Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ten Days To Transform The Labour Party

A review of the Labour Party policy making process was launched at last year's Annual Conference of the Labour Party and a subsequent report will be presented for endorsement at this year's Annual Conference.

The deadline for submissions to the review is 10th June - in only ten days.

Submissions can be made either: - Via the Labour Party website at: members.labour.org.uk/pip - Or in writing to:
Review of Partnership into Power
Policy and Research Department
The Labour Party
39 Victoria Street

I intend to submit the following -

"Complex and convoluted systems undermine the operations of supposed democratic procedures. Democratic arrangements need to be straightforward and understood. The current "Partnership Into Power" system and the functions of the National Policy Forum are not understood by the bulk of Labour Party members who participate in Labour Party Branch and Constituency activities, serve on local councils and/or engage in local electoral activity. The current system is dismissed as being one of "smoke and mirrors". It should be abandoned.

In its place we require a clear structure for policy making, in which democratically run units of the Labour Party have a direct link into the activities of the National Executive Committee and into the decision-making procedures of the Annual Conference of the Labour Party".

If you would like to add your name to the above statement along with your Labour Party Branch and Constituency details, then please confirm this via the attached comment box within the next week. An alternative is to send your own submission directly to the Labour Party.

Harry Barnes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Refounding The Consultation

We can make Christmas come early this year for Labour. What are your own ideas on the following? They would be most welcome in our comment box.

Labour's consultative document "Refounding Labour" came in for a wide range of criticism at last night's Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Meeting. It was described as "a top down exercise, lacking any political perspective", "being like a Government Consultative exercise which provides too little time for independent discussion to take place", "a procedure where those in the know get their ideas endorsed in line with what was planned for all along", "a document that assumes that Labour only faces structural problems, yet it faces fundamental problems which go much wider", "containing nothing on policy issues", "another example of the tail wagging the dog" and even "a crap consultative exercise."

Nevertheless in an attempt to improve matters, a variety of ideas were put forward, including -

1. That because Labour's system of Policy Forums is not understood by the bulk of Labour Party members and tends to be made up of self-appointed people linked in with the leadership, they should be abolished.

2. In place of the National Policy Forum procedure, the Annual Conference of the Labour Party needs to be revitalised in order to involve members in policy-making.

3. The Labour Party should establish a set of Policy Commissions drawn from people with relevant expertise, to draw up reports on key issues such as how to control the operations of the banks and financial institutions. Such reports should then be discussed throughout the Labour Party and its affiliated organisations, with Annual Conferences of the Labour Party deciding what to accept, reject and amend.

4. The Labour Party needs to involve itself with people seeking to defend their quality of life, including their public services, by its members being out in the market places with petitions on issues such the defence of the NHS. The membership also needs to be encouraged to establish links with groups such as Tenants Associations and to be proactive locally in monitoring key issues such as the impact of inflation upon the vulnerable and then publishing their findings.

5. Clause 4 of the Labour Party Constitution should be re-examined, especially in relation to the sub-clause which most strongly reflects the areas in which New Labour's economic failures were concentrated with its call for a "Dynamic Economy" based on "the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition". This sub-clause should be replaced by one that seeks a "Sustainable Economy" which pursues high quality public services operated democratically for the public good.

6. Labour should draw up a "Charter for Young People" which can attract the involvement of young people and thus help safeguard Labour's future. (See the case in "Dronfield Blather" here).

7. There should be a strong commitment to non-dogmatic forms of political education throughout the Labour Party and the wider Labour Movement. (See the case in "Dronfield Blather" here).

8. There needs to be a change in the make-up of the Parliamentary Labour Party, for parliament at the moment contains too may members who belong to a "political class" where MPs often have more in common with each other across the political divide than they do with their own voters.

At our next discussion meeting, we will go on to refine and develop the above points for submission to the "Refounding Labour" consultative procedure. It will be an attempt to lift matters beyond the mundane.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Refounding Labour : a summary of Labour's consultative document

Keir Hardie is one of the primary founders of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and then of the Labour Party, of which the ILP was itself a part. Labour is now seeking to refound itself.

It is, therefore, appropriate that I should have recently returned from a week-end school run by the ILP (now Independent Labour Publications) where we discussed the "refounding" document which I summarise below.

