Labour Party members are to be denied sight of rule changes arising from the Refounding Labour consultation triggered by Ed Miliband's election ten months ago.
According to veteran constituency Labour Party (CLP) representative on the ruling National Executive Committee, Ann Black, any rule changes to be put to Conference will not be decided until the NEC's next meeting on 20 September. Annual Conference 2011 starts in Liverpool four days later.
In her covering note to her unofficial NEC report, Ann wrote:
As explained below, final recommendations will not be agreed by the NEC until 20 September, and these are likely to include some of the most contentious areas. So there will be no time for delegates to consult with their local parties before annual conference. In addition current plans are that no amendments will be allowed and the document will be voted on a whole, Yes or No, including any rule changes.
Members need to find their voice to stop this attempted pre-Conference fix. I am going to my General Committee tonight with an Emergency resolution:
I will no doubt get roundly criticised for wasting their time, as no one takes any notice of members full stop. We'll see.
I welcome Iain McNicol's election as the Labour Party's next General Secretary. I would not describe him as a buddy, or close personal friend. Iain is a comrade. And I would like to share two experiences that highlight why.
I first met him in my capacity as chair of Save the Labour Party in 20045 while seeking members for the LabOUR Commission and starting to raise money to pay for its research programme. The GMB's Mary Turner joined the Commission, and the GMB made a substantial financial contribution to its work. Its Interim Report is here.
Latterly, Iain was instrumental in securing GMB support for the City of London Labour Party branch's Common Council election campaign in 2009. The GMB is a recognised by the Corporation of London as the union representing 'blue collar' workers. Labour in the City was campaigning for the London Living Wage to paid to casual staff employed by the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, as was the GMB. No one at Victoria Street ordered the branch to fight the campaign. No one at Victoria Street even included the Common Council elections in their work programme. This was guerilla politics organised by local members, working with a local GMB branch. Iain as the GMB's national political officer got it. While Labour was languishing in the polls, Labour in the City was attracting positive media interest far beyond the actual results. We didn't win a seat on Common Council. But hundreds of casual City of London workers now enjoy better pay.
As I write the NEC is wrestling with a travesty of a report on Refounding Labour, about which I blogged yesterday. That is just one manifestion of a deeply corrupt political culture at the heart of the Labour Party with which Iain is going to have to wrestle. The recommendations were written before the deadline and bear little relation to the actual submissions, I'm told.
Lurking in Pandora's Box are the Party's finances, relations with paid staff, and between paying members both individuals and affiliates. Iain was described wrongly in my opinion by Sunny Hundal on Twitter as the 'union candidate' . That is grossly unfair to Iain. He may currently work for a trade union. But he would be better described as a grassroots candidate. Relations between these two sections of the Labour Party that control 50% each of the votes at conference are key to rebuilding the Labour Party.
The TUs are well organised. Members through their Constituency Labour Parties are not. There are too many competing interests: From Progress, Labour First on the right through Labour Values, Save the Labour Party, Winning Labour, the Fabians, Left Loot Forward, to the the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the Labour Representation Committee, and Socialist Action on the left (and possibly many more). To help the rebuilding, Save the Labour Party has rebranded itself and formulated a set of Aims that ought to appeal to all political sections - they were agreed in June and have been published as the Manchester Declaration 2011. The unsubtle sub-text is an end to command and control politics in the Labour Party under the banner of the Labour Democratic Network. Actual policy is for all the above to debate.
To succeed Iain will need to demonstrate his capacity with the Leader, Ed Miliband to deal with the Pandora's Box issues in time for Conference 2011 in Liverpool in less than 10 weeks' time. Those Refounding Labour submissions have got to rendered into an electronic format capable of being analysed, and published. Ditto Partnership into Power submissions that helped shape 'A better future for Britain'. Party morale, particularly among activists, with odds shortening on a snap General Election needs a big boost. Not just because it's important to have a say. But a small donation culture needs creating, fostering and nurturing while the Party nationally is still struggling to repay debts piled up by former leader Tony Blair and his fund-raiser supremo, Lord Levy in 2005.
Ed Miliband's handling of the issues arising from the extraordinary story about the News of the World hacking of a murdered 13-year old's mobile phone has provided breathing space. Ed's personal standing is rising. But there is still deep public mistrust of politicians. Labour has to reach out. But not by further neglect and abuse of its activist base both in Labour Party branches and constituencies, and in the Trade Unions. Iain will hopefully be able to guide the Leader away from defining himself (like Blair) in opposition to his Party, towards leading the party in the spirit in which he was elected nearly a year ago.
