Phew! Labour just managed to radically reform itself and increase its internal democracy and transparency, without a massive internal bust-up. The Party and its affiliates deserve a pat on the back for approaching this in such a mature way compared to previous rounds of constitutional reform, and Ray Collins in particular deserves a medal for guiding us towards a consensus when a few months ago that didn’t seem possible.
Now comes the difficult bit of the Collins Review – implementing Labour’s new constitutional settlement.
The changes fall into two categories – those that are easy to implement but where there is still a lot of detail to iron out that was not specified in the report voted on at Conference, and those where we have more specificity about what needs to happen, but making it happen properly requires a lot of hard work.
In the former category are the recommendations about parliamentary selections. These read:
- There should be a new code of conduct which is clear and enforceable with the main aim of creating a level playing ﬁeld for candidates.
- The NEC should decide the appropriate level at which spending limits should be set for internal party selections.
- Selection timetables should be as short as possible.
So there are some very interesting questions facing the NEC’s Implementation Group, presumably with some more consultation and then approval and debate needed at the Organisation Committee and full NEC as well:
- What is this code of conduct going to say?
- What is the spending limit going to be?
- How short is a short selection timetable?
On the London Mayoral selection, the report leaves it to the NEC to decide:
- Exactly when in the second half of 2015 it will be held.
- What the nomination threshold is (candidates will need to get nominations from CLPs and affiliates)
- The detailed procedures for the joint panel of the NEC and London Regional Board to do the shortlisting
- What the “specific safeguards” are “to ensure a level playing ﬁeld and to guard against manipulation or abuse” in the signing up of registered supporters to participate
These are decisions which could be more than a little bit politically contentious.
According to the timetable in the report, the Implementation Group won’t even exist until May this year and the NEC has until the end of this year to:
- Establish the system for recording individual affiliation
- Agree a new standard model for Constituency Development Plans
- Agree a new code of conduct for selections
- Agree spending limits in selections
I hope the NEC moves a bit faster than this.
It isn’t great for candidates to have to seek selection during the rest of 2014 under procedures we have basically just admitted are flawed and unfair.
And given we can adjust our membership system almost overnight to add additional data about new members or a new category of membership fee, I am not convinced it needs to take ten months to add in what are effectively two new categories of membership (the affiliated supporters and the registered supporters). It is more difficult in terms of the report outputs as the lists will need to be kept separate for each CLP from the lists of full members, but surely the data capture can be done using our existing membership system?
This leads me to the second category of changes, those where I’ve said “making it happen properly requires a lot of hard work”. Because you can change the rules about who can vote in leadership elections and the London Mayor selection, and bring in or amend the membership software to collect those names, but the key thing is going out and recruiting them. Otherwise, as Len McCluskey has warned, you could end up with a London selection, or an unexpected leadership election, where the intended expanded franchise actually ends up narrower than before, or very lop-sided because one affiliate has done the exercise and others have been slower. There’s clearly a risk here because I believe all the current 400,000 plus UNISON Affiliated Fund members will be considered as having already opted in (which is great) but no one else has yet.
As soon as the Party is ready to record applications to be an affiliated supporter or a registered supporter, the whole movement needs to do a massive push on this.
The primary responsibility for recruiting affiliated supporters lies with the affiliates themselves as they hold the membership data. There must be some low-hanging fruit e.g. anyone they hold email addresses for can be asked to opt-in online almost immediately that the Party is ready to accept them. And then you get into the tough grind of mailshots, phone calls and workplace visits to sign people up. I’m guessing there will be some people that don’t opt in right away but do get excited in the context of a leadership election or London selection actually starting, and that new union recruits will need to be persuaded to opt-in at the point they join the union, so this process of signing people up will be ongoing, not just a one-off.
But the responsibility doesn’t just lie with the affiliates themselves. Why shouldn’t the Labour Party itself, locally and nationally, try to boost the number of affiliated supporters? We could work with the unions to send MPs and parliamentary candidates in to large unionised workplaces in their constituencies to sign people up. Local CLPs could organise “factory gate” (or hospital, sorting office, shop or whatever else entrance) leafleting sessions, again where we know there are large groups of members of affiliated unions.
And the recruitment of registered supporters is definitely our problem. Let’s be frank, almost all CLPs, MPs and candidates have failed to engage with the recruitment of registered supporters since it was introduced under Refounding Labour. But now that it is clearer what rights these people will have, we really need to get going on signing them up, so that the franchise for our future leadership elections and for the London Mayor selection isn’t just members plus affiliated supporters, but includes all the other people who would want to indicate their support for us and who we would want to take on a journey from supporter to full member. There are loads of people who can’t afford or aren’t ready to be full members, and for various reasons aren’t in an affiliate trade union, who would still want to be part of the Labour family if we asked them.
Not least are the members of non-affiliated trade unions. I think the registered supporter scheme gives us a real chance to build a database of Labour supporters in non-affiliated unions. Who knows, we might eventually be able to mobilise them to get some unions to re-affiliate or affiliate for the first time, and actually grow the number of unions with a collective voice in the Party.
As soon as the systems are properly running the national party needs to ensure all materials from our web presence to our leaflets and canvassing scripts are geared up to the recruitment of both affiliated supporters and registered supporters.
This isn’t a distraction from election campaigning, it feeds back into it, as all the people signed-up are potential activists who we can mobilise in our campaigns. We need to use the new lists of contacts in each CLP to break out of a paradigm that says only full members can help in elections. There are undoubtedly people out there who have no interest in formal full membership but do want to campaign for Labour.
Essential to making this work is for the Party to be transparent about the numbers signing-up. This is so that the Party puts itself under public scrutiny and pressure to prioritise this recruitment, and the affiliates are under scrutiny to see which of them are prioritising it and converting the best percentage of their members into Labour affiliated supporters. CLPs need to be under scrutiny to see which are actually seriously working on signing-up registered supporters. The ones outside London are going to need to work hard to ensure that heavy recruitment of registered supporters to vote in the London Mayor selection doesn’t mean a future leadership election franchise is over-dominated by London voters.
I’d like to see quarterly reports published showing the total number of affiliated supporters by affiliate, and the total number of registered supporters by CLP.
This process has the potential to be a really exciting journey from Labour being a relatively inward looking party to being the core of a proper mass movement. It also carries the risk of being an embarrassing damp squib if the national Party, CLPs and affiliates don’t work hard on recruitment. We have to make this work.