A transformative process for a Party which in turn aspires to transform the country

2nd February, 2014 8:05 am

The country is desperately in need of dynamic leadership.

Standards of living are flat lining or falling for the hard working majority, there are millions still on the dole, and the economy remains dangerously unbalanced.

But the centre right in British politics is in a state of factional civil war and increasingly out of touch.  Trust between the two coalition partners is breaking down.

Meanwhile the different tendencies within the Conservative Party are openly contemptuous of each other.

Almost every piece of government legislation is contested both between the Labour Party and the Government, but also within the Governing Coalition.

Government whips cannot guarantee the PM a clear run through the Commons of even key items such the immigration Bill this week.

Parliament is a nuisance; something which Mr Cameron would prefer to ignore.

The Commons is increasingly finding that there is no significant business to conduct. Parliament is in danger of being sidelined between now and the general election.

But most people feel that the state of the economy and cost of living crisis demands urgent action by parliament and government. The consequence of  his  inaction is that  Politics is  falling into disrepute, and cynicism about Westminster is growing.

Labour has to be the Party which shows the way forward.  Our task is to cut through the present stalemate.

We need to build a radical One Nation alternative, capable of governing on behalf of the whole country, capable of taking the strong decisions which the crisis means that we will need to take. Our government will need to deal with a complex economic and social crisis at a time when esteem in politics is at an all time low.

Given the scale of the challenge, several questions need to be posed: are the Labour Party and the Labour Movement fully prepared for the task at hand? Will the party be capable of sustaining our government in office given the size of the difficulties we will face?

And if our answer is that there is more we can do to prepare ourselves, can we make changes to our structures and culture which will help?

This is the context in which we must judge the proposals to reform and modernise our party on March 1st .

Our Party has always has been part of a much wider set of relationships which we describe as the “Labour Movement”.  This idea of a wider ‘movement’ consisting of a network of associations, organisations and groups is well suited to the era in which we now live where the internet, for example, has meant that relationships are much more horizontal than they were in previous times.

Purely vertical or hierarchical organisations no longer fit the zeitgeist in the ‘Google era’. A wider and reformed Labour movement deeply rooted in the nations, regions, neighbourhoods, work places and communities which make up our country has the best chance to change our country for the better.

rose_in_water.jpg

But this requires a proper democratic relationship between the leadership and the wider movement.  It also requires the movement to be a living, breathing organisation, organically linked into the whole community. Constitutional changes on their own cannot change the party but they can help. The changes proposed by Ed Miliband present us with a significant opportunity to renew the movement and to prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead.

The Labour movement is a complex but very strong structure which allows both organisations to affiliate, but equally to encourage individuals to join. Ed’s proposals build on this architecture in a number of ways.

At the heart of the Labour Movement is the relationship between the trades unions and the party. This relationship helps us to remain rooted in the communities which we represent. Trades Unionists’ voices express their views through their affiliation to the party and the principle will continue, although individual trades unionists will need to express a positive decision to continue with this..

Some Trades Unionists always went further and became individual members of the Labour Party. Historically, they have played a very significant role. But there are many more who have not joined. Ed Miliband has expressed the view that he wants to open up the relationship even further in order to facilitate the possibility that thousands more can join.

This is wholly welcome. It will be so much easier to build and then sustain in office a government which works for working people if we ensure that we have a mass party of working people. After all, there are currently almost three million trades unionists who belong to affiliate trades unions but they do not play an active role within the party. We will be far stronger if in every branch, constituency, district and regional party there are thousands of ordinary folk playing such a role.

It would be a transformative process for a Party which in turn aspires to transform the country.

Ed’s proposals allow us to consider how we can recalibrate our internal democracy in order to secure a relationship between the leadership and the grassroots Labour movement which is democratic and respectful of each other’s roles.

To caricature an extreme position, it would not be right for the Leadership to totally trapped within the Westminster bubble. This is particularly the case when there is so much cynicism about the politics and the ‘broken’ Westminster model.

It is time now therefore to move to a position whereby the Leader and deputy Leader of the party are elected by the wider membership.  The current proposals suggest that we should have One Member One Vote.

