What should Labour’s organisational priorities be?

22nd May, 2012 12:43 pm

For the first time since the Iraq War in 2003, Labour does not feel in crisis. Ever since then we have had disputes over the ideological and policy direction of the Party, around both interventionism overseas and public service reform at home, and over its leadership, with plotting from 2003-2007 against Blair, 2007-2010 against Brown, and since 2010 a debate over whether we picked the right Miliband.

I do not pretend that all debate has now ended. That would be the unity of the graveyard.

But the political events of the last few months and weeks have brought us to a far stronger position in the mid-term than many thought possible.

On 3rd May Ed Miliband proved he can win elections, and win them handsomely. Leads of up to 14% mean that leadership speculation has gone from fashionable to fringe. Serious commentators are writing about the prospect of Prime Minister Ed Miliband. The position of Iain McNicol as General Secretary has also been consolidated by electoral success.

Ed’s reshuffle has brought the soft left into the tent in the person of Jon Cruddas whilst at the same time making the Blairites feel they are being listened to by promoting Progress Chairman Lord Adonis.

Old enmities of the Blair and Brown era are being buried or at least shelved by the prospect of being part of an election-winning project, with Ed Balls and Lord Mandelson co-signing an article on Europe.

The double-dip recession has proved Labour’s semi-Keynesian economic narrative was correct.

Fractures in the relationship with the unions back in January seem to have been repaired through better communications.

And the Coalition staggers from crisis to crisis. The Lib Dems remain toxic but now the Tories are too, fighting a two front war with the bulk of the electorate to their left but UKIP pushing 10% on their right and giving right-wing backbenchers ammunition to demand a march away from the electoral centre-ground. The phone-hacking scandal is creeping ever closer to 10 Downing Street.

I don’t pretend this means we are necessarily going to win in 2015. Coming back from a 29% vote share to win after only one term would be unprecedented. But it now looks possible because we have that elusive but essential political asset, momentum.

Whilst we are not fire-fighting, as NEC members we suddenly have a mid-term opportunity for a year of building and strengthening the Labour Party to make it fighting fit for 2015.

My organisational priorities would be:

  • The 200 new party organisers by 2014 Iain McNicol has promised.
  • To go further than the 100 candidates in place this year that Iain set out and try to get every parliamentary candidate selected by the end of 2013.
  • To use the Police Commissioner elections this November to re-energise our organisation in the shire counties and obtain data from canvassing and the count that helps us target properly in the 2013 elections.
  • To use the County Council elections in May 2012 to break into rural and suburban areas in a big way – a “no no-go areas for Labour” campaign. Scope for changes of council control next year are limited as we start so far behind in the counties, so instead we should go for maximising seat gains (e.g. going for a big number of gains in Kent and Essex even though we can’t take control there), targeting seats that make up parliamentary winnables and put us back in the game in seats we won in 1997 and 2001, and symbolic gains in unlikely areas where the demographics tell us there may be a hidden potential Labour vote.
  • To drive forward the implementation of Refounding Labour so that best practice from re-energised and outward-looking local parties like Cardiff, which stormed the May elections, becomes the norm.
  • To complete the un-finished business of Refounding Labour and actually have a policy-making process that is worth members engaging in.
  • To support Jon Cruddas in coming up with the ideological vision and broad-brush policies to complement the detail the shadow frontbench teams have already done in the Policy Review.
  • To restore faith in Labour’s internal democracy with greater transparency in our processes and zero tolerance of fixes and fiddles. We need to determine policy and candidates on merit, not as a competition for who can do the most imaginative stitch-up.
  • To comprehensively audit the health of our CLPs and go in and rebuild the ones that have atrophied. We can’t expect new members and supporters to engage in our campaigning or policy-making when sadly, indeed disgustingly, there are CLPs that never meet or only meet once a year, or never organise campaigning.
  • To not accept that membership has peaked, and to set ambitious targets for recruitment and get those 200 new organisers out signing up members.
  • To strengthen the union link by the Party playing a key role in building the TUC anti-austerity demo on 20th October.

Luke Akehurst is a standing for re-election to the NEC.

