DEMOCRACY’S a complicated thing. Or so it would seem.
This week, Labour’s national executive committee has come under fire from the right of the party for its “Stalinist” move to derecognise the Labour Students organisation.
According to its critics, it has moved to silence dissent by undemocratically shutting down an organisation that refuses to toe the line, against the wishes of the party’s membership, and replacing it with a new organisation loyal to the leader.
Similarly, it has taken a lot of flak over the past year for proposals to allow “trigger ballots” — supposedly a mechanism to punish disloyal MPs and replace them once again with those loyal to the leader.
Our TV screens and newspaper opinion columns are filled with the manufactured outrage of liberals and Blairites: how could Jeremy Corbyn and those around him discard accepted democratic norms and impose their view within the party?
Of course, even a cursory glance at either of these issues shows that reality is nothing like the picture that has been presented.
Labour Students (formerly National Organisation of Labour Students or NOLS) has been an undemocratic shell organisation controlled by the right of the party for years.
It has operated as a well-funded conveyor belt for a handful of right-wing students to make their way seamlessly from student politics into safe seats, while the vast majority of Labour-supporting students have had no representation within the party whatsoever.
Of 90 University Labour Clubs in the country, only 32 remain affiliated to the body.
There are approximately 30,000 student members of the Labour Party and yet, in the last set of Labour Students elections, only 507 votes were cast and six of 14 candidates were elected with fewer than 21 votes.
Whereas you might be expecting student Labour Party members to be mourning the loss of an organisation which purported to represent them, social media is full of relief from genuine student activists.
Similarly with trigger ballots. Far from enforcing the view of the leader’s office, the trigger ballot mechanism puts the decision of candidates for general elections in the hands of local members and ends the undemocratic system whereby candidates, once selected, effectively had a seat for life if they were in a safe Labour constituency.
This extension of democracy to the membership of the Labour Party can only be welcomed.
It is not democratic norms that Corbyn and the left of the party have broken with — accepted norms they may be, but democratic they are not.
Rather, it is a break with the accepted agreements around how parliamentary politics works — a system which often has little to do with democracy.
In many ways, it is reminiscent of the outrage heaped on Laura Pidcock when she said she could never be friends with a Tory because she sees them as the “enemy.”
The liberal Establishment was genuinely shocked: of course we are on different sides in the chamber and there’s some good healthy debate, but at the end of the day, we’re all friends, right?
For many of those who allegedly represent us in Parliament, this is simply about going through the motions, doing the right favours for the right people, and whatever you do, don’t rock the neoliberal boat.
For those of us on the receiving end of their decisions, it is a question of whether we can pay the rent, whether our families eat tomorrow, whether our local hospital is there to save our lives.
So we should be celebrating the end of Labour Students and the introduction of procedures for reselection of Labour MPs.
Democracy is not a game. And it’s not complicated either. It’s about putting the interests of working people first. Every time.
And if that’s not what you’re there to do, you will be replaced.
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