Archive | February 2014

Party democracy not stage management! New Special Conference bulletin

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Defend the Link have produced a special Yellow Pages for delegates going to the Special Conference on 1 March.

It can be found here: Yellow Pages Special Conference 1 March 2014 2

Labour Party “Reforms”: Reasons to vote against

Defend the Link has produced a new bulletin arguing why delegates to the 1 March conference should reject the Collins Review.

Read it here:

Labour: reject the Collins report!

By Martin Thomas,

Ray Collins’s proposals for the Labour Party special conference on 1 March seem to, or even do, change little immediately. But they contain a time-bomb designed to change things radically, and for the worse, in five years’ time.

Delegates on 1 March should vote against unless they are sure about the changes and have had time to discuss them properly, rather than voting for unless they are totally sure they understand the case against.

In fact there is no chance of proper time to discuss the changes. As we write, Collins’s text has still not been published, less than four weeks before the conference. The platform will not allow amendments, or voting in parts. The conference is only two hours, and much of that assigned to setpiece platform speeches. So there will be little debate, and even that probably unbalanced.

Over the last seven months, since Ed Miliband declared his plan to make trade unionists’ Labour Party affiliation “opt-in” rather than “opt-out”, most union leaders have opposed the idea. The danger now is that they will soften their opposition and back Collins in the name of “unity”.

Collins’s time bomb says that from 2019 the Labour Party should accept affiliation fees from unions only in proportion to the number of members for whom those unions have sent details to the Labour Party as have ticked a box saying that they want part of their political levy to go to Labour.

Probably that will reduce the union-affiliation numbers considerably below the current 2.7 million. Collins expects so. He and others clearly want that, so that after 2019 they can reduce the unions’ voting power within the party. That is what it is all about.

The requirement for members to tick a box – i.e., that all who fail or forget to express a choice should be counted as “opting out”, rather than those who want to “opt out” of the union’s collective decision to affiliate having to say so – is presented as democratic.

But what would we think, in unions, if members had to tick a box to say they want to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot paper if they had previously ticked a box?

Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to support the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and political fund money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to individuals who had ticked a box?

Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in union ballots on strikes, and could be balloted and strike only if they had previously ticked that box?

Box-tickers will pay no extra in union dues. But the incentive to tick the box will be small even for solid Labour supporters. The only gain of substance for the individual from ticking the box is that she or he will not lose their current right to vote in Labour leadership elections. But the next Labour leadership poll could be ten years away.

And if no candidate can stand for Labour leader unless nominated by 20% of Labour MPs – which Collins is also reported to propose – then the leadership poll is likely to be small contest anyway. The sweetener of removing the MPs’ overweighted votes in leadership polls is a small thing by comparison.

It is not yet clear when the substantive rule changes will be put. The best information as of now is that on 1 March rule changes will be put only on primaries and on leadership elections, not on affiliation procedures. So a later rule change will be necessary on affiliation procedures.

Even if Collins wins on 1 March, unions and CLPs should oppose that rule change when it comes forward. We should combat any resurgence of the mood of defeatism which prevailed in July 2013 – “the Labour-union link is going to be broken, there’s no way of stopping it, it’s really not even worth campaigning on the issue”.

Collins’s complicated proposals, which will create great administrative difficulties and damage to Labour finances, are designed only to create a lever for reducing the union vote in the Labour Party. Talk of the proposals increasing the involvement of individual trade unionists is hypocritical. The proposals will allow some individual trade unionists to keep the right they have now, of voting for Labour leader; remove that right from others; and remove from all trade unionists the right to have their basic representative organisations, the unions, exercising control in a party which claims to be “Labour”.

The unions do not always vote left-wing. Far from it: in long tracts of Labour’s history, the union block vote was a prop for the old Labour right wing. But the union vote in the Labour Party institutionalises openings, in times of working-class political ferment, for workers to use their basic organisations to sway Labour, through a range of channels from Labour annual conference to trade-union delegacies to local Labour Parties.

That is why the new Labour right wing wants to curtail the union vote. That is why we should oppose the Collins report; and, if it is passed, fight each inch of way over the next five years to stop its time-bomb being exploded.

