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.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Labour First Submission to Collins Review

This is the text of Labour First's submission to the review Ed Miliband has initiated of the union link and candidate selection:

Labour First

Initial response to Ed Miliband’s speech on building a better Labour Party


Labour First believes that the affiliated trade unions are an integral part of our Party.

We welcome Ed Miliband’s bold statement that he wants ““to change the way individual Trade Unionists are affiliated to the Labour Party….. Individual Trade Union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated”.

We want to take forward this aspiration in a way that further integrates individual trade unionists into Labour Party activity so that our activist and candidate base better reflects the composition of the electorate, whilst preserving the institutional relationship between Labour and its affiliates, which has been a source of organisational and financial stability.

1) The conduct of parliamentary selections to ensure fairness and transparency

• We support the basic principle that parliamentary candidates should be selected by OMOV, thus ensuring members have democratic control over the picking of the candidates they will campaign for.
• It should not be possible to recruit members with voting rights in a selection, and hence stack a selection, once a vacancy has been formally announced (in the case of a sitting MP announcing their retirement) or for a period of 12 months before the process starts, whichever is the longer period taking precedence. Members can still join during this period but should not be able to take part in the process.
• Everyone who joins the Labour Party as an individual member should complete and sign a full application form. They should be on the electoral register and all contacts must be through that address. If another person is to pay their membership, the member must sign a form agreeing to this. These won't eliminate fraud and vote buying, but should reduce it substantially. (This should be done not just to address the sort of issues arising from Falkirk, but the reasons why other CLPs are in special measures).
• The current process is too long, which adds to its expense for candidates and acts as a deterrent to some participants, particularly those with jobs outside politics, or caring commitments. It means that Labour prospective candidates are usually only able to pursue one selection in any cycle whereas other parties’ shorter processes allow candidates several tries at different seats. We would propose the entire process could be run in a maximum of 4 weeks from opening nominations to final hustings.
• We want to retain the basic shape of the current process: nominations by branches and affiliates, shortlisting and then an OMOV hustings, but reduce the time between each of these events.
• We would retain the NEC’s powers to shortlist in by-elections and in very late selections, which given we now have fixed-term parliaments can be defined more tightly than in 2010 as any selection starting after 1 March 2015.
• There should be a spending limit of £200 plus 5p per member, with a return of expenses provided to the procedures secretary. Doorstep, email and phone contact with members should not be limited but members should be able to opt out of further calls or emails relating from a candidate. The invitation to the hustings meeting or ballot papers should include 1 A4 leaflet from each candidate.
• The recent selection of MEP candidates was too long (4 weeks voting would have been sufficient), involved excessive spending (with one candidate reporting an £18,000 donation) so needs tighter spending limits, and would have benefited from a more obvious way for members to opt out of receiving emails from candidates. In every region members should have been presented with a shortlist to rank that was longer than the number of candidates to be selected. Prior to shortlisting by regional boards CLPs and regional affiliates should have had nomination rights. Any candidate approved as fit to stand by the panel should be able to seek nominations, and anyone who achieves a threshold (e.g. 5 CLP nominations) should go forward to the OMOV ballot to be ranked.

2) The development of a new relationship between the Labour Party and individual members of our affiliate organisations

The union link works. It gives a voice in Labour's policy making to millions of ordinary working class voters whose concerns are grounded in the realities and bread and butter issues of the workplace. It means that Labour's leaders are elected by a large, representative sample of those who actually vote for the Party.

The link gives trade unionists not just individual voices in the Labour Party but collective voices through their unions, an expression of our collectivist rather than individualist values as a party.

Across the world the most successful progressive parties are the ones with deep ties with the trade union movement.

The link needs strengthening at a local level with far more trade unionists being encouraged to both join the Party as individual members and become union delegates to their constituency parties. CLPs want more union delegates to attend their meetings, not just paper affiliations.

The link provides a constant conveyer belt from union activists of recruits to public office - councillors and MPs - virtually the only way in which ordinary working class people get to hold public office - if it didn't exist the PLP would be even more dominated by lawyers and other professionals and career politicians. Of course this is not to say that everyone supported in a selection by a union is working class.

In policy terms it is difficult to see how anyone could think that the Warwick Agreement reached with the affiliated unions was not a positive input to Labour's 2005 and 2010 Manifestoes, including important policies on workers' rights that might otherwise have not been committed to.

When the Labour Party hits hard times, the unions keep it going. When it tried to self destruct in the 1930s, '50s and '80s the unions were the voice of sanity and moderation.