This means that for the purpose of electing the Leader there will no longer be special sections into which different types of member are corralled. It will produce a better, more democratic relationship between the elected leader and the wider Labour movement.

This change has two caveats.

In the first place, it will obviously tremendously strengthen any leader so elected if he or she is elected by a party which consists of hundreds of thousands electors. It is essential therefore that we ensure significant numbers of trades unionists make the positive choice to engage in our party.

Secondly, MP’s will lose the privileged role they currently have in voting within their own section, thereby allowing the election of the leader to break out of the Westminster village. But it is not unreasonable to suggest that any party Leader should be able to demonstrate that they have the confidence of a significant number of colleagues. This can be ensured by reserving the right to nominate the Leader to Labour Members of Parliament with a minimum threshold to demonstrate that they can command the confidence of the party in Parliament.

The tasks in front of the party are enormous. Nothing less than the reconstruction of our economic and social structures to meet the challenges of the economic, environmental and other crises in an increasingly global world.

Some will say that in this context, the drive to transform the Labour Party’s structures is a meaningless side show. Others will try to pick away at one minute detail or other of the proposals.

Both reactions are incorrect. Reconstructing the party is a central part of ensuring that our movement is ready for office and prepared to face up to the difficult challenges ahead.

Given the failure of the other parties, only Labour in office can get us out of the crisis our country faces. A mass, democratic party deeply rooted in our communities can not only secure our election into government but equally sustain and renew our ministers as they confront the challenges which they will face and help us to avoid the risks of lapsing into passivity or into technocratic decision making which has too often been the fate of centre left governments elsewhere.

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  • Quiet_Sceptic

    There’s something missing in this analysis – it’s around why people would want to join Labour and then, start getting involved; essentially what the party offers its members.

    All of these union members could join the party today, very cheaply, on the reduced subscription and get involved. Most don’t. All these new measures do are make it even easier and cheaper but they’re not asking, why aren’t people joining?

    Crudely put – the product is rubbish and not selling, so we’re slashing the price.

    I think we need to work on the quality, make the experience of being a member a ‘quality product’ so that people will join up.

  • swatnan

    Hope its not the Last Rose of Summer all washed up on the beach, is it?
    Now that all 3 parties basically agree on the same process for choosing their leader, its time to move onto the real question that everybody is avoiding, and that is funding of politcal parties. And there’s only one answer, and that is State Funding, so that every Party plays on a level field.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      Why should taxation fund any party that the majority of taxpayers do not support? Not one of the parties have over 50% popular support. It should also not be the business of government to fund from taxation privately organised groups for political purposes.

      If parties need money, let them find it themselves.

      • swatnan

        Basically it avoids corruption and Political Parties selling their souls to vested interests. The point about taxation is a good one, but many people for eg without children, might complain they shouldn’t pay tax because they don’t benefit from all all the investment in schools and education and Child Benefit; they forget that these very kids will be paying for their pension and paying for their care in old age.
        I have heard rumours that the Parties are already in secret talks discussing State Funding.

        • Quiet_Sceptic

          Which parties and how?

          The danger is that any public funding mechanism itself becomes corrupt. This is a huge can of worms. How would the funding be provided – a big cheque to the head office so centralising power and control, or following the member and going to the local party.

          How would you fund very small and emerging political parties and movements? You can’t just fund the big 3, that would be bordering on corrupt and anti-democratic.

          What do you do about the fringe parties – you’ve got to fund UKIP because they’re no longer fringe, the Greens but what about EDL, BNP ?

          • swatnan

            UKIP, Greens, EDL, and BNP are not really political parties but single issue pressure groups, so none of they would be eligible.
            They don’t have a national prescence or national policies which work for the national interest. Therefore SNP, Plaid and the Unionist/Sien Fein wouldn’t qualify, unless that is we distributed money to regional paries as well.

          • Quiet_Sceptic

            They’re not pressure groups, they run as political parties, standing candidates in elections and some of them have elected representatives, significant numbers for UKIP and the Greens.

            Who is going to stand in judgement of what is a legitimate political party deserving of state funding?

