THERE was once a clear-cut case for a tripartite college, comprising affiliated trade unions, parliamentary representatives and the party membership, to ensure the broadest spread of opinion in the election of Labour leaders.
The college arose in response to fears that trade unionists’ opinions might be swamped by professional politicians elected to parliamentary bodies and possibly out of touch with the party grassroots.
That is no longer the case, following one member one vote (Omov) changes introduced at British level by former leader Ed Miliband and overwhelmingly backed by all sections of the Labour membership.
Full and affiliated party membership has rocketed, with Omov providing British leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish leader Richard Leonard with majorities that constitute real mandates for leadership.
For the Labour’s Welsh executive committee (WEC) to decide last November, supported by First Minister Carwyn Jones, that his successor and the holder of the new position of deputy leader, who has to be a woman, must be selected by a college was a backward step.
It indicates top-level distrust of the new membership and tells them that, welcome as their foot-slogging at elections might be, their views are not valued as highly as those of Labour’s AMs, MPs and, for the moment, MEPs.
Jones claims that the college “has served us very well,” but how does this square with the reality that, when most Labour Party members wanted Rhodri Morgan as leader in 1999, he was defeated by the combined weight of MPs and unions backing Alun Michael?
It was only after Michael’s resignation to avoid a no-confidence motion that the membership had their way and new leader Morgan could champion the “clear red water” flowing between Cardiff and Westminster.
Jones insists that the college issue has been “put to bed,” but at least five of his eight cabinet members support Omov, as does a majority of constituency Labour organisations that responded to a consultation on the issue.
Welsh Labour holds its spring conference in April. What better place to debate the matter and decide what makes political sense now, rather than relying on old arguments?
No-one can maintain the pretence that a college is vital to reflect Labour’s links with the unions. The unions overwhelmingly backed the Omov proposals.
The real suspicion will be that those committed to the old tripartism are more interested in inflating the power and influence of MPs and AMs over and above that of the membership.
New members will not take kindly to what they will see, correctly, as a stitch-up. Nor will groups, such as Welsh Labour Grassroots, that have fought consistently for members’ rights.
The WEC should recognise the error of its ways and accept that the issue must be debated at Welsh Labour’s spring conference.
Feeble May daren’t sack Boris Johnson
TORY announcements that Theresa May has “rebuked” Boris Johnson over his pre-Cabinet meeting comments bring to mind Denis Healey’s reference to a criticism from Geoffrey Howe being akin to “being savaged by a dead sheep.”
Johnson knows that May doesn’t dare sack him, which simply confirms her weakness and, in his mind, one of the reasons he should replace her.
Labour shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth is spot on in commenting that Johnson is not concerned by patients waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors or in ambulances outside A&E departments.
His sole interest is in projecting himself as prime minister in waiting, the very embodiment of Tory self-interest and the arrogance of entitlement.
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