Ellie Reeves, one of Labour’s NEC member’s representatives and an ex-Lewisham Deptford Party member came to the Lewisham Deptford CLP General Meeting to bring us up to date on the proposals to reform Labour’s membership rules and its relationship with the Trade Unions.
As a result of some alleged improper behaviour in the Falkirk selection, Ed Miliband proposed to change both Labour’s rules and the Law to “Clean Up” politics. I commented on the proposals as they stood in an article on this blog called “Clean Politics, a bit of Ed, a bit of me” which lists the proposals as I see them.
Ellie confirmed that the Labour Party has established a review, to be conducted by Ray Collins, a former General Secretary of the Labour Party and that all members and party organisations and affiliates were entitled to submit evidence and opinion to the review.
She placed the review and the debate in the context that 29% of the PLP were professional politicians, however that’s measured; we can assume that all those who became union officials after working in organised workplaces do not count as such, and I wonder how people like Ed Balls who was an economics journalist before becoming a special adviser would be counted.
Anyway, Ellie asked for questions and comments, and so I made the following comments,
This is about the power and powers of the membership; you can’t adjust the powers of part of the membership without impacting the powers of all.
In order to build a mass membership, or even one slightly bigger than today’s we need a clear membership offer, people need to know why they are joining, and what they get from it. Full membership is nearly £50 and spending that to vote for what they’re told, doorstep campaigning in the rain, and being first for begging letters for more money is pretty poor deal.
Basically, we the membership, have little say in what the policy and manifesto of the Party is and the proposals to introduce primaries will weaken the memberships control of the selection of candidates.
The membership offer has to be about politics and influence. Collectively the members agree their values, determine policy, write a manifesto, choose candidates committed to the manifesto and ask the public to vote for the manifesto and candidates, and then we pursue those policies in public office. We consult the public, supporters and opponents in various ways, on the doorstep, in public meetings, and through our local government elected representatives. If we break the chain, from value to public policy, we create cynicism and disinterest. People will not join a party they have no influence on. They will not support one they don’t trust to do what they say!
The policy making process needs greater transparency and accountability. The National Policy Forum was created to take policy making away from Conference. I can’t see how to re-establish a democratic, accountable and transparent process while the NPF remains.
The biggest reason given to me by people for not joining the Labour Party is that they disagree with some policy or another, whether it’s one from the past, such as going to war with Iraq or today, in that Labour’s policy remedy for the Tory attacks on living standards and public services is insufficiently robust. Once I could say “Joins us and change it” but the tools aren’t there anymore.
NB The quote above from me, was constructed from my notes I made to make the speech. I don’t think I was quite that eloquent. As often, I have back dated this article to the date of occurrence.