Mass membership and shadow cabinet elections
So you want to scrap Shadow Cabinet elections and appoint your front bench. Before tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) spare a moment to consider the damage done to the Party by uncritical loyalty sought and granted to previous Labour leaders, especially your immediate predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. If that doesn't give you pause for thought, just ask yourself whether your proposed model of leadership could ever work at a Labour Party branch level.
I am opposed to your proposal. I refuse to compromise my commitment to Labour Values as a paid up member, just because you as a recently elected Leader have issued a diktat. I am reliably informed that some people closer to you, than I, feel hopelessly compromised, ie. unable to speak out. Worse, some despite misgivings have already gone into the public domain in support of this foolhardy idea. If they didn't they might leave you more exposed to factions inside the PLP that are not so loyal to you.
There are sound reasons why the Labour Party should not only have annual shadow cabinet elections, but apply the practice when in government. The Labour Party is a political party, not a business corporation. Its existence depends on its capacity to attract large numbers of people who can win more votes in elections than our opponents. In that mix the 'brand'/values, and competences/calibre of its candidates feature prominently.
Just remember the context in which the last Shadow Cabinet elections took place (the first since 1996). Newly elected Labour MPs were actively discouraged by sitting members from standing at all. Worse, the PLP standing orders were changed to scrap annual elections in favour of biennial ones. At a stroke, you as newly elected leader were stuck with an elected Shadow Cabinet of 'experienced' Labour MPs able to command votes from internal slates.
I tried as an elected member of the constituency section of the NEC to get the proposed changes to the PLP SOs brought to the NEC with a view to reinstating annual elections and securing Conference's sovereign right to decide the rules under which our elected representatives to the Westminster Parliament operate.
Rather than annual frontbench elections being a distraction, they could be a vital link in that process of reaching out and engaging as well as performance managing (to coin a phrase from the business community) our front bench team; but distinctively democratic, rather than managerial.
What better means have you at your disposal for enabling members and the wider public to broaden their understanding of the reasons why it says on all our Party membership cards: The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party?
I'm not looking for a directly elected frontbench. But I would like an open and transparent process with each candidate having to publish a statement, declare interests and secure nominations,and seconders, prior to the election. Afterwards each Labour MPs voting record should be published. In between the close of nominations and the ballot, there would be an opportunity for each Labour MP to consult their local members, and interested constituents, as well as the wider public.
Wouldn't our politics be richer for a broader understanding of how our representative democracy works? An effective front bench is important to securing re-election, but so is a motivated, engaged, mass-membership party.
It would be another reason to be a member of the Labour Party. And as I mentioned above appointment forms no part of Labour Party branch governance arrangements, or any other level of party activity. As volunteers, we have to work with whoever has paid their dues and turns up. We seek election for the offices we hold and fulfil on behalf of members, and are accountable to them. The branch Labour party is live schooling in representative democracy, especially when linked to one electoral ward boundary.
So, cutting to the chase, the only question today is whether you have the political courage to recognise and admit that you have not been as well advised as you might on the matter of the Shadow Cabinet, and that there may be alternatives to harnessing talent in the PLP and opposing the Conservative-led coalition?
Yours in socialism
secretary, Cities of London and Westminster CLP (personal capacity)