How much is Labour really changing?
Ed Miliband has insisted today that Labour is in the process of:
“Real, deep, genuine change, infusing our party, our ideas and our organisation.”
So, how true is this? Advocate’s of Ed’s basic premise will point straight-away to Refounding Labour. Certainly, Refounding is poised to change the Party but not always in a positive direction, indeed, in many ways the more I hear about RL, the less I actually like it and the more glad I am that I opposed it. Did you know, for example, that Refounding Labour strips local Labour parties of policy-making power when it comes to deciding the manifesto content for local elections? It vests all that particular power in the hands of the local Labour Group of councillors. This is defiantly a retrograde step when it comes to member-led policy making and indeed inner-party democracy.
The problem is that the process Ed talks about is hampered and held back by the continuing inability of the Labour leadership to show any kind of trust in the Labour membership what so ever. This mistrust has been one of the key determinants of the alienated relationship between the leaders and the led for at least 30 years, if not longer. In a wider sense, it also mirrors the alienated relations between Labour and its core supporters. Sadly, the attitude of the leadership is still very much that members should be seen but only heard when they are prepared to act as cheerleaders. I believe very much in the principle of constant community campaigning BUT not when it is an elaborate ruse to keep the members hands off the policy sweetie jar and that what these proposals are starting to feel like. Oddly enough, its a trick the leaderships of far-left groupings often employ, they burn their members out with an endless round of paper sales in the hope they will not notice the leadership directing their every move like some kind of malign puppeteer.
More seriously, this community activism is pointless if it is not accompanied by a serious democratisation of the Party. I am sure all serious activists who we draw towards us would be thrilled by being recruited and finding out they have absolutely no control over Labour policy which effects their own doorstep, let-alone Westminster, because we have just given it away to Labour councillors. What will obviously happen is that they will come, see they have no real stake in the Party above and beyond a shiny new leaflet round and promptly disappear again.
In other words, the attitude of the leadership is completely thick-eared and counter-productive. The leadership actually has some serious work to do amoung Labour Party members, not least because the current leaders brother actually won the membership section of the leadership vote. We need to see a blueprint for real change which is actually much deeper than the skin-deep efforts of the leadership, including expanding the number of CLP reps on the NEC, making sure the NPF is constitutionally required to meet often so it can make a real impact, etc, etc. It would be nice to see the centralisation of power implied in Refounding Labour reversed, as well. At the moment the ‘change’ Labour is undergoing is a reminder of the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same, we need the kind of change Ed Miliband says he wants to see, not more of the same dressed up in fancy rhetoric.