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.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A surfeit of Chairs

Jon Cruddas has announced that Labour should have an elected Chair: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10676702

I'm not sure I understand why we need the "Party Chair" role at all. It was set up by Tony Blair, presumably because he wanted greater control over the party machine but was not much interested in his later period in getting involved in organisational matters himself. This was amid some controversy as the new post was a) appointed by the party leader, not elected and b) there was already a Labour Party Chair, a post held for one year at a time in rotation based usually on seniority by a member of the NEC (currently Ann Black).

My memory is of all the incumbents of the post Blair created actually doing the job of being campaigner-in-chief rather well despite the lack of legitimacy implicit in the way they were appointed.

The situation has since been muddled as Harriet Harman is both the elected Deputy Leader and the appointed Party Chair.

My feeling is that this is one position more than we as a Party need. It's existence as an appointed position undermines the authority and status of the General Secretary, who should be in full command of Labour's campaign machine - the way in which we have repeatedly had cabinet ministers trying to run General Election campaigns in their spare time is ridiculous - as politicians they are (often talented and experienced) amateurs who should stick to being the public face of the campaign, not be interfering in the running of it which should be left to the professional staff.

If it was an elected position it would undermine the political authority of the Leader and Deputy Leader as the holder could claim they had an alternative and rival mandate, or the election for it could be used as a dress rehearsal for future leadership elections, as the Treasurer post was in the 1950s and 1960s. The only way round this would be to ban MPs from holding the post of Chair.

As I cannot think of any value that would be added by the creation of this new elected position, and the old appointed one is clearly undemocratic, I would suggest that the post of Party Chair be abolished and it's responsibilities divided up as follows:
  • General Secretary to have their control over election campaigns and organisation reasserted
  • Leader and Deputy Leader to focus more on building the party and campaigning, as we are not in power so presumably they don't have to spend time running the country
  • Chair of the NEC to take on any literal chairing functions and be voice of the party to the Leadership

Those MPs like Jon who are keen to contribute to the party's wider campaigning should be given a role encouraging and leading activity in groups of non-Labour-held seats - there is no need for them to take part in expensive OMOV ballots or be given fancy titles to enable them to do that.


Anonymous Julian Ware-Lane said...

A good post, and the argument seems reasonable. I think Mr Cruddas should put his energies into getting a shadow cabinet position.

2:05 pm, July 19, 2010

Anonymous Rachael Saunders said...

Totally agree - we need to treat the chair of the NEC and the General Secretary with a bit more respect, not put in another politician who thinks he's got all the answers. Running the logistics of the party is not an MPs job. Politicians and activists can shape new ways of working through the NEC.

2:25 pm, July 19, 2010

Anonymous Rachael Saunders said...

That also makes it a priority in my view to elect a strong NEC who understand campaigning and are interested in campaign innovation - good luck Luke.

2:26 pm, July 19, 2010

Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

I hope you will check out my assessment of what Mr Cruddas is up to, and join my campaign for a Deputy Leadership election.

3:42 pm, July 19, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Agree with you on this one Luke. I'm always suspicious of people who don't want to get their hands dirty....I think an elected chair has a danger of becoming a conduit for discord against the leader and that will do us no good

10:28 pm, July 19, 2010


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