There is a very significant concession by the TU section in their Refounding Labour submission concerning the composition of the NEC, which is heavily weighted towards its section which has 12 seats, compared to only 6 for CLPs. There are lots of suitably warm words in submissions about reaching out, engaging with and being representative of our communities to improve our electoral standing. This is not to decry any of that. But the Labour Party does not need to change its rules to develop better practices. It does, however, need rule changes to rebalance power between members, TUs and its elected public representatives (MPs and Councillors) both on the NEC and its ill-fated National Policy Forum (NPF).
LDN is proposing that that increase in CLP representation on the NEC is a must for a Rule Change at this year's Conference. There will then be a tussle about how? Election by regions like the NPF, or nationally as at present. But that would be debate worth having before a vote at Conference in September to get members talking to each other, sharing ideas and experiences about what works. to encourage that the current restrictions on data sharing among members has got to go. (If you don't want to be involved, you can opt out.) But the default position has got to be members may talk to members.
it would be churlish not to say Good luck, Iain. But you are going to need much more than that. They are called: Comrades.
Immediately on becoming leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband — in his acceptance speech — laid down the values and the principles that he felt must underpin Labour’s programme in rebuilding after one of the most party’s most serious election defeats. The speech acknowledged the need to take stock of policy and to deal with our failings in office as well as simply trumpeting our achievements. But the speech also began to set out the new Leader’s vision for a re-vitalised Labour Party one that was firmly rooted in community and based around an active membership.
Ed Miliband quickly instituted two reviews, the first on policy led by Liam Byrne MP, and the second on organisation — Refounding Labour — led by Peter Hain, MP. In establishing these processes, Ed Miliband spoke eloquently and passionately about how vibrant local Labour Parties are key to competing with the Tories.
Nine months on both Byrne and Hain have been swallowed up by the Victoria Street machine and delivered more of the same top down command and control proposals that lost Labour five million votes, and quarter of a million members.
Members' elected representatives on the National Policy Forum were sent an agenda and a document entitled: A better future for Britain 36 hours before the event in Wrexham on 25 June. If that isn't a sackable offence in its own right, I don't know what is.
As for Hain, he has had all the advice necessary to know the difference between an open and transparent consultation, and the black hole that is Victoria Street. Refounding Labour as set out in the private and confidential paper before the NEC on Tuesday means the end of members' rights in selections, no accountability of Labour Groups to local members and no point to being a fully paid up member of the Labour Party. Is that the new Leader's ambition? Is that what members said they wanted in their submissions?
What Ed Miliband's own staff think they are playing at, in advancing the case for continuity, is a mystery, other than to make sure they are on the right side of Victoria Street when it comes to looking after their future careers in the Labour Party.
Ed may have played a blinder against Murdoch. But to date against the Labour Party machine, he has proved seemingly powerless. Maybe a way forward is for him to sack his nominees for failing to deliver in a manner consistent with reaching out and rebuilding an active membership. That at least would be consistent with the abolition of shadow cabinet elections.
On the eve of the July 2011 Labour Party National Executive Committee, I decided to write to each CLP representative.
I came clean. I have a document in my possession marked 'Private and Confidential' It was presented to the Organisation Committee on 5 July. It claims to be based on submissions received.
This is my cover note:
Dear NEC CLP representatives
I have a copy of the report presented to the Organisation Committee a week last Tuesday. Attached is a one page attempt to set out what might be a reasoned approach to it and the recommendations at Tuesday's NEC.
I have had two replies and one telephone conversation with three of the six.
One of the main reasons we rank-and-file members are repeatedly outmanoeuvred is that old bureaucratic trick of stamping everything Private and Confidential.
Earlier I had an exchange with one CLP NEC rep of which the following extracts are illuminating:
You made the following point in your previous reply and I quote:
I don’t understand your focus on the publication of the submissions rather than the content of the proposals we are confronted with.
Please explain how either I or any other member of the Party can focus on the content if the report is marked Private and Confidential?
Will you agree to propose at tomorrow's meeting that that P&C classification is removed?
To which our CLP NEC representative replied:
No – I think that would be extremely unhelpful while there are still negotiations going on to achieve a compromise or consensus. What would be the point in publishing material when it is not in the final form that Conference will vote on? It would just mean that where any subsequent concessions were made they were portrayed as a “climb-down by/defeat for” either Ed or the unions.
