Over the next month Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) will be discussing their responses to the Labour Party’s review of its structures, and considering whether to submit rule changes. The deadline is 24 June.
Rule changes submitted this year will, under current Labour rules, not be debated until 2012 conference; and CLPs have to choose whether to submit a rule change or a “contemporary” political motion (in September); they can’t do both.
The good news is that a review is going on, and that there are some 50,000 more members in the Labour Party than a year ago, giving a bit more life to many CLPs.
Just now, however, there is a flood of bad news.
Peter Hain has produced a new consultation document for the structure review. At several points it admits and regrets that current Labour Party structures and practices give almost no democratic say to the members and the affiliated unions. But it puts up for consideration no proposals to fix that.
The one proposal it does suggest, repeatedly and almost obsessively, is to create a new category of Labour “supporters” – not members, not even “affiliated” members through trade unions, as over two million people are, but some looser category – and give them some say in Labour affairs, presumably votes in Labour leadership contests and maybe candidate selections.
The latest reports are that Hain is pushing this scheme hard, and that Ed Miliband and his closest advisers are keen on it.
David Miliband, the defeated hard-Blairite candidate for Labour leader, is meanwhile developing his “Movement for Change” of “community organisers”. He and the other hard-Blairites are not content with having Ed Miliband do their will on most questions. It looks like they want to push him into resigning well before the next general election, and opening the way for David Miliband to become Labour leader.
The affiliated unions, which won Ed Miliband’s election as Labour leader against the majority of the Shadow Cabinet and the majority of Labour MPs, could block the hard-Blairites if the union leaders had the will and energy to do so.
TULO, the umbrella body for unions affiliated to the Labour Party, is due to make its submission to the Labour Party review within the next few weeks. Insider reports are that the current draft is better than previous ones, but how much so remains to be seen. Members of TULO unions have had no say in the drafting of the submission, which has been the preserve of a small number of top officials.
In Unite, Len McCluskey, on taking office as general secretary, handed over the running of the union’s head office to Andrew Murray, who is designated “Chief of Staff in overall charge of the administration and with oversight over a number of senior directors of human resources, political, IT and membership, executive policy, communications, research and education” (see record of January Unite Exec.)
Murray was active in the Stop The War Coalition, and co-authored a book on it with Lindsay German, then of SWP and now of Counterfire. If you wonder how Counterfire was able to get Len McCluskey on the platform of its Coalition of Resistance conference, and Unite to sponsor COR, look no further. If you think that means Murray is left-wing, think again.
His new clout in Unite is a serious threat to the democratic-reform movement in the Labour Party, as it is to the hopes of rank and file members of Unite for a more effective union with McCluskey as leader.
Insiders suspect Murray’s hand in a further recent setback in Unite. Early in 2011 Adrian Weir was appointed Political Director of the union, in place of the notorious right-winger Charlie Whelan. Weir is no revolutionary socialist, but is regarded by democratic reformers in the Labour Party as a friend and an honest dealer.
Now, for reasons and by processes unknown, Adrian Weir has stepped down, after only a short time in the job, and has been replaced by Steve Hart, former London regional secretary of Unite, who is expected to do what Murray tells him.
Unite’s rank-and-file activists have had no say in these changes, which probably shape Unite’s political activity more than any formal vote in this or that conference will. Nor even has the union’s infrequently-meeting Executive.
Labour Party insider Jon Lansman warns that “the party general secretaryship could be handed” by Ed Miliband “to an experienced Blairite hatchet man”, Chris Lennie, former Unison official and deputy general secretary since 2001.
Adding credibility to this rumour, Jim Pickard of the Financial Times relays a report that Miliband has approached the even more ultra-Blairite Matthew Taylor for the job. “He asked Matthew Taylor, the highly-regarded former strategy adviser to Tony Blair, now running the Royal Society of Arts, to take the post of general secretary and help redefine the party. Taylor declined”.
The unions can block Miliband if they want. But Lansman also reports that the unions’ previous solid united front in favour of Iain McNichol, current political officer of GMB, not a left-winger by any means but more likely to run a halfway civilised regime than Lennie, let alone Taylor, is fragmenting.
In short, the hard-Blairites are working hard to seal the cracks in New-Labourism created by the opening-out of the National Policy Forum (via the decision to elect constituency delegates to it by OMOV); the 2010 general election defeat; the election of Ed Miliband; the restoration of “contemporary motions” to Labour conferences; and the influx of 50,000 new members who want to campaign against the Tories.
The fight back against the hard-Blairites is inseparable from a fight for democracy in the unions.
Model motion in response to Hain’s review, circulated by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy
This CLP believes that:
1. The review of the Party’s policy-making is very timely;
2. The number of motions to be considered by our Party’s annual conference should no longer be restricted to eight but should be increased to at least 12;
3. CLPs and affiliated organisations that submit a resolution should no longer be debarred from also submitting a rule change;
4. Motions may be on any matters of concern to CLPs and affiliates and should not be ruled out of order on the grounds that they are deemed to be insufficiently “contemporary” or that they could have been sent elsewhere;
5. Policy documents presented to Conference should be open to amendment and to being voted on in parts.
This CLP also believes that, in order to give members increased confidence that the policies agreed will be properly taken forward:
a. The decisions of conference should be respected by the party leadership and included, where appropriate, in our manifesto;
b. The shortlisting and selection of parliamentary candidates should be conducted by the local Party members without external intervention;
c. The number of seats on the party’s National Executive Committee elected by constituency members should be increased from six to ten, including one seat each chosen by constituency members in Scotland and Wales.