A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Unions back increased Party democracy

Good news from today's NEC meeting where the unions swung in behind Gordon Brown's proposals for extending party democracy. According to this the NEC voted by 23 to 4 (which I assume were the 4 Grassroots Alliance (sic) folk) to back the abolition of contemporary resolutions etc.

My hunch is that union leaders have sussed that they've actually achieved far more of their policy objectives through constructive engagement in the National Policy Forum process - most notably the Warwick Agreement - than through old-style slanging matches and symbolic defeats of the Government in votes on contemporary resolutions.


Anonymous george orwell said...

"increased Party democracy."????? Oh, please, this is beyond parody.Let's just cancel Manchester 2008, because frankly, what's the bloody point.....

1:38 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

If what the Unions have achieved through Warwick surpasses all that has gone before then that really is a VERY SAD indictment on party democracy.

What exactly has been not only agreed but also delivered from the "historic Warwick" agreement?

Please explain. You may argue that whatever that is is more than X years of resolutions and you may be right. But that means you are saying that for X years the party has been riding roughshod over party policy decisions.

It is just possible that the NPF or similar IS a better way of making policy IN THEORY. But that's all. IN PRACTICE it is widely derided as undemocratic, unaccountable, manipulated, unlistening, and at the end of the day railroaded.

At this point the undemocratic conclusions are put before conference for an all or nothing vote that is heavily whipped by the platform's agents in the crowd. It is beyond belief really that only half a dozen people will vote against say a Britain in the World document (in 2005) which says business as usual over the likes of Iraq.

Iraq incidentally which we were not allowed to discuss due to manipulation of the contemporary resolutions list and ballot both.

7:57 am, September 19, 2007

Anonymous Luke is Thatcher's Heir said...

Are the Union delegates on the floor of conference actually bound in any way by anything the craven idiots put onto the NEC actually voted through?

And are the craven idiots put onto the NEC ever going to actually vote along the lines of their members' interests (which are of course moot, I accept that) or more definitively their actual union's agreed policy?

Same applies to the other craven idiots masquerading as workers; delegates doing craven things throughout the structures of the party.

8:06 am, September 19, 2007

Anonymous luke is Thatcher's Heir said...

That should be:

workers' delegates

8:07 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Greg Hurst of the Times said,

"Gordon Brown is heading for a confrontation with trade unions at Labour’s conference over his plans to dilute their influence within the party."

"There is now increasing nervousness in Labour circles that the row will sour Mr Brown’s first party conference as leader in a fortnight as he risks defeat by union block votes."

"Mr Brown soon after he became leader that proposes ending the system of “contemporary resolutions”, under which topical motions are submitted to a ballot for debate at the party conference.

The biggest four unions – T&G and Amicus (now merging to form Unite), GMB and Unison, which between them control 38 per cent of conference votes – regularly use these to inflict defeats on the leadership. Calls for more council housing and opposition to Private Finance Initiative contracts and foundation hospitals are among recent examples."

"Mr Brown wants “contemporary issues” put to the conference by unions, socialist societies or local Labour parties to be sent to Labour’s national policy forum to be debated in private by one of the policy commissions that contribute to the manifesto."

According to what Hurst said the unions seem to more in tune with the party membership than the leadership.
An why should national policy be debated in private!?!?!? How does that help party democracy?

8:40 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger grimupnorth said...

My partber js CLP Sec and last night he showed me the latest PiP documents. How much does this amorphous, cliche-ridden rubbish cost? The NPF , yes, might have siunded like a good idea once but only the uber-blinkered ones like Luke even countenance it as an accountable, properly trasnmpsarent and democratic structure. Who gets on the NPF? A select band of people who would not say boo to a goose....I hope the union delegations ( as oppose to the NEC) still throw out this appalling proposal.

10:07 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Susan says "Who gets on the NPF?"

er... people elected by delegates at Annual Conference, delegates at regional conferences and the unions.

10:17 am, September 19, 2007

Anonymous Bob said...

I'm glad to say that at my CLP Brother Akehurst got one vote for the NPF nomination.

10:58 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

Ha ha ha ha Luke. The way people get on the NPF is frankly risible.

Ones elected via regional conferences can very easily be stuck on by one or two Union delegates - one of whom is the candidate!

For the ones elected by the CLP delegates (NB not the CLPs or the membership at large) the process is also unreasonable.

For reasons that I cannot account for CLPs these days nominate people that as Grim says "wouldn't say boo to a goose" and that, what is more, VERY RARELY report anything back to anyone much.

