Saturday, March 10, 2018

How shall we write Labour's manifesto in local elections?

One area of the current Labour Party Democracy Review which won’t necessarily attract the attention of the media (which may be a good thing) concerns the arrangements for relationships between the Party locally and Labour Groups on local authorities.

During the decades of decline, in which Party membership fell away and the democratic structures of the Party were hollowed out, Labour Groups were increasingly reorganised (often around the undemocratic model of Cabinet Governance or the even more undemocratic model of an elected Mayor) in order to ensure the discipline of Labour Groups in delivering the so-called “New” Labour agenda.

Labour Councillors were taught that they were part of a small “elite” who had to circle their wagons against political opposition (including that from those within their own Party who believed that our purpose was to represent working class people rather more than to administer the local state against the interests of those people).

That time is over and is not coming back. Those lessons – where they were learned – need now to be unlearned.

We can easily write change into our Rule Book by borrowing locally from arrangements which we have long had nationally.

Our Rule Book provides for the manifesto in a Parliamentary election to be approved by the various parts of our federal Party structure (at what is known as a Clause Five meeting) as follows (from Parts Three and Four of Clause Five of Chapter One of the Rule Book);

“When in Government the NEC, the seven backbench members of the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party (‘PLP’) plus the Chair of the PLP, the Cabinet, the Leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties, the Chair and three vice Chairs of the NPF, two CLP members of the NPF to be elected by CLP delegates to the NPF, and eight Trade Union members of the TULO Contact Group, shall decide which items from the Party programme shall be included in the manifesto which shall be issued by the NEC prior to every general election. The joint meeting shall also define the attitude of the Party to the principal issues raised by the election which are not covered by the manifesto.

When not in Government the NEC, the Shadow Cabinet, the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party (‘PLP’), the Leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties, and the Chair and three vice Chairs of the NPF and eight Trade Union members of the TULO Contact Group shall decide which items from the Party programme shall be included in the manifesto that shall be issued by the NEC prior to every general election. The joint meeting shall also define the attitude of the Party to the principal issues raised by the election which are not covered by the manifesto.”

However, when it comes to local elections, our Rule Book currently writes in a division of labour whereby the Party membership does the heavy lifting of campaigning whilst the Labour Group determines the manifesto (as if we allowed the PLP to determine the manifesto in a General Election!)

Clause Eight Part One of Chapter Thirteen of the Rule Book currently provides that; “The local government election campaign strategy shall be determined by the local Party, normally the Local Campaign Forum in consultation with the Labour Group. The Labour Group shall formulate election manifestos in consultation with the local Party and relevant CLPs.”

What we need is to write in a formal role for the Party, alongside the Group, in writing the local manifesto – not because we want such a formal meeting to have to take place and face the need to vote on differences, but because by writing the Rules this way we will aim to ensure a consensual approach to the writing of our manifesto in a local area which respects the role of the local Party (and ultimately – if agreement is not arrived at by consensus – we need a democratic process that doesn’t simply raise elected representatives above local Party members).

What I have suggested to the Democracy Review is what follows; 

Chapter 13 Clause VIII Part One should be amended to read as follows;

“The local government election campaign strategy shall be determined by the local Party, normally the Local Campaign Forum in consultation with the Labour Group. Election Manifestos shall be agreed, as far in advance of each election as is practicable and appropriate, at a joint meeting of the Local Campaign Forum (or equivalent) and the Labour Group, also including two additional representatives of each Constituency Labour Party within the relevant local authority area (to be nominated by the Executive of the CLP) and six additional representatives of affiliates (elected by and from delegates from affiliates to CLPs within the relevant local authority area). The joint meeting shall also define the attitude of the Party to the principal issues raised by the election which are not covered by the manifesto.”

This amendment – and you might be able to think of something better which you could submit online – would open up the process of writing local election manifestos to the wider Party. In a slow process of change Labour Councillors are accepting that the new, mass membership, socialist led, Labour Party is not the Party it was a few years ago and that professional politicians are not in charge (and never again will be).

Forward looking Labour Councillors are already preparing themselves for the collaborative future in which the Party and our elected representatives work together to advance socialist politics – and there is room in this future for all those who want to work together to achieve the socialist objectives of the Party.

Ahead of any rule changes which may or may not emerge from the Democracy Review, we can – and will – work together to develop local Labour manifestos which command the enthusiastic support of the Party’s mass membership – and in Brighton and Hove I am confident that we will now find a positive way forward. I wish luck to comrades elsewhere in the country seeking the same end.

Time to think again about unity on the left

In a week in which a leading figure on the Labour left bizarrely called for disaffiliation of trade unions from our Party it may seem idiosyncratic to continue to be interested in the fate of another minor Party.

But – having advanced the argument here some time ago – I was pleased to see Owen Jones take to a wide audience the plausible case for Green Party affiliation to Labour.

It was not too much of a shock to see that argument comprehensively rebuffed by the Green Party’s two leaders – albeit their arguments are fairly slender.

Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley justify their continued electoral project on the grounds that they have some better policies than our Party (they already oppose Trident and we haven’t quite got there yet), they exist to challenge an economic orthodoxy based upon a belief in endless economic growth – and they are committed to activism (sometimes including civil disobedience).

Anyone who wants to win the political arguments which the Green Party could still have with a left-led Labour Party must know that what winning will look like will be influencing a left-led Labour Government. Those of us who want to see unilateral nuclear disarmament (for example) would welcome new allies to help us win that argument in the Party and trade unions.

