Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour Party Democracy Review: Some Background.

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Labour’s internal democracy review aims to put members “in charge” and hand them a bigger say in campaigning, organising, internal structures and elections, according to the key official tasked with leading the process.

The review, launched this autumn as part of Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to turn Labour into a “mass movement”, has already prompted “thousands” of activists to send in ideas, said Katy Clark.

Clark, a former MP who is now political secretary to Corbyn, is running the inquiry with “assistance” from Andy Kerr, chair of the NEC, and Claudia Webbe, who sits on the committee, and will report to the leader and Ian Lavery, the party chair and Wansbeck MP.

Labour List

Labour Party Democracy Review

Our Democracy Review’s Terms of Reference

Labour’s NEC agreed to a review of Party Democracy as set out by the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

The terms of reference for the review will include the following areas:

  • The method of electing the Party Leader, including the role of registered supporters and the issue of nominating thresholds.
  • The composition of the NEC and the procedures for elections to it in its various elements.
  • Developing democratic policy-making procedures, including strengthening the role of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and of Party Conference, the role of contemporary motions and the development of local and regional plans.
  • Looking at how the Party can better deal with CLP motions.
  • The role, accountability and transparency of regional structures.
  • The functioning of associated bodies like BAME Labour, Young Labour, Disability Labour and LGBT Labour etc.
  • Strengthening the involvement and participation of our hundreds of thousands of new members in constituency parties and other aspects of the Party’s work.
  • Recruitment of members to further develop a mass party.
  • The Governance of CLPs including the composition of CLP Executives and the training of CLP officers and members.
  • How freeze dates are applied in Selections and Conferences.
  • Strengthening the links between the Party and its trade union affiliates locally and nationally, and engaging more of their members in the Party’s life.
  • Developing the relationship between Labour’s local authority representatives and local parties.
  • Greater participation of women in CLPs and at other levels of the Party, gender representation throughout the Party, and the role of Labour women’s conference.
  • Improving diversity at all levels within the Party including looking at how to increase the involvement of BAME members, LGBT members, members with a disability and other groups.
  • Harnessing the potential of social media across all aspects of Labour’s democracy and political work.

Submit your thoughts now

Building a Mass Movement
How We Make Policy
Diversity and Participation
Your Local Labour Party

Momentum says,

“The Labour Party Democracy Review represents an unprecedented opportunity for party members and trade union affiliates to fundamentally remake the party so that it is equipped to provide deep and meaningful representation to millions of people, and to implement a socialist programme to transform the country.”

They add,

For a brief explanation of the forums Momentum will establish to allow our members to have the maximum contribution possible to the review, please see Momentum and the Democracy Review: A Brief Explainer.

For information on upcoming Momentum and Labour Party Democracy Review meetings where you can participate, please see our events page. If you have organised an event and you would like us to promote it, please let us know by writing to transforminglabour@peoplesmomentum.com.

For an idea of the types of proposals which grassroots Labour Party and Momentum activists have been making for some years now, please see Democracy Review: Ideas from Grassroots Activists.

Not sure how to hold a meeting to debate proposals? Have a look at out top tips for group facilitators.

Want to hear what Momentum’s randomly selected advisory body came up with? See  recommendations made the Members’ Council.

For suggestions for proposals on the Women’s Conference, please see recommendations by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).

For suggestions on reconstituting Young Labour into a fully autonomous body, see this suggestions from CLPD.

For results of Momentum’s consultation survey of BAME members and supporters, see this summary.

Finally, please also check out s summary version of Momentum’s proposals to transform BAME Labour,  and a complete version of the finalised proposals hereIf you want to discuss BAME Labour in your CLP and make a submission to the Democracy Review through it, please see the Seema Chandwani Guide to Debating BAME Labour in your CLP

On the Labour Briefing site Pete Firmin writes,

JUST BEFORE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, the NEC decided that there would be a fundamental review of party democracy, conducted by Katy Clark (ex- Scottish MP, now political secretary to Jeremy Corbyn) and two left NEC members, Claudia Webbe and Andy Kerr.