[Much as they say they will and probably mean that when they say it too to be generous]

Contemporary Resolutions don't really work. They have not been allowed to work. They are manipulated (a) by gatekeepers at CAC (b) by gatekeepers on the priorities ballot who give UNTRUE advice and BUM steers (c) by whipped votes on the floor.

When they get through on the TU vote only if they are pro-platform then hallelujah.

When they get through on TU vote only if they are anti-platform then "fuck off and die they're only backed by the Unions, we should spike their vote.

When they get through on the TU and CLP vote with a majority in both parts if they are pro-platform then hallelujah.

When they get through on the TU and CLP vote with a majority in both parts if they are anti-platform then "fuck off and die they're only backed by the Unions and lefty CLP idiots, we should spike all their votes.

So that's no good.

But the NPF certainly does not work either.

At the Manchester DL Hustings NEC and therefore NPF member Peter Wheeler was being super sub for Hazel Blears who was of course unable to be in two places at one time.

Peter stated straight off the bat that CLP and TU branch submissions to NPF are carried around in cardboard boxes and rarely even looked at.

Delegates cannot take them home to study, no copies are made, the best most of them get as "input" is being put into a list of submissions.

That is submissions submitted but not read never mind admitted.

Peter knows that it doesn't really deliver. Although he is likely in the same part of the political spectrum though from a working class, northern and bootstrings route as you Luke. (Middle class, southern, privileged Labour Students mafia) he is honest enough to admit that the system is crap.

You know too Luke. So at very least, if you must put out partisan provocations do also explain:

(a) What has been delivered from Warwick? Not what has been begun, not what is bring looked at, not what is about to be the subject of a consultation, WHAT HAS BEEN DELIVERED.


(b) How must the NPF be reformed to do what it says on the tin? Or is being a fig leaf for Dirigisme and Top Down what it says in some small print somewhere on that tin?

And no I WOULD NOT vote for you if I lived in your region. You wouldn't say boo etc. You are an uncritical friend of whoever is in charge and might help you become an MP. Heaven forfend.

11:04 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

The NPF system is a farce.

That doesn't mean that resolutions are the best alternative, but the NPF system has never involved grassroots members.

11:33 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


Actually whilst Peter Wheeler has a very different accent to me, at least one chapter in our employment backgrounds is identical - he was Frank Dobson's full-time Agent a couple of people before I was.

I can't deny being "southern" - you don't get much further south than Kent - but whilst "middle class and privileged" might accurately describe my life now, it is not an accurate description of my background. My involvement in the Labour Party is motivated by the personal experience of my family during the '80s. It was not "privileged", unless you think qualifying for state benefits, living on a housing association estate and going three decades without being able to afford to pay for a holiday away from home is indicative of privilege.

As for membership of a "Labour Students mafia" I'm proud of my association with people that spent their student days campaigning for a Labour government.

I wouldn't particularly want to be sullied by receiving your vote if you were in my region and your CLP was foolish enough to send you as a conference delegate.

Will you be in Bournemouth? If so I'll buy you a drink, me being the "privileged" one. Don't forget your passport as it's south of Watford.

11:41 am, September 19, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

Er, Luke, watch out for moments of irony and humour you working class hero you.

The point is Peter Wheeler is basically a good guy who admits when things are wrong. You are not.

The NPF is currently operating at a level of badly designed window dressing. Warwick was a ramp.

Discuss that and not your ragged trousered or silver spooned philanthropy. I don't care which.

PS Sadly I am now middle class now too. There's no getting away from it. And though I was born in the North and again live in the North (these last 31 years) that makes me spatial not special.

My partner who was born in the same Kent village as her father (grit lorry driver), his father (gamekeeper), his father (poacher), his father (farm hand) etc to Norman times. She is also middle class. Some of her distaff forebears were too. But for some bad marriages she might have been a toff by now.

PPS: That Labour Students thing is holding you back Luke as ever brighter eyed and more bushy tailed careerists clamber over your stalled hulk. You should be concerned about it too. It's like pyramid selling. Not everyone can be an MP or a network millionaire. This bit too is, in part at least ... irony and humour.

I'm not planning to be in Bournemouth. Apparently all the NW slots for helping delegates make their minds up have already been filled.

12:17 pm, September 19, 2007

Anonymous rabble rouser said...

You still not given that Chris Paul a link on your blogroll Luke? He writes more and more sense on your blog than you do.

And answer his questions:
What was so good about Warwick for the unions?
The NPF is a useful concept, badly realised; how are you going to bring about its usefulness?

