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What’s the best we can expect from the next leader? More deaf ears to party members?

LettersToLPToBinIt is difficult to discern from a lot of the discussion on the left just what is at stake in the leadership election. There is discussion about whether Andy Burnham is to the right or left of Miliband and of how dreadfully right-wing most of the candidates and potential candidates are. Some are waiting for a left-wing candidate to emerge. But one of the certainties is that a left-wing candidate, i.e. a candidate committed to the belief that socialist society is fundamentally different from capitalist society, stands not the slightest chance of emerging  as the successful contender. I am not being defeatist but just stating what we all know to be the case.

The election is not therefore about whether the left can have its candidate of choice elected. It can’t. So with the realism that should ensue from that realisation perhaps we need to discuss the role of the left.

Is post-defeat Labour at a turning point or will it continue with a variant of the policies that have dominated it since 1997? The answer is far from clear. However, it seems that in at least the short to medium term, no fundamental change is like to be expressed directly in terms of Labour policy. Whoever is elected will continue with the incoherent mish-mash of policies, and their underlying political philosophy, that try to show how business-friendly Labour is but without a critique of what private business can do well and what it can’t (e.g. run the trains) and also to act in the interests of “the many and not the few”, again with no critique of current society to make clear what this means.

In other words, Labour will continue to depend on the the insubstantial rhetoric which has largely replaced any serious attempt at economic and political thinking. There is no sign whatsoever of an end to this weak backdrop to Labour policies. What role does this leave for the left?

As has already been suggested in these columns that it is a mistake to focus on the leader as if selection of the right person might bring an end to Labour’s problems. It won’t and without changing the control-freak approach to party discussion – as evidenced all too clearly by the pre-conference national policy forum (NPF) meeting to determine party policy.

It is party democracy that has to be put right rather than the election of a leader who will solve our problems. However, we do need a leader who (1) recognises that the members have been treated with disdain by the leadership and (2) wants to change that situation and initiate more honest and open dialogue in the Party based on providing information about the main contending views in areas of difference.

I want to propose two changes to party functioning and would like to know the stance of candidates with respect to those proposals.

(1) Labour officials and politicians must be obliged to reply to communications from party members.

I have had a long experience of trying to get information from Labour Party officials and politicians only to find my requests, even when repeated many times, totally ignored. I know from talking to other Party members that this is very common. The leaders of an affiliated organisation have told me that they get the same treatment. This is a disgrace and in complete contradiction to claims about “listening” to the people. If they don’t even listen to Party members then it rather suggests a completely false exercise in which “the people” are listened to only insofar as they say what the SpAds, apparatchiks and politicians want them to say.

Proposal 1. Labour should adopt a protocol for all Labour officials and politicians requiring that except in exceptional circumstances all requests for information from Party members will be answered promptly (within 10 working days). If it is felt that communications are not worth dealing with that decision should be recorded in a log with a brief reason for non-reply given.

(2) Labour discussion documents on key policy areas must include an account of key alternative views within the Party or must give references to those alternative views.

Discussion documents which give only one point of view give members not familiar with all the main arguments no possibility of evaluating the proposed view against the alternatives. This trivialises discussion and the whole of the Policy Review and the documentation leading up to the NPF meeting of last June was marred throughout by this deep inadequacy.

Proposal 2. Labour should resolve that discussion documents for members on key areas of policy must always include details of alternative points of view where these exist within the party or should give clear references to where those views can be obtained with the objective of encouraging Party members to evaluate the alternatives for themselves.

I don’t care particularly if these proposals are enshrined in a rule book or not. In fact a party which needs to enshrine such things in a rule book is probably one that has lost its sense of what it is about already. I would like to hear candidates for election say if they think that the change of communication and debating ethos that they imply is something they want to bring about. If the Labour Party acted on the basis of these proposals Party political life could be transformed from one of manipulation and ignoring member’s views to one of genuine debate i.e. debate without the conclusions determined in advance whatever the leanings of the leader. This prospect may well terrify some within the Party but there is no other way to get the Party out of the intellectual torpor into which it has fallen.


  1. deaf2work says:

    Can we stop using antiquated expression “deaf ears”. For goodness sake, stop being so lazy.

    1. David Pavett says:

      You should know (1) that headlines are normally determined by editors rather than authors, (2) the expression “deaf ears” does not appear in the piece I wrote, (3) the expression is not “antiquated”, it is in current use and (4) it is always better to have something to say about substance rather than presentation alone. The last point is points to the problem that afflicted Labour’election strategy.

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