Ed Miliband's election as Labour Party leader a year ago was hailed by Neil Kinnock with the words, "We've got our Party back". Well how wrong can you be? Party head office (HO) took nearly six months to set out its thinking about the future of the Party. My own advice to Peter Hain MP , the apponted elected chair of the National Policy Forum was to look at the recommendations of the LabOUR Commission set out in an interim report in 2007, and the request to HO to access internal data to look more closely at the state of the Party on the Ground. He ignored the work of the 16 Labour Party members involved, and the evidence based approach adopted.
Two particular questions would have been posed in an audit of membership and organisational data:
1. How many electoral wards in the UK are there no Labour Party members
2. How many electoral wards in the UK has the Labour Party got an established branch that matches those boundaries?
At the time I don't think that anyone could have answered the first question, though I'm happy to be corrected. But I do know that today a report can be generated from Member Centre by any e-literate CLP officer to show in which electoral wards the Labour Party has members and how many.
Labour's electoral success increasingly depends on being able to optimise the vote whereever it is - in parliamentary, devolved assembly, or regional government elections with a PR component. That ought to have underpinned Refounding Labour with data provided by HO to help provide essential reality checks to that debate.
Instead both our new Leader, Ed Miliband and his chosen henchman,Peter Hain who replaced Pat McFadden MP as NPF chair, have allowed themselves to be sidetracked by vested interests. Not I hasten to add in the trade union movement, but in the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the Association of Labour Councillors aided by the siren call of community organisers such as the recently ennobled Maurice Glasman, and the Movement for Change, together with comforting reassurance from Labour First's John Spellar and its secretary and NEC constituency representative, Luke Akehurst.
To the extent that there is anything worth salvaging from the proposals as set out are the sections on Party Finances, and the easing of the HO stranglehold over Young Labour. At least there is a recognition of something completely rotten in the way in which HO has dealt with both membership subscriptions and YL for a long time.
But there is no strategy for rebuilding the party using the resources it has from the electoral ward up. That is/ought to be the basic building block for party organisation and financial strategy. If Party officials haven't got their brains round that in the light of the proposed reduction in parliamentary seat and reviews every parliament, then they should and very quickly. Far too much stress has been placed on CLPs many of which are likely to be wiped out before the next General Election. Too little attention has been paid to organisational/accountability issues for local government. Refounding Labour has simply caved in to representations from leading sitting councillors to abolish Local Government Committees.
For any inquisitive journalist wanting to dig a little deeper into the harsh realities of this bungled consultation, there are delicate questions about who controls the levies currently paid, for example, by Labour local councillors - the incumbents ie sitting councillors, the LGC or local parties? No prizes for guessing.
The national Labour Party as proposed under Refounding Labour will be a stronger agent for the Leader, incumbent elected representatives and those who aspire to follow in their footsteps. I have come to the view that they are getting the services of volunteer members on the cheap. Members are in effect being asked to help the careers of their elected representative without even getting an on going say in the policies of the party, nationally, regionally or in many cases locally. The proposed levies on the elected representatives need, arguably, to be far higher given the model of party organisation proposed.
Peter Hain in his covering letter sent to all e-literate members yesterday said:
We want to open up our process of making policy, both to give party members greater say and to enable supporters and voters to feed in their ideas, so that the party leadership keeps in much closer touch with public opinion.
Well, I'm sorry, Peter, you had your chance with the Refounding Labour consultation and you failed. Why should we believe you? Inquisitive journalists might want to ask him whether any open and transparent consultation systems were proposed at the outset, and why they were refused, not just once but repeatedly through from October 2010 until the present. We even have the unedifying spectacle of Ed Miliband promising on Twitter on 16 July 2011 that Refounding Labour submissions where possible should be published. We are still waiting with less than 72 hours to go before the proposed soviet-style vote on the Refounding Labour package
At this very late stage in the process, there are few options open to those with doubts. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is circulating an Emergency Resolution calling for the vote to be deferred to end of Conference. My own view is that a Resolution from Bridgend calling for a Special Conference made more sense. Though in the absence of publication of submissions (still), my own branch (City of London) took the view next Spring would be better to allow adequate time for reflection.
