I got there in time to hear the debate on the Collins Review Interim Report Sep 2013. There was only time for five speeches from the floor of conference, one general secretary, two MPs, and one prospective Mayor, but then there are few newly joined activists on the floor of conference. The platform had made it clear that this was an interim report and an interim debate and Ed Miliband joined the platform to listen to the it.
The Interim report collects the proposals into four issues,
- What it calls a new relationship between the Party & individual members of affiliates
- Standardising constituency development plans
- Using Primaries, in Labour’s selections
- Ensuring Fairness in Selections
When considering the “new relationship”; I remember I have not worked in a unionised workplace since 1986; the only trade unionists I know are members of the Labour Party because it remains a rule of the Labour Party that if eligible, party members must join a recognised Union. I don’t know what people who pay the political levy other than full individual members think and I don’t know what people who don’t pay the levy think either. This knowledge is quite scarce but I’ll bet a lot of money that I am wiser on this subject than the Tory front bench and the combined wisdom of the Fleet Street editors and owner’s club.
It is in this section of the report, they ask if changing the affiliate membership relationship means compensating changes in other structures, such as conference or leadership elections.
People aren’t looking for a fight, but I would suggest that if we can build a membership of ½ million then allowing some members, let’s call them MPs, 1000 times more powerful vote in the Leadership election and sole say in who can run will be unacceptable. It’s also not good that the evidence has not been published, or at least nowhere I can find, as to just how many new members permitted to vote in the 2010 Leadership election signed up and then resigned at the end of their first year.
The section on development plans is vacuous and a statement of hope. I suppose I’d like to see more branch affiliations at the CLP level and for those affiliations to be true statements of collective opinion rather than a back door for some local leading activist to get on the GC.
The section on Primaries says,
“No-one knows better than the thousands of activists who spend their time knocking on doors that our party must be always reaching out to Labour voters and potential Labour voters”
True that! But why is it only candidate selection that it is proposed to share? 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. I feel that introducing Primaries is 100% the wrong direction to go. The membership should be given more power within the party; in particular policy making should be put back in the 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 Britain” was announced, it’s a new way in which members can be ignored at internet scale. A further pointer that this is about divorcing policy from candidates is that there is no proposal or discussion on term limits or reselection. Some people have short memories; imposing an unwanted candidate on the London Labour Party is a mistake.
The final section is on ensuring fairness and transparency in Labour selections. The first thing to say is that “one size fits all” is not going to work. The second is that the selections must work in the interests of the voters before the candidates. They need to be equipped to take the best decision as they see it. I have written previously on this blog on the sterility that some caps place upon internal elections; the public interest in the last leadership election made this an exception, the next biggest elections are regional and I can only comment on the London Euro selections. Having a reasonable conversation with 40,000 members costs money! We need that conversation to occur.
Using the internet would makeit cheaper but I estimate that 35% of the Labour Party’s members do not have an email address; they need to be written to, or advertised at! In London this means the Evening Standard a.k.a the Daily Boris or TV, both of which are unacceptably costly, and unacceptable leaks of progressive campaigning funds to the enemy. Any method we choose needs to ensure that the power of the right wing press is minimised.
I believe that internal electoral transparency and fairness requires fixing member’s net; we need to offer people a mail box, notify them of activity via sms, or maybe xmpp. They can access these via libraries, and feature phones. I estimate that as many as ⅓ of the Labour Party’s membership do not have email, let alone broadband. The threading engine needs to be fixed so that people can reply to each other, the tagging taxonomy needs to be open. A precursor of all this is that each member needs to take control of their privacy settings; at the moment it’s all lowest common denominator. It’s made worse by the fact that the leadership don’t use it.
Labour List published the location of the Collins Interim Report, I have hosted it here in case it moves, here is a short URL: http://is.gd/7hmVRs to my hosted copy.
As ever, I took some time to think about this, published as it occurred, not when written