Refounding Labour is travelling in the wrong direction….
This morning, the interim report on the ‘direction of travel’ of Refounding Labour has been published on LabourList. It’s not all bad, it’s just overwhelmingly bad and shows that this process is headed in the wrong direction and that the promises of advances in our internal democracy are empty and hollow. Let’s start with the good bits. It’s good there is recognition of the hopelessness of MembersNet and the generally poor nature of the parties communication with the members. It’s good, no matter what the trade unions say, that there are proposals to draw political levy-payers into local CLP’s. Why trade unions should oppose the opening up of their membership lists to CLP’s and duly appointed CLP officers is beyond me. The proposals on CLP structure are broadly good and here the document shows some healthy recognition of the fact that we should not take the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach too how we organise.
Right, now to the bad. Firstly, I find it deeply unacceptable that the interim report mentions the ‘multiple-vote’ problem caused by the electoral college but not the ridiculous weighting given to certain sections of the Party. One person, one equal vote is the only democratic solution here. Secondly, it is quite clear that the creation of the registered supporters category is a trojan horse for undermining the rights of Party members. Giving them a no-doubt weighted vote in our undemocratic electoral college will surely be the first in a long line of proposals that will see membership rights gradually eroded.
Thirdly, it’s quite clear the abolition of the elections to the Shadow Cabinet is a prelude to a attempt to centralise far too much power in the position and office of Leader. Another good reason the abolition of these elections should be actively opposed. The document contains a proposal to outline the ‘rights and responsibilities of the leader’ which sounds nice and fluffy but isnt if it includes;
- “the right to attend any party meeting (or to appoint representatives to attend on his or her behalf)”
- the duty to “uphold and enforce the constitution, rules and standing orders of the party”;
- “overall responsibility for all elections and (s/he) shall appoint a Campaign Co-ordinator and a Campaign Committee to ensure that all Labour Party election campaigns report to the Leader”.
Fourthly, and finally, no serious proposals exist to deal with the democratically deficient policy making process we currently endure. No proposals are made with regard to annual conference, except that the “weighting of votes be looked at”; a veiled threat to the union bloc vote. Laughably, the document says Party conference has a place at the “apex of our internal democracy”; one wonder’s if they were referring to a different conference, in a different Party on an entirely different planet.
Broadly speaking, the worthy proposals in Refounding Labour are outweighed by a broad direction of travel which is headed the wrong way. It’s aim is clearly not improving internal democracy but it’s main target is the trade unions; diminishing the unions and the members power (through registered supporters). Now, more than ever, we need a strong counterweight to ensure these proposals are not dragged further off track. Party democracy is a concern that crosses ideological divides; I am not so narrow as to imagine it is only those on the Labour left that are passionately committed to members rights and a democratic policy making process. We need an organisation capable of crossing ideological divides. Since the election, we have seen a flowering of inner-party groups from the social democratic left (GEER, Next Generation) to the socially conservative and economically liberal right (Blue Labour, Pragmatic Radicalism). This is a welcome development; now, the next step is for those groups to band together across the ideological divide and form a campaigning group that will fight for inner-party democracy and give the members a voice that punches its weight.