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.
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.
Labour's 'ruling' National Executive Committee meets on Tuesday. Key question is will the long-awaited search for a new General Secretary to replace Ray (now m'Lord) Collins be triggered? Talk on the March for the Alternative suggested it might.
Not before time either, the Party needs fresh ideas to modernise itself and develop a new financial settlement in which dependence on rich individuals becomes a feature of the past, and membership subscriptions, affiliation fees and small donations make up the vast majority of the Party's income.
Rebuilding from branches based on electoral wards is IMHO will be an essential of the Labour Party of the future.
News of the elevation of Labour Party General Secretary Ray Collins to the peerage prompted two seemingly contradictory statements.
An email circulated by Ray to Party staff reads:
From: Ray Collins
Sent: 18/11/2010 17:37 GMT
To: All Staff
Subject: Message to Staff
As you will have heard today I will be standing down as General Secretary before the next election.
Over the coming year or so, Ed and I will continue to work closely together to reform the party in a positive and modern way before I stand down. My successor will then be in place in plenty of time to prepare the party for the General Election.
The Labour Party
39 Victoria St.
Tel: 020 xxxx xxxx
Whereas Party Leader Ed Miliband said:
“I am delighted with the new Labour peers that will be joining our team in the House of Lords. They are all excellent appointments and they will be working peers who will actively hold the government to account.
“They were chosen for their experience across a broad range of fields, and I am sure that they will add to the work of Parliament.”
The last thing the Labour Party wants are stories all over the right-wing media about "two jobs Collins". So hopefully the agenda papers for next week's Labour Party NEC will include plans for the prompt recruitment of a new general secretary.
Time to tidy up my CV.
As the Labour Leadership, Treasurer and NEC election ballot papers drop, it's time to look inwards and ask is the Labour Party's internal organisation fit for purpose?
Since the contest started to replace Gordon Brown millions of words have been uttered, written and recorded about the direction of travel, New Labour versus old Labour, drawing lines under the past and moving on. Today we have been treated to vivid reminders in the Blair memoirs about why Leadership elections between the real contenders are healthy for our party democracy as well as the electorate. But little has been said or discussed about the Labour Party's internal organisation(s) which the new Leader will inherit.
Worse, we have had an ongoing conspiracy of silence about the absence of a Deputy Leadership election. Nor should we forget that if the Shadow Cabinet had had its way, the Leadership contest would have been done and dusted before the Parliamentary summer recess in a machine effort to shoe-horn in David Miliband. Paradoxically, it was the Party's National Executive Committee (NEC) that put a stop to a rushed Leadership contest; but then ignored the Rule Book regarding nominations for the Deputy . Admittedly, the General Secretary reported legal advice. However, that was shown subsequently to be non-existent. But the machine ground on oblivious. Nor did the NEC's appetite for a show of openness and transparency over the Leadership contest stop it from extending a dubious interpretation of the Rules to effectively exclude so-called leading left-winger John McDonnell from the contest.
Whoever is announced as the new Leader on Saturday 25 September should be asking her/himself whether the Party machine would function better if there were a broad and well understood consensus about the Rules, rather than infinite scope for scheming and manipulation. Statements from the candidates to date are not encouraging. Lots of warm words about openness and transparency, listening to members and the like, but a lack of necessary attention to detail to be persuasive.
Beyond the Rules, and the need to be guided by them if not bound, are a multitude of issues about organisational structures, personnel and finance. As reported previously, when elected to the NEC I requested among other things a copy of the budget and the latest management accounts. I was refused. Moreover, the NEC's Terms of Reference (ToR) were changed at my first full NEC meeting in November 2008. Of course, they were not changed by diktat. There was a veneer of democracy, namely a 'vote'. I recorded my dissent and stated publicly that I remained to be convinced the ToR were fit for purpose. Contributors to this blog have argued that I was seeking to engage in micro-management. Far from it, management accounts in large organisations are summaries of a budgetary and accounting system that, if well presented, highlight trends. A new leader could change the internal culture of the Labour Party at a stroke by demanding full disclosure on a confidential basis for all NEC members both of the budget, and the management accounts.
This should be done in the context of rebuilding the Party's finances to fight future elections, not on the basis of the requirements of the Electoral Commission, important though they are. The Labour Party of the future needs to establish a complete picture of money flows both local, regional and nationally. Currently head office takes no meaningful interest in the finances of its party units that generate less than £25K income a year, even though that amount is more than enough to fund local activity throughout the electoral cycle between General Elections.