Of course, no reasonable loyal member of the Labour Party want to see its Leader publicly humiliated at Conference. Equally, no reasonable loyal member of the Labour Party wants to sacrifice the Party again to save a Leader's face. If we have not learned that from the Blair/Brown era, I fear we are doomed to be out of office for a while longer.
So who's the Party's 'national treasure' who will step up to the rostrum in Liverpool on Sunday afternoon to move remittence of the proposals? If Ed wants to regain the initiative, he could do it himself or be a ready seconder.
As my avid readers know, I don't shirk from asking awkward questions. With 4 days to go to Labour's Annual Conference I had a look at my own constituency labour party (CLP)'s latest membership data. There are some worrying features to report - I'll call the current data end Q3, and compare it with end-2010 which is used for various purposes both locally and nationally.
The end year date 31 December is significant as it is the cut off date for national membership figures reported to the Electoral Commission. These are published usually seven months later in July, sometimes before even the National Executive Committee itself sees the data along with the Annual Accounts.
But enough of this about the Labour Party's obsessions with keeping membership data under wraps. What's up now? Over the last nine months, my CLP has had a net drop of 2% or 10 members. In itself not particularly worrying as there is always churn with members moving in and out. But members who have not renewed their subscriptions and are therefore in arrears has shot up from around 2% if I remember correctly nine months ago to 11% or 60 currently.
Of those 37 joined since May 2010. If you remember that was when Labour lost the General Election and there was a spontaneous renewal of interest in joining the Labour Party. Spontaneous? People decided to do the right thing and sign up, before the Party decided to encourage the trend by lifting the minimum six-month membership period for entitlement to vote in the Labour leadership election.
It is, of course, inappropriate to extrapolate from a sample of one. But I will. If what appears to be happening to my CLP's membership were transposed on to national data, then currently the Party would have just over 190,000 members compared with 193,961 reported to the EC as at 31 December 2010. But there may be over 20,000 in arrears, of whom as many as 11,000 could have joined as recently as May last year. So that 12-year decline in membership from 1997 (407,000) through to end 2009 (156,205) might be starting again.
Under the Party rules failure to pay for six months after the due date results in lapsed membership ie you are no longer a member. so a joiner in May 2010 failing to renew after 12-month will be lapsed in November 2011. That process could continue through the first half of 2012.
In the absence of regular and detailed membership data analysis to the NEC, other CLP officers might want to have a quick look at their latest data and see what it shows.
You will, of course, want to know what I'm going to do about it. Well, hit the telephone for a start. But it would be heartening to know that our dear Leader, Ed Miliband and/or his advisers would take any notice of the feedback provided. Some professional rigor could be added with representative sampling.
This leads me on to scepticism about the fiddling around with membership rates proposed in the mislabeled Refounding Labour package destined for Conference in four days time. In recent years there have been a number of membership promotions - two focussed on Leadership elections one in 2007- Join Us, Join In coined by former general secretary, Peter Watt after former Leader Tony Blair resigned, and then one last year. In addition, reduced rates of £1 and 1p have been offered. It would be interesting to know if any detailed analysis of these initiatives was considered prior to the new membership rates being agreed by the NEC. Were the administrative costs of this now complex membership rate array reported to the NEC?
As I blogged here the Tories appear to have a much simpler system from a prospective joiners point-of-view, which I drew attention to for illustrative purposes only here.
One of the obstacles to Labour Party membership, I hear often, is that £41/year is too much. I would have liked to see how many CLP submissions to Refounding Labour made that point. In the context of seeking mass membership what would a more attractive rate be?