            The body making those decisions would have a lot of power, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that some democratic power would be given away.

          • swatnan

            I think the Supreme Court should rule on this. No case has actually been presented to the Court to define what a ‘political party’ actually is. We know what, for example what a ‘contract of employment is’ but we don’t know what a ‘political party’ is.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Only in your judgement.

            If you want taxation funding of political parties, you open a big can of worms, and sometimes you as a Labour supporter will not like the results.

        • treborc1

          Only if you ban donations and then you have the corruption of parties seeking more and more money from the state until you end up with political parties at the top getting the most ending the smaller parties even getting a chance.

        • Steve Stubbs

          Swat says with a straight face “Basically it avoids corruption and Political Parties selling their souls to vested interests”

          Ho ho ho ho ho,

    • Quiet_Sceptic

      If parties want more funds then they should make more effort to attract new members and engage those members they’ve already got.

      Public funding is a sticking plaster to cover up the problem that the main political parties are now little more than hollowed out shells, with no mass movement to support them yet have not adapted to their straitened financial position.

    • treborc1

      So you think all parties will get a lump sum for being a political party it does not work like that does it.

      The fact is the Tories would get the most, we had a look at this once before but labour and the Tories could not agree on how much could be given by the Unions and the single donors.

      Tories said one off donation by Unions should be the same as a single donor for the Tories one stated £5000 the other said no it should be £50,000 .

      The fact is the Tories donors will end up with more single donors lets see the husband will give £5000 the wife will give £5000 the cleaner will give £5000,
      And labour will get one payment of £5000 from each Union.

      You will always have donors.

    • Steve Stubbs

      NO. There is no way that is fair and equitable in allocating state funding.

  • Doug Smith

    ” only Labour in office can get us out of the crisis our country faces.”

    When the Labour Party had a chance, it failed. Why should it be any different next time around?

    I don’t recall any Labour Party member being consulted before Blair participated in the Iraq disaster.

    I don’t recall any Labour Party member being consulted before Blair and Brown pushed through marketisation initiatives within the NHS.

    I don’t recall any Labour Party members being consulted before New Labour decided to ignore the housing crisis and debt bubble.

    I do remember Labour Party members at the last conference voting to re-nationalise the Royal Mail if Labour win in 2015. I also remember the vote being brushed aside by Labour’s elite including Chuka Umunna.

    One Nation Labour: wants your vote but doesn’t want your opinion.

    • BillFrancisOConnor

      ‘I don’t recall any Labour Party member being consulted before Blair participated in the Iraq disaster’.

      Iraq was a big mistake but this is not correct. There was a vote in Parliament before we went to war and the majority of Labour MPs unfortunately voted in favour of going to war. Labour members were consulted.

      • rekrab

        Think before you blink before you quote?

        Parliament was consulted on a false 45 min claim that Iraq had the potential to hit British military interests within 45 mins.

        • BillFrancisOConnor

          No argument on that one but there was a consultation of the Labour Party before we went to war.

          • rekrab

            The PLP, not the member/members as stated by Doug Smith.

        • treborc1

          139 Labour MP’s said no, 15 Tories said no and the Liberals said no, Plaid said no, and the SNP said no.

          The People were not asked but many of them marched and said no.

          But Blair has a promise and it was powerful it was money or a medal of Honor. what ever the little man sold out.

      • Doug Smith

        But no consultation or vote at conference – the institution where policy should be developed.

        Sadly the conference has long been down-graded to a meet and greet event where members are supposed to enjoy the privilege of hob-nobbing with the Labour’s condescending elite.

        When it comes down to it, Labour’s middle-aged, Westminster bubble nonentities don’t trust democracy.

        But they still want your vote.

        • BillFrancisOConnor

          That wasn’t my experience of Conference at all. When did you go last?

          • Doug Smith

            So why was the vote to re-nationalise the Royal Mail slapped down?

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            When was the last time you went to Conference?

          • Mark Law

            Bill – Doug’s personal itinerary is of little interest to me or others.
            Please address the substantive issues he raises.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Well the point is Mark that he made a sweeping and incorrect observation about Labour Party Conference. Unfortunately, he has never been to Conference. The point I was trying to make is that his remark has no credibility whatsoever because it is based on absolute ignorance.

