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." 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 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.)


  1. Peter Hain, we were discussing on Radio BBC wales about the closure of the Remploy factories he stated we will not close the factories until we have discussed with everyone, but he stated we know people will be better off working in mainstream employment, we the labour party would never just leave the disabled we will work closely with local people to get these people employed, Four weeks later the TW*T stated the factories will close, so what happened to discussions, thats nearly six years ago not one single disabled person from those factories have been re-employed.

    Sorry if Hain is involved then it all about the lap dog doing a job for the party.

  2. Robert : For me, it is because Labour failed to defend bodies such as Remploy, that it is crucial that we press for changes in its approach. I think that we share the same objectives but differ on the methods we should pursue. It will mean that you see people such as myself as sharing the blame by remaining with Labour; although as an MP I did vote against New Labour proposals on a regular basis. But if you stick with Labour, I accept that you have to accept some of the blame.