New Labour: A Stakeholders' Party
The Interim Report of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee's Commission on Party Democracy.
If New Labour is to be successful in Government then it will need a party organisation outside Westminster on which it can count to mobilise popular support rather than act as a focus for opposition. Labour members must become stakeholders in a Labour government. But that will require a very different relationship between the centre and the grassroots and a party which organises itself in a very different way from Old Labour.
The symbolic break with Old Labour has been made in ideological terms through Clause 4. in policy terms through " New Labour, New Life for Britain" , now it needs to be made in organisational terms. Labour' s current organisational ethos and structure owes far too much to its history and far too little to the requirements of a modern progressive/social democratic party Labour is a nineteenth century organisation with twentieth first century aspirations,
During the last decade Labour has made a number of important changes to its internal democracy and organisation. The significance of some of these such as the introduction of One Member One Vote should not be overlooked, especially now that John Major is reported to be keen to emulate these for the Conservative party. But the reforms have been largely piecemeal, grafted on to an essentially outdated chassis. What is required now is a more fundamental appraisal of the party' s role and of how it needs to be organised in order to play this most effectively.
The Commission for Party Democracy was set up by the LCC a year ago to try to answer some of these fundamental questions about whether Labour still needs a mass party, if it does what functions it should perform what role individual members should have within it and what structures and organisational ethos will best serve these requirements. The Commission was made up of Labour party members who were able to draw on a range of different experiences from being PPCs, to working for trade unions, running a local branch and being local Councillors. The interim report which the CPD is now publishing makes no
Claim to be the final word on this subject. It represents an attempt to draw together and give some cohesion to the different strands of reform and best practice, which have emerged largely from the bottom up within the party over the last few years. Because we concentrate on trying to draw these elements into a coherent picture of what Labour could be like in the 21st century inevitably we do not explore each aspect of change in great detail. Our job has been to point Labour in the direction which reform ought to take it.
Our starting point was to conclude that even in this post-modern era there is a clear role for a mass political party associated with Labour in Parliament. Labour cannot win and sustain itself in power through a communication strategy alone. It needs many hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country to support, organise for and sustain it. And Labour has proved the pessimists wrong by almost doubling its membership to 400,000. But even this success leads to its own problems. The most obvious of which is what role will these people play with Labour in Government and how will their membership be retained.
The primary functions of a progressive political organisation associated with Labour should be to help Labour win power at local and national level; to organise election campaigns at local level; to act as agents for community regeneration; to raise funds for political organisation; to provide those who believe in progressive social change with the opportunity to associate with others whose views and values they share; to select and train candidates for public office; to provide a sounding board for the development of new strategies and ideas by progressive politicians; to give democratic legitimacy to Labour and show that it has a strong voluntary base in local communities; and to ensure that co-operative working and consensus building rather than personal wealth continue to be the basis of electoral success.
This implies a structure and ethos very different from Labour' s current one. The most fundamental change should be to the way in which Labour is organised. Labour needs to transform itself from being an unwieldy federation of committees and interest groups into a dynamic network of progressive individuals. Some local Labour branches have taken the lead in prefiguring what a 21st century Labour party could look like. Sedgefield, for example, has been tremendously successful precisely because it has had the imagination to move beyond the traditional Labour way of doing things. It has put membership involvement, social activity, campaigning and recruitment ahead of meetings, committees and bureaucracy. Other branches around the country have had similar success, though with less acclaim. Some of the more detailed lessons which can be learnt from other voluntary organisations, trade unions and pressure groups, as well as the experiences of other sister parties abroad will be set out in forthcoming papers.
No one model can be taken from a particular branch, or a different voluntary organisation let alone imported from a different country and transplanted whole to the Labour party. But out of all these experiences it is possible to form a clear picture of the sort of changes, which Labour should make.
A Member Based Party
Labour must become a party of individual members and move away from being a party of committees and other obscure representative structures. Each member should be given clear information about what rights their membership entitles them to. These are the rights to information, to participation and to consultation. And these rights should be enshrined in a Members Charter. Each member should be treated as an asset, with newly recruited members receiving a personal visit, which would include a skills audit. The aim should be both to ensure that members can participate in the way which is most appropriate to them and to enable Labour to build up an information database on its membership which can be used for targeted campaigning. The principle of One Member, One Vote by postal ballot should
be extended to elections for constituency officers, delegates to conferences & local government candidates.
