The Labour Party’s National Executive has moved to limit the review of Labour Party structures which is promised to start from October 2010 to a mere consultation on details of the existing ultra-undemocratic structures, pushed onto the party by Tony Blair after his election victory in 1997.
Despite all the talk from David Miliband, and even more so the other candidates for Labour leader, about “moving on” from New Labour, the Labour Party machine is clearly still as “New Labour” (i.e. undemocratic, bureaucratic, manipulative, distant from the labour movement) as ever.
The widespread feeling that Labour should fight the Tory cuts as New Labour never could have, and the small (but, in relative terms, significant) influx of new members, create a head of steam for democratic improvements. These could be won despite the restrictions on the review by rule changes being voted through 2011 conference.
But improvements depend on the unions matching action to words.
A recent Unite Executive statement talks of the “opportunity” which now exists to “free the Labour Party from the Partnership in Power process” (the structure imposed in 1997). It will be an opportunity — if Unite leaders act on the lines of the statement.
The Unite Executive statement says that this coming Labour Party conference “will” see an end to the 2007 exclusion of “motions” in favour of “issues”. The National Executive is still committed to reversing that exclusion, and if Unite and the other big unions stick to their position it will have no choice but to keep to its commitment.
The Unite Executive statement also favours removing the restriction that motions have to be “contemporary motions”. And the recent GMB congress voted to support a rule change long advocated by the Labour left, to allow Labour conference to amend and vote in parts on National Policy Forum documents. That rule change, though apparently technical, would give conference a degree of control over policy greater even than it had in the pre-Blair days, when composites passed by conference could always by overridden by unamendable National Executive statements.
David Miliband, so it turns out, has around £800,000 from wealthy donors to fund his campaign for Labour leader, even more than reported by the New Statesman magazine. The other candidates have at most tens of thousands. And it shows: vast numbers of glossy leaflets, and large numbers of sharp-suited young men and women paid to work full-time on the David Miliband campaign. (According to the Daily Mirror, “a number of Blair’s staff have been seconded... to help with the leadership campaign”).
David Miliband has also, it’s not clear how, got hold of a copy of the Labour Party membership list, enabling him to mail all members, while the other candidates do not have the list. (Ed Miliband may have a copy of the list: it’s not clear).
David Miliband’s leader campaign leaflet says that as a small child his “first love” was “not Marx and Engels, but football”. So maybe he won’t understand when we say that he represents a continuing drive to cut the Labour Party’s links with the working class. We should just say that the unions should give him a red card.
• Meanwhile Labour’s Conference Arrangements Committee has ruled out of order almost all the rule changes proposing democratic improvement which were submitted by local Labour Parties to the 2009 conference and which (under an odd rule, dating from 1968, which says that rule changes, except those proposed by the National Executive, must be debated the year after they’re submitted) were due for debate at this year’s conference.