or the party to succeed both locally and nationally the
broad spectrum of volunteers, that make up local parties,
need to be motivated by a leadership undertaking the implementation
of policies that have the support of the membership. It is
also essential that the members feel responsible for contributing
to those polices and can clearly identify with them. We understand
that Government must be more pragmatic and needs to have
broad consensus of support in the wider country. However,
this does not mean we have to abandon or change our principles
every time we have a bad headline in the Daily Mail.
The party and the leadership not only need to look after the
poorest members of society and 'Middle England' (Britain):
it also needs to improve the living standards of 'Ordinary
Actions of the leadership as well as party structure have
an effect on membership. Failure to keep manifesto commitments
or changes to policies without consulting the membership cause
disillusionment in the party and just as many resignations
as poor party structure. Remember volunteers need a purpose
and an input to policy and a continuous campaign message.
Too often in the last three years the party has rested on
its laurels and failed to campaign at all, as in the case
of the 1999 European Elections.
We accept it is right that the party reviews its structures
to ensure that they are adequate for the next century. However,
this does not mean there has to be change for change's sake.
It is the view of the three Croydon parties that, with a positive
approach, the existing structure is flexible enough to meet
the needs of the foreseeable future.
In any large nation-wide organisation there has to be a manageable
sub-structure that reflects the needs of both local and national
parts of the organisation. It also needs to be of a size that
both the local members and the public can identify with. The
advantage of constituency parties is the direct link and identity
with the local MP. This is particularly important for constituencies
with Labour MPs as both the members and the public identify
the party with the MP. In those constituencies that do not
have a Labour MP the constituency chair takes on this role.
If there were no constituency party the local identity would
We agree that as council wards are electoral divisions of
a local authority they do not always reflect a local community.
However, the existing rules allow the creation of branches
from one or more wards: and this happens in Croydon where
wards do not reflect the local community. The existing rules
also allow constituency parties to step in where a ward is
moribund. The problem is usually that as we are volunteers
there are insufficient people to undertake this task. The
existing rules also allow all party and all member forums
and conferences, which take place on a regular basis in Croydon.
Constituencies can assist each other in election campaigns
and work together with joint borough wide local elections.
We have a proud record of undertaking this in Croydon. Our
biggest concern is the changes to the selection procedure
for selecting Parliamentary, European, Assembly and Mayoral
candidates. This procedure has alienated and divorced the
members from the party and the candidates, at the expense
of the party and its ability to mount election campaigns.
The members feel that their voice has been muted and Millbank
is imposing itschosen candidates upon the party. We agree
that it is important that candidates are vetted to ensure
that they are fit persons to hold Labour Party Office. However,
the way the present procedure has been implemented fails to
consider the feelings of the local party. It also would seem
to exclude anybody with a mind of their own regardless of
their standing locally.
We are also concerned over the cost of these new internal
selection procedures for both the local party and to the candidates
themselves. The candidates selected in the last European and
GLA elections in London were those who could afford to contact
the most members by post and phone. This excludes many working
class candidates unless they have the backing of a national
trade union. This would seem totally wrong in a party that
is based on equality of opportunity.
This combined with the expense of running local parties and
the constant badgering of members for donations has caused
more disillusionment in the party than changing the structure
will ever resolve. It is a constant concern that the source
of income to local parties is the members and we have to constantly
compete with Millbank for their donations. This is a particular
difficulty for parties without sitting Labour MPs.
The national party's new structure denies CLPs a role in
Labour's policy-making - since they cannot submit amendments
to the rolling programme direct to conference - and to do
so through the National Policy Forum requires the support
of at least two thirds of the Forum's CLP delegates. In practice,
moreover, CLPs contemporary resolutions cannot get on the
agenda without being supported by major unions in the priorities
Unless CLPs have a real say in policy-making their ability
to fulfil campaigning and fund-raising functions will decline
and the membership will no longer identify with the party.
CLPs' policy-making functions should be restored. All-member
meetings should complement GC and branch meetings not replace
them. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Members' views should be listened to and acted upon not only
when they are in tune with those of the leadership. The decline
in membership is due to the fiasco of the internal election
procedure for Europe, Scotland, Wales and London where the
views of the 'foot soldiers' were ignored. This alienated
many members, which is demonstrated by the high proportion
of members who refused to assist in the latter campaigns.
