#LabourSurge or #LabourPurge – £3 for your thoughts

2015-08-23 17.30.03
Labour Party | Membership leaflet for Leadership 2015 – with freepost address

On 13 May 2015, Interim Leader of the Labour Party announced the timetable for electing a replacement for Ed Miliband .

Less than a week later, she announced the process – to involve registered and affiliated supporters. [Labour PressPublic to play key role in Labour leadership election – Harman, 18 May].

She was clear what she wanted:

“We must let the public in. Into the process and into our minds as we make the decisions about who is our next leader and how we go forward. So we are going to start that with how we do the leadership elections.

“So I want to see party meetings where members bring non-members. Where someone who voted Labour brings along someone who voted Tory or SNP Or didn’t vote at all. And I want to see the contenders show how they make their case to those people. And I think we should let the public in on all of that.

“We will allow people who are not party members, or who are not affiliated supporters through a trade union or Labour linked organistion like the Fabian Society, to have a vote. Anyone – providing they are on the electoral register, can become a registered supporter, pay £3 to and have a vote to decide our next leader.”

[Guardian Harriet Harman: voters can pay £3 to help choose next Labour leader, 18 May 2015].

So how has that vision progressed?

At the General Election, the Labour Party had just over 200,000 full members.

Since 07 May 2015, the party has seen the biggest surge in membership since who knows when – as of 12 August 2015, the latest figures are 299,755 full members, 89,703 affiliated union members, 121,295 registered supporters.

That takes the potential total electorate in the leadership contest to 610,753 [BBC NewsLabour leadership: Huge increase in party’s electorate, 12 August 2015].

How did this huge surge happen?

It started with the programme of Refounding Labour that was passed by Labour Party Conference in 2011. But passed with a lack of clarity about what had been agreed, since delegates were only given the final document as they entered the hall to vote on it.

I know when Exeter CLP discussed the subject ahead of the Conference we had concerns – concerns I note that were shared by Islington North CLP in their submission to Refounding Labour [18 May 2011]:

We do need to expand our membership base and reach out further to the wider society for support. In multi-cultural Islington we greatly value the active support of local community groups at election time; however we note that many of these loyal supporters do not join the party. We also recognise that supporters on benefits and low incomes cannot afford to join, and that means of drawing these people into our activities need to be explored.

If however we have a system of “registered supporters” this should not be allowed to undermine the attraction of party membership – having a formal say in party decisions, selections and elections – and the commitment that party members show and bring to Labour.

We need to expand membership but not devalue it. The cost of membership fees should not be a bar to recruiting new members.

And here were fears that proposals contained within Refounding Labour were being rushed through.

Labour List suggested, rather than a short debate at Labour Conference, the proposals contained with Refounding Labour should go to a Special Conference later in the year or early in 2012 [20 August 2011].

Left Futures went even further, calling the plans to decide on Refounding Labour on the first day of conference ‘insane’ and a ‘stitch-up‘ [08 August 2011]

And post Conference, more concerns were being expressed by Left Futures in Refounding Labour – from stitch up to farce [26 September 2011]:

Giving registered supporters a vote in the leadership election is not popular with constituency parties who are concerned about devaluing party membership. And it’s not popular with trade unions, whose levy payers do pay a great deal of money to the party and who now, potentially, could have less influence. The precise way in which they will vote was dreamed up late in the day, and set out in an NEC statement in the conference arrangements committee report which delegates received on Sunday afternoon.

But there were factions who were pleased when Refounding Labour became Party policy.

Luke Akehurst, in his  blog Refounding Labour – it’s all about the implementation [05 October 2011] for Progress had this to say:

CLPs and the Party nationally need to promote the new registered supporters scheme in every piece of material we put out if the number of supporters is going to reach the 50,000 needed to trigger voting rights in leadership elections and if CLPs are going to reap the benefits of having a database of core supporters who can be mobilised at election times and over time brought into membership.

Similar fears were expressed during CLP discussions leading up the Collins Report  on Party Reform which was agreed at a Special Conference on 01 March 2014.

The report itself proposed abolishing the electoral college for leadership elections and instead use a process of One Member, One Vote [OMOV]. If only it was restricted to one member and NOT supporter, we might not be seeing the chaos we are experiencing now!

What was proposed was:

The Electoral College for leadership elections should be abolished and replaced in party rules by a new system based on the principle of OMOV.

Multiple voting in leadership elections should be ended.

The eligible electorate should be composed of members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters.

Members of affiliated organisations who are not already party members may take part in the ballot if they register with the party as affiliated supporters. This will require them to declare their support for Labour values, provide the party with personal contact details and be on the electoral roll.

Individuals who are not already party members or members of an affiliated organisation may take part in leadership elections by registering with the party as a supporter. This will require them to declare their support for Labour values, provide the party with personal contact details, be on the electoral roll and pay the party a fee.

The NEC should agree the detailed procedures for leadership elections including issues regarding registration, fees and freeze dates.

The Collins Report also had this to say on fair and transparent selections.

Selection timetables should be as short as possible.

There’s a lot to unpack within the Collins Report.

If selection timetables should be short as possible, why is this taking so long? Scottish Labour have a new leader even though Jim Murphy stood down over a week after Ed Miliband.

There should have been an earlier freeze date to sign up as a member, affiliated supporter or registered supporter. With a closing date less than a week before the ballot papers were issues, there was no time to check the validity of new applications. And this was made worse by the timing being right in the middle of the summer holiday period.

To me it seems perverse that anyone signing up in any of the categories can have a say in electing the new leader of the Labor Party, yet the freeze date of 6 months membership will prevent them participating in the selection process when I stand as a candidate in the all-out elections for Exeter City Council when we nominate in the autumn.

