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A charter of Labour Party Member's Rights

Gaye Johnston sets out a key demand to enable Labour to rebuild

Under New Labour the Labour Party, and its members, have suffered a serious loss of empowerment and previously held democratic rights. Much damage was done by Partnership in Power, which was actually a recipe for centralising power and denying partnership to Party members. It is also now apparent that the Party rules are often honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Save the Labour Party (STLP) believes that the time has come to address these issues with a Charter of Labour Party Member's Rights and responsibilities. The Charter will be a focus for campaigning for desirable rule changes and implementation of existing rules especially by party staff. It will use the opportunity of Blair's departure and the ensuing Leadership/ Deputy Leadership campaigns to test out candidates and strengthen our demands to become a democratic and socialist Party again. It will be used to underpin the development of a representative Association of Constituency Labour Parties, within the Labour Party Constitution, which STLP is aiming to help establish. More than 30 members of STLP have contributed to the draft. The final charter will be available in January 2007.

The Charter will be concerned with the individual rights and responsibilities of Party members and with the rights of their representative organisations (e.g. Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and with the way in which the Party is run centrally on our behalf. The proposed rights of individual Party members include: having an effective say in the policy and decision –making of the Party, a right to be represented by a democratically elected, accountable Party organisation e.g. a CLP General Management Committee, being able to directly elect their representatives on all national/regional policy- making bodies e.g. the National Policy Forum. Moreover members will have the right to seek selection as a candidate in local and national elections and for Party offices through genuine equal opportunities processes during which all party rules will be strictly observed. This contrasts with present practice. Whilst the Party has a claim on member's loyalty, they will have a right to dissent from decisions with which they disagree provided that they do not support an opposition Party. Waged members would also have a right to be guaranteed membership fees that were affordable to those on average or below average incomes.

The Charter will state rights of CLPs, whose participation in policy making and party governance has been under constant threat from New Labour. These will include: the right to select election candidates of their choice within standard Party rules and the right to send two delegates (one man and one woman) to Party Conference. If they send only one it must not be a man every year. Parties would be given the right to democratic participation in the determination of Party policy including that for the next general election manifesto. This would be attained through establishing more responsive structures (e.g. a more accountable National Policy Forum). CLPs would have the right to belong to the prospective Association of CLPs.

The Charter contains guarantees about the central running of the Party. Party fundraising is to be conducted in an open and transparent manner. There must be audited accounts covering all income and expenditure. These should be presented to Conference and individual members should also be allowed to inspect them. So long as there is a nominated House of Lords, or second chamber, nominations must be disassociated from funding the Party and include only those with a long record of Party service. Labour's NEC would have the right to scrutinise al nominations prior to them being made formally. All party officers would be obliged to implement Party rules strictly and impartially on pain of disciplinary action. There have been numerous cases of breach such as intervention in the 2006 NEC elections. The National Constitutional Committee and Conference Arrangements Committee must operate in an open and democratically accountable manner. Anyone who attended Party Conference in 2006 will appreciate that in the case of the former this is often not so.

The Party Chair should be chosen by an OMOV postal ballot of all members-probably to coincide with the NEC ballot. They would not be a Cabinet Minister but could be in a shadow cabinet and on the NEC. Their brief would be to be responsible for relations between the Leader and Cabinet/ Shadow and the Party outside Parliament. The Annual Conference should be recognised as being the Party's sovereign body with ultimate decision making authority. The NEC would have the day to day responsibility for ensuring that the rules and constitution of the Party, decisions of Annual Conference and the Charter were upheld.

It is a serious indictment of the modus operandi of New Labour that this Charter has become necessary but it is now vital if the Party is to survive.

Gaye Johnston is a founder member of Save the Labour Party and was elected to its national committee in 2003, when she was also elected Secretary.

She has offered herself for election every year since and been re-elected successfully.