So, we the members will be kept in the dark until it is too late about proposals that affect directly the way in which we organise locally, and hold our elected party, and public representatives to accounts. Remember the surprise 50% increase in membership subscriptions, a CLP/BLP asset grab by Head Office to massage the national accounts, the parachuting of candidates into winnable seats, rigged selections and appeal panels for local council candidates?
CLPs and affiliates need to know what the NEC proposes well before Conference 2011 about Refounding Labour (where Rule Changes might be be proposed in ten weeks' time) and how to debate 'A better future for Britain'. The idea from my CLP NEC correspondent that we should wait until after 6 September to have any hope of consulting our members about the underlying issues is risible.
Remember, the report itself was written before all submissions were received or rendered into a format capable of rapid electronic content analysis. But what chance all delegates refusing to vote on any Refounding Labour proposals at Conference without sight of the recommendations and the submissions in the next couple of weeks?
So our rights will be further eroded, the general public will remain distrustful of politicians, and while Labour and its new leader Ed Miliband may enjoy a bounce in the polls, the hope of a quantum shift in the idea of being involved directly in a political party will remain as elusive as ever.
It's time to take stock of the Party, Ed. On Tuesday, you and the other members of the National Executive Committee will decide who will be the next General Secretary. You will also have a report on the Refounding Labour consultation. That report appears to have been written before the submissions were read or analysed. Furthermore, it is not impossible that someone will raise the fiasco of a National Policy Forum held in Wrexham four weeks ago. On that occasion A better future for Britain was sent to representatives just 36 hours, without NPF elected representatives having sight of submissions either. As one senior parliamentarian put it very bluntly to me last week: "It's rubbish." That was in reference to the content, not its late delivery.
You can not hope to reach out until you tackle the vested interests in our party.
And no, I'm not talking about the trade unions. You need to concentrate this weekend on the other vested interests at work corroding the integrity of our democratic socialist party, and our representative democracy - whether in the Westminster parliament, our devolved nations/regions or our town halls.
The most damaging influence in the Labour Party is a combination of the current senior management team, and those elected representatives at all levels who rely on their services. In the two reviews you commissioned after being elected leader, grassroots members have sadly experienced more of the same. You have been betrayed. And those of us who voted for you now feel that we are being betrayed by you too, unless you can show decisive Leadership and restore integrity to:
You may or may not remember that I personally handed you a copy of the LabOUR Commission interim report in 2007. Accompanying that was a covering letter dated 25 April 2007 written by Angela Eagle MP, to the then National Executive Committee chair, Mike Griffiths. It was an evidenced based interim report. Interim because the Commission recognised it needed access to internal party data to take its work further. This was the key paragraph:
The [LabOUR] Commission would very much like to work with the NEC to build on this body of research; for example, with an audit of CLPs’ organisational capacity, analysis of membership trends, and in consultation with the Party Treasurer the formulation of measures to rebuild the Party's finances. I very much hope that we can work with the NEC on the important task of rebuilding our Party.
The Refounding Labour exercise failed to undertake a systematic assessment of our Party's organisational structures. Why? Because it is not in the interests of staff or those who depend on their services to expose either the hollowed out state of much of our party across the country, or highlight what really works. Good practice is often achieved despite Labour Party staff. If you want to get a whiff of this ask any CLP/or BLP secretary whether they rely on the National Database for membership contact details. Rightly or wrongly, a significant proportion of members do not trust the national Labour Party with their full contact details.
Labour Uncut today published a piece by Kevin Meagher which touches on this issue:
First, we need to create greater incentive for members to be involved locally. After all, the party’s poor bloody infantry are taken for granted – and always have been. Constituency chairs, secretaries and treasurers keep the show on the road, but no-one in their right mind would want to do these jobs. Responsibility without power or prestige is never a winning offer.
Yet these are the people who robustly refuse to be drawn on criticising the party when the Sunday Times phones up now and again inviting them to do so. They are the party’s centre of gravity and deserve a bigger and more defined role and some good old fashioned gratitude.
You may not have been fully aware of it, but the answer you gave to @SarahEvansk on Twitter on Thursday could prove decisive to liberating yourself and your Leadership form the malign forces at work inside the Labour Party.
For those of us with an inkling of how simple and straightforward it will be to publish those submissions, the obvious question is not if, but when?