Labour members should be stakeholders in a Labour government. That means that they should feel that they have a special relationship with Labour in Government, one based on affinity but also on information. To achieve this Labour will need to be able to find various means of establishing direct contact with its members. Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan had to rely on the distorting medium of the left and right wing press to report to party members what their Government was up to. Prime Minister Blair would have the opportunity to cut out the distortion and communicate directly with members. Labour has already developed direct mail shots. The party should now look to use the Internet more so that members can access direct, up to the date, information about Labour from Labour. This should include Internet Question Times for party members, where they can put questions direct to Labour Cabinet members. Labour should also use its Internet page to communicate regular direct messages from Tony Blair to party members.
Direct communication should be used to turn Labour members into party ambassadors. Mail shots could mobilise different sections of membership by occupation, location etc. to support and explain particular aspects of Government policy. For instance, thousands of doctors and nurses could get direct information about Labour' s health service reforms and plans to cut hospital waiting lists and then become advocates for these in their workplace.
Labour should also continue in Government the highly successful members meetings and rallies which Tony Blair initiated in the run-up to the vote on Clause 4. These enabled Tony Blair to appeal over the heads of GC delegates, directly to thousands of party members. The " Road to the Manifesto" has allowed Tony Blair to get to party members in the run-up to the 1996 Labour party conference. Such meetings are highly effective because they keep leadership and grassroots in touch with each other. They will be all the more important in Government and they should be organised on a more structured basis to feature senior Labour Cabinet Ministers, perhaps taking part in a series of regional Question Times for party members.
The Local Branch
Labour should change its local organisational structure from a hierarchical to a flat one. There can be no justification for maintaining separate tiers, whose main function is to exclude the bulk of the membership whilst giving a small minority a reason for attending meetings.
The traditional G C structure, in which ward branches elect delegates to run the constituency party via monthly meetings, should be abandoned. The local branch should become the primary means of organisation as this is the level closest to the individual member. However, where a branch based on a local authority electoral ward is not viable it should be merged with another branch and in some parliamentary constituencies it may be appropriate that the constituency itself becomes the branch. Clearly there will still be a need for some constituency wide co- ordination to organise for election campaigns so a small steering group of five or six elected by OMOV would co-ordinate the running of the constituency party, with local ward branches , taskforces and informal networks carrying out the core functions of the party. The purpose of members coming together at local level should be to do things not to just to meet for the sake of it. So local branches should be activity based. The main functions which the local party ought to perform are to organise election campaigns, to fund raise, to provide social activities which can allow party members, their friends and their families to enjoy meeting like minded people, to recruit new members, to provide members with skills which could help them play a key role within their local communities, and to give members a say in selecting candidates for branch and public office.
Members should be offered a variety of different ways of becoming involved in the party. This would obviously include involvement in special interest groups within the party, such as
SERA and the SEA or in groups which represent different sections of the party such as Young Labour, Women's Sections and Black Socialist Societies. So long as these groups do not conflict with Labour' s objectives then diversity should be encouraged. However, the federal structure in which many of these groups elect delegates to the local constituency should be abandoned. For party purposes, only individual membership should confer voting rights.
A major role for Labour at a local level should be to act as change and community regeneration. The modernisation project is about creating a society in which everyone is able to control over their own lives. National policy statements may set out the framework and even the funding for the sort of initiatives we wish to see available, but the real test is whether these opportunities and changes are felt at the local level. Take education standards, it is local school governors, parents, councillors and teachers who will be instrumental in turning a school around and making Labour's vision realised for children.
Local Labour Parties should be a vehicle for getting involved in the local community whether that be reviving tenants associations, establishing after school clubs, or setting up street leaders schemes. Members should be given the training, encouragement & support to put themselves forward for important civic positions: to be school governors, local councillors & magistrates.
Our membership should be treated as an asset. Their understanding, particularly of their local environment is immense, yet too rarely is this knowledge effectively used. Labour branches should become community organisations in their own right, providing information about peoples benefit, housing and legal rights. Individual members should have the opportunity to get involved in local policy groups, and problem solving taskforces to tackle issues such as lack of safe children's play facilities, tenant harassment, street safety or the poor housing repairs service. Such an approach would ensure that for the first time party member had a direct input into policy formation, which not only fed into improving the quality of life in their area, and could be used for campaigning in their community but as importantly could be taken up & supported by a labour government committed to assisting the spread of best practice across the country.
Labour should formally abandon the illusion that national policy is determined by individual Labour branches. In truth policy has never been made by local Labour parties - Beveridge not Bradford North shaped Labour' s post-war welfare policies just as Brown not Burnley will determine Labour' s economic strategy for the 1997 General Election.
