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

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.


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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