Equally, a real challenge to economic orthodoxy must encompass a renewed attempt to empower democracy against finance – and the only prospect of doing that in the next ten years (or, for that matter in my adult lifetime) is through the election of a Labour Government committed to socialist policies.

If the political and ideological justifications for the continuing Green electoral project (on a national scale) are so slender as to disappear when you turn them sideways, the argument that Greens are activists and that this differentiates them from Labour’s left simply fails to stand up to examination. Since the 2015 General Election and leadership election, tens of thousands of committed activists have been among the multitude who have joined or rejoined Labour.

Lucas and Bartley are looking away from the reality of national politics in Britain in order to justify an electoral project the only material consequence of which (under a First Past the Post electoral system) can only be – outside Brighton Pavilion perhaps – to win enough votes in a few Labour/Tory marginals to provide evidence for those who want to accuse the Greens of “splitting the vote” and letting the Tories in.

This is not a negligible consideration given that the two main Parties are close in the polls, the Tory Government are trying to introduce identity checks to discourage voting by those least likely to support them, the next General Election may be fought on new boundaries of benefit to the political right, and the establishment and their allies (including those within the labour movement) will pull out all the stops to scupper the prospect of a socialist Government.

In these circumstances it may be a hopeful sign that a Labour movement campaign has been launched which – among its objectives – supports the electoral reform which the Green Party leaders suggest is a sine qua non of any future cooperation with Labour. Although our first priorities in Government must be the social and economic policies needed to repair the damage done to working class communities by austerity, we do need to address the need for constitutional change.

This isn’t just about the electoral system for Westminster – which requires the sort of informed debate we did not have in 2012 – but about abolishing an unelected House of Parliament and addressing the absurd and archaic monarchy.

With a once in a lifetime chance of socialist victory in a General Election we all need to be prepared to re-examine long held views – and bring together all those who want to see the transformation of society.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Savaged by a very poorly sheep

The incredibly measured and balanced postings on this blog would, you might think, be unlikely to upset anyone.

You would, I fear be wrong.

Above is a link to some commentary (written perhaps after a good lunch) from a comrade who feels that it is unbecoming in a CLP Chair (let alone an LCF Chair) to express opinions which might imply criticism of decisions previously taken by a Labour Group.

I would have responded sooner but no one drew this to my attention. It is (I am sure) entirely coincidental that a "journalist" from the Murdoch press contacted me just after this blog post was published.

The author is of the view that I should resign for having had the temerity to express socialist opinions. He is quite entitled to his opinion.

I don't think I will resign though.

I think that it is, and remains, the decision of local Labour Party members who holds elected positions (rather than that being the decision of - for example- those with paid jobs in the movement).

If Labour Party members in Brighton and Hove want to be led by those whose response to controversial decisions by the Labour Group will invariably be one of respectful silence then they will have that choice at each AGM.

If anyone supported me to be. Chair of either Brighton Pavilion CLP or the Brighton and Hove LCF in the expectation that I would be quietly supportive of whatever Labour Councillors did, regardless of Party policy, then I can only apologise (though if that was anyone's expectation then I doubt they were paying attention).

What we need is not silly sniping from the sidelines from those who absent themselves from decision making in the Party but a considered debate about how Party members can assert our appropriate authority in relation to decision making (currently) by the Labour Group.

Today I was happy to Chair a discussion about the Democracy Review organised by the Regional Office at which Party members had a constructive discussion about how we improve our decision making. I was sorry not to see my blogging critic there.

I welcome criticism but would welcome even more criticism which was meaningful and constructive. Until then I invite my critic to stand for election.

The Labour Party is changing and all who want to see socialism are welcome to be part of that change.

Sent from my iPhone

No longer sub judice - UNISON can act. Will it?

This Thursday the appeal against last year's decision by the Assistant Certification Officer was finally heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and reached its predictable conclusion.

No one can now claim that the matter is sub judice and that UNISON cannot therefore consider the decision through its lay structures.

Although the passage of time since the decision was published has seen the retirement of the Regional Secretary of whom the Assistant Certification Officer was so critical (and the departure from UNISON of other participants in this saga) it is not too late for the Union to learn from the decision and to respond to the recommendations which its representatives requested.

The Union has made some changes to its election procedures - but not with a view to increasing democracy or to guarding against the sort of misconduct which marred the last General Secretary election.

I hope that NEC members (whatever view they took in that election) will now insist upon a thorough review informed by the very clear and straightforward decision of the Assistant Certification Officer.

As a rank and file member I shall watch with interest.

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Policies not personalities

As flattering as it is to have extracts from this blog quoted elsewhere, it is a shame when people treat debate about policies as if it were about personalities.

What matters about politics is how it impacts upon peoples’ lives, not who holds which political office.

What a local authority does is important. Who leads a local authority is much less important.

I wrote the last post on this blog in order to express my opinions (my personal opinions) about some policy issues in Brighton and Hove.

The separate question of who leads the Labour Group is a matter for members of the Labour Group.

More important than my opinions (or those of any individual, Councillor or otherwise) on substantive policy questions is the procedural question of how the Labour Group relates to the Labour Party. We have yet to get this right and we need to change.

Just as we need to work together in the local Party to develop a manifesto for the 2019 Council elections, so we need to find ways to work together to ensure that the policies agreed by our Labour Group reflect the views of Labour Party members.

We cannot undo things that have already been done, but from now onwards we need to ensure that – particularly where policies may be controversial within the Party – decisions are not made by the Group in isolation from the wider Party.

These detailed issues about how policy is made are much less likely to attract headlines, or interest, than a misrepresentation of policy debate as being about personalities, but these are the issues which should concern Labour Party members.