While the Labour Party remains in the thrall of its creditors we will probably never know. Which leaves the question: where's the strategy to encourage mass membership and increase returns from membership and small donations, while reducing dependency on rich donors and the affiliated trades unions. And we must forget, that old bogey of state-funding, which continues to cloud thinking in the upper echelons. I think the public would welcome a statement from the Labour Party committing not to seek increased state-funding when the Committee on Standards in Public Life is expected to report on the funding of political parties after the party conferences.
First up among constituency representatives with a report on yesterday's Labour Party National Executive Committee was ultra loyalist and Labour First secretary, Luke Akehurst.
OK, forget the niggles about the consultation process. Forget the bits about voting strength where a consensus is still being sought.
Refounding Labour was never supposed to be a bun-fight about voting strengths. It was supposed to be about creating structures that helped Labour win back power at the next election, and addressing members’ desire for more transparent policy making.
I believe that the bulky document agreed by the NEC yesterday, if properly followed through and implemented, could have a transformative effect.
Who do you think you are fooling, Luke?
Ed Miliband at Annual Conference last year expressed ambitions for a mass-membership party. How can the changes listed below help achieve that objective? The whole process has been corrupted by a top-down command and control appoach. At the time of writing, 4-days before Annual Conference 2011, members are still in the dark about the detail that their delegates are being expected to vote on Sunday. This is soviet-style politics, and shameful.
Let's take the highlights reported by Luke one by one:
• Easier recruitment of less-well off members with new membership rates of £15 for local joiners, registered supporters who join, and trade union members; and a £1 join rate for armed forces veterans
Why would anyone join the Labour Party when its Leadership is evidently not interested in members' views and Ed Miliband is proving no exception?
• A new system of funding for CLPs which means that the poorest and smallest constituency parties will move out of a permanent cycle of debt and every CLP will get a basic package of support including access to contact.creator, Euro election leaflets, insurance, and a delegate to Party Conference so they can participate in our internal democracy, and £1.50 per member to cover administration and communication costs. This will transform the ability to campaign of our smaller CLPs. New national funds have been created which CLPs can make bids to - to fund organisers and other aspects of participation in party democracy. There will be losers – the biggest and richest CLPs, like my own – but this is practicing the redistribution and solidarity at the heart of our values.
This is a sop arising from years of central mismanagement of party finances, and fails to address a need to rebuild the party's oganisational capacity including finance from a base in each electoral ward.
• Flexibility for CLPs to organise their local structures the way that best suits their geography and size of membership.
Yet another example of a failure on the part of the NECto recognise the importance of accountability, good governance and quality assurance in its structures. Most other unincorporated voluntary associations in the country from the village hall to the bridge club account for their money, and adhere to giving due notice of business far better than the Labour Party.
• The delayering of a level of bureaucracy with a move from large Local Government Committees sometimes trying to backseat drive councillors to slim-lined and campaigning focused Local Campaign Forums.
Shorthand for removing a layer of accountability from Labour elected representatives
• Affiliate status for Young Labour and the Association of Labour Councillors so they can have a strong, independent voice in our policy-making.
A device for reducing HO interference in the party's youth wing. Still to be tested.
• Reduction of the minimum membership age to 14.
• The enshrinement of community campaigning as a core objective of the Party in a new Clause I of our constitution.
How did a single Labour representative ever win an single election over the last 100 years?
• Every CLP to have a development plan, ending drift from year to year.
Already got one
• A focus on making the union link a living reality at local level with more interaction between CLPs and affiliates.
• CLPs encouraged to reach out and engage with local communities and embed community organising in the way they work.
• Regional parties’ lay Boards to be re-empowered and given responsibility for the health of CLPs in their region.
• A registered supporters’ scheme based on the latest campaign technology to enable CLPs to own lists of supporters who do not wish to join, and mobilise them
Wasn't this opposed by most member submissions to Refounding Labour?
• Candidate contracts to ensure all candidates campaign effectively.
