Labour for the members, by the members?
Another week, another almighty row as Labour people take chunks out of… Labour people. This is the much-anticipated Labour Party Democracy Review, a sinister move to push the party to the left or a chance to put it truly in the hands of its half a million strong membership, depending on your views on Tony Blair.
With Labour three points behind the Conservatives in the polls, despite Brexit and the Boris mess, you could be forgiven for thinking that now isn’t the time to be arguing with each other about party process. But argue they will.
There is one proposal – and it is just a proposal at this stage – that has caused particular anguish. It would see local party members choose the Leader of their Group (of councillors) and thus the Leader of the council in areas where Labour is the largest party. Local party members tend to be more left wing than their councillors – particularly after Corbyn and his Momentum acolytes have swelled the party’s ranks – so this would cause a seismic shift in the politics and policies of Labour-controlled town halls across the country.
The strength of reaction is understandable. Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council and the Local Government Association Labour group, has called it a ‘ridiculous idea’ and writes in The Guardian that it would bring ‘legal challenges to local authority constitutions’ and ‘endless infighting’. He rightly points out that Labour-led councils are the only chance the party has to effect real change for people and argues that this looks like the party attempting to pull the rug from under their feet yet again (see Haringey).
But whether these proposals come into effect or not – and it is hard to see that happening if the national party values unity with its local government colleagues at all – they remind us again of how energised the membership of the Labour Party is compared to the Tories’. Their capacity to campaign, both online and offline, was decisive in their better-than-expected performance at the last General Election. Winning the next is surely the best way to secure Corbyn’s dynasty.