Last weekend LDN met to discuss its future and potential programme. We were in mixed mood, delighted at Labour’s showing in the local elections across the country and worry about the continued democratic drift of our Party.
LDN — and its predecessor organisations Labour Reform and Save the Labour Party — has always — been committed to practical partnerships and practical politics. We want to champion the cause of Party democracy but also actively explore how we can better facilitate policy discussion and debate.
Over the coming months we will be aiming to focus on two new initiatives both which are designed to commemorate the life of our sadly departed comrade and colleague Martin Cook.
The first initiative will be focussed around ITC solutions to debate, discussion and policy making and we will be working with some of those who have been leaders in this field. Low cost but powerful ITC solutions offer us the chance to revolutionise participative politics in this country and LDN is committed to supporting the development of new tools and products that could be utilised by Labour and by progressive campaigns across the country.
Secondly, we will be actively seeking to revisit the Save The Labour Party’s LabOUR Commission, Renewal — a to way process for the 21st century. While the Commission’s existing report is a substantive one it was always designed to be an interim.
New of these initiatives will be posted here but if you think either or both of these of interest to you we would be happy to here from you. Contact either:
Our old friend and comrade Luke Akehurst would regard himself as a prolific blogger. He’s recently penned one of occasionally strange pieces, “A dossier I compelled – and not anonymously“. I won’t bore you with the contents but this seems to be a repost to the anonymous dossier that has been going around and which focusses on Progress, to which comrade Akehurst is connected.
Luke’s dossier is really more of a rant and as such doesn’t really concern us. However, at one point he says of LDN:
This has now been replaced by the Labour Democratic Network – LDN which seems somewhat moribund as it last posted on its blog in November.
Comrade Luke, LDN is certainly not defunct. When the Party can’t manage to convene its own National Policy Forum for over twelve months, at a time when it is having a major policy review, there is clearly work to do.
But one thing. We are committed to action and pronouncements when we have something to say. Sometimes organisation is everything.
Comrade Akehurst would be rise not to confuse verbal diarrhoea with actual action. But then he is a prolific blogger!
It’s always quality that counts Luke, and not just quantity at any cost!
The Labour Democratic Network understands that full details will be sent to all interested parties by Head Office in December.
Nominations for the six NEC places elected by fully paid up members under OMOV have to be submitted by 30 March 2012.
Nominees require support of own CLP and two other CLPs from two different regions, and must have been in membership 12 months.
At least three elected candidates must be women.
We are still waiting for clarification of the precise dates for the issue of ballot papers and the close of the poll.
The meeting after conference is always a marathon, reviewing the state of the party and planning the year ahead. First up was Tom Watson, deputy party Chair and campaign co-ordinator, praised for his tactics in the famous Hodge Hill by-election. Tom saw his role as mobilising members, consulting on policy and raising funds. At my suggestion he included a working return address in his latest e-mail, and had already replied to 500 messages. I said again that members want doorstep ammunition, visible leadership and rapid rebuttal of Tory lies. Others added hope in tough times: pensioners are losing part of their winter fuel allowance, the council tax freeze will cost more jobs, youth unemployment is at record levels and Labour cannot be neutral as public service workers defend their modest pensions.
This is how the new rules could apply to the Westminster parliamentary constituency of Greenwich and Woolwich. This paper has been circulated to branches for consultation.
A new rule book was agreed at 2011 Annual Conference. While our Constituency Labour Party (CLP) objected, on the grounds that most of the changes had not been subject at all to consultation, and that we had just a few days’ notice, nevertheless they were approved and must be implemented. Key decisions for the CLP are:
Annual Meeting (AGM) Dates – under the new rules this should be held in or after May. Branch AGMs are not set down by the rules (January is deleted) but advice is they should be after elections. Currently, we have the Branch AGMs in early-mid January and the CLP AGM at the end of February. We could:
- Hold Branch AGMs and CLP AGMs all in May
- Hold Branch AGMs in May and the CLP AGM in June
- Hold both the Branch and CLP AGMs in June
Delegate or General Meetings – Currently, we have a delegate General Committee (with delegates from Branches and affiliated organisations but we open all GCs to all members and have made a number of them all-member meetings with invites to everyone. Though any voting is by delegates only, the one exception being when we did our leadership and National Executive nominations. Two options:
- We can keep the current delegate structures allowing a fair representation across all branches and affiliates, but opening meetings for wider participation and have a number of all-member meetings
- We could have General Meetings only, with no delegates. The full membership would then elect the Officers and executive as well as take decisions on resolutions. Thus no delegates would be elected, and any member could attend, vote and stand. Members would be able to attend and vote at both their Branch and constituency meeting; it may therefore blur their distinctive roles.
Officers – The CLP currently has 8 Executive officers. The new rules provide for a base of just 5 with a number of co-ordinators (functional officers) though there is the option to have more Executive Officers if we choose.
- Have just 5 Executive officers (Chair, Vice Chair Membership; Vice Chair Campaigns; Secretary and Treasurer of which at least two must be women
- Have 6 Executive Officers (above 5 plus Equalities Officer) of which three would be women. The Equalities Officer would co-ordinate the roles currently carried out by Ethnic Minorities Officer, Women’s officer, Youth & Student officer and Disabilities officer)
- Retain current 8 Exec Officers with at least 4 women. This would need approval
Co-ordinators – we need to refresh the functional officer roles as Co-ordinators. This may mean we want to rationalise the roles and rather than having job shares to have teams.
