Labour Party: the Hain report, and the need to make the unions fight for their own policy

Submitted by martin on 30 July, 2011 - 12:46

The "Hain report" on Labour Party democracy has been published (or at least a "summary report" has been: it is not clear whether any fuller document will appear later). It is disappointing. Union and Labour activists need to fight a rearguard action to salvage what can be salvaged at Labour Party conference in September 2011.

The Hain report has gone to Labour's National Executive Committee and you can download it here. Jon Lansman, joint secretary of the Labour Party Democracy Task Force, which has been campaigning for the review to democratise and open up Labour Party conferences so that Labour becomes "a living, breathing party", says that the report will "disappoint, big-time".

Even worse, the rule changes which Labour's National Executive will put to the Labour Party conference this year, following the report, will not be revealed to union and constituency delegates until a few days before conference, or maybe not even until the conference itself.

The unions affiliated to the Labour Party, in their joint submission to the review (24 June), were also disappointing in many ways, but did propose some positive measures. (You can download the full submission here; and read a summary here.)

The biggest of the affiliated union, Unite, in a report from its Political Director dated 11 June, has said:

  • The right wing wants to curtail the influence of unions at conference, in the election of leader, and on the NEC. Unite is working hard with TULO on this. 'We are prepared to consider full OMOV voting for the party leader in future - so that everyone has one vote only, whether an MP or a trade union affiliate member. This would be the equivalent of a primary".
  • Unite must win the battle against funding proposals which would eliminate trade union donations, and against the introduction of a supporters' category, which would serve no purpose at all except as a counterbalance to the unions.

At its meeting on 23 July, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy Executive recommended the following motion to trade union branches and committees:

This .... notes the current ongoing "Refounding Labour" consultation and the response already submitted by the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO).

We welcome TULO's constructive proposals to increase the number of affiliates and individual members (e.g. with subscription rates which are more graduated on the basis of income) rather than to dilute the influence of members by creating a new category of "registered supporters" who could claim some membership rights (e.g. voting in leadership elections) without having any real commitment to the party, or making any financial contribution.

We call on our union's representatives to speak and vote accordingly, and also to defend members' interests in the following areas:

1. Local organisation. We welcome TULO's recognition of the need to retain Labour Party structures that allow meaningful input into the politics and policy of the party. We will defend the right of local union branches to send delegates to constituency General Committees.

2. Policy documents. Conference should be given options and allowed to vote in parts. Affiliates and CLPs should be allowed to move amendments.

3. Motions to conference. We strongly endorse TULO's recommendation to remove the restrictive "contemporary" criterion which currently leads to numerous motions on issues of genuine concern being simply ruled out of order. Motions passed at conference should be incorporated within the party's policy documents.

4. Leadership responsibility. As the TULO submission makes clear, "if we are serious about giving members a voice, then we need to accept the freely made decisions of conference as legitimate party policy".

5. Conference voting. We support the current evenly balanced system in which votes are equally divided (50/50) between CLPs and affiliates.

6. Conference arrangements committee. This committee should continue to consist of representatives of CLPs and affiliates only.

7. National Executive Committee. The NEC is the party's governing body between party conferences. It should retain its full responsibilities. The current NEC structure gives under-representation to individual members and over-representation to MPs. We support the TULO proposal to increase the number of CLP seats (elected on a national basis) and in addition to reserve two seats for election by members in Scotland and Wales respectively.

8. Joint Policy Committee. In accordance with TULO's recommendation, this powerful body should either be democratised (with proper representation for CLPs and affiliates) or abolished.

9. Leadership elections. We defend the right of our union's levy-payers to vote in leadership elections. We also defend their right to have a full range of candidates to consider. We therefore oppose the current ability of MPs to keep off the ballot paper candidates who may have substantial support in the country at large. The right to make a meaningful nomination should be extended to CLPs and affiliates.

10. Parliamentary selections. A sitting MP is guaranteed a place on the shortlist and should have no reason to fear an open selection contest. TULO proposes that a sitting MP should in future need, in order to achieve automatic reselection, at least 66% of affiliated and branch nominations. This would be an improvement on current rules.

11. Rule changes. Any proposed rule changes should be circulated well in advance of conference and voted on one by one. The TULO submission makes the point that "we cannot treat our members as a force to be tamed or ignored". We now call on our union representatives to argue forcefully for the points above in order to make the Labour Party properly responsive to our members' legitimate and vital interests.


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