Democracy, Reform and the Labour Party
Today Labour is in crisis, the Labour Party is in the middle of a bitter Leadership Election. A contest that shows the divisions in our party and movement, the media have painted this as a battle between the ‘left’ and ‘right,' a fight between Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism. This is a simplified understanding of the current leadership election. Although there is a battle between Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism, at its core, this is a battle about Leadership, Labour Party Democracy and Reform. The cause of this crisis is actually rooted less in ideology and more in The Labour Party’s rule book and Labour’s internal democracy.
I am a democrat and I’m a keen advocate for constitutional reform both in our Party and the UK as a whole. This post is not intended to back one particular faction, nor should it be seen as an exclusive list of potential reforms to our party, this post is simply intended to spark a debate and discussion on how our party can reform its internal structures to improve democracy, prevent this crisis from happening again and to ensure that we can again win power and implement our values in Government. I will break this post down into each section of our party’s structure and suggest how they be can reformed.
So lets start from the top of our Party and discuss offices of Leader and Deputy leader. When the Labour Party introduced the ‘One Member One Vote’ (OMOV) System, I was a big backer of the idea, however, as time has progressed its clear this system has failed. The first problem with the current system is the ‘Registered Supporters’ section. This section clearly undermines Party Members. The idea of allowing members of the public to suddenly pay a few pounds and then be entitled to the same level of ‘say’ in the Leadership of the Party as someone who has been a long standing member renders the membership pointless. If a member of the public can get the same ‘say’ in Labour’s Leadership then what is the point of being a member?
The Second problem with the OMOV system is the lack of power given to the elected officials; one of the biggest causes of the current crisis in our party is that in affect we have a PLP Leader who doesn’t have the backing of the PLP.
Well, what reforms can be made to fix these problems?
One suggestion circulating is for a return to the system which gives the PLP the right to elect the leader. This suggestion would totally undermine internal democracy, rendering the membership as ‘bystanders’ in The Party, with their only function to campaign for a leader who they have no say in.
The second suggestion is to split the office of leader into a leader of the Party and a Leader of the PLP, this idea is unworkable at best, and complete electoral suicide at worst. This would create a system in which the public would see it that Labour had two leaders, the confusion on who was really running the Labour Party would allow the Tories to attack our party as being weak. It would beg the question ‘if Labour got into Government, who is really running the country?’ What’s to stop the PLP leader, who would be Prime Minister, to totally ignore the membership? The divisions created between the Party leader and PLP Leader would destroy us at the polls.
The only real fix to the problems of the OMOV system would be to restore some form of Electoral College. The old Electoral College system would be a poor model to follow as it had a lot wrong with it; but we could modify the system to ensure a balance between democracy and creating a leader who can enjoy some level of confidence of its MPs. To start the equal amount of electoral collage votes, giving a 3rd of the vote to each section, the Affiliated Groups, The Membership and the PLP should be abolished. The membership should get the biggest say in who is Leader. I propose a new electoral college system in which there are a total of 100 Electoral College votes, divided amongst 4 sections PLP, Membership, Affiliated Organisations, Labour Councillors. The electoral college votes awarded to each candidate should be based on the proportion of the vote in each section. The total number of electoral college votes for each section should be as follows:
Membership: 40 Electoral College Votes
PLP: 30 Electoral College Votes
Affiliated Organisations: 20 Electoral College Votes
Councillors: 10 Electoral College Votes
The Electoral System used should be Alternative Vote, in a similar way to the 2010 Electoral College System. No person should be elected leader until they have won over 50% of the Electoral College Votes.
This system would ensure that the membership get the most say on who should be leader, but that the PLP have a large proportion of the vote, decreasing the chances of getting a leader who has no support from the PLP. The creation of a Councillors section would increase the say the councillors in who should be leader; this is very important because in the increasingly presidential style of politics we have today, the front line people who lose elections because of bad decisions are not the MPs but the councillors. In addition to this the councillors are the elected officials rooted in their communities, this means councillors know best what leader will go down well in communities up and down this country.
There is an argument to be made to suggest that the Deputy Leader should be appointed by the leader or by the NEC. However, I feel there is value in having the office of Deputy Leader elected by the membership, it helps prevent the governing of the party from the Leader’s office.
Labour Party President?
I propose that the Labour Party should have a Party President. The Office of Party President should be elected by the same OMOV system that is currently used to elect the Leader. The use of this system would mean members get the say in who should be Party President but it also allows for a radical candidate like Jeremy Corbyn to inspire people to become Registered Supporters and effectively along with members have their own voice in the Leaders Office. This would also create a function for the President to go out and hold rallies, ‘fire up the troops’ so to speak and recruit registered supporters to become full Party members.
The office of Party President should be to act as the membership representative in the Leaders office. The chance to stand as Party President should be open to all members in the country and not just members of the PLP. The Party President should be a member of the NEC (more detail on the NEC below). The Party President should be entitled to propose up to 3 Policy Motions of his/her own creation to Party Conference, she/he should also choose up to 2 contemporary motions passed by CLPs that have not already been selected for debate to be debated at conference.
The Party’s President should hold regular meetings with Party members, attend rallies and speak at CLPs. The Party president should be entitled to a seat on the National Policy forum (NPF) & Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) and should feed back members views to the NPF and CAC. The Party President should be entitled to a meeting with either Party Leader or Deputy Leader once a month to feed back members views. The Party President should may be entitled to be attend and talk at shadow cabinet meetings so long as he has written permission from the Leader or the NEC.
National Executive Committee
One area of the Party that is probably the most democratic at the moment is the NEC, however, it remains that there are many ways that it should and can be reformed.
The NEC uses First Past the Post for the Elections of the LGA and CLP reps. This often prevents a balance of views being heard, the best system to broaden the voices at the NEC should be to introduce Single Transferrable Vote (STV) using the droop quota.
The NEC should introduce regional Reps alongside the existing CLP reps, one from every Region/Nation.
The NEC’s Youth Rep should be elected by a OMOV postal of Young members at the same time as the CLP Reps election.
Each Trade Union should elect its own NEC rep at their Annual Conference or by a OMOV vote postal. The choice of which method should be made by each individual Union.
Councillors need more representatives on the NEC, currently Labour Councillors get 2 reps while the PLP get 3 (and an extra 3 from the shadow cabinet) Labour Councillors are the ones who pay the price when our Party makes mistakes, so to give them less say on the day to day governing of the Party than the PLP is wrong. Labour Councillors should also be given 3 reps on the NEC.
Constituency Labour Parties and Social Media
One area is currently crying out for reform, CLP’s Social Media output. Increasingly many CLP’s and branch’s use Twitter and facebook as well as other forms of internet outreach. I have looked at many CLP twitter accounts and many of them have been used by managers of the account to attack another faction of our Party.
I myself have been given the great opportunity to manage a Social Media account for a CLP and I have tried to create my own code of conduct and stick to it, I only ever re-tweet positive Labour messages and inform people of meetings or candidate selections, I never use the account to comment on internal Labour issues, this is so important and it has become clear that head office needs to create a code of conduct for running a CLP’s social media accounts, this is a very key reform in order to maintain a united front to our communities. I would relish the opportunity to discuss Social media output in more detail, but that is probably best saved for another post.
Thank you all for reading this article, please share far and wide, because reform of our party is a subject that must be discussed and of course I hope to spark a discussion on how we reform. I would be interested to hear other peoples views on the subject. my Twitter is @tomlaing14 so please feel free to send me your thoughts, whether that be challenges to any of my ideas or other areas of reform that you feel I have missed, I look forward to your feedback.