Local Campaign Forum (LCF) – The new rules replace the Local Government Committee with a re-focussed Local Campaign Forum for co-ordinating council elections, selections and liaison with the Labour Group. The CLPs in Greenwich will need to collectively determine their preferred model but in general it will meet less frequently and be much slimmer (currently 65 members altogether). The Management and Executive Committees can be replaced by a single unitary body. Options include:
- A unitary LCF of 10 Party delegates (4 G&W CLP), 1 Co-op plus Group Leader and Deputy. This could be supplemented by a Borough Conference open to all Labour councillors and either all members or all CLP GC delegates which would be at least annual but possibly more frequently to help develop policy and policy commissions which would draw from the wider membership and be co-chaired by Party and group co-ordinators.
- A unitary LCF of 17 Party delegates (7 G&W CLP), 2 Co-op plus leadership. Again, this could be supplemented by a borough Conference and policy commissions
- A Management Committee of 39 Party delegates (16 G&W which could be 2 per BLP plus Chair and Sec); 4 Co-op and Group leadership. This would need a separate Executive.
- A Management Committee broadly as currently of 55 Party delegates (22 G&W CLP) plus 5 Co-op and group leadership. Again, a separate Executive.
The Changing of the Guard: Wednesday 28 September 2011
On Wednesday evening the NEC said farewell to departing colleagues and welcomed new members. I shall particularly miss Cath Speight, who without seeking the limelight has contributed an enormous amount over the years, and been loyal throughout to her party and her union; also Norma Stephenson for her work on equalities and Chair for 2010/11, Simon Wright of the socialist societies who is sadly leaving after just a year, and Chris Weldon of Unite. We are joined by Wendy Nicholls of UNISON, Susan Lewis of Community, Martin Mayer and Jennie Formby of Unite and Conor McGinn of the Labour Party Irish Society. Michael Cashman MEP was elected as Chair for the year ahead and pledged to represent all voices on the NEC, with Harriet Yeo of the TSSA as his vice-chair.
Looking Forward: After Conference
Peter Hain stressed that conference approval of Refounding Labour is the beginning, not the end of the process, and agreed that working groups should oversee implementation. There are many matters of detail: for instance moving constituency AGMs to the autumn raises questions about approving annual accounts which close in December; nominating to national committees where the deadline is usually April, and electing conference delegates, based on membership figures at 31 December. More seriously the section on Partnership in Power is still detached from reality. Better feedback has been promised so often that members will believe it when they see it. Only one meeting of the national policy forum is planned for 2011/12, following two short sessions in 2010/11, and representatives who competed for constituency seats last year must wonder why they bothered. This would only partly be compensated by giving every member a place on one of the policy commissions. And yet again the joint policy committee, supposed to steer the process, was attended by only 13 members in September, again with no departmental shadow ministers showing up.
The NEC statement to conference on Partnership in Power says: “Discussions during this consultation have focused on the need to make a reformed policy-making system more accessible and responsive to party members, with a fresh empowered annual conference with even greater democracy,. We are determined to take a new approach to policy-making with meets those objectives and will take more time to develop the details. The NEC therefore agrees to further consult between now and the end of March 2012 on how to make the policy and decision-making processes more dynamic, open and democratic with a view to taking forward proposals to the NEC next spring, ahead of conference.”
I hope this does not just mean more arguments over the union share of the conference vote, with constituency representatives shut out, because there are bigger issues at stake. Policy-making seems to have moved not only beyond the NEC but beyond the national policy forum and conference. Near the end I discovered four glossy booklets entitled “Towards a new economy”, “Britain’s role in the world”, “Restoring responsibility, strengthening our communities” and “Fulfilling the promise of Britain”.
Maybe the papers came from the elusive shadow cabinet working groups. They appear hastily compiled, with inconsistencies, identical quotes attributed to different people, and repeated paragraphs, but they make interesting reading. On defence policy there is no mention of Trident, and the document says that “our strategic position needs to be rethought and ‘smart defence’ must move from rhetoric to reality”. I may be too optimistic in hoping that this heralds real change. On the other hand I am deeply uneasy over attitudes towards immigration, with granting priority for social housing to “those who give back to their communities”, and with the repeated emphasis that people should “get out what they put in”.
What happened to “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”? Some of us are lucky in health, talent and family, others are less fortunate from the start, or they become ill, injured, or overwhelmed. The deepest silence during Ed Miliband’s speech was when he said that benefits are too easy to come by, and he was challenged at the question-and-answer session: when the sick and disabled were being hardest hit by government cuts, why did he reinforce the stereotype of all claimants as scroungers?
Recently the tabloids had a field day with a woman filmed sky- diving while she drew incapacity benefit for a bad back. Yes of course this is wrong. But what are we saying to this member: “I have a severely disabled son, and he tells me he feels guilty for being in a wheelchair. This is the first time he has used the word ‘guilty’ in the almost 20 years since he was paralysed as the result of viral encephalitis.”
Or this, from the father of a profoundly deaf 50-year-old man on disability benefit: “He got an HND in engineering, was made redundant, and has been out of work for 15 years. This has not been for want of trying, and it is not because of any limitation to a narrow range of employment; he has tried for jobs as packer and shelf-filler. He has done course after course of updating skills. People with disabilities are constantly made to feel that it is all their own fault. The Archbishop of Canterbury is quite right when he says that this causes a sense of hopelessness and despair.”
Who will stand up for them if not the Labour party? And with government intransigence driving public sector workers to ballot for strike action over pensions, the leadership urgently need to understand a little more and condemn a little less. There are serious issues about both policy and process, and a great deal to do if we are to regain power and promote a Labour vision which can convince and also inspire. I hope that we will all be able to contribute.
Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official record.
Ann Black, 88 Howard Street, Oxford OX4 3BE, 07956-637958, email@example.com