          • Cool it man. When you asked the guy the first time he said

            >

            but you kept on bullying him repeating the question. Then you tell somebody else that they bully you. Come on.

            You get ppl nervous of taking part because you are the one doing the bullying

          • He said the 1st time you asked him. You ignored him and kept asking the same question, yet you say you don’t like bullying. What do you call keep asking the same question to the same person. I think you are the bully M8

          • Mark Law

            I understand the point.
            But you can watch coverage of Conference on TV.
            And be just as “credible”. Because Conference is no longer the supreme policy-making body of the Party. The sofa in the Leader’s Office is! (copyright T Bliar).
            I no longer go either, because I cannot be bothered to fight my eway through the corporate sponsor stands selling private medical insurance and the like 😉 to view a slick video in the Main Hall.
            I miss these “fraternal” disagreements. At conference, they used to be sorted out with fisticuffs in the pub car park – the interweb is a poor and frustrating substitute!
            I’ve posted my view on a commitment to re-nationalisation elsewhere – interestingly, I find myself disagreeing with both of you – you have more in common than you think!
            Let’s remember, if voting actually changed anything, it would have been out-lawed decades ago.
            But we must have “our” self-serving b@stards rather than their self-serving b@stards!

            http://youtu.be/NrDVsprWRCQ

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Royal Mail should be renationalised. The question is how much is it going to cost? By the time this mob have finished there will be lots of other priorities like abolishing The Bedroom Tax for instance and taking back the NHS.

          • Doug Smith

            “taking back the NHS.”

            You’re having a laugh.

            The Labour leadership were complicit in the privatisation of the NHS so from whom are you going to take it back – the Tory coalition or Labour?

            If the Labour Party elite refuse to deal even with the mention of re-nationalisation or mutualisation of previously publicly owned services there’ll be no prospect of them “taking back” the NHS.

            If that was on the cards it would already have been mentioned but instead we get Balls talking about “delivering services in new ways”. I think, by now, we all know what this means.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            You’ve said that ‘The Labour Party elite’ ignores Conference. To iterate: When was the last time you went to Labour Party Conference?

          • Doug Smith

            Who was it who slapped down the conference vote to re-nationalise the Royal Mail?

            A Labour spokesperson said: “The conference is entitled to its view but this won’t be happening.”

            Chuka Umunna. Shadow Business Secretary, later confirmed this.

            If you support renationalising the Royal Mail you’ll be voting for the wrong party.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            I don’t change my vote on the basis of one policy. The fact is there are other priorities which an incoming Labour government will need to attend to.

            In respect of your view about Conference which you seem to know a lot about – I’ll try a third time: When was the last time you went to Labour Party Conference?

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Give him a date, Doug, it is the only thing that will satisfy him.

            I don’t know if you have had children, but if you have you will well know that exasperating game of “But why?” that children play, to which the riposte to any reasoned answer to any question is “but why?”. Bill seems to be a master of that game, tasking the child’s role. Unfortunately, here on LL we have not the ability to end the game by declaring that it is bed-time.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Why should the Royal Mail be renationalised? There was little about it before privatisation to indicate critical national need to deliver letters and packages, when existing private providers can do so just as well.

            I don’t mind providers of critical services being owned by the country, so I am not against nationalised industries per se, but you would need to explain what is so special, vital and critical about the Royal Mail for me to accept your argument, particularly in the internet age where the old fashioned post is now about information, most richly delivered over the internet, or physical mass, most cheaply and reliably delivered by competing vans.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            I’ve explained on several occasions now that I do not wish to engage in discussion with you as it almost invariably results in you engaging in bullying and abuse. Please respect that wish.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Goodness, BillFrancisOConnor wishing not to engage in constructive debate, with to him the triple aims of being able to put out undisturbed his own thoughts, not being queried on the lack of intellectual component of those thoughts, and being able to “lord” it over LL with his own self-appointed self-importance.

            Well, well. “The biter, bit”. You are not the LL Policeman, as several have observed, and which you ignore. When you have a piece to contribute, intellectually coherent, cogent and participatory, please let the rest of us know.

