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.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Left undermine Labour's staff

Labour's hard left are engaging in one of their oldest tricks - attacking and undermining the Party's hard-working staff.

They choose to do this publicly, with NEC Member Peter Kenyon, the website Grassroots Labour and Tribune magazine all making public accusations against staff who cannot argue back because of the terms of their employment. If you are going to make serious allegations of breach of employment contract against people you do it through their line manager or HR department, not on a blog or in a magazine. Particularly not if you are an NEC member who is technically one of their employers. I assume GMB Labour Organisers branch will be dusting off the law on constructive dismissal.

Labour Party staff work ridiculously hard, often at evenings and weekends, to secure the re-election of a Labour government. They do this for pay that is frankly derisory, because they love the Party.

By the nature of the people they have their own political views - why else would you work in politics? - but have to take a Trappist vow on internal party matters.

Some of them are actually from the left themselves - I can think of a Regional Organiser who was definitely a Bennite when he was a lay activist in my CLP, and former senior staff from my own region who in one case started out close to Labour Briefing and in another is the partner of the main conference organiser of the Bennite CLPD. But whatever their personal politics they put these aside and loyally serve the party as a whole.

The accusations relate to such "crimes" as writing a list of delegates to conference with ratings of their political views against them, asking conference delegates to meet a Minister to discuss how to vote on a motion, and sending someone a text message suggesting who to vote for for the Conference Arrangements Committee.

I have no idea if these alleged "crimes" took place or whether or not they constitute a breach of the code, but it does seem a bit wet for the left to be complaining that this constitutes a 'corrupt and scary regime', particularly for anyone that has ever seen the strong arming that goes on in Labour's affiliated unions, often by left General Secretaries and their paid full-time henchmen, to deliver the votes on positions and policies they want.

Are lefty CLP delegates to conference really so feeble and easy to intimidate that a conversation with a Minister is seen as bullying, or an alleged text message recommending a candidate is enough to reduce them to a quivering wreck, abandoning their deeply held desire to vote for the GRA and instead plumping for the likes of me or Maggie Cosin?

The left are particularly upset that a CLP and NPF delegate called Andy Furlong dared to do well in this year's CAC election against Mick Murphy of the TGWU. Has it crossed their minds that the delegates backed Furlong because he was ideologically closer to them than Murphy was, or because he canvassed them and they liked what they saw? But no, the left can't entertain the concept that thousands of Labour activists are moderates by choice and conviction, they can only explain it with conspiracy theories and smears alleging bullying by party staff. How patronising their view is of the actual grassroots delegates they claim to represent!

The left should back off and stop smearing Labour's hard-working staff.

My complaint is the opposite - the daft code of conduct stops Labour staff doing their job. They should not be neutral referees. They should be able to promote the candidates and policies of the elected leadership of the party against their internal critics. Back in Morgan Phillips' day as General Secretary or Herbert Morrison's as London Regional Secretary there was none of this nonsense about neutrality, the party staff explicitly had a role in giving the left a kicking. Ah, the good old days!


Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

the strong arming that goes on in Labour's affiliated unions, often by left General Secretaries and their paid full-time henchmen, to deliver the votes on positions and policies they want

Who are all these left Gen Secs in affiliated unions? Erm...Billy Hayes? Joe Marino? I especially love the subtle rhetoric about how their staff are "henchmen" while right wing enforcers are hard-working and underpaid devotees.

And in the spirit of the original post, how about some substance to those allegations: specifically, I'd love to know how left Gen Secs are any more likely to "strong arm" than moderates?

Plenty of my colleagues who were in the GMWU could entertain you for months with stories of strong arming from politically "moderate" (i.e. right wing) union leaders. Then there's the good old times when communists were barred from holding office in some unions...those were the days eh?

3:41 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Matthew Cain said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:55 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Party staff are underpaid compared to union staff.

And communists should be banned from holding office in all unions.

3:56 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Matthew Cain said...

I don't know the ins and outs of what is reported - but I can identify with both sides, having experienced similar things in the past.

I'm not convinced of the wisdom of giving this a public airing. I wasn't aware of the story until reading it on your blog, party staff were not singled out by name and you're giving more oxygen to a story that was previously buried on fringe sites.

3:56 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Much as I would love it not to be the case, this blog is not as widely read as Tribune (yet). And Mr Kenyon is no longer "fringe" as he sits on the party's ruling NEC.

