The Labour Party is calling on its members to let its leaders know by Friday 13 September what they think about Ed Miliband’s proposals on “building a better Labour Party, so we can build a better Britain.”
Tell us how you’d build a better Labour Party – a party that is rooted in the hopes of the British people, that reaches out to every community in the country, that has members and candidates from every walk of life.
The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has produced a draft motion which you may wish to use as a basis for a response by your constituency party, members branch or trade union branch on the introduction of primaries:
This (CLP/branch/trade union branch etc) notes that Ray Collins is reviewing the use of primaries in the selection of Labour’s candidate for London Mayor and for other elections.
This CLP notes from the experience of the US that primaries: drive up the cost of seeking selection; favour wealthy candidates; reduced the input of grassroots members; and strengthened the influence of right wing media in candidate selection.
We also note the Labour has a long standing membership structure that unites individual members with affiliated organisations in an effective party able to promote Labour candidates in elections at all levels of the democratic process.
We note this structure gives the Party a relationship with millions of trade unionists and helps to root Labour across widespread communities and workplaces. It is a relationship which has helped our party through its greatest crises and to our greatest triumphs.
We also note the party’s individual membership is another invaluable base within society – and the aim should be to build that into a mass membership. Should it become possible to have a say in Labour’s candidate selections without being a Labour Party member an important incentive for joining the Party will be removed. Recruiting members is facilitated by linking participation in Labour’s selections and internal elections with membership, as was successfully promoted during the 2010 Leadership election.
This CLP believes that primaries (in giving voting rights to non-members) would devalue party membership and therefore hinder the development of the committed activist base – essential to winning elections.
We believe that both the affiliates and individual members play a valuable role in our candidate selection processes, which should retained.
We also believe the method of selecting the London Mayoral candidate should be removed from the remit of the Collins review as it should be a devolved matter for the London Labour Party to determine.
We note there is no great demand from either the electorate or party membership for primaries.
We therefore oppose the introduction of a primary for the selection of Labour’s candidate for London Mayor or for any other election and call on Ray Collins to recommend that Labour’s selections processes continue to involve Labour’s membership (both affiliates and individuals) and to recommend they are not replaced with primaries.
We call upon Ray Collins and the NEC, in the current review, to reflect these concerns.
CLPs can forward their suggestions by 13 September if possible on the Collins review to the NEC and to the Better Politics Policy Commission (via the Your Britain website), to its dedicated website A Better Labour Party and by email. Please also copy them to NEC member Ann Black and to Ed Miliband
The selection of a candidate for Rotherham by-election has brought into focus the system that allows the NEC to take over the normal selection process.
Members were given two names to choose between. A very short short-list drawn up by the NEC, not the CLP. At the selection meeting a large number of members, between 100 and 140, walked out in protest. The meeting selected Sarah Champion, chief executive of a children’s hospice. The defeated candidate was Sophy Gardner, a former RAF wing commander. No one is disputing that she will make a good candidate, but that isn’t the point.
By-elections have a shorter time-scale than standard selections and this is used as the justification for the short-listing being the responsibility of the NEC. But this has been exploited by the party on several occasions, usually to exclude a popular local candidate.
As Mark Ferguson on Labour List put it: “But truth be told I’m no longer sure that increased transparency is enough to satisfy the deep and long lasting mistrust that has built up amongst Labour Party members towards the central party machine. It’s time to consider whether or not the NEC should really be conducting the shortlisting meetings, or whether a mixed NEC/CLP panel might be more appropriate. But regardless, what we saw last night can’t be repeated. In the Labour Party it doesn’t matter whether selections are stitch ups or not anymore – perception is everything. And last night’s selection looked awful.”
There are lessons for us in Scotland from this debacle in our own review of candidate selection for the Scottish Parliament. Excluding branches from the process is rarely necessary on time grounds alone and should not be the default position.
The STULP submission to the Scottish Executive Review of MSP selection procedures argues that the professionalisation of candidates is making Labour less representative of the communities we seek to represent.
The NEC has commissioned a survey, which reveals that only 9% of Labour MPs have a manual working background, whereas 27% have a political ‘bag carrying’ background. As General Secretary, Iain McNicol has pointed out, if these percentages were representative of the public at large, then over six and a half million people would be working for MPs etc!
Steve Hart, the Political Director UNITE, explains why this is important: “We need a political system that stands up for working people, rather than being run in the interests of the City and a ruling elite. In order to achieve this, we need to get far greater numbers of women and men in Parliament who know what it is like to get their hands dirty at work or worry about how they will pay the rent. This means getting ordinary working people back into Parliament to represent the interests of hard pressed families, rather than the current cabal of lawyers, spin doctors and career politicians.”
Now you might expect a Unite official to say that, but none other than Ed Miliband, writing in a Fabian document before he became leader, also identified the problem:
“Between 1997 and 2010, for every one voter that Labour lost from the professional classes, we lost three voters among the poorest, those on benefits and the low paid. You don’t need to be a Bennite to believe this represents a crisis of working class representation for Labour – and our electability.”
So an acid test of the review will be what mechanisms Scottish Labour will put in place to rebalance candidate selection.
The Autumn newsletter of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is now available online.
This edition covers the debates at UK conference and in particular, proposed rule changes. Scottish interest includes an article by Jim MacKechnie on the Glasgow councillor deselection process. Noel Foy argues for a change in MP trigger ballots, although his preferred solution is less than clear.
Both of these points of view are relevant to the selection procedures for MSPs that are currently under review. An SEC working party is considering submissions and will report later this this year.