          • Doug Smith

            Having used this blog to accuse me of using class ‘A’ drugs, I’m surprised you have the gall to complain about bullying and abuse.

          • You don’t like bullying M8 but you do it all the time yourself to ppl you don’t agree with. Don’t do it yourself then

          • Steve Stubbs

            Anyone posting here automatically gives the right of reply, whether they want it or not, that’s the way this whole comment column thing works. The solution is in your own hands, if you don’t like people responding, don’t post.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Well no- not really. I think I have the right not to engage in discussion with someone who has said that his dog is more intelligent than me without apologising, has used the F word against another contributor ( I’ve yet to find an apology for that little episode although he claims he made one) and referred to councillors as ‘bottom wipers’ again without apologising.
            Of course he can respond to my posts but I have the right not to engage in a discussion with him.

            Conversely Steve you’re a model contributor who actually admits it when you get things wrong and apologises when using the comparatively harmless word ‘tw@t’ when describing another contributor.

          • Steve Stubbs

            You are missing my point I think. There is no way you can stop JTC (If I may abbreviate him) from responding to your posts, so just do not reply to him. AFAIK there is no way to just block recepton of individual inputs. I sometimes wish there were, when someone goes into full ranting mode. You know who the main culprits are.

            I actually like to read all shades of opinion,no matter how loud they make me laugh or make me want to take a machete to the brainless idiot who is spouting nonsense, but then that’s life.

            Its like doorstepping. You get some quite lucid people, you get some absolutely out of their tree, normally about something different to that which you are trying to get a response. You can only in the case of the latter smile sweetly and try next door.

          • Mark Law

            Why re-nationalise? It’s an understandable reaction to a crime that has been committed. Theft/sale of public assets by a Tory Govt. on behalf of its friends in the City.

            But you are correct – there are other priorities.

          • Mark Law

            Such a vote would simply give an underwritten guarantee to the speculators that their money was safe.
            Does anyone really believe that they bought shares in Royal Mail because they had an interest in postal services?
            Everyone could see the valuation was too low (the extensive property portfolio alone was worth more), the Govt. had spun off the pension liabilities and had given a tax-payer (that’s us!) guarantee to meet those – it was a win-win for speculators.
            The Cable then had the gall to suggest the doubling of the share price was just “froth” and it would “settle down after a couple of months” (price remains twice the offer price).
            Why commit the Party to a public spending commitment that rewards speculators?

        • BillFrancisOConnor

          You criticise Labour Party Conference but you’ve never been have you?

          • Doug Smith

            Yes.

  • rekrab

    So will millions sign up to hit the self destruct button with more massive cuts?

    Is Ed serious about eradicating the deficit in one term and having a surplus?

    It reads a bit like a film script from that wonderful animated film Antz.
    The big General telling the troops to move off in rows of three as their off to face their destiny and they will all be slaughtered one by one Hurrraah Hurraah!

    • treborc1

      What it reads like is Political speak, we have all heard it before.

      So the Tories cannot now state that labour is controlled by the unions pay master.Bet next time we have a Falkirk the labour party will look wait and decide after it knows all the facts. Compromises can be seen for miles.

      • rekrab

        If you think about it? that’s exactly what the tories will say.
        Therewithin is the huge problem, this isn’t about making the trade unions stronger within the labour party, so it’s likely to be misconstrued and lead to confusion.

        The fun reference to Antz was that normally people don’t want to vote for a pay freeze and pain and misery.

  • Mark Law

    “Some will say that in this context, the drive to transform the Labour Party’s structures is a meaningless side show”

    The WHOLE of this weekend’s political agenda (papers, TV politics) was dominated by this debate.What a waste.

    The Public are not interested, and don’t want to know. Have we learned nothing from the disastrous Kinnock era?

    My test is always ” would someone read about this, side with the Party view and march to the ballot box?”

    52 weekends in a year. Little time left for campaigning. Out in the country, I hear cries about energy prices, immigration, cost-of-living etc.

    No voter on the doorstep has EVER said “I’m concerned about the weighting of electoral college votes”.

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