Shorthand for more robotic politics
• Major investment in training activists and office holders.
Code for more robotic activism
• Investment in a new online platform to transform membersnet.
Aagh, no - having wasted millions already, can the Labour Party really afford another IT fiasco?
I’m really proud as an NEC member of this package of changes. I hope delegates will enthusiastically support them at conference.
As a former NEC member I'm ashamed of this package of changes. I hope delegates will vote over whelmingly to remit, pending publication of all submissions and an opportunity for further reflection. As set out none of these changes is likely to halt a resumption of a further decline in membership now evident in the latest membership data.
This will be brief.
Which Labour MP's father is the secretary of his/her CLP and her/his mother was LGC secretary of the borough, part of which s/he represents?
Correction: 'her/his mother was LGC secretary' not 'is'
Is there any such thing as a perfect crime? Reading m'Lord Collins's letter to Labour Party members published yesterday here about Refounding Labour had me wondering. Here was the outgoing general secretary of the Labour Party proclaiming the outcomes of a controversial consultation, declining to offer any details, that will consolidate a command and control model of politics for another generation.
His letter is littered with clues. The mere fact that it was written a week before Labour's Annual Conference will be enough for some. Then consider who it was written to - individual members. How are they going to be able to convene, consider and decide how to mandate their elected representative to Conference in the coming week? The answer, even for the e-literate is only with extreme difficulty. Describing how it's possible is the subject for another blog. For me, possibly the most telling utterence was m'Lord's statement on changes to the procedure for selecting the Shadow Cabinet:
Rights and responsibilities of the party leader will be defined for the first time, including control over appointments to the Shadow Cabinet. [my bold]
This could be an important clue. Anti-democratic behaviour is now so deeply engrained in the Labour Party that our elected representatives are brazen about their entitlements. Our society is suffering a pandemic of ADD - Accountability Deficit Disorder. The political class has the most acute form: SADD - Serious Accountability Deficit Disorder. That condition arises from it having been exposed to prolonged right-wing media influences promoting intense fear and distorted vision, a fixation on neo-liberal thinking to the detriment of the hapless majority. Labour's Refounding Labour 'consultation' is a case in point.
The circumstances leading up to a decision by Labour's newly elected Leader Ed Miliband to want to be able to appoint his Shadow Cabinet reflect the construction of Labour's electoral college, the outcome of the leadership election last autumn, and doubts about the loyalties possibly of a majority of Labour elected representatives in the House of Commons. In plain language, they couldn't be trusted to elect a Shadow Cabinet loyal to the Leader. This cascades down through stripping out local government committees to an 'anything goes approach' to local party organisation that tolerates 'family and friends' command and control without question. As for candidate selection: incumbency rules.
As currently constituted, the Labour Party remains the creature of that section of the political class that believes in my Leader right or wrong - a communion of Latter Day Royalists aka Blairites. Public distrust of politicians is still on the rise as evidenced last week with the publication of fresh data by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. That trend can only be reversed with a dramatic change in behaviour.
The clue to Refounding Labour is on every member's party card. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. So there is a simple test that could be applied to all the proposed rule changes still being kept under wraps by Labour's high command - does this change make the party more democratic and or socialist or not?
Much will depend on the role of the trade union representatives on Labour's National Executive Committee which has its Pre-Conference meeting in two days time on Tuesday 20 September. Are they ready to herald that needed shift to a more democratic party that will help membership recruitment and retention, and persuade Ed Miliband he has nothing to lose politically by enabling members a proper say in the future direction of the Labour Party?
Until the actual rule changes are published, it is genuinely difficult to be sure. But I wrote to Peter Hain the week before last with a copy of a resolution passed unanimously by the City of London Labour Party calling for publication of the submissions and a period of reflection leading to a special conference on Refounding Labour in the spring.