4:05 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Party staff are underpaid compared to union staff

And union staffers are all lefties? Ah, if only...

4:07 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

No they are not, and I didn't say they were. Some of my best friends/allies are union staff.

4:14 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

And I'm sure none of them could be described as "henchmen"!

4:15 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Luke

Thanks for the puff. You have definitely improved the hits today.

As for the substance of the matter, I measure performance in terms of membership data.

The task in 2009 is to reverse the trend of the last decade. I will be the first to congratulate a regional director who manages that, or indeed might have already bucked the trend if only NEC members were given relevant membership data.

Pip, pip.

4:35 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you've lost the plot...

4:51 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with you entirely. Having been both a member of Labour Party Organising Staff and a General Secretary "Enforcer" I saw my job in both arenas as supporting the leadership.

One reason for this was, as you say, I was political, I was a long time (and remain) party and trades union member with my own beliefs otherwise why would I want to work for either the Party or a Trades Union.

But secondly, it was a vital part of delivering the core of my job. On one hand to get Labour elected, and on the other ensure the union was strong enough to actually stand up for members and win campaigns for those members.

And the best way to do this was to ensure the leadership had the space to actually lead, and that sane people ran the party and the union and were elected to positions of influence in both.

Far too much time can be spent dealing with trots, leftists and other assorted nutters by leaders when they should be concentrating on winning general elections, representing the people who voted Labour, or standing up for members with employers - you know, the day job.

So, yes, winning internal elections, ensuring sane policies were passed, and generally seeking to ensure the left were not too annoying was vital to delivering my role as a whole.

And god, it could be fun at times too.

I also wonder if Mr Kenyon would have been quite so upset in the 80s when the NEC appointed a full-time Militant Organiser as Youth Officer as opposed to a sane regional organiser who went on to lead one of the most devastating regional teams into the 1997 election when we won more seats than anyone ever thought possible? Those were the days when the left appointed their own to full time staff positions with the express purpose of organising internally.

Sauce for the goose....

4:51 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Staff do not try to strong-arm delegates whom they know to hold strong left-wing views, they are not stupid.

They do try some very unsubtle tactics to try to get undecided, moderate and first-time delegates to vote the right way.

Almost all the staff I know will admit in private that they see that as their job. Formal complaints get nowhere because the people who hear the complaints are the ones who tell the staff to do it in the first place!

I really don't see how someone with your experience in the party can deny it with a straight face.

5:11 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, while I was posting I see an actual staff member has admitted that they saw interfering in internal elections as part of their job.

Quite how anyone with a modicum of experience in the party could think that this wasn't an entirely established fact, goodness only knows. I'm afraid you make yourself look even more silly than usual on this one Luke.

Full marks to Peter for raising the issue publicly!

5:17 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I measure performance in winning General Elections. Making Tom Sawyer, Margaret McDonagh and Matt Carter rather sucessful General Secretaries.

5:22 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winning elections is obviously what we're here for. I want the Labour Party to win every election it contests, but we also have to follow a path that's sustainable and that gaurantees the long term future of the party.

We want to be the natural party of government for the 21st Century, not a brief interlude between Conservative governments.

I find it hard to judge some of these people as successful when the level of debt we accumulated has made me genuinely fearful for the survival of the party.

Right now, our region offices are understaffed and a great many local parties are moribund. Even key marginals (with the most Blairite of MPs and officers before you try to blame it all on the left) find themselves dreadfully low on resources.

Under those circumstances I find it hard to judge all the people who you list as 'successes'.

5:49 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Luke. Your comment about Party staff putting personal politics aside is spot on. I've known several from the 'left' who have put personal beliefs (and even friendships) aside to serve the party.

6:25 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger susan press said...

Methinks he doth protest too much.......

7:29 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surely not the only Labour Party member who deserted Tribune years ago on the grounds that I want my cash spent on attacking Labour's opponents, not its leaders. Fringe or not, Peter Kenyon is clearly more interested in fomenting irrelevant internal disputes than presenting a disciplined argument to convince milllions of voters of the value of a Labour government

7:48 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Mike said...

"giving the left a kicking."

Why do people use such macho stupid language?? Be they from the left or right all this internal egotistical crap is of no interest to anyone except self obsessed politicos.

8:22 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Unfortunately when you take your eye off the internal ball you were ... er ... kicking, as in the early '80s, is when you end up unelectable for 18 years.

