The Kafkaesque farce of the Labour Party “special measures” revisited…

July 3, 2013 10:20 am

The Times(£) reports this morning that Labour has released the list of CLPs currently under Orwellian sounding “special measures” in the wake of continued accusation and counter-accusation around the Falkirk West selection. Regular readers of LabourList will know that “special measures” has been a bugbear of mine for some time – I was writing about it in February, as I tried to draw attention to the “Kafkaesque farce” of Warley CLP being under “special measures” for many years without any explanation, or any idea of how to leave it. What I learned then was very simple. Let me sum it up like this:

Congratulations Falkirk West CLP, you have now entered administrative hell.

The response I received from the party at the time was long but not particularly revealing, failing to tell me when CLPs entered “special measures”, how many were in such a situation (I was told it was a “small number”) or how exactly a party could return to normal. Now thanks to the Times report we at least know that the number of CLPs under “special measures” is 14.

Yet what is misleading about the Times report is that there seems to be a conflation between the current situation in Falkirk (placed in “special measures” in 2013) with Slough (placed in “special measures” in 2012) and 12 other CLPs (including Warley) placed in “special measures” pre-2005. I’m no fan of “special measures” as you may have gathered, but attempting to pin – even tangentally – a dozen CLPs placed under “special measures” by a Blair leadership on Ed Miliband, the party or the unions should be firmly rebuffed.

That said, the news that a dozen CLPs have been placed on what effectively amounts to administrative detention for 8 years – one as long as 18 – shows us the real flaw of the “special measures” system. If it actually worked, these CLPs would have been able to exit “special measures” by now and return to normal membership processes. Yet instead they’ve spent the best party of a decade being forced to jump through byzantine hoops by the party in order to recruit members.

Every CLP – including Falkirk West – should be asking the following questions of the party:

- Why was my CLP placed under “special measures”? If a report was prepared by the party as part of this process, will it be made public or shared with the CLP?

- How long has my CLP been under “special measures”?

- How can my CLP leave “special measures”?

Because until we know the answers to these questions, it’s impossible to know whether or not “special measures” is a proportionate response to any allegations or wrongdoing. And unless a CLP knows how to leave “special measures”, the party in these areas – finding it harder to recruit new members – could just wither and die.

Here are the 14 CLPs currently under special measures:

  • Bethnal Green and Bow
  • Poplar and Limehouse
  • Brentford & Isleworth
  • Ealing Southall
  • Falkirk West
  • Feltham & Heston
  • Oldham East and Saddleworth
  • Oldham West and Royton
  • Birmingham Hall Green
  • Birmingham Hodge Hill
  • Birmingham Ladywood
  • Birmingham Perry Barr
  • Warley
  • Slough
  • RogerMcC

    Thanks to the 2010 leadership result being published we know quite a bit about these 14 CLPs (with the caveat that Falkirk West is only half of the 2010 Falkirk CLP) and I have tabulated that info in the attached image below – ballots distributed tells you how many members they had, turnout tells you roughly how active that membership is and the way they voted gives you some idea of how ‘left’ or ‘right’ those members lean.

    And from that the problem is clearly not that these parties are unable to recruit or are ‘withering and dying’.

    All but Falkirk are larger than the median ranked CLP, 1 is or was in 2010 the largest CLP in the country, a second was the 4th largest and 9 are in the top 10% of CLPs by membership.

    If turnout is an indicator of how ‘real and committed the members are these 14 are all notable for having lower than average (71% national) turnouts in that leadership election and Ealing Southall in particular had both the largest membership and fifth lowest turnout in the country.

    Indeed if we dig deep enough the problem in most but not all of these CLPs seems to be that they have ‘too many’ members who exist largely on paper to cast factional votes for whoever recruited them.

    And given the demographics of most of these constituencies (excepting Falkirk which is clearly the outlier in these list) these are more likely to be recruited not by leftie trade unions but ethnic and religious community leaders.

    • RogerMcC

      And anyone sad/obsessive enough to want to look at the whole CLP list (which I’ve just added some totals and a special measures flag to) this is a google doc at

    • RogerMcC

      I should add that I know nothing of these parties internal affairs and that any assumptions that may have applied when a CLP went into special measures may not apply now in some cases many years later.

      And Mark is bang is on that this is a scandal and that the whole process needs to be dragged out into the open and clear rules applied to allow parties to challenge and leave special measures.

  • Newsfox

    And people wonder why our democracies are decaying?

  • McCurry

    Bethnal Green & Bow, Poplar & Limehouse make up Tower Hamlets Labour Party. Councillors traditionally boast of how many votes they have when sizing up alliances and so on. The problem is that they are coming from a culture where it is normal to support a family member who wants to be elected. Its very difficult to get rid of once it exists.
    The difference with Falkirk is that the unions should know better.

  • Redshift1

    Pretty appalling that at least one of these CLPs has a shadow cabinet minister as an MP….

  • NT86

    Wouldn’t it be more productive to give local voters the choice of an open primary, a bit like how Sarah Wollaston was selected for the Conservatives in Totnes? Could diffuse situations like this; and in Wollaston’s case, she has turned out to be one of the more worthwhile MP’s of the 2010 intake.

