. Though public sector workers are now often in the largest workplaces in the area, they are still more dispersed around the country. But I don’t disagree with you.

  3. John reid says:

    2. Regarding councillors pay,for those who have it as a full time job.

    There are several labour councils in London where they weigh the labour votes, and unless, one upsets the high echelons ,it’s a job for life, they can spend their time campaigning and keeping their high majorities, which may only be 500, but in areas where the 2nd choice and other candidates only gets 300 or 100 votes, the councillor can win comtorably on 800 votes,

    The Labpur MP may win at the election with a majority or 3000. But as the councillors devote their time to getting themSelves re elected ,they can afford for some of their fee to pay for canvassing,therefore the constituency might not get a great deal form unions,but Region would see geting the MP reselected as a priority over a 20,000 majority MP up north,or a no hoper in Sussex,
    Yet these councillors who tweet it a a full time job,use the fact they’re he,ping getting a marginal MP,reselected to cream off regions money used to campaign for the MP to get themselves back in,

    I know region shouldnt throw money at constituencies where labour can’t win, or ones where labour have 5 figure majorities ,but take Mayoral or EU elections where every vote counts, if labour give up on them ,throwing money at marginals and relying on councillors who have the time due to not having a job, to use it to promote themselves as much as their MPs. Then it just appears that labour councillors are spending other people’s money to keep themselves in, while ignoring party members in both strongholds and unwinnables, and expecting those members to fund the rest.

    3 in Al fairness ,I know of councillors related to their MP who are also their secretary,who do a great job

    4 I’m all for AWS or BME shortlists,I know Barbara Castle was dead against it, but the whole political landscape has changed apparently Barbara castle on ever visited her constituency once every six months and Blair did something similar by the late 80’s, most MPs are on the Train back home, every Thursday night ,and back to LP don Monday morning when the house sits, as an activist for 27 yrs who bought about running, I see MP 15 yrs younger than me,and think while they haven’t had a proper job,and no idea of the real world, I cnat knock their enthhusiasm, and if they got their through who they know, all be it AWS or Spads, then, the amount of time they’ll be a MP will be short, look at Louise Mench ,couldn’t even handle a full term,
    Obviously parachuting is wrong although we did get Jon cryer into Leyton
    5 didn’t know this had gone, can’t agree on only being their 12 years

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      John: At least we seem to be more in agreement than usual. I don’t disagree with you, by the way, about the possibility that local councillors can make good caseworkers or whatever for MPs. That’s why I spoecifically said such employees should be “barred from selection as prospective candidates for salaried public office”. I’d like to see most councillors not receiving a salary as I explain above.

  4. Rachel says:

    1. Agree
    2. Disagree. It would put unfair pressure on cllr’s day jobs.
    3. Completely agree. I think the whole recruitment process should be contracted out and depoliticised. I like the block on applying for parliamentary selections.
    4. Yes and no. I think the current process doesn’t always select the candidate who is objectively the best according to any criteria because of the level of patronage. I agree we lack Nye Bevans and MLKs though.
    5. No. I understand why but I’d prefer to trust the electorate than a local (possibly moribund) CLP. The best MPs are loved more by their constituents than their local party.
    6. Yes great idea! Submit timesheets publishable on MP websites along with expenses.
    7. Sort of lukewarm about this. I think it could lead to bullying campaigns by unsavoury groups in some places.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Rachel:
      2. I was a London Borough councillor in the late 1980s before “professionalisation” and survived on modest expenses only. It was not easy, as with being a chair of school governors or an active trustee of a large charity (both of which I’ve done for naught) but it was eminently do-able. And I’m not suggesting a return to the old system but a new basis of requiring employers to give some time off to some councillors for public duties, with reimbursement of salaries up to a ceiling for companies below a certain size. That way they keep their “normal” jobs, have a right to return full-time, aren’t dependent wholly on the patronage of a council leader.