The commitment to this review was used to persuade several CLPs to withdraw their proposed rule changes rather than having them voted on (and probably lost) at conference. In doing so, however, several delegates made clear they would be watching the review closely and would be back with their proposals if they did not feel their concerns had been adequately addressed. Now the remit and timetable for the democracy review have been announced. It is to be run in three phases, with staggered deadlines:

  • On the organisational aspects of Young Labour, BAME Labour and Women’s conference, the deadline is 12th January 2018.
  • For submissions on “all other aspects of diversity and participation, your local party and building a mass movement”, the deadline is 23rd March.
  • For submissions on “electing our leadership, how we make policy and the way we work”, it is 28th June.

It is clear that the intention is to have conclusions going to 2018 conference for voting. While this makes some windows for participation short, such a review is well overdue and the sooner some fundamental changes are made the better. And a holistic review is far better than changing rules piecemeal.

Of course, none of this guarantees an outcome favourable to the left. For that to happen, activists have to encourage as many members as possible to submit proposals, win CLP and union support, lobby review and NEC members and carefully scrutinise proposals which come from the review.

While the review is far-ranging, and covers many important areas, there are also gaps in the remit which need questioning. Among these is the issue of a full democratic selection process for parliamentary (and council) candidates, ending the current procedure of trigger ballots. (Katy Clark has said this is outside her remit.) Disciplinary procedures, the Compliance Unit and issues of natural justice do not appear to be covered, either.

There is no reason why we should accept these limitations. Submissions should be made on anything and everything which concerns members about the functioning of the Party. And if this is outside the remit, let the review team explain why they will have ignored hundreds of submissions on an issue – and we can use that impetus to push for additional changes through rule changes if necessary.

On many issues it will be a matter of knowing the right questions to ask rather than simply being led by the review’s guidelines. So, for instance, in the section “how we make policy,” it asks “What are your views on the National Policy Forum and how it works?” Many (especially newer) members will not know how the NPF works, or that it was introduced as part of Blair’s counter-reforms precisely to take power away from conference. The Labour Representation Committee has long had a policy of scrapping the NPF and restoring full power to conference. The earliest deadline is for some areas that need the most fundamental changes.

Many members have raised doubts about democracy in both BAME Labour and Young Labour. The recent re-election of Keith Vaz to the BAME Labour place on the NEC was certainly questioned. At conference a young delegate raised the issue of the privileged position Labour Students hold within Young Labour and the fact that Young Labour does not have a constitution and standing orders decided on at their AGM.

Women’s conference is a large bone of contention, pitched in recent years as a mere add-on to national conference with no right to submit resolutions to conference, no policy-making powers of its own, and no structures. An urgent need is to ensure the empowerment of women members throughout the Party.

There are other grossly undemocratic areas of the Party, especially around local government, with no ability for the Party to elect the local leader, write the local manifesto or decide local policy in relation to local authorities.

We encourage readers to make submissions to all areas of the review. There will, without doubt, be suggestions for submissions from campaigns and the likes of Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Momentum, and these should be used where appropriate. Briefing also asks readers to send articles or letters covering areas of the review which can be printed over the next months. The review is probably a one-time opportunity to seriously transform the functioning of the Party. We have to use it to the utmost.

Solidarity writes,

The Labour Party is doing yet another democracy review.

This time, however, the review comes under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, and its coordinator is Katy Clark, formerly a left-wing Labour MP and someone we on Solidarity have known as a solid socialist back to her student days in Aberdeen and Edinburgh in the late 1980s and early 90s.

The deadline for Phase 1 submissions is 12 January, and they are to cover BAME (black and minority-ethnic) Labour, Young Labour, and Labour Women’s Conference.

Phase 2 (submissions by 23 March) covers more diffuse topics, such as strengthening the involvement and participation of members, but also specifically the governance of CLPs [constituency Labour Parties] and the place of Labour’s twenty affiliated socialist societies.

Phase 3 (by 29 June) will deal with the election of the party leader, the composition of the National Executive (NEC), the policy process, local government, and Labour’s links with trade unions.

A first report is scheduled for Labour Party conference in September 2018. This should also include all remitted rule changes from the 2017 Labour Party conference. Delegates were assured they would all be considered during the review.

Ensuring that the democracy review is in itself run on democratic principles is important. We would encourage all CLPs, and union affiliates to put forward proposals, invite relevant NEC members and Katy Clark to address meetings and promote participation particularly from young members on the future of Young Labour.

Previous reviews have almost totally ignored the submissions put forward. There is good reason to believe that this time will be different, but we should not be complacent.

