When the Labour Party was founded, for various reasons, it adopted throughout it’s structures the ability for its supporters to act as an individual full member or as part of an affiliate, or both. This is happens at Conference, the UK Labour Party’s supreme decision making body, and on the National Executive Committee by the representation of the Trade Unions and other affiliated societies. It is also represented at the Constituency level where the General Committee (GC) is made of delegates from individual membership branches, trade unions and other socialist societies, who serve for one year. Constituencies also have a smaller, executive committee, known as the EC, the officer members of the EC are elected by the delegates on the GC from amongst themselves, and the remainder is appointed by individual membership branches.
One of the proposals emanating from the Labour Party’s review, “Refounding Labour” is to convert these delegate bodies into all members meetings. This proposal was debated in the Lewisham Deptford party. On Thursday night, the delegate GC instructed its executive to prepare rule changes to replace the GC with all members meetings.
The main argument in favour of all members meetings are that it will increase membership involvement and reduce the elitism of local leaderships. I am curious as to where the evidence that this will happen is, but I do accept voting to exclude ordinary members is a bit shit, and I have come to the conclusion, as a result of the debate that the year long term of office of the GC inhibits new members become politically active in the management of the Party quickly. People need to wait for the next AGM and build the record of activity and trust to win election to the GC.
However in my mind, the first beneficiaries of a move to members meetings will be those elected borough councillors who are not currently elected delegates because they attend the meetings anyway. In some ways, this is potentially bad, as it may increase the power of the political leadership, rather than increase its accountability.
One of the delegates, from one of the smaller branches raised the question, that if members’ most powerful expression of their politics within the Labour Party was at GC, what would happen to the Branches. He suggested that there is a risk that the activism within the Branches might be diminished. (In CLPs with serious branch viability issues, it may be that all members meetings would be more effective form of governance.) It was suggested that Branches could/should focus on Councillor accountability. This isn’t easy in a London Borough with an executive Mayor since the Councillors have few powers and taking register is not political activism.
Another delegate, stated that he opposed the move from delegate meetings because gender quotas apply to the delegate election, but can’t be applied to all member’s meetings.
A third delegate stated that all member’s meetings would be easier to caucus and pack.
It was suggested that the expense would be higher as we would need to pay for postage for members without email, and room rentals would be higher if we needed bigger rooms. Mind you, that latter problem would be a nice one to have.
Moving to all members meetings will also exclude supporters of the Labour Party in the Trade Unions and socialist societies. I am unclear how real the local affiliations are these days. I have seen it operated very effectively; it was a while ago. Where it works, it strengthens and broadens the Labour Party’s connection with the community.
So I make it one unproven plus, one piece of guilt and five minuses, I understand that it’s not proved that popular, but I changed my mind three times during the debate. In the end I followed my branches mandate, and voted for the transition, but I would be delighted if anyone, particularly Labour Party members would comment on their experiences. I have also posted this to the member’s net blog, which you can use if you prefer to reply or comment inside a Labour Party firewall. Taking the mandate is another minus, not everyone wants or can do these meetings, the use of mandated delegates allows them to influence the decisions without fetishising meeting attendance.
I have also posted this to the Labour Party’s linkedin group.