The internal stuff determines the candidates and policies presented externally.

The language I use reflects my personality, sorry if you don't like it. You probably might not like me either.

8:56 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i thought party staff were paid to serve all members not just the leadership

and why should communists be banned from holding office in unions? because you disagree with them?

10:50 pm, January 09, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Luke

You are not seriously suggesting that the General Secretaries listed won the 1997. 2001 and 2005 General Elections. I'd say the Tories lost it in 1997 (well by 1993 probably), failed to put up a fight in 2001 and could have narrowed the gap even more in 2005 had our current leader not been rehabilitated to head the campaign replacing the lacklustre Alan Milburn.

I'm sticking with my membership indicator, 'cos although we have hung on in Westminster with a working majority we have been losing elections in the devolved nations, regional and local elections since the late 1990s.

Wakey, wakey!

11:42 pm, January 09, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Gosh this is an odd one for you to bring up!

As I don't think it'd be particularly helpful for the party, I'm not going to start quoting chapter and verse, but we all know it goes on - and you probably best of all, Luke, as Labour Students is very much the training ground for all this playground nonsense.

I know lots of full-time organisers and staff who do excellent work for the party (from a variety of traditions within the party) and I won't hear a word said against them. There are also one or two outright bullies and people who carry student grudges into middle age.

I simply can't accept the argument that the party staff ought to carry out a biased role when we are trying to be a democratic party with internal elections. It would be like suggesting that returning officers and the electoral commission should directly work in the interests of the government of the day. As a Labour Student survivor you'll know that you people get a marvellous education in fixing elections (if you can have an election fixed for you, you can eventually get to work in number 10) - if these people graduate and take that culture with them into organising for the party, then there are real problems.

As for the apparent disagreement between you and Peter - I can't really see the point: surely membership and winning elections go hand in hand (I seem to remember one thing in our favour in 1997 was a lot of members?)

1:31 am, January 10, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

But, Luke, there are hardly any party members left these days. So many have departed, and not all on the far left either - thats why you will be so very short of foot soldiers at the next election.

How do you think your sneering at anyone who doesn't share your very right wing views will encourage reasonable labour people who nevertheless think the leadership are in error on some matters to rejoin the party?

Or would you really prefer a smaller, purist right wing party, with left wing voters looking elsewhere. Of so, permanent opposition awaits as a significant number of labour voters who actually turn out and vote are left wing.

1:50 am, January 10, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

Oh, and the only reason labour won in 2001 and 2005 was the sheer unelectability of the Tories! There was very little enthusiasm for Labour

1:54 am, January 10, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've no idea how much sheer joy it is reading this blog and comments on the internal wranglings of the Labour Party, as a disinterested observer.

It provides a perfect explanation for why that socially dysfunctional robot called Gordon Brown finds it so difficult to smile at the appropriate place.

1:28 pm, January 10, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately when you take your eye off the internal ball you were ... er ... kicking, as in the early '80s, is when you end up unelectable for 18 years.

The internal stuff determines the candidates and policies presented externally."

My experience of Young Labour in the early years of this decade was that the leadership over compensated for the mistakes of the 1980s to a point at which it was highly counter-productive. The structures meant that the election for NEC youth rep, then the one election with a vote (although nothing like a democratic one in any meaningful sense) pitted the ultra-loyalist, staff-assisted faction against a faction encompassing people ranging from unreconstructed Marxists to people who supported 98% of Tony Blair's policies but liked the idea of OMOV within Young Labour.

This was a farce. Not least because it made Young Labour a confusing inhospitable place for young people whose idealism was essentially based on moderate social democracy (and who were far closer to being Blairites than Bennites if they were interested in either label) but who didn't like the idea of joining the party to deliver leaflets and shut up while ultra-loyalists ran the show and no meaningful debate was possible.

Obviously the leadership/loyalist approach wasn't evil (and, for me, it was vastly preferable to the organisation being run by Militant) but it was pretty silly if you assume that their overall aim was to encourage a broad-based active membership of a political party.

I assume this approach stemmed from the fear that Young Labour could only possibly tightly controlled by an ultra-loyalist, careerist clique or tightly controlled by an aging Leninist clique (as in the 1980s). I like to think there might have been a possible third way.

4:08 pm, January 10, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duncan Hall, Jackson Jeffrey Jackson and especially you, Meresymike, I demand that you condemn the Senegalese government:-


The BLACK, MUSLIM Senegalese government.