Fundamentally any move to greater democracy in the party must mean structures that put basic democratic controls into the hands of members and local party units, with a responsive and accountable national structure that includes oversight of the parliamentary Labour Party and the way the leader and her or his team operate.

One of the great differences since Harold Wilson has been the increasing size and weight of the staff around the leader.
It was previously very easy for other insiders to speak to the leader. Now almost anyone can find it difficult to get past the praetorian guard of staff.

There is a remedy: the sovereign decision-making body of the Labour Party. A conference with meaningful power that set the policy agenda and passes motions that are then included in the manifesto.

At the 2017 conference, Labour passed a number of good polices including the repeal of all existing anti-trade union laws since the conference there has been complete silence on the issue. Most members will not know about the policy, let alone plans for it be enacted by a Labour government. How and where can members get involved to turn the conference resolution into a living campaign, that can draw in support from the wider labour movement and local parties?

There is no method at the moment for the policy to be realised. The frankly hollow and seemingly inept National Policy Forum never appears to consider conference policy when it submits its report to conference.

Conference is only one of several aspects being discussed. Already the scope of the review excludes selection procedures, which are one of the primary principles of a democratic and member-led party. We can see no good reason to be restricted by the official terms when submissions are made to the review.

At this stage we do not know with what level of scrutiny different submissions will receive. We have formulated a series of proposals covering the three stages of the review ,and would be keen to work with others to promote these principles and discuss any other proposals.

Submissions opened on 1 November and can be made either online or by email.

More via above link.

Progress.

The Katy Clark ‘democracy review’ wears its faction on its sleeve, believes Conor Pope

It is true that a mass movement behind the Labour party is desirable and provides a convenient well for a range of fresh ideas; new technology allows the opportunity for that mass movement to be participatory and grassroots-led in a way never before capable; and the party certainly needs to be more diverse to thrive and make the most of this opportunity.

In this regard, there is little to disagree with in Katy Clark’s argument. She is rightly vague about the outcomes; if she were not, it would not be much of a review. But it is fair to have concerns about what the end results are likely to be.

The review is very close to Jeremy Corbyn’s office. Clark, on secondment from her role as the Labour leader’s political secretary, is assisted by Claudia Webbe, elected to the National Executive Committee on the Momentum slate, and Andy Kerr from the Communication Workers’ Union, which officially affiliated to Momentum earlier this year.

In the past, such reviews into party reform have retained at least modicum of independence. This one wears its faction on its sleeve. To look to the leadership’s past form as a potential guide to the future, therefore, may not be unreasonable.

In late 2015, Corbyn sent out an email to Labour members, canvassing views on the upcoming vote on military action against Isis in Syria, in what was briefed at the time as an unprecedented sign of engagement with the grassroots. Yet Corbyn had already made his view known – reiterating it in the email itself – and it is hard to see the move as anything other than an attempt to wield the supportive feedback as leverage in shadow cabinet battles. It was not ‘involving members’, it was utilising them as a tool in an internal dispute.

Party reform was such an integral part of Corbyn’s first leadership campaign in 2015 that when I interviewed him that summer I questioned him over his support for making annual conference the main body for deciding policy. I put it to him that surely that would give greater power to people who just like going to lots of political meetings, rather than truly opening politics up? ‘At the moment it’s made by people who don’t go to political meetings and are just experts,’ he replied.

In that same 2015 interview, Corbyn suggested to me that the 1988 leadership contest between Neil Kinnock and Tony Benn – in which the Islington North member of parliament backed Benn – was a potential model for how future leadership elections might work. Yet when he himself was challenged for the leadership a year later, the precedent set by Kinnock that the incumbent should seek fresh nominations was no longer enough.

The NEC backed Corbyn on that, as it did on the plan to expand by three places to give new members a say, for which Momentum founder and owner Jon Lansman has been chosen for the hard-left slate.

It seems, then, that Corbyn and his supporters are not above using the language of democratisation for their own political ends.

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Written by Andrew Coates

February 13, 2018 at 1:34 pm

One Response

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  1. […] As Chair of LSWG I was invited to attend a meeting at Labour Headquarters of Friends and Member-led groups to discuss our contribution to the Labour Party Democracy Review https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2018/02/13/labour-party-democracy-review-some-background/ […]


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