It will also be discussed at our Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Meeting on Sunday.

Harry Barnes.

Peter Hain is Chair of the Labour Party's National Policy Forum. He has issued a Labour Party Consultative Document entitled "Refounding Labour : a party for the new generation". He says "I want to hear from as many people as possible - in constituencies, in the unions, in the affiliated societies, from those holding elected public office and beyond - about the future shape of the Labour Party.....After May 5 all local parties should arrange a meeting to discuss these ideas ahead of the deadline for submissions on 24 June."

Unless someone has access to the document, plus the time and inclination, this is not an easy matter to pursue. The document contains introductions from Ed Miliband and Peter Hain and is a further 9,000 words long and asks no less than a total of 105 questions. Nor is it easy to summarise, as it tends to be dominated by technical problems related to the complexities of the current structure of the Labour Party.

So below I have settled for (a) linking together quotations from the document about the current problematic position the Labour Party now finds itself in, (b) selecting several quotations from the limited number of areas where the document comes near to making any suggestions of its own and (c) selecting a dozen questions from the 68 "Big Questions" it lists at the close of the document. I would only add that what may be missing from the document is an overall question which might clarify matters and then make it easier to tackle the many the bits and pieces in the document. A question such as "what should the objectives of the Labour Party be, and how can these best be achieved?". It is a Keir Hardie type question.

(a) Facing the Facts (the bits in brackets are mine).

"...we need to be...frank with one another about where and why Labour has been abandoned by people who used to support us...between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost nearly five million voters...With our party massively in debt...After the 2009 elections they (the Tories) held nearly half of all council seats...we (were) left with some 4,500 Labour councillors in the UK facing well over 9,000 Tories...Labour's share of the vote in European elections...(was) only 16 per cent in 2009....General Elections used to be a two horse race (between Labour and Tories)...(but reached) a new low last year (between these) of only 67 per cent...the lowest since 1922 when Labour first emerged as the main opposition to the Tories...We began 2010 with half as many individual members as we had twenty years ago and less than 40 per cent of our 1997 peak...members nowadays get involved less often in canvassing on doorsteps, delivering leaflets, attending meetings, signing petitions, or even displaying election posters...affiliated membership among unions linked to Labour has gone down too, from a peak of 6.5 million in 1979 to 4.6 million in 1992, and in 2010 just 2.7 million...(in 2010) Nearly 40 percent of voters decided which way to vote during the four week election campaign...The number of constituency parties represented at Conference fell from 527 in 2002 to 444 in 2009 and only 412 in 2010, or under two thirds the total entitled to attend."

(b) Seven Suggestions (my emphasis).

1." Some have suggested the delegate system could be abolished except perhaps for election to a CLP Executive which managed the administration of the Party. That would leave as the main agency for policy-making and direction of campaigning the regular meeting for all individual members and affiliated members - with the option of adding in registered supporters, maybe also with recognised consultee groups invited to take part where appropriate."

2."Online users confirm that the internet makes it easy to participate in civic and political affairs, such as by accessing websites, signing an e-petition or responding to a government e-consultation."

3."Local Labour Parties must work more closely with other civic activists and social entrepreneurs, building local alliances with community groups where we share a common sense of purpose."

4."... a successful renewal of Labour's bases demands councillors who are community orientated, not committee orientated, facing out from the town hall, to the community, not locked in the town hall remote from the electorate. That also requires breaking free of the large committee structures and rule-bound approach of Local Government Committees and large district or county borough parties - or even perhaps their abolition".

5."Our representatives are elected because they carry the Labour banner. There may be a case for adopting a code to which they all must adhere, requiring minimum levels of participation in Parliament or their Councils and engagement with local communities."

6."... the National Policy forum... where there are major options or disagreements...minority positions need to be routinely reported to the Annual Conference for final decisions."

7."The fundamental aim of our policy making process should be to support the Party in developing a policy programme which appeals to, and connects with, the electorate."

(c) A Dozen Questions (my emphasis).

1."...members...How do we better encourage their participation in campaigning?"

2."...how should CLPs and local branches be reorganised?"

