10 things you need to know about Ed Miliband’s party reforms

31st January, 2014 10:31 pm

Ed Miliband has confirmed – in an interview with the Guardian this evening – the details of his proposed party reform plans.

These reforms are a big deal, and are a significant change. The one thing that everyone I’ve spoken to this evening who has an insight into the negotiations – from both the party and the unions – is that these changes are a big deal. They’re easily the biggest change the party has undergone in twenty years, and many believe this is a bigger change than Clause IV. Indeed several people have said to me that “Blair couldn’t have done this”. Speaking of Blair, there’s been particular praise in several quarters for Blair’s successor as Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson – much of what he suggested would happen on LabourList yesterday has come to pass. I’d still like to see greater clarity and transparency over that members wanted for party reform in their submissions to the Collins Review, but at least we now know what is proposed.

There’s much to digest from what’s coming out, so her are the ten things you need to know about how the party will change if the reforms are accepted at the Special Conference on March 1st.

  1. There’s definitely an opt-in process for trade union members: As I wrote earlier today, trade union supporters of Labour will effectively be subject to a double opt-in process if they’re going to get a vote in the leadership election. They’ll be asked to confirm they want their union affiliation fees to help support Labour – and if they do, they’ll be invited to become Affiliate Members. If they choose to do both, they’ll get a leadership election vote. However, there will be a five year “transition period” for opt-in – but if there’s a leadership election before then, only affiliates who have opted-in will get a vote.
  2. OMOV is in: The electoral college is dead – there will be “One Member One Vote” for the leadership contest, open to current full members, and new Affiliated Members and Registered Supporters. Some Labour members might feel this dilutes their vote in the leadership election, but because the MPs section has been removed (see point 4) in reality most “full members” votes will count more proportionately than they did before.
  3. MPs (and MEPs) lose their bloc vote – but have a crucial role in shortlisting the candidates: Earlier today its seemed that a candidate in a future leadership election would have needed the backing of 25% of MPs to get on the ballot paper. Now its seems that candidates will need the backing of 20% of MPs. This may remove some potential candidates from the running, but in reality it means only candidates who have a base of support in the PLP will stand a chance of being party leader. As being Labour leader also involves leading the PLP, that seems a sensible compromise.
  4. There will be a London Primary: This has been one of the points of contention with some in the unions, but there will be a London Primary. It won’t be an “open” primary in which everyone in London can vote – but instead it’ll be a closed OMOV vote with Members, Affiliated Supporters and Registered Supporters all being given an equal vote in the contest. That means London Labour will be particularly keen to sign people up to these new forms of membership to get more Londoners in the Labour corner come primary time. The primary will be held post General Election – and will be completed by conference 2015.
  5. Selections remain for full members – but with spending limits and a donation cap: Many in the unions are keen for Affiliated Members to have a say in selections, but these reforms will keep selecting candidates for parliament and councils, standing for election and sending delegates to conference as delegates. However, there will now be a limit on what candidates can spend in pursuit of selection and a cap on donations to a selection campaign. The draft Collins report sets out some figures for that, but they aren’t set in stone and will need some work before special conference. Anything that cuts the cost of selections is welcomed – they’re too expensive – what’s needed is a process that includes, rather than excludes good candidates, regardless of background.
  6. There’s still a role for collectivism in the Labour Party: Many in the trade unions were concerned during this process that the “opt-in” method would mean a death knell for collectivism in the Labour Party – but collectivism lives on, as the unions and other affiliated organisations retain vote shares at conference and the NEC. However, after the five year period for transitioning to “opt-in” is over, the proportionate share of union votes at conference (within the 50% union vote) and on the NEC will be proportionate to the number of trade unionists from each union who have opted in.
  7. Labour won’t “unilaterally disarm” on party funding: A real concern – with only just over a year until election day, was that Labour would immediately lose financial support from the unions and be unable to compete with the Tory war chest. Instead, union donations look set to be lowered over the course of the five year transition period. The Tories will likely claim that these donations still give power to the unions, but Miliband is holding firm. He says he wants to cut donations for parties to a £5000 maximum – but he won’t “unilaterally disarm”. As long as the Tories are still getting support from millionaires, Labour won’t be penning themselves in on funding.
  8. Registered supporters will get a voice – and a vote – too: As well as the new affiliate members, there’s a new category of membership – registered supporters. Those who want to be part of the party but not full members will be able to take part in the leadership election – and work with their local party – as long as they pay a small fee to the party. That’s not dissimilar to the closed primary system used by the French Socialists to select Hollande as their Presidential candidate, and should see more people involved in the leadership election. Of course, that means leadership election voets for people who contribute far less than full members – but (point 6) full members still have more rights than these new members.
  9. All candidates will be able to contact all of the electorate: One complaint in previous leadership elections has been that candidates couldn’t contact all of those who could vote due to the rules in place for the affiliate section. Now, because the party will be sending out all ballot papers, and the only people who can vote will have a direct relationship with the party – every candidate will be able to contact all fo the possible voters in the OMOV leadership ballot. In addition, Affiliated Members and Registered Supporters will be linked into their local party.
  10. This won’t build a mass movement party – but it gives Labour a chance to do so: No reform of a party’s rules can deliver a mass membership party – that’s not how politics works ad it’s not how people work. But these changes should allow Labour to have a direct relationship with hundreds of thousands more people – and bring more people into the party than are currently involved. The Labour Party – and party politics in general – can feel pretty moribund at times. By lowering the barrier for entry and engagement, this provides an opportunity. But that’s all it is. Only if combined with a strong offer to potential supporters and members, and alongside the kind of community organising and engagement that Arnie Graf has been leading on, can these reforms have a profound impact on the party. And on our politics. This isn’t the end of the process. I’m afraid it’s only the start…

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