Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Jeremy Corbyn at Burston Rally Calls for Labour to Open up Policy Making to Members.

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Burston Strike Rally.

From SJ Burston Facebook Page

As many as 3000 people have attended the annual Burston Strike Rally in Norfolk – among them Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn.

The rally is held every year to celebrate the longest strike in history which happened in 1914. Then schoolchildren ‘went on strike’ to support their sacked teachers. The strike lasted 25 years. ITN.

Clive Lewis, elected this year as Labour MP for South Norwich, and one of the original Parliamentary backers of Jeremy Corbyn’s bit for leadership, spoke. He called for not let up in our efforts to get Corbyn elected, and the importance of the campaign to bring Labour in line with the mood for changed politics.

Jeremy addressed the rapt crowd. He talked of the need to build on the labour movement’s achievements, of the debt we owe to those who fought for the NHS, for the Welfare State, for legislation like equal pay, health and safety and the human rights act.

The Labour governments of the 1990s had helped with initiatives like Sure Start and more resources for public services. But their achievements had been built on sand: they had accepted the free-market consensus laid down in the Thatcher years.

Unable to confront directly the Conservatories’ call for more austerity, they had not challenged it. Instead of attacking the financial causes of the crisis, the banks, they had accepted the need for cuts, if reluctantly.

Labour had to break with austerity. It had to oppose welfare ‘reform’, from the sanction system to the assault on disabled people’s benefits. It to start backing trade unions and defnding the right to organise, to belong to a union and to strike.

Corbyn outlined plans for a National Investment bank as a pillar of his programme to rid the public sphere of the dead hand of PFI.

One theme of Corbyn’s speech is worth underlining.

He called for opening up Labour’s policy process to the party membership.

This is a subject he frequently focuses on.

I don’t think we can go on having policy made by the leader, shadow cabinet, or parliamentary Labour party. It’s got to go much wider. Party members need to be more enfranchised. Whoever is elected will have a mandate from a large membership.

Guardian.

Those familiar with the present Labour policy process, culminating in the National Policy Forums, will know that it is hard, if not impossible, to influence the Parliamentary leadership’s decisions.

This is how the way they make policy began (Tribune. January 1995. Andrew Coates – ironically encouraged to write this by Peter Hain).

January 1995

The Tendance, who is well acquainted with people who have participated at every stage of the Forum process (and was himself there when it was set up), can give chapter and verse on how the Leader, his office,  and his communications staff have ignored well-thought out proposals on everything from Planning Legislation to Welfare.

It is ironic that it is the very system of rule by the favoured few which introduced the present open election process for the Labour leader.

The right-wing of the party under Blair – the modernisers – have long had the ambition to make Labour into a version of the US Democratic Party.  But it was not just the ingrained cultural cringe of the British political scene towards the US that was the immediate stimulus.

They were impressed by the following changes on European left (the Italian former Communists’ beat them to the change over to ‘Democrats’).

They gained the ear of the party Leader……

Italy 2007:

On 14 October 2007, voters of the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) were called to choose the party leader among a list of six, their representatives to the Constituent Assembly and the local leaders. The primary was a success, involving more than 3,500,000 people across Italy, and gave to the winner Walter Veltroni momentum in a difficult period for the government and the centre-left coalition. Wikipedia.

This system continues.

Progress published an admiring article in April 2013, by Shamik Das:

The Partito Democratico was the only party to organise primaries both for its leader and its parliamentary candidates, and was the only party without the leader’s name on the ballot paper.

During the leadership primaries, both the eventual winner, Pier Luigi Bersani, and his principal challenger, Matteo Renzi, utilised the web, with the party gaining a strategic advantage. Between June and December 2012, it was the only political party with an online presence, dominating cyberspace – and it is a presence that continues to grow and deliver.

The PD’s primaries’ database stands at an impressive three million contacts (out of an electorate of about 50 million, with turnout  at 75 per cent), a small army the party re-energised and mobilised in the general election. Detailed analysis of the database was undertaken, from people’s professions to backgrounds, knowing where to go, what to ask of them, and how many voters each can contact in turn. Many of these three million people (in a democracy of a similar scale to our own) are recently engaged and spreading the message ever further. Imagine such strength in the UK.

There is also this:

France 2011:

This was the first primary to be open to the general public. In order to participate to the open primary, voters had to meet the following conditions:

  • be registered in the French electoral lists before 31 December 2010 (or for French persons under 18: be 18 at the time of the 2012 presidential election, or be a member of Socialist Party (PS), Radical Party of the Left (PRG), Young Socialist Movement (MJS), or Young Radicals of the Left (JRG); foreigners will be able to vote if they are members of PS, PRG, MJS, or JRG);
  • pay a contribution of minimum €1;
  • sign a charter pledging to the values of the Left: “freedom, equality, fraternity, secularism, justice, solidarity and progress”.

The six candidates participated in three televised debates on 15 September, 28 September and 5 October 2011.

In the first round election day, around 2,700,000 voters cast their ballots: Hollande won 39 percent of the vote, followed by Aubry with 30 percent and Montebourg at 17 percent. Former presidential candidate Royal came in fourth place with 7 percent of the vote.[1]

Second round

On 9 October 2011, after the first results of the first round, Manuel Valls called his voters to cast their ballots in favor of François Hollande; on 10 and 12 October 2011, Jean-Michel Baylet and Ségolène Royal respectively announced they would support François Hollande. On 14 October 2011, Arnaud Montebourg did not instruct his voters how to vote, although he explained he would personally cast his ballot for Hollande.[82]

François Hollande and Martine Aubry contested a runoff election on 16 October 2011, after a televised debate held on 12 October 2011. Almost 2,900,000 voters participated to the second round: François Hollande won the primary with around 57 percent of the vote, becoming the official candidate of the Socialist Party and its allies for the 2012 presidential election.