Seven reasons to be wary of the Collins proposals

By Jon Lansman, from Left Futures

The so-called debate on Ed Miliband’s proposals for party reform are at an end, it seems. The Collins report has been circulated toLabour’s national executive whose members have, on the whole, had no influence whatever on its content just in time for their endorsement tomorrow. The report makes no attempt to summarise party members’ opinions on the matter, since no-one intended to pay them any attention in any case. We are now at the stage of exhortations to back our leader.

If you follow LabourList, you will have seen in recent days arguments from front-benchers on right and left who are privately unhappy about key aspects of the Collins proposals as to why you should nevertheless back them. Be not persuaded by the arguments ritually presented by those who depend on the patronage of the leader! This is not free expression! This is merely a requirement of their position.

Fortunately, party members do still have time to make up their own minds and to mandate their delegates accordingly (though meetings have been arranged in every region to “brief” delegates in advance and ensure they are on-side. Trade unions too have a level of internal democracy which the Labour Party  has not. Here are seven reasons why party members and trade unionists alike should treat the Collins report’s recommendations with utmost caution:

  1. The opt-in scheme proposed for levy-payers, though it may not involve changes in legislation or possibly even trade union rulebooks, will result when union affiliations become tied in five years time to the numbers opting-in, in a drastic cut in party funding and in trade union votes and representation in party structures.
  2. It is totally unrealistic to think that more than ten percent (if that) of levy payers will choose to become “affiliated supporters” when the only right they are being offered is one they have already – a vote in the leadership election. In fact, what will happen is that millions of levy payers whom the report admits “may be keen for their union to be affiliated to the Labour Party“, who may well will have over their lifetimes contributed as much to the Labour party as most individual members (who are much more likely to stop contributing after just a few years), will be denied a vote they have previously had. People want the right to vote even if they choose not to exercise it. What they’re not being offered is a vote in parliamentary selections which, if they were, might make the offer rather more attractive.
  3. “Registered supporters” of the party, however, who have up to now paid nothing, whose involvement no-one apart fromProgress support,  and who were supposed not to be involved in leadership elections until 50,000 were recruited, are to be given votes in both leadership elections and primaries with immediate effect.
  4. Although a shift to OMOV would be welcomed by many, myself included, a threshold of 20% of MPs would mean fewer candidates in leadership elections from which to choose and, worse still, far more uncontested elections. Tony Blair, John Smith and possibly Neil Kinnock as well as Gordon Brown would all have been elected unopposed. A better voting mechanism is not worth having if you rarely have elections. Better to have a preliminary ballot of MPs and MEPs (why have they been excluded – could it be that it is because party members chose too may on the centre-left of the party?) – and forward the top 3 to the OMOV ballot.
  5. A democratic change which Collins fails to recommend is the restoration of a proper annual nominations process for leader and deputy, even where there is no vacancy. Nomination papers used to be sent out every year, which was a harmless indication of support, but that stopped – without any discussion under Tony Blair’s leadership. A contest could then be triggered, as in the past, only if there was a challenger with 20% of MPs’ nominations and an affirmative vote by conference, or (since MPs lose their vote in an electoral college, an affirmative majority vote by the parliamentary Labour party.
  6. No-one other than Progress want a primary for London mayor, even on an experimental basis. Ray Collins recognises there is  little support for it, and not only does it break the promise not to involve “registered supporters” until their numbers amount to 50,000, but trade union levy payers who have been allowed to vote before would be effectively excluded since vbery few would have been recruited by a few months after the general election when it is proposed to hold such a primary.
  7. Finally, the administrative problems associated with the Collins proposals are a nightmare. There will be four categories of some level of Labour Party membership or semi-membership:  (1) individual members (many of whom are members of affiliated unions); (2) trade unionists who are “affiliated Labour supporters”; (3) trade unionists who wish to be “affiliated Labour supporters” but whose correct addresses have either not been passed onto the party or they are not on the electoral roll at the address that has (either of which could be for understandable reasons) (4) “registered Labour supporters” who pay an “administration fee” (who might still be members of affiliated unions). Getting the right information to the right place across all the organisations involved, and maintaining their accuracy when people move and change employment will be nigh on impossible.

I hope there is enough time for these mistakes to be corrected.