12:24 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


how do you know whether it's holding me back when I have yet to contest a parliamentary selection in this cycle?

I'm glad to hear your partner is from Kent. Which side of the Medway? There's a crucial difference between Maids & Men of Kent (east of the river) and Kentish Maids & Men (west of the river).

12:28 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Last time I was in Kent, I was mooned at by a feral youth wearing a really ugly golfing-type sleeveless jumper on a rural train platform. This was a significant moment as I had no idea teenagers still amused themselves with such harmless, old-time pursuits as mooning at trains.

If he was related to either of you, be proud of that kid.

PS other than that, Kent was quite nice.

12:33 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


you must have been west of the Medway.

We are more decorous than that in East Kent.

12:37 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

I'm not sure this issue really calls for a tedious 'prolier than thou' debate, or a 'class Dutch auction'. Luke's wrong. If he were a reincarnation of Aneurin Bevan or Stafford Cripps he'd still be wrong!

12:52 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Yep. I'm wrong. So is Gordon Brown and so are 23 members of the NEC including all the union reps. We just can't see it because we are suffering from false conciousness/careerism/being bullied. Just like all the members in Liverpool West Derby who voted Twigg, and the MPs who failed to recognise the need to have McDonnell on the ballot paper. I mean who wouldn't want to decide the policy of the current party of government based on a handful of 3 minute speeches attacking our own leadership, delivered on national TV?

1:16 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Much though I'd love to discuss feral mooning in Kent (especially as I was with Jackson JJ when said incident took place), and how prolier than thou everyone is, I feel there are more important things to discuss. Chris's points about the shortcomings of Warwick, for example, which haven't been addressed and which feed into the much wider sense of discontent with Labour among ordinary union members. If I had a penny for every time I've heard a public sector union member moan "why do we bother giving money to Labour" I'd have about £8.73. It's a serious issue and problem Luke, which needs to be addressed and can be - given that, though our politics differ, we both support the retention of the union link.

1:39 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think, Luke, that you have to deal with why so many people have left the labour party. Not all of us are ragung left-wingers, but I know I reached a stage of thinking that there wasn't really much point any more.

I don't join a party just to help at elections. i want to have a say as well. And I do not think the policy forum model works. ordinary party members have no connewction with it - the agenda lacks flexibility.

1:52 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Luke Akehurst said,
"I mean who wouldn't want to decide the policy of the current party of government based on a handful of 3 minute speeches attacking our own leadership, delivered on national TV?"

I am sorry I don't understand this point, are you saying if unions have a problem with the direction of a party they sponsor they should put up or shut up?
Would you prefer they abandon the party altogether? My understanding of Labour democracy (rather basic I am afraid) was that conference, atleast used to, formulate the national policy of the party. If in its most major policy forum (conference) the unions are not even allowed to talk down proposals how is that good for our party democracy? Policies have to be posted to the relevent NPF commitee, if proposals are contry to what the leadership want, what guarantee is there to ensure they will be heard and executed, after all discussions are supposed to be in private? Just as a point of interest does anyone know if the minutes of the NPF commitees will be published thereby ensuring accountabilty? (albeit after the event)

1:52 pm, September 19, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

I've kept out of what here descended into a 'your-are-middle-class-oh-no-I'm-not' antediluvian nonsense. But I can't help just noting that Merseymike said:
"I don't join a party just to help at elections. I want to have a say as well".

For many people the point to exit the party was relected in the remark by Peter Mandelson (you remember, the Labour Minister caught out and sacked twice and given a highly salaried EU post by Blair)it was to the effect:

'I dont' want Labour Party members, I want Labour Party supporters'

That remark betrays the truth behind all this now-irrelevant-to- most-people, discussion of confeneces and votes and NECs etc. etc.

2:23 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

The other bits of Brown's 7 proposals address the problems with the NPF process and both give the NPF itself a stronger role and powers and specifically talk about involving ordinary members in feeding in policy through local policy forums, which have not been happening in the way Partnership in Power proposed.

Mike - people have been joining the Party in large numbers since the start of the leadership election, not leaving it.

Ravi - I don't think the unions should keep quiet, I think they should bring about real policy change through dialogue and negotiation. The current system just makes us looks divided.

2:25 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


much as I have a great affection for Peter Mandelson, I really don't think his views carry much weight with the current PM or his inner circle, and Peter's take on the role of members is therefore not very indicative of the PM's.