* This is Luke’s regular weekly column, but we welcome posts on the future direction of the party from other candidates for the NEC *

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  • treborc1

    Ed’s reshuffle has brought the soft left into the tent in the person of
    Jon Cruddas whilst at the same time making the Blairites feel they are
    being listened to by promoting Progress Chairman Lord Adonis.

    Glad you said this before I rejoined.

    • Mike

      Out of interest, would you ever see yourself joining Labour in the future? What does it need to do to win your membership?

      For full disclosure, I’m a left-wing member of Labour and have voted for both Socialist Labour and the Communist Party of Britain in the past (never against Labour though). Whether you’re a member of the party or not is less important than membership of the labour movement 🙂

      • Dave Postles

        He’s a member of the labour movement in that he desires a class for itself as well as a class in itself.  The issue we have here is the old Weberian dichotomy of the relationship between status and class and their contingent dominance at different times.  Right now, we seem to have a paradox.  Traditionally, people in the US were more concerned about status, but recently we hear more political conversation about class divisions.  Over here, we conventionally referred to class, but now it all seems to revolve around status.  This Coalition government is one which conceives of itself in terms of status.  The Labour shadow cabinet has the same propensity.

      • treborc1

        OK at the last Welsh Assembly election I voted labour, at the next Welsh assembly election I will be voting labour.

        why what is the difference.

        I have not once heard labour Wales call me a scrounger or tell people they think I can work

        Council house building is to go ahead with Cardiff  planing to build a 1000 houses, with my area planing with a housing association to build 50 new council houses this year, with 100 next year and then a 100 every other year.

        This year five brand new schools will be built, with five next year .

        Free prescriptions already done

        Free car aprking in hospital already done

        One Billion pound major town rebuilding program, already under way, at six towns in wales.

        Infrastructure to get jobs into Wales this will cost 55 billion, this will be to try and turn Wales into a manufacturing centre.

        I could go on but you have the idea.

        I belong to compass, I belong to Welsh labour grass roots, through my Union the GMB.

        Would I join labour I doubt it I do not think Miliband has what it takes, anyway I’m not what he’s looking for I suspect if he knocked on my door he would say to people I’m sure he can work at something


    • John Ruddy

      Lets face it, you would never rejoin – even if the Labour party took the communist manifesto and implemented it, you would find something to criticise!

      • treborc1

        Then again it’s not communist is it, it’s not even labour anymore you have more of the Progress group on here which says a lot for labour grass roots.

        • John Ruddy

          Point proved, I think!

          • Dave Postles

            … only if you misinterpret what he said … I think.

  • While I actually agree strongly with most of your stated priorities there is one which I cannot let go unanswered:

    ‘To comprehensively audit the health of our CLPs and go in and rebuild the ones that have atrophied. We can’t expect new members and supporters to engage in our campaigning or policy-making when sadly, indeed disgustingly, there are CLPs that never meet or only meet once a year, or never organise campaigning’. 

    I actually belong to a small (200-member) CLP in a very large semi-rural Tory safe seat which technically does indeed only formally meet once a year for an AGM and does very little of what a large urban CLP or the NEC would regard as ‘campaigning’.  

    But down here we were reduced by the haemorrhage of members you and your colleagues presided over to just one active branch – and this branch acts in every respect as a CLP, has continued to meet monthly, to put up candidates for hopeless contests in the constituency and wards and has campaigned as effectively as any group can do which has only a dozen or so active members spread over as many towns and villages – all with very little support from the national and regional party. 

    Last May we stood someone in almost every District Council ward and came nowhere near winning any of them – but virtually every voter in our constituency had a Labour candidate to vote for and I’d suggest this is a far more important measure of the health of CLPs like ours than how often we technically hold GMC meetings.   

    That you from your comfortable seat on the NEC would regard this record as ‘disgusting’ and demand an audit of our health really does encapsulate how utterly out of touch you and your fellows have become during all those years of ‘fixes and fiddles’ which you now seem to be claiming you had nothing personally to do with.

    Plus how do you square restoring ‘faith in Labour’s internal democracy’ (an interesting choice of words presuming as it does that such a thing already exists and that in an echo of Brecht’s line about the government needing to elect a new people it is our lack of faith that is the problem) with such a top down process?

    Not just CLPs like mine but the whole party needs rebuilding.