Yet because local branches can submit policy resolutions to Labour party conference the fiction has developed that policy development starts with local branches. What actually happens is that individual branch resolutions are stitched together by party staff into unwieldy composite motions which manage to take most of the bite out of their component parts whilst failing to do justice to their subject or to reflect the complexity of Labour' s policy on it. Such a system is neither effective nor empowering. In practice, the policy making role which local branch delegates have actually had has not been to write new policy but to decide between different policy positions which are put to them. This is what happened famously over unilateralism. But over the major issues delegatory democracy is starting to be replaced by direct democracy, It was ordinary members not delegates who legitimised Tony Blair' s plan to scrap Clause 4. This development has been further consolidated by the decision to ballot all party members and trade union levy payers on " New Labour, New Life for Britain" .
Labour should now go the full course and decide in principle that the party programme should only be voted on by an OMOV ballot of party members and strip out the intermediary policy role of delegates acting on behalf of local branches.
Labour members should be empowered to discuss policy and political strategy in its fullest sense rather than through the constraints of artificially polarised resolutionary socialism. The emphasis should be on consultation and party conference along with national, regional and local policy forums are the best vehicles for this. Labour should also pay more attention to its own members by involving them in the process of political strategy and policy formation through creating party member focus groups.
THE POLICY FORUM PROCESS
The logic of the policy forum process is that all policy consultation should be carried out through this route rather than through party conference. National and regional policy forums are the obvious mechanisms for resolving difficult policy issues in Government and ensuring that the party is kept on board when Labour is in power.
The objective is therefore to ensure that the party has a continuing stake in Labour government. Alongside individual members involvement in local policy taskforces, there must consultation must be with key party opinion formers and council leaders. In short, the people who can carry the party outside Westminster. The current structure of representation fails to achieve the right balance, with too many worthies who in difficult times would be hard pressed to rally local branches in defence of a Labour Government.
So the structure of the National Policy Forum should be changed, possibly in line with changes to the NEC structure suggested below. This would create a National Policy Forum which more adequately represented the party as a whole.
Party conference has rightly ceased to be the annual policy making forum of the party. As the 1995 conference showed, although delegates have the theoretical power to overturn the leadership they know that the effect of doing so would be disastrous. So they become part of an elaborate rubber stamping exercise. Of course there are some who would like to embarrass Tony Blair, so an enormous effort still has to be put into ensuring that they do not get away with this. This means what should be seen as an opportunity is too often a damage limitation exercise.
Party conferences are huge media events. They provide parties with a shop window in which to advertise themselves. But even now, after all the changes, Labour is only part able to determine how it puts itself across at its own event. This is because, with a conference made up of session after session of boring but potentially damaging debates about arcane resolutions, Labour is leaving things to chance. In doing so we are missing an important opportunity. Look at the poll lift which successful Conventions gave the Republicans and then the Democrats this summer in America. The same opportunity is available for Labour in Britain. Labour takes this with Tony Blair' s speech but misses it with much of the rest of the conference.
The Conference should be used to showcase key selected policy themes in Labour' s programme. Instead of discussing everything in not very much detail delegates should have the opportunity to discuss key issues in much more. This would be best done by limiting the programme policy themes under discussion to only a few each year. An OMOV priorities ballot could then determine the two or three additional issues which members most wanted discussed at Conference.
The Conference should be made up of a mixture of Plenary sessions and seminar groups. The plenary sessions will allow Tony Blair and other front bench colleagues to present their policy themes and policy announcements and so shape the news agenda for that day. The seminar groups could then discuss these in more detail allowing for greater participation and consultation than huge conference sessions can ever give.
Political education should become a much higher priority for Labour. Labour should seize the opportunity which new technology and the Internet has created to offer members a customised political education service. Labour should establish a University of Labour, which would allow members to study accredited courses through the Internet which range from political theory, through political history, to practical organisational, electioneering and campaigning skills. Some courses might enable people to develop their understanding of social democratic theory and economics. Others might help, develop skills for running an office, preparing a budget, running an election campaign. In doing this Labour really would be applying its traditional values in a modern setting. It used to be the case that, at least in part, people joined trade unions and the Labour party because they thought that it would help them get on. The political education which used to be provided through summer schools, evening classes, shop stewards training, and the W E.A. is now only available to a very few Creating a University of Labour would allow the party to recapture the promise that it used to offer members when it last had a mass membership in the 1950s.