Perhaps the freeze date for the leadership elections should have been a month after nominations closed on 17 June 2015? That would have given Party officials nearly a month to process new application

But the real problem is that calls for new members/supporters to “declare their support for Labour values”.

What does that mean?

As I see it Labour’s aims, values and principle stretch from right of Liz Kendal to left of Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet many seem for fall outside that wide scope – Mark Steel is one.

Labour leadership contest: Mark Steel becomes latest left-winger to be barred from voting [Independent, 13 August 2015]

And Jeremy Hardy is another.

Comic Jeremy Hardy accuses Labour of trying to rig leadership election [Guardian21 August 2015]

As far as I am able to ascertain, neither is a member of any other political party, yet both have received something like this:

Screen shot 2015-08-23 at 08.11.12It seems to me that certain factions of my Party seem happy to win back new Tory votes by voting for Liz, and unhappy to see Greens, TUSC and Left Unity to return to the fold under Jeremy.

But we need to be clear that being a Labour supporter isn’t same as being a bit of a leftie – being a member [or a supporter] means singing up to the aims and ideals of the Labour Party. They are the same now and will be the same in future, whoever leads the Party post the leadership election.

And some of that means confirming they:
– are not members of political parties or organisations … declared … ineligible for affiliation to the party
– [Must not stand in] opposition to a Labour candidate”
– [Must not support] a political organisation … who stands against an official Labour candidate

Other parties, I notice, do not have such restrictions – for instance, the National Health Action Party [NHAP]  in it’s constitution only says:

E. Political Activity
1. The party will field candidates, acceptable to the executive committee, at such elections as deemed appropriate by the executive committee.
2. All candidates should support the party’s aims as defined in this constitution and should confirm that their membership of any other political party does not conflict with the beliefs and aims of the party.

So while being a member of the Labour Party does not preclude you from being a member of the NHAP, being a member of the NHAP precludes you being a member of the Labour Party.

Similiarly, membership  of Left Unity shall be open to any individual who:

d) supports Left Unity candidates in elections
e) is not a member of an organisation deemed incompatible with membership of Left Unity by National Conference or National Council

And in its description on how it functions, all TUSC says on the matter is they  “will endeavour to co-ordinate challenges in local and parliamentary elections”. So while there may well be “Labour and non-Labour candidates who agree with our policies”, by signing up to TUSC Labour candidates will disbar themselves running as such.

The Greens in their constitution are that “membership is open to any person who subscribes to the object of the Party, and is not already a member of another political party.”

They only question revolves around the newly established Women’s Equality Party [WE/WEP], which is  bit more vague in aims: “WE will bring about change by winning—support, votes and seats”. Is this a pressure group? Or is it a political party that will stand candidates against Labour Party candidates?

It seems that WE are registered with Electoral Commission and commits itself to participating in elections in 2016, so I am guessing it’s the latter rather than the former.

Being a member of anyone of the above is incompatible with being a member of the Labour Party. But what about being a registered supporter?

Individuals signing-up to be registered supporters, although having to “declare their support for Labour values”, originally did  NOT have to declare they  were “ not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it.” [ie. a supporter of any organisation or party that stands candidates against Labour Party candidates]. I understand that this has been hastily added and being used to weed out *infiltrators*.

But what does that mean?

We’ve been used to elected MPs crossing the floor – Shaun Woodward for one. And at local level, following the formation of the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition, 2 Lib Dem cllrs on Exeter City Council joined the Labour benches.

So we can accept that these people can change their minds – yet not others?

I am advised that , despite what is being reported in the media, canvass returns are NOT being used to weed out new registered supporters who have continually being recorded as AGAINST or voting for another party.

But we do need to have a way for non-elected former supporters of other parties to reject their earlier views to enable them to cross the divide and become a registered supporter.

All in all, this is a mess – albeit a mess that many on the left were worried out when being progressed by those on the right. And it seems some of those are acknowledging of being complicit in causing this chaos

“Progressive moderniser” Dan Hodges admits this direction of travel was wrong. Writing for the Daily Telegraph Labour modernisers like me wanted a new way to elect leaders. Good grief, we’ve made a huge mistake, 14 August 2015]

The Barons called it correctly. And we, the self-satisfied modernisers and pragmatists, did not.

The Barons were right. The old balance between the politicians and the party members and the trade unions was imperfect. But it was still fit for purpose.” 

There is a new dynamism to the Labour Party, and discussions are covering new topics and new views on old topics.

Yet these discussions have been going on within the big tent of the Labour Party – my Labour Party – for many years.  But that party is a broad church, with many views. I’ve argued my case and cause with other long-standing members who see things differently

I don’t want that party – my party – to be highjacked by those jumping on a bandwagon, only to see those jumping off again if results don’t go their way.

I don’t want entrysist and infiltrators to pull down the guy ropes of that big tent which is why it is important to follow this thread by Cllr Rachel Rogers, tweeting as @DorsetRachel:

Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 10.29.10

And she concludes:

Each of the leadership candidates are saying they will listen to the membership. I hope they remain true to their word whatever the result when they are announced on 12 September 2015.

And I hope all those enthusiastic new members and supporters remain within the Labour Party whether their candidate of choice is declared the new leader or not.

Unity will need to be the watchword as we move forward.

And as ever, hindsight is an exact science whereas foresight is nothing be guesswork!


Further reading:
I’ve compiled many of the #LabourPurge tweets into this storify feed: 20/08/15 | @UKLabour #LeadershipElection

Oh and yesterday, the Labour Party published this Update on the election of the Leader and Deputy Leader from Harriet Harman, Acting Leader of the Labour Party.