We owe our existence as a party to the decision of the unions to set up the LRC with the Fabians and ILP, and to the work of individual trade unionists in setting up a CLP organisation on the ground.

Without the unions we are just A.N.Other centre-left political party like the Lib Dems or the SDP - rootless, not embedded in the communities we represent, and liable to be blown away by the first political gale just like the Liberals were in the early years of the century and the SDP were at the end of the '80s.

• We support the proposal that only those members of affiliates who consciously opt-in to a relationship with the Labour Party should be considered as affiliated members. It is only these opted-in members who should receive voting rights in Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership elections.
• The weighting accorded to the various affiliates within their sections of the Electoral College, Annual and Regional conferences and elections for the NEC and NPF should accordingly be based solely on the number of their members who opt-in, not on their total membership. This will incentivise each affiliate to promote opting-in.
• We do not propose any change to the collective weight accorded to affiliates in either the Electoral College or Annual or Regional conferences as we think these balances are a durable constitutional reflection of the balance between the different political stakeholders in the Party. For the same reason we would not support reducing the MPs’ and MEPs’ share of the Electoral College. Anyone elected as Labour Leader should be able to demonstrate they have a credible level of support from their colleagues in Parliament, from our affiliates and from individual members.
• However, should the number of members of affiliates who opt-in ever fall below the number of individual members of the Party we would propose that the weighting between affiliates and CLPs should move from 1:1 to a ratio based on the ratio between individual and affiliated members. For example, if there were 200,000 individual members and 200,000 or more affiliated members the current equal weightings in the Electoral College and at Annual Conference would apply. But if there were 300,000 individual members and 200,000 affiliated members the Annual Conference weighting would move to 60% CLPs, 40% affiliates, and the Electoral College to 33% MPs and MEPs, 40% CLPs, 27% affiliates.
• The same principles should apply within each Region to weighting at regional conferences i.e. affiliates affiliate to the region based on the real number of opted-in members in that region, and if the total of all of these affiliated members falls below the number of individual Labour Party members in the region, the balance of votes at regional conference moves from 50% CLPs:50% affiliates to a ratio based on the ratio between individual and affiliated members in that region.
• This mechanism would incentivise affiliates as a whole to promote opting-in.
• The annual fee charged to affiliated members is currently only £3, which is rather derisory given the voting rights accorded. We need to consider raising the fee that affiliates pay per affiliated member to a more realistic figure.
• The Labour Party at national, regional and CLP level will need to have access to the contact lists of opt-in affiliated members of each affiliate in order to:
o Establish that affiliation levels are based on the real number of opt-in members
o Prevent entryism by vetting and barring any applications to opt-in from people who there is evidence are supporters of other political parties or proscribed organisations
o Contact affiliated members to encourage them to become individual members of the Labour Party
o Involve affiliated members in campaigning for elections and on issues, and in the wider political, social and cultural life of the Labour Party
o Encourage affiliated members to vote in local and national elections
• For this reason, in order to be constitutionally valid, the opt-in form presented to members of affiliates will need to include their consent to their membership data being provided to the Labour Party.
• Affiliated members would continue to have their current constitutional rights plus the greater level of involvement in the campaigning, political, social and cultural life of the Labour Party inherent in the Labour Party having full access to their membership details.
• However, all other constitutional rights over selecting candidates and running for office would remain the preserve of full individual members.
• Affiliated members cannot be given identical rights to full individual members as there would then be no incentive for members of affiliates to pay full rate membership.
• The Labour Party would actively promote to affiliated members the right to become full individual members of the Party, with the right to participate in selections, hold office etc, for an additional payment to bring them from the affiliation fee paid by their union to the minimum rate of individual membership (currently £21.50).
• We would like to see the membership fee for all affiliated members, unwaged members and members on less than the national average salary reduced to £15 to equalise it with the rate previously offered to members of affiliates and to enable easier recruitment in working class communities so that our membership more represents our voters.
• In order to prevent recruitment exercises among affiliated members (or anyone else) motivated solely by the desire to stack the membership of a ward or constituency prior to a selection, we would recommend a one year freeze date for all selections (local government and parliamentary), so that everyone who is eligible to vote in a selection has proven they have a long-term rather than selection-motivated reason for joining.
• The process for trigger ballots for sitting MPs would continue to include votes for locally affiliated branches of affiliates as well as party branches, as this provides an essential element of stability without which some MPs would be constantly distracted by sectarian de-selection attempts.
• The current balance on the NEC between CLP and Trade Union representatives is lop-sided (6 vs 12) and the small size of the CLP section means it is difficult to achieve BAME representation or regional balance, with a disproportionate number of CLP reps from London due to its large membership.
• We would propose an NEC equally balanced like the Electoral College, with 12 representatives of affiliates (11 for the unions and 1 for the socialist societies), 12 for CLPs (with representatives elected by OMOV by pairs of regions, with a second rep for London due to its large membership, in order to ensure gender balance, i.e. 2 reps for London; 2 reps for Eastern and South East; 2 reps for South West and Wales; 2 reps for East Midlands and West Midlands; 2 reps for North West and Yorkshire & Humberside; 2 reps for North, Scotland and Northern Ireland ) , and 12 for elected members and other interests (Leader, Deputy Leader, Treasurer, Youth Rep, BAME Labour Rep, EPLP Leader, 2 Councillors, 2 backbench MPs or MEPs and 2 frontbench appointees).
• The Treasurer should be elected by the same Electoral College process as the Leader and Deputy Leader to reflect their role as a senior office holder representing the whole Party and all three groups of stakeholders in it.
• We would not change the current composition of the National Policy Forum except in so far as the above changes affect it.
• We want CLPs to continue to have the right accorded to them by Refounding Labour to choose whether to have an All Member Meeting model or a General Meeting with a delegate structure. The former makes sense in smaller CLPs but the latter remains a useful and inherently stable model where there are many local affiliates to be represented, a very large membership (making all member meetings impractical) or an imbalance in activist numbers between communities and branches in the CLP which might lead to under-representation of some groups in the CLP at an all member meeting.