It should not have gone unnoticed that Labour fought the last election without increasing its borrowing. This does not mean to say that one of the cogs in the machine, namely the General Secretary didn't try and turn in that direction. I don't blame him for trying. But the NEC said: No. Labour's campaign had to financed out of cash in hand and donation. Head Office has a very successful fundraising department targeting wealthy Labour members and supporters, as well as the trade unions. The latest donation figures from the Electoral Commission show over £10 million was given to the Party to help finance the election in Q2 2010. That was despite fighting the Tories and the Lib-Dems with 'loser' Brown as Leader. The election results showed where Labour had activists on the ground in sufficient numbers, it could hold seats, as it did, for example, in Islington South, Oxford East, Tooting and Westminster North against the national trend.
UPDATE SEE COMMENTS: I wrote: In the exceptional case of Oxford East, the seat was retained with very little printed literature at all. Antonia comments: It's nonsense. See my comment for my apology for possibly misunderstanding the level of printed literature distributed and its impact on the outcome.
I have already challenged John Prescott's pitch for the post of Party Treasurer on the grounds that he doesn't seem to have got the message - it's members that count, not money of itself. Of the leadership contenders, David Miliband is the most suspect of a 'filthy lucre fixation', with his boast that he has demonstrated his money-raising capacity. Sure, but was it ethical? The Labour Party still lacks an ethical donations policy. The Party machine from sitting MPs, the vast majority of the National Executive Committee, though Head Office and Regional staff appear frightened of members playing a greater role. Why? Because, they would have to be more accountable to them.
A new Leader could set the tone by quietly insisting that the whole NEC is on the platform for the Annual Report and Accounts, and insisting that delegates are entitled to ask questions of any NEC member. That could be done in Manchester in four weeks' time. With regard to staff, the contenders should take a particular interest in the Erith and Thamesmead ballot box tampering affair in 2009, as yet unresolved. Members will recall there was a high profile selection process featuring the young Georgia Gould, daughter of former PM Tony Blair's favourite pollster. She was seeking the nomination as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. In controversial circumstances, the Labour Party high command decided to take control of the process and lodged the ballot box in Head Office. After the alleged 'break-in', the selection ballot had to be re-run via solicitors. An internal inquiry was instituted by the NEC, since then - silence. Unconfirmed reports allege that senior staff representatives have blocked DNA testing that might help the General Secretary with his inquiries.
That unsavoury episode underlines the extent of distrust between active members and party staff that has to be addressed if the Party is going to regroup successful to harness all the talents of its members and supporters.
I hope some of this issues will be touched on in the remaining hustings especially by my first and second preferences, not to mention the need for proper policy debates at Conference. Hence my headline '1st= priority'.
Last night I attended the first 'business' meeting of my local Constituency Labour Party since the election. I hope my brief account doesn't put off any of those 13,000 new recruits since Tory/Lib-Dem nuptials were consummated. On the contrary, this is the stuff of democratic politics - deeply steeped in the need for accountability, opportunities to let off steam, learn lessons and kindle new ideas - all focussed on winning more votes next time.
It was our Executive Committee comprising the CLP officers, and delegates from each of the local party adminstrative branches (not to be confused with electoral wards). In the first place, a week earlier, as secretary of the CLP following consultation with the chair, I had assembled an Agenda - a list of the issues to be tackled. Requests for reports from the agents for the local and general elections were requested, the Treasurer offered to update on finance now the election spend has been totalled, as Secretary I flagged up forthcoming national Party elections.
The reports duly arrived, too late for some to have had time to print off between work and meeting. But copies were shared as each item arose. Frustrations over the inevitable election-tide cock-ups were aired. Then the moment arrived for deciding what was to be said to the CLP's General Committee - a larger gathering which ultimately governs the affairs of the Labour Party locally. So, I asked is it to be recriminations or recommendations?
Sanity prevailed - so I had better get on with the minutes, and assemble the agenda for the GC before events bowl me over. That evidence-based blog whirling round my brain on why the General Secretary of the Labour Party misdirected the NEC about the conduct of the Labour Party leadership elections yesterday will just have to wait until after lunch.
City of London Labour Party met last night for its monthly meeting of debate and campaign planning. As usual there was an item on the Agenda for National Labour Party business. My comrades were shocked to hear me report that the General Secretary, Ray Collins had effectively rejected our request for earlier publication of the Statement of Accounts. There is no obligation on the GS to arrange early publication. The Rule Book Chapter 1, Clause VIII. G says one of the jobs of the NEC is::
That means forget about them until mid-September. But a Labour law to clean up British politics, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act passed in 2000, yes that's nine years ago, requires political parties with a turnover in excess of £250k/annum to file a Statement of Accounts within 7 days of 30 June in the year following the accounting period in question.
