Defend the link but democratise it too….
Certain things do leave you wondering exactly what goes on at strategy meetings of the Labour leadership. I am currently going with the hypothesis that the main activity is in fact the completion of a giant colour-by-numbers bumper activity book. It certainly isnt the discussion of anything approaching joined-up political thinking. What else can explain the fact that, having had a good ‘Hackgate’, the leadership team and Ed Miliband now seem to think the prudent thing to do is fritter away the good will they earned amoung Labour activists (and even though I don’t agree with Ed’s responsibility riff, he did have a good innings) by staging a full-frontal assault on the Party’s historic links to the trade unions. As an aside, it’s also very, very sloppy communications work because now, if these proposals are not made, Ed will look weak and the ‘Red Ed’ tag returns, if they are, there is a very real chance they will be defeated (also making Ed look weak). One wonders if Tom Baldwin is worth is salary.
I digress. Let’s start from the top. I actually concede the central point that critics of the bloc vote make; it is undemocratic. Furthermore, it doesn’t actually empower trade unionists within the Labour Party – it empowers the trade union bureaucracy and that is a different thing. In fact, the bloc vote not only makes the union leadership congenitally lazy but it aids them in keeping their members at arms length from politics and the Labour Party. The only possible reason I can see for defending it is that it is better than nowt and even then that is not a reason to not actually fight for something better to supersede it.
Similarly, with the electoral college, I have had a stated position of opposing it in favour of One Member, One Equal Vote. It’s undemocratic; there is no way around it and not primarily because of the famous ‘multiple votes’ issue. In the weightings it gives to the different sections of the college, it enshrines the undemocratic dominion and sometimes less than benign tyranny of the Parliamentary Labour Party over the rest of the Party and the movement. Leftist defenders of the college have to realise that what they are in fact defending is the utter subervience of the trade unions within the Party and the leadership election process because of the pathetic weighting the votes in their section have.
In some things Ed is actually right. It is totally unacceptable for trade unions to refuse to hand over membership lists if they are actually serious about engagement with this Party. However, in others he is totally wrong and the union leaders are right; it is totally unacceptable to undermine not just trade unionists but also Labour Party members and their democratic rights through the creation of a ‘registered supporter’ category. As things stand as well, the proposals to reduce the unions bloc vote and regarding the electoral college are things that should be opposed. They are not aimed at ‘democratising the Party’ but are, in fact, are as they are widely and correctly perceived, an assault on Labour’s historic ties to the trade unions.
However, resistance to this does not mean we cannot promote an alternative of our own; we should not just be cheerleaders for a status quo which does contain a democratic deficit. In this regard I propose the following:
- All payers of the political levy be given automatic Labour Party membership (with the emphasis being on ‘opting out’, not ‘opting in’). They already are in all the senses that matter accept this one, they make a financial contribution and in many cases are committed activists and this would also make sharing lists unnecessary because they would be on Labour Party lists as a result of this measure.
- Following this, the abolition of the electoral college and the introduction of one member, one equal vote.
- The restoration of the sovereign powers of Labour conference and after, only after, the completion of step 1 (the granting of all levy payers individual Labour membership) the phasing out of the bloc vote.
Again, I would not submit this is an exhaustive list of ideas and necessary measures but it is a start we can make in defending to the hilt the trade union link but also democratising it and in doing so, democratising the entire Party.