3) The use of primaries in the selection of Labour candidate for London Mayor and in other circumstances

Our concerns about primaries are based on the lack of evidence of any public demand for such a process, as shown by the turnout of only 20,019 in the Tory primary that selected Boris Johnson in 2008, out of over a million people who went on to vote for him in the election itself. There is even less appetite for constitutional innovations like this in the Midlands and North than in London.

The premise for it the London primary is a myth that a primary might have in itself produced a different outcome in the 2010 Labour selection, and that with a different candidate we might have won. The second part is arguable, we will never know. But any serious observer of London politics would be able to tell you that Ken Livingstone would have won that selection whether through the 50-50 CLPs and affiliates OMOV Electoral College actually used or a primary.

Primaries should be rejected for a number of reasons:
• They are bad for Labour’s internal democracy, diluting members’ say in choosing candidates. This is at a time when members want more say in selections, not less.
• In the London case a primary weakens the union link as the affiliates currently have 50% of the vote (cast based on aggregating One Member One Vote ballots of ordinary union members).
• Primaries cost an immense amount to run and involve a vast amount of organisational effort. Like it or not we are not cash or resource rich as a party and should spent both on campaigning, not on a gimmicky way of picking candidates. You can’t run a primary on the cheap without the risk of electoral fraud or complaints of too few polling stations. Our guesstimate based on what it cost in constituencies where the Tories held them is that a  London primary would cost about £3 million to run in a fully democratic, transparent way. We simply don’t have a spare £3 million, and if we were going to charge people to vote as in France, turnout won’t be good and we might as well register them as members and stop pretending it is a primary.
• Campaigning to win a London-wide primary with potentially millions of voters would be beyond the resources of any potential candidate without big money or a huge media profile. You might as well give the Evening Standard 100% of the Electoral College as they will be able to make or break candidates, or just state “only celebs need apply”. Our calculation is that a proper campaign in a primary would cost about £750,000 per candidate!
• As stated above, there is no evidence of public demand for a primary. We will be doubling the number of times we ask people to vote, in an era of declining turnout. The primary will have far less than the 38% turnout in the actual 2012 Mayoral election. It would therefore be vulnerable to differential turnout by particular communities or campaigns which might saddle us with an unelectable candidate.
• In the US primaries are administered by the state governments, ensuring minimum standards regarding the conduct of the poll, and the states also include a party affiliation question in voter registration, so that “closed primaries” for your own party’s supporters only can be run. Neither facility is available in the UK and both would involve unpopular public subsidy of Labour’s internal democracy.
• The rise of the Tea Party shows how in a primary system a well-organised, well-funded and hyper-energised extremist grouping can foist its candidates on a more mainstream host party. The same thing happened when the Democrat left ousted Joe Lieberman as incumbent Senate candidate in Connecticut.

