Thank you very much for announcing that you were going to ignore the “Refounding Labour” consultation by writing to me from a “no reply” address. I always appreciate those. I’d also like to thank you for when you got round to it, allowing me to submit my views by posting them to what is becoming a classic one nation labour’s web property, the ‘consulting bit bucket’. I shall be putting this on my blog, and posting a summary to my member’s net bog.
I have been a member of the Labour Party for 39 years and am currently a member in London again.
In your speech, you said you, “value Labour’s membership but this mustn’t be an excuse for excluding our supporters”. I see no evidence that the PLP or the NEC values the membership except at the once a generation selection meeting. Every single reform emanating from Refounding Labour has reduced the influence of ordinary members. This is despite the likelihood that the critical failures of the Labour Government would not have happened if they had consulted the Labour Party and its membership. This is what happens when a leadership defines itself in opposition to its Party. I strongly advise you not to take the advice of those who suggest you need to appeal to the electorate by defining yourself in opposition to us. You have not taken their advice so far and actually I believe you won’t this time. You should bear in mind that they have set you a higher bar than they chose themselves.
I am also one of the seemingly few who abide by the Labour Party rule to be a member of a Union, and pay the political levy. It’s the main reason I am still a member of a Union, I’d probably remain a Union member out of solidarity but I haven’t worked in an organised work place since 1986. My history as political activist started in the Trade Unions after I left University. Now that you have placed the political levy and affiliated membership in the context of consent, I think we probably have to finish what you’ve started. I suspect I plan to remain a member of a Union, and continue to pay the levy. At least it’s made me think about it. I wonder how many more there are like me. I wonder how many will take a different decision.
The Labour Party has 183,000 individual members, which is down on last year. I suspect we don’t know how many of them are Union members. The membersnet records seem pretty poor. According to membersnet, my ward has a pretty low proportion of its membership recorded as members of Unions, and even then not all of them are members of affiliates. This is shockingly low if it were true; you can see how so many of your brother’s supporters might feel the election for leader was stolen.
One of the knotty problems that the Collins review will need to resolve is how to reconfigure the affiliate membership without causing current individual Labour members to leave so that they ensure they only pay for one membership. (I’d expect them to keep the cheaper membership).
With the exception of the proposals to use primaries and prohibit MPs from having second jobs your other reforms are cosmetic at best.
However I rather like the idea of prohibiting MPs from having second jobs. Since you have shown such an interest in the London Mayor, you should add that role to the list of those elected public officials who should be prohibited from having a second job. You should also promise to review the rules about ex-Politicians and Civil Servants taking jobs in the private sector.
^ ‘Cabs for Hire? Fixing the Revolving Door Between Government and Business’ Transparency International UK (May 2011), p. 6. Retrieved 8 January 2012
You are right to want to clear up lobbying and I support what you said the other week. I’d like to add that the promise of future jobs is one of the most corrosive gifts that the lobbyists have in their armoury; their ability to recruit ex-politicians and civil service policy advisors needs to be severely restricted. I support these reforms and suggest that you add the police, judges and CPS staff to restricted roles. You may need to compensate more junior staff in these organisations for restricting their freedom of Labour. While we’re at it I’d prohibit the ‘sponsorship’ of the police and other law enforcement agencies. I am not even sure this needs further legislation; the Labour Government passed the Bribery Act in 2010. This makes inducing people to behave improperly a crime.
You promise to have a primary to choose the next candidate for the Mayor of London. This is a political reform that might be better taken after consulting the members. Primaries were proposed to the Re-Founding Labour consultation; and I assume gained little support. It’s hard for me to tell since the evaluation of the member’s evidence was conducted in secret. It’s another of Labour’s information black holes. Those of us with more than a few years of membership longevity will have a view as to why we joined the Labour Party. It was to work with like minded people to make the world a better place. We agreed what changes were needed and fought election and mass campaigns to effect change. The reforms of the Party between 1992 and 1997 removed or if you prefer severely diminished the ability of the Party membership to determine the programme and policy. This was to the benefit of the PLP and the Leader’s office. It was deliberate. Introducing Primaries will remove or at the least dilute power of the membership which currently has a monopoly of power on the candidates we run for public office, or at least do unless the NEC is bamboozled into taking those powers away. In the new world, we as members will have little say on the programme, manifesto or candidates. Why would we pay £44.50 for that?