Local policy forums are a useful means for the discussion
and exchange of ideas. However, they can be pointless without
decision-making processes; and decisions are pointless if
they have no impact on the party. The best place for decision-making
is the existing CLPs. There is no point in trying to replace
one decision-making body with a different one. There is no
substitute, where there is disagreement and decisions have
to be made, for voting.
Branch Meetings are the basis of grassroots democracy and
holding them monthly enables members to respond to current
events locally and nationally. The existing structure should
therefore be built upon not abolished, since it is already
flexible enough and can be adapted to meet the needs of local
parties and communities. General Committees should also be
retained not abolished. They reflect the public face of the
local party identifying with a local MP. This is important
to avoid not having different messages from the party and
the MP. Enhancing the link between national party and the
constituency will increase the incentive to attend.
Local Government Committees have a major role to play in
maintaining the link between local parties borough wide and
the Labour Group. However, they can be ineffective if members
are not able to hold Labour Groups accountable. With the proposed
changes to local government structures a review of the way
leaders are elected and how they are accountable to the party
at large is needed. An OMOV ballot of members to choose group
leaders and senior positions should be considered.
The stated "aim" of the consultation document,
namely, "to give the party back to its membership, to
empower members" (page 5) - has been an issue ever since
left parties were established. Robert Michels showed - in
his book Political Parties published in 1911
- that the German Social Democratic Party and trade unions
in practice were dominated by their leaders not democratically
controlled by their members. Michels concluded that due to
what he called the "iron law of oligarchy", however
democratic an organisation in theory, in practice a minority
always ruled. Hence until the 1990s Labour's Annual Conference
in theory was the supreme policy-making body with the trade
union block vote ensuring that in practice constituency militancy
was neutralised and the leadership dominant.
Since the 1990s the Labour Party has moved away from 'representative'
democracy towards 'plebiscitary' democracy: namely, OMOV for
the election of the leader and NEC plus postal ballots on
policy (e.g. the manifesto). A party organised around infrequent
referenda on policies and leaders is very different from one
where the leaders are held accountable to a series of representative
structures. There is little opposition to leaders from a membership
asked to fill out postal ballot papers now and again. Party
leaders have clearly concluded that the mass media gives them
the ability to communicate with voters without the need for
a grass roots organisation.
Party memberships have been falling for a very long time.
Labour bucked this trend from 1994 until 1997; but the long-term
decline has now reasserted itself with Tony Blair's Sedgefield
constituency membership falling by 500 since 1997.
No questions are included in the questionnaire that would
allow respondents to state their preference for enlarging
CLPs input into policy-making or extending representative
democracy. This is not surprising since the whole purpose
of the 'consultation' is to justify the abolition of representative
democracy. On the 22nd June 1999, the front pages of the Guardian
and the Independent carried reports of an
internal report from the Director of the North West Region,
David Evans who is now Assistant General Secretary. The report
was written in 1996 and his proposals put on the back burner
before the general election. Now they are on the front burner
again. Entitled The New Labour Party: a vision for organisational
modernisation paragraph 2.4 states: "Placing
the Policy Forum principle at the heart of our activity will
remove the pseudo democratic paralysis that hamstrings innovation
and flexibility...Once the policy making is removed from branch
and constituency then an Executive or Officers can undertake
the business". Paragraph 3.3 refers to the need to "give
firm proposals for staging posts along the way - the abolition
of General Committees in 1999 for example". This has
already happened in Stephen Twigg's Enfield Southgate constituency.
Paragraph 4.4 states that: "Representative democracy
should as far as possible be abolished in the Party".
David Evans also reiterated this view in the autumn 1999 issue
of Labour Organiser where he stated that: "New
Labour politics should be matched by New Labour organisation...representative
democracy should...be abolished in the Party..."
Centralisation of the Party has already massively reduced
the role of branches and GCs in policy-making. The abolition
of branches and GCs would complete the process; and committees
and resolutions would be completely replaced by rallies at
which stage armies of selected members show their faith in
the leadership's wisdom. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci
in his Prison Note Books written in a Mussolini
jail during the 1930s also noted the essentially passive relationship
between leaders and members in social democratic parties.
In fact, in the modern world, where authority is less taken-for-granted
than in Gramsci's time and deference has all but disappeared,
a top-down centralised party is completely inappropriate.
Hence it is the modernisers who want to remodel the Labour
Party who are living in the past not the future.