The use of the expression 'Refounding Labour' for the consultation now underway among Labour Party members has been puzzling me ever since I first read it. There are lots of loaded questions about ways the party should operate. But how is it all going to be paid for? Not a word on that issue. I find that condescending in the extreme. Is it that to talk about money demeans our politics? Or has our politics been demeaned by the way in which the Labour Party has been financed for the last 15 to 20 years?
There has been a sustained effort by party officials supported in their blind ignorance by the vast majority of the National Executive Committee for widely differing reasons to seek to commandeer / consolidate the assets held by the party's grassroots organisations - the bedrock of any refounding?
Another thing which I learned a decade ago following the introduction of higher allowances for local councillors was that where Labour was able to win council seats, a levy on local councillors became the source of significant monies to run some local constituency parties. Lurking there is still a major governance issue - should those funds be controlled by local members? Or should they remain the 'property' of sitting councillors to help them retain incumbency, ie their seats, allowances and means of continuing the levy to help fund their next election campaign? There is a similar problem with some MPs.
Nationally, the Party fought the 2005 election with unsecured loans which remain like an incubus on the Party's balance sheet. It managed the 2010 election on a low budget funded by large and small donations. Now out of government how successful is the outgoing General Secretary (now m'Lord) Ray Collins strategy of meeting capital and interest repayments out of commercial income alone? Are our small donations and membership subs being tapped to keep the unsecured creditors at bay? How much are the Labour Party hierarchy hanging on for the Committee on Standards in Public Life to throw them a financial lifeline with a promise of more public funding for political parties?
What is clear from the 126 questions posed in the document with a Foreward by Ed Miliband and an Introduction by Peter Hain, is that the Labour Party is silent about what it is in law - an unincorporated federated voluntary organisation, in which every member has unlimited liabilities. Scary, no. Of concern, yes. If for no other reason than there is no other body capable of acting as the the leader of the progressive majority in the UK.
So when the polls close on Friday, among the questions that need to be addressed is: Can the Labour Party afford to be honest about its finances? Can it afford an ethical donations policy? Can it afford to let its members have a say? Should it be rebuilding its finances from branches upwards? If so, where is that going to leave the people who have been actively working for opposite ends and left the Party with less than half its membership in 1997, despite the flush of interest post the 2010 General Election?
Time to grasp some nettles. Oh, and just in case you were thinking a new general secretary will be the answer. Forget it, these nettles have very deep roots.