Thursday, March 11, 2010

Transforming Labour

Compass (who claim to be giving direction to the democratic left) are conducting a survey on how to transform the Labour Party after the General Election. They state that -

"Since 1997 Labour has lost over half its members. Win, lose or draw it is becoming very clear that after the general election the Party will need to think about how it renews and transforms itself in the months and years ahead......To kick things off and to get your direct input we've devised a short 10 min questionnaire which we're encouraging Labour activists, members, supporters and stakeholders to take part in."

It took me much longer then 10 minutes to prepare my submission. But excluding the survey's 35 tick-boxes (which is an approach I criticise as being a means of obtaining the answers they are looking for), here is my response -

• If you are a Labour member, why did you join the Labour Party?

I joined in 1957 in the Easington Constituency to qualify to enter an essay competition on nationalisation which was run by the local Labour MP, Manny Shinwell.

NOTE : In the specific questions you ask below I am only in a position to answer less than half of them and have otherwise clicked into the "Neither Agree nor Disagree" options. This is because I disagree with the assumptions which underpin such questions. I can't therefore give "yes" or "no" answers to them. When it comes to internal Labour Party democracy we need to encourage members to attend meetings, to enter into serious discussions at those meetings and to mandate delegates to Constituency Meetings and the like. Delegates then need to be held to account by the members who appointed them. This is not to rule out provisions for one-member one vote avenues in the Party, but it recognises the importance of the dialectics of debate when people meet face to face. We should also stress the rights of the individual members of the Labour and Co-operative Parties and of the members of affiliated organisations. We need to define who is covered in this process and not use the nebulous term "stakeholders".

(Some 35 questions follow which only provide for tick-box style answers and seem to be designed to achieve pre-determined answers. We then move on to the following).

• In terms of your own local Labour Party, could you offer any examples of best practice – have you successfully experimented with new structures? What works and what doesn’t? Have you run any good local campaigns that have been particularly effective? How have you made activities more inclusive?

My own local Labour Party runs political discussion meetings which are open to (a) any member of the Labour Party, (b) all members of the Club where the meetings are held and (c) to others by invitation (i.e. to people not in the Labour Party and to some who have resigned from it). Click into the blog "Dronfield Blather" to see. Some Local Labour Parties also run 20 minute discussions at the start or close of their meetings. Recently a discussion about the BNP was held in-between a Local Government Committee Meeting and a Constituency General Committee Meeting. There were 18 contributions.

• Are there other organisations you are involved in such as trade unions, pressure groups or NGOs where they involve their members, supporters and stakeholders in engaging and interesting ways? If so please outline these below.

The local Labour Party Discussion Group I mentioned earlier has led directly to (a) submissions to Compass, (b) a submission to a Commons Select Committee and (c) to members submitting motions to their Local Labour Parties.

• Do you have any other ideas you’d like to offer for Transforming Labour?

Political Education on the lines I have described in the above two boxes encourages the development of open-minded political understandings (and not dogmas) by its participants. This leads them to press for democratisation and intelligent discussions within both the Labour Party and in the wider Labour Movement. For a fuller explanation of this case see the blog "Dronfield Blather" for 20 February, 2009.


calgacus said...

I've been a member of both Labour and the Scottish Socialist Party in the past.

In the Labour party most of the members were pensioners (i've nothing against pensioners, but there seemed to be very few new members), everyone seemed to be suspicious of everyone else (something encouraged by some constituency party officials) and our MP ignored constituency party votes and told the party leadership that the consituency party backed them 100% on every issue.

In the Scottish Socialists the CLP i was in seemed to be mostly people from the ironically named "United Left" faction who later split the party. They said everything should be nationalised, that the aim had to be a single party Scottish Socialist majority government in Scotland and that Tommy Sheridan was "a right winger".

These experiences and the way the Labour party's leadership conspired with a few turncoats in the constituency party against my grandfather Malcolm MacMillan MP in the Western Isles in 1970 have left me in no hurry to be active in any party again. I prefer independent candidates in general.

However there are plenty of decent people (such as yourself Harry) who are still in political parties and i hope you succeed in getting some internal democracy in your party.


Harry Barnes said...

Duncan. An avenue of Party Political Membership for former and currently disillusioned Labour Party members is the Co-operative Party. To be eligable for membership of the Co-operative Party a person needs to be a member of the Co-operative Movement and of no other Party except (if wanted) the Labour Party. But one can be a member of the Co-operative Party without being in the Labour Party.

Anyone joining should however do this without illusions. There are some 28 Labour and Co-operative MPs, but they are just a cross sample of the PLP. Some Labour MPs are members of the Co-operative Party, but aren't sponsored by them. These include Gordon Brown.

Ideologically, they have the advantage of stressing co-operative activity, democracy, social equality and internationalism. But they tend to stress consumer co-operatives rather than either producer co-operatives or State/Local Authority Ownership. Whilst market competition is seen as acceptible, as long as the competing businesses
are consumer controlled.

Socialism seems to me to require a careful mix of public ownership, worker control and democratic impacts from the public (as consumers or otherwise).

The Co-operative Party appears, however, to have an internal democratic set-up - as the New Labour model is a violation of its key principles.

I have an application form in front of me for membership.

Harry Barnes said...

Duncan : On the Co-operative Party, see the current top item here - and its links.
Another item on the topic is due to be posted soon.

jailhouselawyer said...

Harry: Help transform Labour with this...

Petition to allow prisoners to vote

calgacus said...

Hi Harry - Thanks - that's interesting - i didn't know the co-operative was a political party.
I think one of my uncles (a retired trade union official) is the chair of a co-operative group, but i'm not sure of the details,

All the best,

calgacus said...

(forgot to get emailed replies - so i'm using this comment to tick the email box)

Harry Barnes said...

Duncan : After my last comment above, I placed a report of our meeting about the Co-operative Party on "Dronfield Blather", see -
What the speaker said can be questioned in places, as it was at our discussion meeting. But I have my application form ready to complete - it is a requirement to hold prior membership of the wider Co-operative Movement.
It seems to me that a democratic socialist can not easily advance their corner in the Labour Party unless they have other connections to draw from. The discussion group that we have established in Dronfield draws in Labour Party members who feel as I do and it also caters from some who resigned from the Party or could never bring themselves to join.
But we need to look further afield. The Co-operative Party is only one such possibility. But we don't want enterist tactics from those who believe they hold the Holy Grail. We need free debate and open discussions.
In the world-wide web we also have the technology for international socialist discourse. But as the late Royden Harrison used to say "never have the objective conditions for the advance of socialism been better and never have the subjective conditions for its advance been worse."