Rumour has it that the NEC is considering abandoning the Local Government Committee and handing over local policy formulation to Labour Groups!
A fig-leaf of a local co-ordinating forum would take on the role of panel formulation, candidate selection supervision and election oversight.
This was not a specific issue flagged up in the Refounding Labour consultation and has come rather left-field at the instigation apparently of the LGA Labour Group.
Our Local Government Committees, previously called County, District or Borough Parties are charged with holding the Labour Groups on those councils to account and ensuring collaboration between the party and Labour Group. They are just as vital in the many areas where we are devoid of Labour councillors or have a sole or just a handful of councillors who need and appreciate support.
Now, I am not going to the barricades over preserving LGCs; there are arguments for smaller co-ordinating forums in many areas. But there are two vital principles at stake here:
1) Deliberative policy making and transparency – it is far too early to rush a change through before there has been a wide debate in the Party on whether this is a desirable move and how an alternative might work. There should be some assessment of how effective LGCs are in fulfilling their functions and the wider objectives of the party before imposing into ill-thought out changes. And we must ensure that any change has genuinely wide and transparent support from throughout the party – this is not clear as it was not a specific question and responses to Refounding Labour have yet to be published.
2) Accountability – it was David Blunkett who established the current rules of groups and LGCs to focus on collaboration and accountability on policy – in many ways a fore-runner to Partnership in Power. At its best, this can work very well with open and deliberative policy making including members and councillors at local level leading to a high quality manifesto with significant consensus – backed up by an ongoing policy dialogues on contemporary issues. Under the proposals, we could go back to pre-Blunkett days where the Group and the Party can be locked in a confrontational, adversarial relationship without any real accountability.
So there is a case for some reform or allowing some flexibility but just abolishing LGCs is not the way forward. In a county council area, and many of the counties only have a few Labour councillors, an LGC is a tremendous way to bring the CLPs together with the few councillors to support their opposition and to inform local parties about county issues and to help co-ordinate county wide campaigns. In Labour areas, it brings the party and group together and can provide a reality check for councillors who can (occasionally) become cocooned in the Town/City /County Hall or sometimes have not considered wider issues or implications.
Of course, the LGC can lead to duplication sometimes, there can be too many meetings and bureaucracy, and can divert us rather than support campaigning. But, there are other ways of overcoming these challenges. Let us be very careful before we throw out the baby with the bathwater – and let’s have a democratic debate before any changes.
David L Gardner, Vice Chair, Labour Democratic Network