I think members should get them at the same time, so does my branch and so does my CLP which has a Rule change resolution down for the 2009 Conference. Devotees of this blog will perhaps recall comments at around this time last year from 'tory boys never grow up' questioning whether my assertion that there was no reason why members could not receive them at the same time as the Electoral Commission, ie now. I thought (mistakenly) that a little quiet diplomacy on the NEC with the GS might result in my wish being fulfilled despite 'tory boys never grow up' strident assertions. It will come as no surprise that my optimism was (as is often the case) premature. But I have not given up, I have gone back to the GS querying whom he took advice from in coming to his decision not to publish immediately.
Openness and accountability underpins how most of us decide to spend our time and money, often in ways we are not even conscious of at any particular moment. Labour Party membership, commercial income and donation trends, whether small, high value, corporate or trade union will all be affected by how well the NEC is seen managing the Party's affairs. I'm not suggesting anything material is being hidden in the 2008 Accounts. Though, bearing in mind it is only just over 18 months since over £20 million of hidden unsecured loans were discovered dating back to the Blair era as Leader, one can't be too careful.
EMail to Labour Party members from General Secretary, Ray Collins following Tuesday's National Executive Committee meeting:
you for all your work as you prepare for the Local and European
Elections in June; our local officers, volunteers and activists are the
backbone of our Party organisation and we are very grateful for your
efforts, commitment and dedication to the Party.
These were always going to be a tough set of elections. They are made all the more challenging by the current global financial crisis and the recent issues surrounding MPs’ expenses.
We know that people are angry about MPs’ expenses. Whatever party you belong to, MPs should never have spent taxpayers’ money on clearing their moats or swimming pools, or paying phantom mortgages – and its even worse at a time when ordinary families are worried about the impact of the recession. That’s why the Party’s National Executive Committee has joined with Gordon Brown in making our determination to act and unanimously endorsed a tough new disciplinary process that can bar MPs found to have flouted the rules from standing as Labour candidates at the next election.
A new NEC panel, comprising constituency, local government and affiliated representatives, has been established that has the power to rescind endorsement from any Labour MP or PPC.
We are united in our intention to put right any wrong-doing, and sanction those who have broken rules or brought the Party into disrepute.
The comprehensive action taken by the NEC and Gordon Brown to deal with the past, present and future will lead to a complete clean-up of the system and fundamental change.
Now more than ever families in our communities need our help through this recession. And Labour is the Party that will stand by families - not walk on by as the Tories did in the 1990s. The Conservatives left families to sink or swim in the last recession and they would do the same again now - cutting public services at the worst possible time.
Labour believes that you cannot cut your way out of a recession – we need to grow our way out of it. So, we are giving real support to all - not tax cuts for the few. We are bringing forward job creatin g investment when it is needed most - not cutting services in the middle of a recession.
Three million jobs in Britain are linked to our trade with Europe – and more trade abroad means more jobs at home. The Tories prefer isolation in Europe – even at the cost of jobs in Britain. Labour’s working locally, nationally and in Europe to tackle the recession – protecting jobs and homes in this community.
The work you will do in the coming weeks will therefore be crucial as we set out the choice for voters on 4 June: the choice between a Labour plan to grow Britain out of recession with help for families and businesses; or the Tory route – help for the wealthiest and cuts to public services at the worst possible time.
Together we can fight back against this international recession. Together we can build a stronger, fairer Britain. And together we can rebuild trust in politics.
Best wishes and many thanks,
Journalists from the Guardian and the Independent have rung me in the last 24 hours about the postal voting issues in prospective parliamentary selections in Calder Valley and Erith and Thamesmead.
Like lots of other people I am concerned that the Labour Party's rules are not being administered properly. The selection in Calder Valley involved 61% of members voting by post - 90 out of a total of 147 votes cast. In Erith and Thamesmead, Tribune reported last week that a third of members had applied for postal votes.
The point I made to both the Guardian and the Independent is that it appears on the surface that a shift in public policy towards postal voting had taken place inside the Labour Party, without any change in its Rules. My concerns are that our PPCs rely on voluntary help at election time. Any suggestion of manipulation of a selection is detrimental to volunteers' willingness to campaign. Members who have taken part in selections and accept that the best candidate won in an open and transparent selection may be more likely to want to go out campaign and get that candidate elected.
That is what is at issue. According to this morning's Yorkshire Post: "A spokesman for the Yorkshire and the Humber Labour Party said the Calder Valley contest had been carried out under the rules laid down by the party's National Executive Committee and Steph Booth had gained a "clear victory.""
I hope the General Secretary is urging his staff to exercise a little more caution about these matters until the astonishingly high proportion of PV votes has been examined thoroughly. This should be part of a wider inquiry into the conduct of PPC selections, which I believe would be best undertaken in the context of membership recruitment and retention.