3."How do we better engage affiliated trade union members with Labour locally and improve their relationship with Labour MPs, councillors and candidates?"

4."...local community groups...may contain many Labour supporters: how can these...be better linked with the party and our representatives locally?"

5."How do we strengthen the voice of members?..."How can we increase our membership...?"

6."Conference is the supreme decision-making body of the party. How do we make it more exciting and relevant, more responsible, less corporate?"

7."What can we do to support our members and local parties in debating policy?"

8."How do we decide which policy issues to focus on?"

9."Is the National Policy Forum the correct focal point for our policy discussions?"

10."What should be Annual Conference's role in deciding policy?"

11." How do we need to change the way we campaign to win in 2015?"

12."How can the candidate selection process be improved?"

There is also an important section entitled "Political education and training" which suggests holding an annual summer weekend 'Festival' plus "modules and courses that cover political education for new and especially young members, covering the history of socialist ideas and the labour movement..." (on this see Dronfield Blather's presentation on Political Eduction here.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Good Start

Derbyshire Miners' Day Release Class 1980-83 at Hurst House, Chesterfield.

The meeting at Chesterfield on May Day about Adult Education went well. It was based on the experiences of the Derbyshire Miners' Day Release Classes which had run from 1952 to 1994.

40 people attended the meeting, which fitted in well with the fine facilities in the Council Council Chamber of the North East Derbyshire District Council. John Halstead a former Lecturer on the Day-Release Courses started the ball rolling by telling us about Michael Barratt Brown who came to run the whole range of Trade Union Day Release Classes on behalf of the Sheffield University Extramural Department and then went on to become the first Principle of the Northern College which caters for adult students. John then read out a well-appreciated May Day Message from Michael who is now 93 years old.

To provide time for discussion in the best adult education tradition, the three speakers spoke only for ten minutes each. First, John Burrows outlined his own experiences in the Derbyshire Coalfield which led him to attend the Day Release Classes and become an official at Area level in the NUM. Today he is leader of the Labour Group on the Chesterfield Borough Council. Whilst he pointed to the significance for himself and many others of the courses, he pointed out that they could not now be reproduced due to the decline of coal and of similar industries. Neverless, he felt it was an educational approach that needed to be re-established and adapted to radically changed circumstances. Secondly, Bob Heath spoke. As a miner he had attended the courses in the late 1950s before moving into full-time adult education at Ruskin College, then eventually returning to teach on the Derbyshire Miners' Courses themselves and become their Director of Studies. In the study of subjects such as industrial relations, economics and politics; he stressed the significance of examining serious ideas and theories which challenged one's own preconceptions. He saw our whole lives as being shaped by powers and influences; so that an intelligent, lifelong and questioning concern for such matters was needed to advance democratic arrangements and give them substance. Finally, Toby Perkins spoke. He is the Labour MP for Chesterfield and a Shadow Education Minister. He stressed the importance to society of it expanding its educational avenues so that people developed the skills that are needed to handle the demands of the modern world. This being done, at its best, when adults continued to be part of the process.

A steady and ready flow of questions and contributions followed from the floor of the meeting. Half way through this process an opportunity was provide for four bodies who were present with literature stalls and/or displays to outline the ongoing work of their organisations in the field of modern day adult education. These were (1) Post-16 Educator, (2) the Chesterfield Workers' Education Association operating from Hurst House and (3) Chesterfield's University of the Third Age and (4) an initiative associated with the Northern College. On the latter, Sue Rolstone explained the objectives of the Rolstone Heathfield Education Fund to develop annual conferences and study weekends in the areas of trade unionism, politics and campaigning. Sue is the widow of Peter Heathfield, who was both Secretary of the Derbyshire NUM and then of the full NUM itself. He had always showed the keenest interest in the work of the Derbyshire Miner's Day Release Courses and as John Burrows had pointed out earlier, Peter was the person who had encouraged him to join its classes. (For an update on John see here).

Whilst no specific plan of campaign emerged from the meeting, it had drawn together people with a key interest in the form of adult education which had operated for more than four decades in the North Derbyshire Coalfield. We are now in a better position to network together given our shared interests. For how we next seek to deliver on this potential - watch this space. In the meantime, there is plenty to chew over in this think-piece.