UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A campaign for Labour Party democracy?

To those of us who remember when the local Labour Party CLP when it was the basis of Labour Party democracy, recent events in Falkirk are like Madelines. They send us a la recherche du temps perdu....
   BB (before Blair) the important decisions about local matters, about how the party should organise , about the policies that should be followed, not just in the local arena but nationally were the subject of intense debate in a CLP management committee.

Just as importantly party representatives from MPs down were held accountable. These real powers were not exercised through cliques, as right wing Labour commentators insist. Many constituency parties would have upward of 50 to 60 delegates at a regular meeting, representing not themselves but a party branch or union branch that they were accountable to.

Strange as it may seem to the current Labour Party apparatchiks, and newspaper commentators who still see trade unions as “cabals”, working class people care about the politics of the party that claims to represent them and enjoyed exercising an influence on it.

Yes, there were smoke filled rooms, and attempts by factions to take control, but there was passion, both for politics and for the party. The same delegates who could spend every meeting disagreeing about everything would cheerfully use annual leave to run a local or parliamentary election. Because in those days their voices counted, whereas now local parties are but a shadow of their former self, with little power or influence.

The Falkirk shenanigans in this regard are a diversion. An attempt to pack a CLP to ensure the selection of a favoured candidate? Jings, crivvens, help ma boab, haud the front page NOT. Whether it has been "Progress’s" attempts to deliver for its nonentities or Unite’s attempts for their reportedly middle class Parliamentary office manager, in the name of increasing "working class" representation, two things seem very evident;-

Packing selections is nothing new; and it is not the quality of the candidate but who you know that counts; that much has been very clear for many a long year. Indeed if newspaper reports are to be believed Labour are mere amateurs at this game compared with the Tory party.

While it may be rife, for those Labour Party members subjected to such a perversion of democracy, usually to see a left candidate shafted, Falkirk doesn't smell any sweeter. Indeed, Unite’s strategy of increasing the parliamentary representation of the working class through increasing the number of Unite candidates has a wonderful "Through the Looking Glass” quality to it. How do we know they are working class? Because they are Unite members?

Well Thompson's partners have been to CLP meetings as GMB delegates in days gone by. Moreover, how many of us have voted for trade union candidates over the years only to find that once elected, their loyalty to a party leadership has been stronger that any principle they may once have held?

Now the headlines tell us that Miliband wants individual trades unionists to join the party and for union affiliations to be paid in that way. The fundamental question has to be why would they? Sadly the powers that CLP management committees held were an impediment to the Blairite modernisation of the party.

Scrubbing Clause 4 part (iv) of the old Labour party constitution was symbolic; gutting its democracy for forums and consultations was the real prize for the leadership. And to anyone tempted to say how much more "participative" it all is, that is all very well for the scouts or cubs. In our political party we should be entitled to more than an occasional vote on whose turn it is to lead. Blair wanted to lead a party just like the Tories. It was probably the democracy he objected to as much as the socialism. Miliband has got it. These days democracy within the Labour Party seems baroque and barren.

The leadership decides and the members follow. Conferences are a showcase for prepared ministerial statements. Where is the democracy in that? Where are the checks and balances? Just because that is the model adopted by the Tories, or the model understood by the media does not make it right.

That’s why Unite’s “strategy” was fundamentally wrong. Organised Labour needs to be able to influence politics, and to be able to do so democratically, in local communities. Vibrant local parties with authority and power are essential, to give those communities a real voice.
That would in itself generate more genuine working class candidates. So anyone for a campaign for Labour Party democracy?