Or are they immune from criticism?

One can only imagine the firestorm of criticism had this taken place in, say, Texas.

Hypocrites the lot of you!

Wonder what Ken "Yusuf al Qaradawi is a great man" Livingstone makes of it. The Left in favour of gay rights? Pull the other one!

5:49 pm, January 10, 2009

Blogger Mark Still News said...

It seems as if the NLP is working hard to keep the working class in poverty!

Workers are now subsidising fat pig bankers and these capitalist parasites caused the mess we are in now.

The labour party should look after the workers as it does the bankers?

7:04 pm, January 10, 2009

Blogger Tom said...

Luke, agree aobut the forum used for making such complaints, but the following passage is crazy:

"They should not be neutral referees. They should be able to promote the candidates and policies of the elected leadership of the party against their internal critics."

That leads you down totalitarian roads. Plus, it would also be illegal - the Labour Party can be judicially reviewed.

Elections should be fair should be fair should be fair.

Side note: data capture for this comment is 'mespin'.

7:40 pm, January 10, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Of course I condemn the Senegalese government for this - why on earth you would imagine I wouldn't, I can't imagine.

Not sure me condemning it helps the men who've been imprisoned, nor clear what it has to do with this thread; but it is important to publicise this abuse of human rights so, thanks for doing so - I think.

Still don't understand your comment.

8:23 pm, January 10, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

I've already highlighted the activities of the Senegalese government on my blog. And condemned it.

I don't think you have quite grasped the fact that I have no religious adherence any longer and will disagree with homophobia wherever it occurs.

12:33 am, January 11, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, I don't understand. Communists should be banned? I don't think communism is very nice either but I wouldn't ban it.

What you are talking about is fascism in its extreme and I can't believe that you could honestly think along those lines.

It would be very strange if unions were to start banning people for their beliefs.....

British people must be either on drugs or stupid to put up with this type of government.

9:05 pm, January 11, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do wonder if some of Luke's critics are so out of touch and pompous thay will not laugh out loud at today's content on http://www.solidarityscotland.org/. Tommy Sheridan's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother is frostily noted in between appeals for solidarity with striking Unison members in Glasgow and news of "the protests against Israel's slaughter in Gaza and ...our initiative for left unity in the next elections." Sadly, according to the Voice of Scottish Trotskyism: "Tommy might miss some of these events due to him working away for up to three weeks."

9:18 pm, January 11, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter Kenyon! - what an inspiration he is and I'm sure he will ..inspire and help bring loads of people back to the Labour party, and his fascinating website is such an... inspiration...
With talent like this, you can't possibly fail...
A Tory :)

12:56 pm, January 12, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


you have misunderstood what I'm saying.

Of course the people actually administering and counting internal elections inside the Labour Party need to be totally neutral between candidates - but that only really covers the Director of Compliance and the Constitutional Unit. In any case the actual ballot processes and counts are outsourced to ERS, Popularis, Unity etc who are neutral 3rd parties.

But for the rest of the staff I think it is perfectly reasonable for them to have a role in the political management of the party on behalf of the Leader and NEC. Outsiders would think it was crazy if the Leader of the Labour Party was to call the Gen Sec and ask "is my policy going to get approved by conference and what are your staff going to do to get it passed" and be told "sorry PM, I'm not allowed to help you with that". For a start off the PM's own political office at No10 are on the party payroll not the govt one!

2:29 pm, January 12, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, I often read your blog and generally diagree with almost everything you say, but have thus far refrained from commenting. Your quote below, however, cannot go unchallenged:

"They should not be neutral referees. They should be able to promote the candidates and policies of the elected leadership of the party against their internal critics."

You clearly demonstrate your contempt for democracy within the Labour Party here. Party and Regional staff have oversight of local and Parliamentary selections as well as influence over elections to internal Labour positions. If the people you refer to as "left" (from your somewhat warped perspective) happened to occupy the majority of paid internal positions within the party I'd imagine you'd be clamouring for neutrality.

I work as a paid constituency organiser. Do you think I ought to spend my time fixing internal elections within my CLP on behalf of the Chair? Or should I perhaps be devoting my time to campaigning for Labour to win Parliamentary and Council elections?

I thought we were supposed to believe in fairness and democracy in the Labour Party.

3:06 am, January 16, 2009


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