      5 & 7. On reselection and recall – you seem to be taking contradictory positions here. Do you trust electorates or not? Personally I trust both. Twenty percent of the electorate is a very large number to trigger a new election (which conceivable the former MP might win if they were being unfairly blamed for something).And local parties don’t get rid of their MPs lightly – they never have.

  5. Sam Margravee says:

    There is clearly a problem, professional politicians leaving University and being an MP as their first ‘proper job’. Dynasties, and people who arent upto scratch. Maybe in that case, Primaries might be the answer, or increasing party membership. But to scrap Councillors allowances is a a backward move for working people as they will not be able to undertake the duties, replaced by professional retired people. What is needed is less Councillors, Unitary authorities and the Scottish model of well paid Councillors who can meet all the needs of thier community because people expect a lot more from Councillors. It isn’t as simple as there being full time staff at the Council House. That comment misses all the hard work Councillors do, and often at much less than the minimum wage. I do think there are disparities in what Councillors get in allowances, but the starting point should be enabling people to get paid the same and remunerated for the cost of being a Cllr.

  6. swatantra says:

    Excellent article. I agree will all the recommrendations. The moment you introduce money payment to elected members then you introduce careerism and corruption. Public Service should be what it says on the tin: Public Service and not to feather your own nest and your pocket.
    OK compensate elected members for time and effort but don’t over pay them. It should be a vocational calling, not a career, and that goes for MPs as well. Put a Age restriction on and terms of services, so that people like Skinner and Mitchell don’t have jobs for life, at our expense.

    1. John Reid says:

      In all fairness had Austin mitchell been ousted last time whos to say with his. 3 figure majority, that a successor would have won,

      Take where we live, Andrew Mackinlay stood doen, we had a councillor with 16 years experience, and he couldn’t win, but if Mackinlay had stayed on the Tory majority of 89 would have been destroyed,

  7. Patrick says:

    Yes James, our council have voted to change back to the old committee system, because the council is not solid tory any more, and we have a more diverse council, Tory, Ukip, Labour, Lib dem, and Independent.
    As far as I know, none of them have worked down the mines or have been shipworkers, we did have mines, and a shipyard near by, so some of their family may have worked there in the past.
    This Town is in the leafy south east, and times have changed, can we stop going on about people not having had a “real job.”

  8. Patrick says:

    Rachel, if you are a member of the Labour Party, you are a member of the CLP, turn up and make it work, or become the Secretary.

  9. Jon Lansman says:

    Chris Dillow over at Stumbling & Mumbling has written an excellent piece “inspired” by me he says (for which I’m much flattered being a fan of his blog). He argues that wanting “ordinary people who have held normal jobs” as Labour MPs rather than career politicians is supported by “the diversity trumps ability theorem“. Since he makes the argument enormously better than I could (and I really mean that), I urge you to read what he says.

  10. Robert says:

    What is an ordinary job what would you class being a job MP’s will do.

    I live in Wales since labour was formed in 1900 my area has had a number of MP’s not one of them would be defined as working class . In fact you could say the one we have now who was a teacher then worked in university and then head of the council and then took a degree to become an MP, how did she get to be our MP she was parachuted into the seat, the two people we wanted were rejected by the NEC and the parachute was deployed.

    What matters is not the education or the work look at the oaf Prescott once seen as being left now seen as one of the biggest careerist we have even had.

    It’s the ideology which matters and whether they have one. Ball’s stated he joined the Tories because they had better drinking groups, it more then likely he agreed with the Tories at the time but was not rich enough or did not have the family contacts to be a Tory MP, so return to labour, Blair was no different.

    The big difference today is not whether they are labour but whether they are Progress, this group will without doubt make a move in the future to take over the party and they are doling it bit by bit.

    1. William Jones says:

      Robert,you can’t live anywhere near where Aneuryn Bevan was MP for then!

        1. William Jones says:

          You must also live miles away from where Dr Hywel Francis is MP for as well!Do I have to go on?

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