    • McCurry

      The Tories did that in Poplar and Limehouse. The Bangladeshi guy who got selected had about 120 family members at the meeting. After he was selected, they cancelled him.

    • dave stone

      No chance of making the process more open – we all know who the beneficiaries of stitch-ups are and, as we have recently seen, they won’t tolerate the removal of their advantage.

  • Rob Marchant

    What is a little disturbing is that no-one is considering why the other 14 might be in special measures – for reasons other than union intervention – and why this might be a problem for the party.

    • Mike Homfray

      I suppose the honest reason is that we don’t know.
      Our CLP was put in special measures a few years back, largely because of the behaviour of one ward
      The problem seems to be that there is no great urgency to remove them and they appear to be parked there for years

      • RogerMcC

        One can assume that in at least half of these cases the issue may be the operation of biraderi-style clan network of the sort which was briefly exposed as a key problem in Bradford West.

        The point is that we (i.e. LP members not in those consitituencies) don’t know and shouldn’t be having to make such dangerous and possibly racist assumptions.

        What really makes Falkirk stand out is because it has become a straight left/right fight between Unite and it would seem Progress we do have some idea what the problem is there,

        But what about Slough?

        It is one of the just 4 seats that elected Labour MPs in the SE outside of London in what was it has to be said a regional landslide for the Tories, it has an excellent and active MP, it has three times or four times more members than the typical SE CLP and does not seem to fit any obvious stereotype of being a moribund rotten borough of a CLP,

        So why is it in special measures?

        • whs1954

          Slough also has a very large Asian population.

    • RogerMcC

      Clearly Mark is asking that question as are those of us commenting here…..

      • Rob Marchant

        Well, you might like to read my good colleague Kevin Meagher’s analysis, which pretty much nails it:’s-real-problem-with-tolerated-entryism/

        • RogerMcC

          Have already – but he only covers one of the 14 cases.

          And as we’re talking ancient history can I remind you and him of another stich-up actually in Falkirk itself where Dennis Canavan – the sitting Labour Westminister MP! – was not allowed to stand for the new Holyrood constituency in 1999 despite having massive support in the CLP and was like Ken Livingstone forced to stand as an Independent winning the seat from Labour by the largest majority in the Scottish Parliament.

          So if Falkirk CLP was reduced to a broken shell it was undoubtedly that stitch-up that did it and drove away members and activists.

          There is indeed something rotten in the state of Labour but it is not the left or the unions who are solely responsible.

          • RogerMcC

            And here’s The Guardian from 25 March 1999 on that glorious New Labour stitch-up:

            The Labour Party lost its second Member of Parliament in less than a week yesterday when Dennis Canavan submitted nomination papers to stand as an independent candidate for the Scottish Parliament.

            Under Labour Party rules, the MP for Falkirk West will automatically be expelled from the party having lodged his papers at Falkirk town hall, pitting himself against the Labour candidate in the May 6 elections.

            Mr Canavan, a leftwing MP at Westminster for 24 years, was rejected as a Labour candidate by a party panel last year despite securing overwhelming support from his local party. At the time he accused Labour of adopting Stalinist tactics to rout out potential dissidents.

            ‘It was like being interviewed by the thought police,’ Mr Canavan said yesterday. ‘Every second question was a loyalty test. They seemed to care more about making sure you would be one of their cronies than about what you could do for the people who elected you.’

            The MP has clashed with the Government over tuition fees and lone parent benefits. He has repeatedly accused ‘control freak’ tendencies in Labour headquarters of imposing a puppet candidate in Falkirk West. ‘The people
            of Falkirk West would be ill-served by a puppet whose allegiance is to party rather than people. They need a representative who will fight for their interests in the Scottish Parliament and I am standing to give them that choice,’ Mr Canavan said.

            He announced his decision to stand as an independent last year after the Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, told him he was not good enough to stand as a Labour candidate.

            Various officials in his constituency resigned over the decision, but Mr Canavan has always said he wanted to stay in the party. After his actions yesterday party headquarters said he would officially cease to be a member when nominations close for the Scottish Parliament on April

            In what would be a highly embarrassing scenario for New
            Labour, the distinctly Old Labour Mr Canavan stands an outside chance of taking the Falkirk seat. If he is elected he has promised to resign his Westminster seat, forcing a by-election.

            A Labour spokeswoman said: ‘Three hundred of the people who put their names forward were disappointed, but Dennis Canavan is the only one who can’t accept it.’

            Mr Canavan’s expulsion is automatic, with no right of appeal.

  • Brumanuensis

    I would love an explanation as to why Ladywood is under special measures. No idea whatsoever.

  • RogerMcC

    Also note that in 2010 we won 13 out of these 14 seats (and the one we lost Brentford and Isleworth we had held before and is now a Tory-Lab marginal) and 12 are or were fairly or very safe Labour seats (and thanks to the by-election and collapse of the Lib Dems the 13th Oldham and Saddleworth should really be counted as safe now as well). .

    And the 12 sitting Labour MPs now left include not just a front bench spokesman in Liam Byrne but Michael Meacher and John Spellar both of whom are well-known as leading figures of the left and right in the PLP.

    So a narrative of these being CLPs that are ‘withering on the vine’ clearly does not apply in most of these cases.

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