The critical issue in building a mass membership is the definition of the powers of the member. We need to give people a reason to join. Street activism and being at the top of the list for begging letters having paid nearly £50 is not a compelling offer. The membership should be given more power within the party, in particular policy making should be put back in its hands of the membership. The policy making process should be open and transparent and accountable to the individual membership on the basis of one member, one vote. Asking members to write on a web site, where their ideas see the light of day for 15 minutes before disappearing into the black hole of Labour’s online disk farm, if we’re lucky is not transparent, nor enabling, neither is it valuing the membership. As some wit said when “Your Britian” was announced, it’s a new way in which members can be ignored at internet scale.
As I imply above, and argued during the Refounding Labour consultations, once one rejects equal membership rights for ‘supporters’ and/or affiliate members as opposed to ‘full membership then maybe one should be looking to create a cheaper entry point for the ordinary members. Since unless you are a child, or a member of the armed forces, police or an actor or an employee in an occupation which the Bridlington agreements reserve for non-affiliated Trade Unions, you can join an affiliated trade union; perhaps more of us should take that route. I’d be interested to know how many supporters we have recruited since the organisation was founded in 2010. Is what we’ve done do far in reaching out beyond the membership so successful? Doesn’t look that way to me.
One of the problems in recruiting supporters is that full members don’t value supporters, because the level of lower commitment is unclear, it seems not much harder to get them to join as members as opposed to as supporters and those I have asked to sign up as supporters won’t for the same reasons that they won’t join – they don’t like the policy offer, rightly don’t see how to change it and/or have no confidence even if we came up with a decent manifesto that the next PLP would see it through.
The example of Iraq, Tuition Fees, weakening of Habeas Corpus, Foundation Hospitals, Academies and the de-nationalisation of the Post Office are all breaches of trust with the Party, our supporters and our voters. Why would people join such a party? Why would we increase the ability of a leadership to ignore the views of the members by giving them a separate mandate?
Your election as Leader is an example of empowering supporters. How do you think that worked? Of the members who joined by paying £1 to vote in the leadership election, how many stayed for a second year? I’d be astonished if we even know. If they didn’t join and stay as part of selecting our candidate for prime minister, why would asking them to help choose London’s Mayoral candidate be more attractive.
In considering Primaries further, the establishment of Primaries will introduce one mandate for policy and one for the candidate. The membership mandate for policy is weak and being consistently weakened by the activities of the front-bench of the PLP by their announcements and vetoes; candidates with independent mandates will ignore the albeit limited membership policy mandate. It should be born in mind that those members in Parties that don’t win public office are often more interested in the Policy and positions of the Labour Party partly because it’s all they can influence. AS a party we must listen to all our members, not just those in places where we win public office. Primaries weaken the membership’s control of the Party and weaken the candidates accountability to the policy and programme of the Party and its membership. Another reason for opposing Primaries, particularly in a constituency the size of London is that it will be won by those with high personal brand value and media support. I wonder who the Evening Standard or the Sun wants to be Labour’s mayoral candidate. It will also be expensive to run and expensive to win.
Policy is what we want to do, our candidates are our commitment to execute.
The truth is that the proposal for Primaries is like every other reform since 2010 and diminishes the power of the ordinary members. This is I assume because it originates from people in the party who are in fear of and contemptuous of the ordinary members. I hadn’t placed you amongst that group.
I shall oppose the introduction of primaries and I’d ask that you change your mind.