In Progress in 2013 Axel Lemarie lauded the French primaries,

n 2011 the French Socialist party embraced the principle of an ‘open primary’ to select its candidate for the presidential election of 2012. This first experiment was a success in terms of both mobilising supporters and gaining media coverage. All registered voters were given the chance to take part in the selection process. In fact, in order to participate voters needed simply to sign a charter pledging allegiance to the values of the left and to pay a symbolic contribution of at least €1; they did not need to be members of the Socialist party. For the first time in France, a presidential candidate was chosen by the general public through a unique democratic and participative process.

More than 9,000 polling stations were open for the first round of the primary both in France and across the world. To ensure maximum legitimacy, an oversight body, comprising a prominent lawyer, a law professor and a specialist in ethics, was charged with registering the candidates, monitoring the elections and announcing the final results. To be declared the winner, a candidate needed to receive more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast. If no candidate received this, a second round was to be organised between the two leading first-round candidates.

Over 2.5 million people voted in the first round and in the second this number rose to around three million. Moreover, the televised debate between the two second-round candidates was a huge success, attracting an audience of around six million viewers, energising the party and dominating political coverage.

Building on this success, the party organised another open primary process for the local elections next March. It was also deemed a success. For example, in Marseilles, 23,440 voters participated in the second round of the primary, which represents around a quarter of those who voted for the Socialist party  during the last local elections in 2008. And it showed how the open primary process can be full of surprises. In the Marseilles contest, former minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the favourite to win the primary, was eliminated after the first round.

Impressed by the evidence from Italy and France, and no doubt the silver tongues of the Progress wordsmiths,  Labour came round to adopting their own version of the’ primary’ (they failed to spot one small cloud on the horizon – in France, the left candidate came from nowhere to 17%).

Against the wishes of many in the party, and almost by stealth, the new election system was set up.

Whatever the final results we can imagine that Progress are already celebrating their achievement.

 

 

4 Responses

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  1. A special mention must be made for John Mann MP in introducing the new system.

    From the latest Weekly Worker –

    “What was interesting about the 2010 [leadership] election was a little noticed experiment conducted by John Mann in his Bassetlaw constituency, the outcome of which would go on to drastically alter the course of Labour Party history.

    Mann, convinced that there was a need to “widen democracy” and open up the leadership election to the public, identified Labour supporters in his constituency and conducted a ‘primary’ to determine who he should vote for in the leadership election. At a cost of several thousand pounds he worked with the Bassetlaw CLP and other volunteers to conduct a postal ballot of over 10,000 people who were said to be Labour supporters.

    Writing for Progress magazine in July 2010, Andy Burnham – who was, of course, standing as a leadership candidate – praised John Mann’s primary. In his article he stated that membership fees were a barrier to participation, that he wanted to create an affiliate membership (ie, ‘registered supporters’), and that as leader of the Labour Party he would look to include registered supporters in future internal elections and selections. (To Burnham’s dismay Labour supporters in Bassetlaw voted for David Miliband in the primary and John Mann cast his ballot accordingly.)”

    http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1072/hoist-by-its-own-petard/

    As the wrong candidate took the lead in the new system he had promoted, Mann had a change of mind (Daily Mail July 26 2015). –

    “Backbencher John Mann told the Sunday Times the contest was “totally out of control”, and insisted acting leader Mrs Harman should step in so that proper checks can be conducted.

    “It should be halted,” he said. “It is becoming a farce with long-standing members … in danger of getting trumped by people who have opposed the Labour Party and want to break it up, expressly want to break it up – some of it is the Militant Tendency types coming back in.”

    The concerns came to the fore as Andy Burnham warned there is a “real risk” the party could split if he does not defeat Mr Corbyn.”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3174854/Labour-leadership-race-halted-infiltrators-MP-John-Mann-says.html

    John R

    September 7, 2015 at 3:09 pm

  2. Excellent contribution John: the man Mann merits a special award.

    When the history of this experiment is written there are too many unsung heroes.

    We will make it our business to honour their work.

    Andrew Coates

    September 7, 2015 at 4:29 pm

  3. Thanks for the compliment, Andrew.

    What I like about the Weekly Worker article is the mention of how John Mann “identified Labour voters in his constituency”. In other words, he chose, in advance, who the “Labour voters” would be.

    I remember years ago, the Republican Party trying to screw up the Democrats when they were choosing a nominee to oppose President Reagan. The Republicans ran ads to tell Democrat Reaganites that, if they wished, could “write in” a candidate if he or she was not among the options.

    Their suggestion was, of course, Ronnie himself.

    John R

    September 7, 2015 at 5:30 pm

  4. One thing this highlights is the massive difference between European politics and the US.

    The US caucuses and the lengthy filtering process for the Convention that decides on a Presidential candidate would look ludicrous here – with all that ancient stuff about ‘states’ in the Constitution and the Federal system (which makes even the UK’s politics, look modern) and old-fashioned bollocks the USA political system in full of – not to mention their most modern element – loadsamoney – have no counterpart.

    The filters that no doubt Mann would like, “Identifying” voters, to make things work the way Progress wanted can’t be done.

    What you have, it’s now obvious – is the kind of vehicle for the “populism” that everybody is (often rightly) afraid of in European politics – like in the UK!

    Andrew Coates

    September 7, 2015 at 5:40 pm


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