Sorry we simply don't agree because I thought you like me want reforms to empower grass roots members and turn Labour from an obsolete Party like our rivals into a popular movement relevant to today's politics. That's what RF aims to do and you can help make it happen.
Here's an extract from my response:
There is nothing in the current rule book that prevents our local party getting on with campaigning or fundraising or reaching out into our local community, which it does.
'Twas famously said by former Labour Party leader Harold Wilson that "a week is a long time in politics". If only.The prospects for Annual Conference 2011 in Liverpool are not auspicious. No one outside a hazy inner circle has a clue what is to be debated and how. Some members are cross. Others have an endearing trust in the leadership, and their elected representatives in Parliament, or on the Party's National Executive Committee and the Conference Arrangements Committee.
In the last 24 hours, NEC constituency party representative Johanna Baxter who twitters @JohannaBaxter told her followers in response to questions, including one from me:
That means CLP secretaries should get a briefing today (Saturday).
This followed her representations to Party leader Ed Miliband on Wednesday evening which she reported on her Twitter site the following day after the NEC's Organisation Committee (aka as Org Sub):
So far so good. However, Ed himself promised publication of submissions to the Refounding Labour consultation back in mid-July. He has been ignored. Of course, that is not how it is being reported by Head Office. It cites staff shortages, technical difficulties. But the truth is there are staff employed by the Party who think they are the Party, and who to date have proved performance-management proof.
Similarly, policy making is as much a mystery. The deadline for submission of Contemporary Resolutions passed yesterday. Why haven't they been published? The official line is that haven't been considered by the Conference Arrangements Committee to establish whether they are 'in order'. Nod, nod, wink, wink - the criteria are so convoluted they make Spaghetti Junction look like a Roman Road. Their purpose - to minimise the risk of embarrassment to the Leadership.
As I asked in my previous blog, "Why would anyone want to join such an organisation?" That's the challenge for Labour's party managers over the next week - to transform the Conference into an event that reverses declining party membership.
In that regard, the Labour Democratic Network (LDN)'s Manchester Declaration sets out a vision of how the Labour Party can become a mass membership party, despite the naysayers agonising over declining political party membership across the so-called established democratic world. That is hardly surprising given the almost universal contempt of politicians for any effective form of accountability, and the corrosive influence of state-funding of political parties.
The basic unit of party organisation for LDN members is the electoral ward. About which there is much to say, but not just now.
Where's that HO briefing about the decisions taken at Org Sub?
UPDATE Email received at 1338 just read - I suspect it's code for more command and control, without sight of the rule changes it poses more questions that it answers.
To all members
As you know, final recommendations arising from the Refounding Labour consultation will be going to the NEC next Tuesday, ahead of consideration by the Annual Conference in Liverpool.
Peter Hain promised to keep you up to date with developments and wanted me to provide you with a summary of the some of the recommendations agreed by the recent Organisation Committee, and which will be discussed by the NEC next Tuesday.
The Committee is acutely aware that delegates will be receiving the final recommendations for consideration quite close to Conference, and was therefore keen for these initial conclusions to be communicated now.
The Committee agreed in principle that rules changes will be proposed in the following areas:
Purpose and objects
Rights and responsibilities
A bigger voice for councillors
Full details of the actual textual rule book changes arising from these points will be sent to you as soon as the NEC has agreed the final recommendations to be put to Conference. The above recommendations do not represent the full extent of the changes likely to be proposed from Refounding Labour, and further issues are currently under consideration.
In addition, a number of reforms that do not require rule changes, such as new and improved technology for communication across the party, will also be proposed as part of the overall Refounding Labour package, and we will endeavour to ensure that you receive details of the final recommendations as soon as possible.
I hope this information is helpful and I will be in touch with further updates in due course.
The Labour Party's Org Sub - a overly large subcommittee of an even larger 33-member National Executive Committee (NEC) meets today to consider a fix for Refounding Labour - a poorly designed and badly researched consultation the results which are being kept secret even from the NEC.