    But that has to come from the bottom-up – not through yet more managerialist interventions from the centre.

    • Redshift

      As someone who agrees with Luke’s sentiments on this (less so on policy) I’d suggest that since you have active branches underneath the CLP level it is of less concern on that point because in many of those cases with weak CLPs, the branches are even weaker (if not non-existent). That isn’t the case in your CLP. 

      Whilst I think you’ve done very well getting up enough candidates in your area, I think you need to start looking at campaigning. Pick one or two wards and work them hard, on a good year (perhaps 2015 with GE turnout boosting Labour vote) perhaps you’ll win some council seats. You have Contact Creator now and it is a ready-to-use database for you to store information about where the Labour voters in your area are.

      By the sound of it you aren’t the worst CLP out there (as much as some of the well-funded, higher membership London CLPs might disagree with me on that) and clearly, you aren’t in the most demographically advantageous area. That wouldn’t stop you having a modest strategy for council representation over a 3 year period up to the general election and trying to establish regular canvass sessions (even once a month if your number of activists is that low).  

      • Which is pretty much exactly what we are doing – we’re canvassing for a upcoming district ward by-election this weekend and you are welcome to come and join us….

    • Luke Akehurst

      Hi Roger

      I didn’t actually have rural seats with a small membership in mind when I wrote that. I was thinking of the high profile examples of superficially safe very urban CLPs where the internal life of the party has been shut down to further the interests of sitting MPs or cllrs who don’t want to be held accountable. Usually the long-term result is we start losing all our council seats.

      Clearly your CLP is active if branches meet and candidates stand. But there are some that only exist on paper and need an external re-boot. If we never audit the level of activity we can never know.

      I started out as a member in Canterbury and have been a PPC in Aldershot and Castle Point (Essex) so my experience isn’t limited to urban areas with a big membership  – plus I travel round speaking to all types of CLPs, so I resent the idea that I’m somehow issuing edicts without understanding what’s going on on the ground.

      It does need to be bottom-up but if there is literally no functioning local party where is the starting point for that rebuild?

      • Thanks for replying and I have never doubted the level of commitment you personally have for the party. 

        But you really can’t sit there as a member of the majority that has been controlling the NEC for so many years and condemn ‘fixes and fiddles’ or even the scandalous unaccountability of MPs and councillors as if you have no responsibility for them. 

        And the issue is not rebuilding our ‘faith’ in internal democracy – as if it is our lack of faith that is the problem – but restoring the thing itself. 

        Which means giving conference back the ability to properly debate and make policy as it did for the party’s first 75 or so years of existence until New Labour reduced it to a mere pep rally with corporate sponsorship. 

        But if your members and their delegates can’t vote on what goes into the manifesto and hold the party leadership accountable for its implementation you are not in any meaningful way a democratic organisation.

  • AlanGiles

    “To restore faith in Labour’s internal democracy with greater transparency in our processes and zero tolerance of fixes and fiddles.”

    Er,… Fiona Twycross and her emails? (shuffles away embarrassed)

    Seriously, this is the time of year, if you have a greenhouse, when you get the Jeyes Fluid out and disinfect it  ready for the season ahead. Political parties should be doing the same thing. Sadly I think “fiddles and fixes” seems to be the rule rather than exception in all the major parties these days, a situation that has got worse in the last decade or so. It would be nice to believe that the party will become honest and transparent again as a matter of course, but will it?. I rather doubt it.  Especially when the aforementioned thread about Ms Twycross there are those who feel that – to use the politicians favourite expression – “has done nothing wrong”.

    * Colin Steele (1968 –   )

    • Even the term ‘fixes and fiddles’ is revealing – suggesting as it does the sort of shady wheelings and dealings that loveable Arthur Dakeyesque figures might engage in behind the scenes at a dog track rather than the operations of rival bureaucratic factions in the remains of what was once a democratic mass organisation.

      Robert Michels pointed out the peculiar propensity of social democratic parties to create such bureaucratic elites and the means by which they aggregate power to themselves and reduce mass democratic institutions into hollow shells nearly a century ago.

      I wonder if Michels is still on the PPE course syllabus? – however  if it was I suspect they’d treat it as a managerialist manual rather than a warning – just as they did with Michael Young’s essay on ‘meritocracy’.