There are just 10 weeks to go before Annual Conference 2011. To date there is no clear guidance for members about how to contribute to the policy debate so urgently needed in Liverpool in late September. Under the Rules, only contemporary issues i.e. matters arising from 1 August to 16 September 2011 can be cited to be ruled in order by the Conference Arrangements Committee. The NEC on Tuesday needs to ensure that any matter arising from A better future for Britain can be used to formulate a resolution. In addition, the Priorities Ballot needs to be administered so that at least eight issues can be debated under the 4+4 rule.
As for Refounding Labour, the Leader's Office is stuck in a right-wing Blairite/Daily Mail/Murdoch time warp wanting to take on the unions again. As set out above the real enemies of Next Generation Labour are within the heart of the machine. So if you do nothing else this weekend: just ask for the results of an internal audit of organisational capacity CLP/CLP, and a date for publication on Membersnet of all Refounding Labour and PiP submissions. If the answers are: we haven't done an audit, and publication's not possible, then you know who to vote for as the next general secretary.
Behind the scenes a battle is underway for the soul of the Labour Party. In a week's time its National Executive Committee will be in full swing. Top of its agenda will be deciding who is to be the next general secretary. The short-listing panel has offered the 33-member body a simple choice between head of fundraising and former acting general secretary, Chris Lennie and the GMB union's national political officer, Iain McNicol.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of that decision, there is no reason to suppose currently that a decision will be defered. A political choice is on offer - more of the same or a step into the future. Bizarrely, rumours are reverberating round the Palace of Westminster that Labour's new leader has already made his mind up and wants Chris Lennie.
I'd like to think that there was no substance in the idea of a foregone conclusion. But I had hoped he would see merit in making the Parliamentary Labour Party shadow cabinet elections annual and open. Instead he is seeking authority to ban them altogether and increase the Leader's powers of patronage by securing the right to select the team in opposition as when in government. So I am not holding my breath.
But at LabourList we're more interested in demystifying these archaic party processes, and giving you an insight into what this race means for you, as party members and supporters.
That's why over the next few days, we'll be asking you to tell us what you'd ask the candidates. Between now and noon on Monday, we'll be collecting your questions. We'll then post a selection and invite the two candidates to respond.
That will definitely be worth watching.
For those of us who have been focused on those processes for some years, I wouldn't have used the term 'archaic'. Despite the brouhaha over a sub-clause of the Party's Rule book following former leader Tony Blair's election in 1994, it was the deliberate oversights and abuses of due process that lost Labour 5 million votes, some 250,000 members (net of annual recruitment and lapsing) and inevitably a general election. Anyone still working for the national party today has questions to answer about that state of affairs.
There is evidence to highlight those issues of lost voters and members available here from the LabOUR Commission Interim Report (2007) via the newly launched Labour Democratic Network website. Shadow cabinet member without portfolio, Jon Trickett MP, spoke passionately about the issues from a policy, rather than a process, perspective to a 'Winning Labour' rally at Leeds Town Hall on Saturday. He was citing evidence of how Labour's core voters had abandoned the party because they no longer believed it represented their interests. Whereas the professional vote among so-called A and B social classes was actually up in 2010.
The big divide is what to do about it and a pressing underlying issue; namely the state of the party's finances. For the GS wannabes: Is there a narrative linking a commitment to reaching out to putting the party's finances on a sound footing? The Labour Party has recently concluded a consultation called Refounding Labour. For close observers it has been a text book example of how NOT to conduct a consultation. Efforts to ensure an open and transparent process failed. I would not be the slightest surprised to discover that Head Office staff wrote a report setting out recommendations before submissions could be read, and presented it to last week's NEC Organisation Committee. Nor would I be surprised if recommendations were made with claims of varying degrees of support from submissions received (but not either read or analysed systematically).
Who would want to give money to any organisation that routinely denied you a say, or ignored you when you made a contribution? 'No say, no pay' is no more complicated a concept to grasp than 'no taxation, without representation'. Consider the other consultation about policy started following our post-election defeat in 2010. It resulted in a draft policy document being circulated 36-hours before the National Policy Forum two weekends ago in Wrexham. If anyone has a copy of an internal note from Chris Lennie, as Head of Fundraising registering the strongest possible objections to the way Partnership in Power has been managed since Conference 2010, please let me have a copy. It can't have helped raise money over the past nine months.
In answer to the Mark Ferguson challenge, Emma Burnell who tweets as @scarletstandard has just said what the next GS needs is:
[a] broad innovative funding strategy, empowered activist base, transparent policy process.
So I hope our leader, who has found his voice to take on the media conglomerates, will spare a thought for his party, its financial well-being and, moreover, its soul when he casts his vote next Tuesday.