2:27 pm, September 19, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke, your assurances about the current non-influence of spider Peter have eased my mind that little bit :)

4:20 pm, September 19, 2007

Anonymous Dave H said...

sgvrSimple question:

Suppose a very clear majority of the party membership and affilaites backs certain policy, what mechanism exists to make sure that becomes party policy?

Simple answer:

None. To do so against the concerted opposition of the party machine would require a massive organisational effort co-ordinated accross the entire party, probably starting well over a year in advance.

4:43 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger grimupnorth said...

For the record, they used to televise Labour Party Conference years sgo live on BBC1 as it was interesting and volatile. Once PiP came into power, that ended. Who wants to watch hours of Ministers and apparatchiks droning on about how fantastic the Government is with no-one apart from the Chosen Ones allowed to speak with their Pre Written Speeches saying, er, how fantastic the Govt is.

5:02 pm, September 19, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Labour Party does not exist to provide reality television or light entertainment.

It exists to get elected in order to be able to help ordinary workers, families, children.

Has it occurred to you that insisting on a week of division and political gesturing screened live on BBC1 might not be the best way of delivering on that?

Just a thought.

5:06 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger grimupnorth said...

Who said anything about a "week of division and political gesturing." And spare me the platitudes about "hard working families." That's right, if Labour Partu mebers are allowed to express their views properly, disagree with their leaders when necessary, engage in serious, honest debate, and occasionally fall out, the roof will fall in and we'll get the Tories back. Haven't you ever watched PMQs???????

5:21 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Luke - I was merely trying to point out that my view (that you're wrong) has nothing to do with what your social origins may or may not be.

But you'd rather do an idiotic rant suggesting I'm talking about the 'false consciousnesses' of 25 people. Not false consciousness, Luke - just a mixture of control freakery, basic idiocy and opportunistic expediency (you can decide which of the 25 fit which description for yourself).

Of course the way to keep a vital party is to periodically let them vote on an 'all or nothing' basis on a questionnaire sent home. That's always been really successful in the past.

No, the party doesn't exist to provide televisual entertainment. It does exist to get elected and then to make a difference. But to get elected you need to have a party. You need to have activists. And you need to have a democratic policy-making process that doesn't just dream up crap policies over some eejit student's power breakfast. The current proposals seem almost designed to destroy that vitality in one fell swoop. Of course, it has the convenient side effect of removing any opportunity for party members to express any dissent from the chosen way, so some are bound to favour it (without any need for 'false consciousness' to be taken into account!) We'll all have to be Walter Wolfgangs in the future (unless we want our views to be guaged by how long our standing ovations are!)

6:28 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Bloody hell. I can't see why I bother.

7:31 pm, September 19, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Luke: and so they should - party membership has reached an all-time low.

I'm thinking of rejoining myself. But there has to be a reason to do so. Gordon alone isn't enough!

IO should add that I will certainly be remembered for my enthusiastic advocacy of PiP. But I don't think it has worked as a tool of involvement.

12:01 am, September 20, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Merseymike said,
"I'm thinking of rejoining myself. But there has to be a reason to do so. Gordon alone isn't enough!"

Mike ofcourse you should rejoin. Although you probably don't agree with his politics, Tony Benn said if you want to change the party for the better you have to be part of it. Articulate voices from both the left and right of the party will make us a force to be reckoned with come the next election as well as fortifying the party.

Luke Akehurst said,

"Ravi - I don't think the unions should keep quiet, I think they should bring about real policy change through dialogue and negotiation. The current system just makes us looks divided."

I think I am getting the jist of your arguement Luke, NPFs are voted in, therefore the delegates are accountable to the party electorate. Having such a board could allow for structured debate and fruitful policy change. Yes that is a good thing, however I also think because debates are behind closed doors it breeds a culture of secrecy which is a bad thing. What I could like to see is a simular system enacted in the Scottish Parliament. Committees meet in public and on camera. One of the key roles of committees is to examine and consider proposed legislation that has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament. A large part of the committees' work involves taking evidence and gathering views. Committees can take evidence by email or letter, or they can invite witnesses to give their evidence in person. Committees can also use video-conferencing to take evidence from witnesses in remote locations. Committees aim to involve as many people as possible in the democratic process. Events and visits inform their work by enabling the committees to get the views of interested parties, often in their own communities.
So my proposals are.
An open election of members on the NPF (with set out postion on issues) and make sure the NPF is a true balance of opinion in the party, i.e. left, centre and right.
Membership of the NPFs should come from the party membership, affilated TUs and socialist societies. The chair should be elected from one of this group by members of that NPF. Eliminate any leadership control of the NPFs to ensure no cajolment, instead make conference have the final say, to which the leadership are bound to. If the will of the NPF and conference is defied by the leadership a motion of no confidence should be put forward to conference. If passewd the ruling exective should be dissolved. Then a fresh election of a leader should follow (left or right), one who will listen to the party and not impose their will on it. This should please Mike and Susan as it gives power to the party, not the leadership.