We should focus on recruiting members and supporters to the Labour Party, so it becomes larger, better funded and more representative of the public. We should also spend time identifying and encouraging our strongest possible candidates to run for Mayor, not tinkering with the selection process.  We ought to reject the idea of importing a US organisational model that was developed for specific US reasons.

Without resiling from this critique and our long-standing opposition to primaries, we accept that there may now be an experimental primary election for Labour’s next candidate for Mayor of London.
• We view the London Mayor as a sui generis case and we do not wish it to be seen as a precedent for the selection of borough mayoral candidates, where the demographics of individual boroughs means there would be even greater risks of a primary being hijacked by a particular ethnic or faith group with communal organisational structures and an ability to mobilise politically.
• We would want to see the following safeguards:
o Short-listing would be conducted by the NEC or Regional Board, based on interviewing all candidates who had been nominated by a regional affiliate and/or at least 5 London CLPs.
o This would be a closed primary with voting rights only accorded to party members, members of affiliated organisations, existing registered Labour Supporters and people who register as Supporters during the process, who are on the electoral register and who declare they do not support another party and pay a £1 contribution towards the cost of the ballot. This is so that supporters of other political parties cannot vote in our selection, perhaps mischievously voting for a weak candidate.
o Sign-up could be both online and by post, with appropriate levels of declaration of identity.
o The Party would need rigorous processes, including scrutiny by CLPs, to vet and bar applicants to participate if they were known supporters of other political parties; and using Contact.Creator to verify that each person was on the electoral register. A random sample of applicants would need to be contacted to verify they had chosen as individuals to register and no one else was doing this on their behalf.
o The Party would need to retain the power to suspend the process or rule out voters if there was evidence of attempts to stack it e.g. grossly disproportionate levels of supporter registration from particular localities, evidence of people being signed-up without their knowledge.
o A strict code of conduct will be needed to regulate the role that candidates and their campaigns can play in registering people: i.e. they can promote registration and point people to the Party to register, but not actually register people themselves.
o The primary would primarily be conducted by online voting, with provision for postal votes on demand to avoid digital exclusion of voters without personal internet access.
o There should be a spending limit of £100,000 per candidate.
o All candidates will need to be given access to the register of eligible participants, on a rolling updated basis as it will grow in the run-up to the poll.
• In the event that fewer than 100,000 voters register to participate in the primary, the NEC shall have the power to cancel the primary and revert an OMOV ballot of Party members.
• We do not think that primaries are an appropriate way to select parliamentary candidates other than in two categories:
o Vacant Labour –held CLPs that are deemed by the NEC to have membership so low (below 200) that it is unrepresentative of the Labour voters in the CLP, or are in some other way grossly unrepresentative e.g. the membership is disproportionately from one ethnic or faith group when the electorate is not, or disproportionately from one town in a multi-town constituency. There were fewer than 20 Labour-held CLPs with membership under 200 in 2012, one of them is Falkirk.
o CLPs which volunteer to pilot primaries.
o In the latter case the CLP would shortlist candidates from those nominated by branches or affiliates. In the former, the NEC would draw up the shortlist.
o These pilots would be run under the same rules and electorate as the mayoral model set out above and can be set aside if fewer than 1,000 voters register to participate.
o There should be a spending limit of £200 plus 5p per elector who registers to participate in the primary, with a return of expenses provided to the procedures secretary.
o Every person who registers to participate should receive an A4 leaflet or electronic equivalent from each candidate with their ballot.
• Anyone registering to participate in the Party would automatically be considered a “Labour Supporter” as defined in Refounding Labour with regard to voting rights in future leadership elections, and their registration would be data available to CLPs on Contact.Creator.
• We do not think that primaries are an appropriate way to select local government candidates (including borough elected mayors) in any circumstances, given the low likelihood of public interest, the risk of stacking, and disproportionality i.e. positions at this level do not justify such an expensive or organisationally arduous process.

4) Constituency development agreements between affiliated organisations and constituency Labour parties

We do not believe there is a great necessity to alter the current arrangements regarding CLP development agreements with affiliated organisations.

About Labour First

Labour First is a network which exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised hard left, and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.

We believe in:
• Putting Labour First
Keeping the Labour Party as a party of Government with mainstream and election winning policies.

• The Trade Union Link
The unions are an integral part of our party.

• Strong Local Government
More power for local councillors not unaccountable community groups and quangos. Councillors deserve a strong voice within our party.

• Security for the UK
The UK playing a full role in the EU and NATO and maintaining our special relationship with the USA. We oppose unilateral nuclear disarmament.

We can be contacted at labourfirst@gmail.com


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