TONY BENN once said that democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world. There have even been suggestions by Labour’s democracy refuseniks that advocates of greater democracy must be Marxists.
They frequently pose that question to anyone who wants to give Labour’s mass movement more say over policy and the power to determine who represents them at elections.
Similarly, calls to stop, or at least limit, the ability of the Parliamentary Labour Party (which currently stands at around 0.04 per cent of the total membership) to veto who can stand as leader are also dismissed as extremist.
These hysterical outbursts have even been directed at Labour’s much needed Democracy Review, which will be recommending an overhaul of the party’s democracy at conference this autumn.
But neither the emotional spasms of New Labour diehards, nor the sense of entitlement displayed by those trapped in the Westminster bubble, should be allowed to derail the democratisation of our party.
That is why during the summer recess I will be touring constituencies up and down the country alongside Tosh McDonald and other Labour Party democrats. We will be speaking with members about how to enhance their democratic right to shape the future direction of their party.
Given the existential crisis that the Tories are currently experiencing over Brexit, we could be faced with an election before the end of the year or in the spring of 2019. We therefore need to ensure the party is prepared for government, with a motivated mass movement, alongside candidates who will implement a common sense socialist programme and withstand any backlash from the neoliberal establishment.
The importance of accountability of our elected representatives in such circumstances will therefore be essential to the functioning and vibrancy of our movement. It will not only empower the membership, it will also improve the quality of representation by those holding elected office.
Empowering rank and file members, who are rooted in the community, will enable the Labour Party to do politics with the community rather than to the community.
If the leadership had listened to members when we were in government between 1997 and 2010, it wouldn’t have made as many errors as it did, and some of those errors were truly catastrophic.
Britain would not have gone to war in Iraq, the PFI would not have been expanded, the anti-trade union laws would have been repealed, the housing crisis would have been addressed through a massive council house building programme and by regulating the private rented sector, public services would not have been outsourced, higher education would have remained free, social security would not have been stigmatised — I could go on, but you get my drift.
Many Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) have passed resolutions calling for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection of MPs. This is a thoroughly democratic principle, which applies to every other elected position in every organisation in the country from trade union leaders and Labour councillors to the office holders in charitable and community organisations.
We previously had mandatory reselections in the 1980s. In those days, prior to each general election, delegates to the management committees of local CLPs were empowered to reselect their sitting MP or choose a different candidate for the next election. I would like to see mandatory reselection based on one member one vote, but until that happens we have to work within the existing trigger ballot rules.
Trigger ballots are a flawed system that was championed by Neil Kinnock. If members in a constituency want an open contest they can only secure it through a trigger ballot.
This requires a majority of ward parties, affiliated trade union branches and socialist societies to vote for it.
The problem is there is no weighting attached to the votes. So, a trade union can affiliate a branch to a local CLP where they only have one member living within the constituency boundary.
That branch will count as one vote in a trigger ballot, just as a trade union, socialist society or a ward party with hundreds of members will also count as one vote. Consequently, the wishes of hundreds, or even thousands of members can be frustrated either way in a trigger ballot by a far smaller cohort of members.
Another criticism of the current trigger ballot mechanism is that the votes of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies can be determined by one official. They are not required to consult the members of their affiliated branches with the constituency, unlike ward parties, which are required to hold a meeting to determine if their members want an open selection.
So, the aim of the Democracy Roadshow is to raise awareness and stimulate debate about democracy in the party leading up to this year’s conference when the recommendations of the Democracy Review will be determined.
Chris Williamson is Labour MP for Derby North.
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