The selection process for Parliamentary candidates should be reformed so that Labour is able to attract a wider spread of high quality candidates. Labour should operate a list system for PPCs so that all potential candidates have to be interviewed and approved by the NEC before they can be selected by an individual CLP. This panel of approved candidates should receive training from the party nationally. Labour' s policy of quotas for women only short-lists has been hugely successful in increasing the number of women PPCs selected to fight winnable seats - generating admiration from a Conservative party which is desperately worried about how it selects its own candidates. The NEC should build on Labour' s success and ensure that the new Parliamentary panel had an even balance between men and women and a representative proportion of candidates from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
The Parliamentary Panel should be treated as an asset by Labour, with approved candidates receiving thorough training from the party nationally. This should include comprehensive media training, extensive briefing on party policy and management training. Candidates should be used by the party between elections as spokespersons and should be kept regularly in contact with the Labour nationally. And candidates should receive some help, in the form of travel expenses, for their campaigning and attendance at selection meetings. When it comes to the local selection, the current anomalies in the rules which favour candidates on the inside track should be removed. That means that there should be complete openness in the selection with all candidates having access to membership records. It also means that all new members should be treated equally rather than the current system where members who join via the special trade union rate are entitled to vote immediately in selections, whilst members who do not come in through this route have to wait 12 months before they get a vote. A common qualification period of six months for all members would appear the most sensible approach. All members should automatically receive a postal vote and prior to that an invitation to hustings. The arcane nomination system should be overhauled to meet the needs of OMOV, with one way forward being to only give ward branches the right to nominate for the shortlist.
Reforming the NEC
Labour's National Executive Committee should not be a policy making body. With the development of direct member OMOV democracy there is no place for intermediary bodies such as the NEC to make policy. Policy should be the preserve of individual members and Labour' s Parliamentary Committee. The NEC has in practice recognised this in recent years, which is why there have been no policy show downs with Tony Blair. This practice should now be formalised so that there is no potential for the NEC to become a focus for opposition to a Labour Government. The NEC's job should be an organisational one, to run the party. It is clearly not appropriate for leading Labour politicians, let alone Cabinet Ministers, to attend regular meetings of a Committee whose role it is to oversee the running of the party, the organisational planning of election campaigns, fund-raising, political education etc. Tony Blair has already indicated that he would not want to be a member of the NEC in Government his Cabinet colleagues should not be members either.
The NEC should be more representative of the party as a whole than it is currently. In addition to barring Cabinet members, trade union representation should be scaled down. Trade union over representation on the NEC is an anomaly given OMOV and the reduction in the block vote at conference.. The NEC should comprise of five sections: a constituency section elected by OMOV; a PLP /EPLP section elected from within their ranks; a trade union section elected by trade union levy payers; a Councillors section elected by members of the Association of Labour Council1ors; and a Young Labour section elected by young members.
A number of important changes have been made to party organisation in the past few years. John Smith House now has a mission statement setting out its main functions. The campaigning effort which has been organised in marginal seats is generally acknowledged to have been very successful. Labour now runs a very effective press office and rebuttal team. And Labour' s local government base is now much more effectively served through the party' s local government unit. But if the party is to re-orientate itself towards being a member based one then the services which it provides should reflect this. That means a greater emphasis and more resources for political education and the establishment of a University for Labour. And it means a greater effort being put into direct communication with members, with more extensive use of the Internet. Party members should also get clear information about how their money is spent. An annual report should be sent to each member which sets out, possibly in pie chart form what the party' s money is spent on. This report should also set targets for recruitment, levels of political education, and then report on how successful the party has been at attaining these.
At Regional Office level the party should be geared up to providing cascade training for local party organisers, so that they in turn can train others in their local party. Some of this already happens, it now needs to be organised on a more systematic basis. The objective should be to increase the political skills base within Labour and equip far more people with the skills they will need to improve their local communities and run key community organisations in their areas.
The National Executive Committee set up the 'Party into Power' Project because it rightly recognised that the Labour Party's organisational structures needs to reflect the changing requirements of a modern progressive Party on the brink of power. This interim report is an initial contribution by the LCC working party, The Commission on Party Democracy'.
The report does not attempt to be a blueprint, nor is it comprehensive in covering all aspects of the Party's political and organisational structures. It has not addressed issues which require changes beyond the Party's constitution and rules, such as full-time paid councillors or state funding. Rather it lays out a set of options for organisational & cultural change within the Labour Party Some of the ideas outlined in this report will be followed up by more detailed working papers over the months ahead, for example
the University of Labour
the parliamentary selection process
reforming the NEC
local party structures
supporting community activity & civic leadership
experiences of sister parties abroad
best practice of voluntary & trade union organisations.
The objective must be to create a democratic progressive Party fit to sustain itself in power in the 21st century