8:24 am, September 20, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Sorry I should add there should be offical record keeping of the NPF meetings and cameras present to see them interveiwing witnesses. I feel it would enhance the role of members and even give the general public a role in helping structure our policies, the tories would not stand a chance!!

8:33 am, September 20, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For the record, they used to televise Labour Party Conference years sgo live on BBC1 as it was interesting and volatile."

My post ealier was directed at this - by "interesting and volatile" I assumed you meant divisive. Since without the division I doubt Party conference sessions would be remotely interesting, and they certainly wouldn't qualify as volatile.

So essentially you were calling for us to go back to the days were gestures and division defined the Labour Party in most voting people's minds.

Fantastic idea. I think I'll suggest it to Gordon as a way we could get even more Tories in government - lose!!

11:32 am, September 20, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Ah yes, the old "we can't give the members a say because they're like kids and their squabbling will let the Tories in" argument.

Rubbish then and rubbish now.

11:52 am, September 20, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

no - it isn't the same old argument.

Grim made the point that they used to be televised because they were "interesting and volatile".

My own view is that that is rubbish and that they used to be televised out of a misplaced sense of public service which the parliament channel now makes obsolete.

But my response was to point out that *if* the reason had really been that they were both "interesting" and "volatile" that that might not really be a good reason to go back to the days were Labour conference got attention for those two reasons - and try to stick to getting on the telly when we are "inspiring" and other such unambiguously positive things.

If I was worried about my job, or my house, or my kids' future or what not "volatile" would not be a positive reason to vote for a Party. "Stable" would be. "united" would be. "purposeful" even.

This isn't an argument that we shouldn't have debate at conference or anything (i'm agnostic). I just think that grim's wistful harking back to the days when conference got loads of attention for being "volatile" as if losing that was somehow a blow to Party democracy was very revealing - and slightly undermines the case against the reforms.

12:04 pm, September 20, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

But Labour isn't stable, united or purposeful at the moment. It's lost members, it's democracy is paper-thin, it's remote and in many areas completely inactive. What will be projected at Bournemouth next week won't be particularly convincing.

2:21 pm, September 20, 2007

Blogger grimupnorth said...

Look at the responses to Tony Benn's excellent article in today's Guardian CiF - and look at the names of members who say they will leave if this goes through. Vote NO!!

2:24 pm, September 20, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry If I don't consider Comment is Free to be a bastion of sane and sensible debate on the Labour Party's future, nor it's readers a representative sample of anything other than the loony tunes fringe of the blogosphere.

And sorry if I don't take tips from Tony Benn on how to organise a mass movement. Membership now is not much lower than when he was in his pomp - and that's after 10 years of government and 25 years of declining Party membership accross the developed world and accross the political spectrum.

But any member who leaves because they've lost the right to cast their vote for a GC delegate who will have the right to vote for a conference delegate, who will have the right to vote in a priority ballot to decide which "contemporary" resolution they'll have the right to vote on...is frankly going to have to go a long way to convince me they were ever really committed to 1. the party's values in the first place 2. Genuine Party democracy rather than just have a flounce and a rant every now and again.

4:25 pm, September 20, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

"nor it's readers a representative sample of anything other than the loony tunes fringe of the blogosphere"

I agree. There's a far higher proportion of right-wing moonbats and people who think Tony Blair was a good idea than in the population as a whole.

4:31 pm, September 20, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a load of complete and utter guff about labour students from Chris. I'm really sorry that we campaign for a labour Government and know the value of one!!

If you spend your life volunteering for the party then its likely that at some point you may take paid employment with them. Thats not careerism. Thats getting up in the morning and having a job that you believe in.

I don't know where you get all this rubbish about we are all middle class either. Labour attracts members from a cross section of society.

6:59 pm, September 21, 2007

Anonymous Andrea said...

"4 (which I assume were the 4 Grassroots Alliance (sic) folk)"

Ann Black, Christine Shawcroft, Walter Wolfgang and Dennis Skinner

9:36 pm, September 22, 2007


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