Why would anyone want to join such an organisation?
For the glossy version go to the Labour Party Conference guide. But a couple of days ago when I was checking out MemberCentre, I had a thought. MemberCentre is part of the internal Labour Party IT offer. For those good democractic socialist volunteers who give their time to keep other members informed about local issues, meetings, campaigning and fundraising activity it offers genuine value - realtime access to members' details.
I blogged and tweeted about its shortcomings and how they might be improved a couple of days ago and issued an invitation to our new general secretary designate and also our Leader. In the first instance local communication capacity depends on each member taking on a responsibility. I wrote:
That is why I launched an appeal on Twitter to all Labour Party members to update their personal details on Membersnet - get your membership card ready to register. I invite the Leader and the GS-designate to retweet.
I had written about my impressions of Iain shortly after his appointment here. I started my piece with:
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.
So I was not exactly surprised when last night, in true comradely fashion, @Iainmcnicol retweeted my appeal.
I am now attempting to pass this message on to every CLP in the country. It hasn't required a change in the Labour Party rules for me to attempt this task. But if you can help, please let me know. In their turn I hope every CLP will pass it on to every branch, and every branch to every member - even those who currently don't declare an eMail address. As I discovered in City of London branch some 20% of members actually had one, but had never disclosed it previously to the Labour Party.
It is partly about trust. So here's a practical way in which we can start to Refound the Labour Party, in line with the Manchester Declaration and the aims of the Labour Democratic Network. of which I am secretary.
Labour Party General secretary designate Iain McNicol calling all members. LabourList picked up a new videoclip just released linked to the London elections next year and asked: More like this please
It is a refreshing change making use of social media to encourage members to get involved in a key campaign for Labour in 2012 (though not the only one). Like LabourList editor Mark Ferguson I hope there is more use of such facilities to get messages across to those members and supporters that are devotees of new media facilites and social networking.
There are lessons for our new GS across the piece. To date most Labour Party forays into new media and social networking has been blighted by top down command and control requirements imposed by Head Office. Refounding Labour is just the latest fiasco in that regard. But there are some features of current IT functionality that are worth preserving and enhancing.
Yesterday, I persuaded a new member at my third attempt to register on the Party's intranet facility called Membersnet and add an eMail address to Personal Details. Any member can access that facility with their membership number. Old cynics will no doubt worry that this could trigger a torrent of spam eMail generate by Head Office. Well, you can always Unsubscribe from that traffic. But Head Office are now not the exclusive users of that data. Through a facility called MemberCentre every constituency labour party (CLP) secretary, and every branch labour party (BLP) can access their members data.
That is an excellent basis for improving party communication locally. In my own constituency the Womens and Youth officers also have access as do branch chairs who have requested it. But there is a residual problem arising from mistrust of Head Office (ab)use of personal data. Consequently, many long-standing members refuse to update their Personal Details. According to memberCentre data only 75% of my branch members are on eMail. Yet my own database has eMails for 94%. That's because of personal contact. I know there is one member left who has an eMail address, but its work and too complicated. The rest just don't have email including a 98-year old - who insists on paying the full rate and appreciates getting copies of notice, minutes, supporting papers and newsletters. Four out of the five members are within easy walking distance of my flat, so it's one stamp a month.
This is part of the process of reaching out into our communities. That is why I launched an appeal on Twitter to all Labour Party members to update their personal details on Membersnet - get your membership card ready to register. I invite the Leader and the GS-designate to retweet.
Reaching out involves organisational capacity as well as campigning, if we forget that in the pre-Conference rush to find a consensus around Refounding Labour, Labour risks problems getting re-elected nationally. Better to start rebuilding the organisational and campaigning infrastucture now than spending time rewriting rules in ignorance of the load already carried by volunteers despite Head Office and its Regional Directors. They may put on a good show for Conference. But they have made an extraordinary mess of the Party on the Ground in too many parts of the country.