Dragging my way through 'A Journey', former Labour Party leader Tony Blair's account of himself, I came across two sentences on p.42 with which I agreed. He states:
As I surveyed the wreckage of the Labour Party in the aftermath of the 1983 election, I knew change had to come about. The trade union base could not support a modern political party if it was to be a governing party.
The first sentence was screamingly obvious to everyone and anyone who was politically involved at the time. But I cite it as it implies that Blair came to a conclusion about the role of the TUs inside the Labour Party at that time too.
As I prepare for a meeting of the party's National Executive Committee tomorrow Tuesday 21 September, it got me thinking about just how little progress Blair made in practice in the intervening 27 years to create a sustainable base for a modern political party capable of governing.
That remains the challenge for our new leader to be declared on Saturday in Manchester. I believe in Labour's federal structure, linking affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and individual members. It highlights collective action in the workplace and our special interests - binding them to the values we seek to promote through the power of elected office. But there are too few voters who are both politically active through TUism or special interest groups as Labour Party members and supporters to enable Labour to pay its way. My dictums are therefore:
As I survey the wreckage of the Labour Party following the 2010 election, I know change has to come about. A new financial and political model has to be established to support a modern political party if it is to be a governing party.
I see my colleagues in the affiliated TUs, and their candidate for the Party Treasurer post, Diana Holland as potential allies in the process of developing that model. I know whoever succeeds Gordon Brown as leader will want to too. Without being overly cynical they will have to. Thanks to Blair's contempt for individual members, making undeliverable promises to rich people and near bankrupting the Party to fight the 2005 General Election, the Labour Party has become once again overly dependent financially on the TUs. It is not sustainable. Union political funds are under great pressure from increasingly impatient levy-payers and designs of the ConDem coalition. Public perceptions of old Labour have been revived.
On tomorrow's NEC agenda there is to be a set of proposals concerning assets (mainly property) held by constituency and branch labour parties. I shall be seeking deferment pending a thorough review of the options facing the Party. It is not impossible that the NEC will be advised of the absolute necessity of immediate action. I hope there are sufficient members of the current NEC who remember how they and subsequently Conference were bounced into a 50% increase in fees for full rate members back in 2006. By then individual membership was already 50% lower than it had been in 1997. Those remaining were what the economist would describe as price elastic or willing to put up with it in sufficient numbers to boost income. So it proved.
With property, the issues are different. My speculation was and remains that these assets are being used to fulfil purposes related to the fact that the Party's debt centrally exceeds its centrally owed assets. Their possible use as collateral to support Labour HQ increasing its borrowing was flatly denied at the last NEC meeting in July, though I can find no reference to such assurances in the minutes of that meeting.
The genesis of CLP/BLP assets goes back to individual and collective decisions bound in trust. As matters stand I do not trust the Labour Party with my membershi8p subscription, let alone a share of my estate. So my plea to my colleagues tomorrow is to think before we act.
As anyone with any interest in their community knows - places to meet and converse are vital hubs. While there has been some consideration during the leadership debate about community organisation, there has been little comment about where Labour people can get together. Some reflection out of the box is needed. If we as NEC members forget the critical importance of trust in that process of building new income streams - then the job of creating that alternative financial and political model will be much harder, and inevitably take much longer.
Are you listening, comrades?