      • Redshift

        Iron Law of Oligarchy I believe its called – and no, I didn’t do PPE

        • Neither did I – but FWIW Michels’  1916 book was still on the political science syllabus at Sussex when I was there in 1980 and IIRC is also discussed extensively in Ralph Miliband’s magnum opus Parliamentary Socialism. 


  • Paul

    “We [Labourlist] welcome posts on the future direction of the party from other candidates for the NEC”.  That’s good. As someone who is not on the NEC ballot paper precisely because of one of those nebulous ‘fixes’  that Luke rightly wants to not tolerate (and has presumably not been tolerating since he went on the NEC), can I have a go?

    More directly relevant to Luke’s piece, the most glaring omission is the selection and campaign for the European elections in 2014 – even more glaring because Jon Worth wrote a very good post about the selections on Labourlist yesterday.  For the first time since elections started in 1979 we have a Euro election which might actually be about Europe, and which could (if PES wins a majority) set Europe on a more sensible course, as long as the parliament can win the power struggle with the Council of Ministers over who actually has the democratic mandate under Lisbon, and Luke fails to mention it (not to mention Labour’s choice for EC president PES nomination and how Labour does that).

    Other than that, I concur wholly with Roger’s sentiments over Luke’s dismissal of non-Met CLPs, which face very different challenges; the aggression is not helpful.

  • Anniesec

    Like Roger below I can agree with virtually every word in here apart from use of the word ‘disgutingly’. I don’t think any of our volunteers should be described like that. I am in a constiuency that does meet – indeed has some very interesting meetings, with business meetings once a quarter leaving time fro good debate in between; but we struggle all the time with the complexities of rural geography and public transport to do so. Lifts can be arranged, but all takes time to organise. Some of our branches are very strong too, and there are some who would prefer to focus on the branch rather than struggle over the hills to a constiuency meeting. What Refounding Labour promised us was flexibility, so let’s have constituency audits, but not ones that start with a tick box approach that assumes all constituencies are the same. One wish I would add to the list of priorities – supporting all constituencies with developing a good quality on-line presence and the technical support to keep it working – so they can be everywhere even when the buses all stop at 5pm.

    • Luke Akehurst

      Hi Anne

      as I explained above to Roger I used that word because I was thinking of urban CLPs where the democratic life of the party has deliberately been shut down – places where meetings are not called despite large memberships because vested interests wouldn’t like the outcome of the meetings. Sadly these exist. I intended the use of CLP to mean branch or CLP.

      • But how does that differ from the shutting down of the democratic life of the party at national and regional level because as you say  ‘vested interests wouldn’t like the outcome’ if we were actually allowed to take meaningful votes on policy. 

        Restore inner party democracy at the national level (which doesn’t necessarily require us to turn the clock back to 1980 as there are now more options for truly participatory democracy) and those moribund CLPs and branches would fix themselves as new members would join and demand changes. 

        And you don’t need some centralised managerialist audit process to restore local parties – a simple trigger mechanism that allowed say 10% of CLP members to demand an extraordinary GM would resolve the one specific problem you’ve actually identified in many if not all cases.  

  •        As an outsider (libdem) can I commend your honesty in admitting that  Labour membership is falling  – in stark contrast to your leader who claimed it was still rising just a few days ago.
    I actually believe it would be more healthy if all parties were open about the long term declines in membership that have hit all of us .

    • John Ruddy

      Can you point to the bit where Luke says our membership is falling?

    • Dave Postles

      May I commend your honesty (if not your honour) in establishing that you are (still) a LibDem?  Is there no shame?

  • ThePurpleBooker

    Jon Cruddas is Blue Labour not really soft left.

    • Loxxie

      Aren’t Jon Cruddas and James Purnell a couple? In a civil partnership aren’t they?

    • Loxxie

      Aren’t Jon Cruddas and James Purnell a couple? In a civil partnership aren’t they?

      • Daniel Speight

         Why do you say this?

        • treborc1

           Lets hope something comes from Cruddas, lets hope he does not end up the Keven keegan of politics.

        • Loxxie

          Why not? A fine flowering of affection between two men should be celebrated rather than berated.

  • Sandranoble57



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