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There are a number of ways we can strengthen the voice of the members in policy making at every stage. This needs to be done with a sense of responsibility on both sides. If we are to practice the collectivism we preach, we need both to make and accept collective decisions. That goes for me campaigning publically for a party fighting to keep Trident, as much as it goes for the Party agreeing to review that decision if the members choose to do so.
I recommend not just an audit trail for any ideas submitted by CLPs, Unions and Socialist Societies to any policy making body, though that is an important first step. I recommend a clear story of the submission. We need to know what body has considered it. If it was accepted for further consideration, we need to know where it goes to next. If rejected, we need a reason why. Not an essay perhaps, but a cogent explanation.
We could reward activity with invitations to be more engaged. If people are giving up large quantities of their spare time, it is unlikely to be out of a sheer love of delivering leaflets. People get involved in politics to be and stay inspired, and to change things for the better. Yes, leaflets are probably important (though when was the last time we tested that, as I don’t think many people read them). But delivering them isn’t enough to make people feel they are making a difference.
MPs need to remember that for every Labour Party member who makes it to Parliament, to Government, to leadership, there is an army of people who made this happen. The lucky few who make it aren’t uniquely blessed by God, they were chosen among a number of other suitably qualified candidates and fought for by a determined army. We praise and appreciate their talents, but don’t ever think that doesn’t mean that we aren’t equally aware of their weaknesses. They are there because of us, and while they are elected to serve the country, their first mandate is to do so in the democratic way that we as a party agree is the best way forward. We have different ideas from the other parties, and we know in our hearts that ours are right. They should never, ever forget that they are there as our representatives. They are not bigger than the party, and the way we all know this is that they wouldn’t be elected as independents.
We don’t work this hard for the betterment of another person’s career, but because we believe in a better way of organising society. That’s important to us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need or want to be challenged. We understand the need to be constantly evaluating what this organisation means and would mean to our modern citizens. It does mean that when we take a person on as our representative, this underlying belief is what they are there to represent; That we will only accept a challenge when presented through the prism of our unchanging values.
Having an army of volunteers work for you must feel good. I can understand how MPs may come to think that it is their unique talent that is important and not the collective values they are there to represent. My understanding this doesn’t make it right. It isn’t.
So each MP should have a contract agreed with their constituency, a minimum standard of engagement to which they are expected to adhere to. A contract that – in the final instance – is enforceable by the NEC. This should not restrict them politically, but ensure that where they do disagree with a majority of their CLP on an issue they are at least expected to attend discussions to explain their decision making process.
In this review of Labour’s policy making and party structures there is something missing: Any discussion of root and branch reformation of the Party staff. The Party staff work long and very hard. But I am unconvinced – sceptical even – that they are led to do so in the right way with the right outcomes in mind.
Everyone has a story about the control freakery of the Party. From the “lost” submissions to the press releases not viewed by candidates; from queries never answered to open derision aimed at member bodies. From the canvassing for votes and strong-arming delegates at conferences at which they were supposed to listen to the will of the party, to ignoring what came out of those votes when the strong-arming didn’t go as planned.
Mostly we rightly blamed the leadership. And we will be right to do so again if Ed doesn’t get a handle on this problem. But we can’t ignore a whole aspect of the Labour culture that exists and reinforces itself among the staff.
What has happened at head office is understandable in a historical context. When Labour was tearing itself apart, an over emphasis on their role in our internal discipline was essential to bring us back from the brink. But what was once essential is now habit. Current and former party staffers I meet take pride in defining themselves against the members, despite the members having grown and matured away from the undisciplined rabble we have been. We don’t need a nanny anymore, and clinging to that role is making them an inadequate provider of what is needed.
The Party is about to appoint a new General Secretary. I urge whoever that is to be far bolder than any person in that role has managed for years and remember why you are there. Remind the staff what they are for, not just what they define themselves against. Introduce member feedback and modern mechanisms and understanding of politics. Don’t just have a Movement for Change officer, have a genuinely changed ethos.
I want to support the staff in continuing to do the hard, hard slog of getting us back to power. All I ask, all I want, is that they decide to support me and the millions like me in doing the same.
Finally, I envisage a completely different way of running our conferences.
A reconstituted NPF (one in which every elected member can inform any one of the policy commissions) would prepare documents based on their discussions and submissions in time for Easter.
Instead of a spring conference that feels like a smaller, less important version of the autumn conference, we would instead invite delegates from every CLP, Union and Socialist Societies as well as 10 MPs selected by lottery to participate in a direct democracy event lasting over several days. These would be closed to the media and be a modernised version of the old compositing events.
Split into manageable tables of 10 with a facilitator and laptop at each table there would be discussion around each section of the documents produced by the NPF. Feedback would be inputted to a central point by the facilitators and the networked laptops would display comments for groups discussion and take in all the input.
The outcomes of these discussions would be voted on by everyone in the room. These would them be put back together again with reference to the voting and comments by the Labour Party Staff for the NPF to sign off to send for final approval at the Autumn conference.
This level of input and scrutiny should give members a real sense of control over the policy making process, while the staff and NPF can keep it on track. Having the initial discussions away from the cameras will also help to ensure that we don’t replicate the terrible conferences of the 1980s while keeping members in charge.
This would also free up more time for the autumn Party conference to be a more outward looking event, where Labour sets its stall out to the nation.
Look at the photo above. You probably recognise the woman on the left. She’s the woman always on the left. That’s Diane Abbott being elected for the first time in 1987.
But this blog isn’t about Diane Abbott. It’s about the bloke standing next to her. Her agent that time around. The one whose face you can’t really see because he’s concentrating on the task at hand. Given they’re actually at the count, there’s reason to doubt he’s trying to convince Diane to do one last knock up. But no one who’s met John Burnell would put it past him.
When Labour people gather together, often the topic will come around to political heroes. Bevan and Blair, King and Kinnock, Benn and Obama. These are great politicaians, great orators, great leaders. But the reason we know of any of them is becuase of people like John Burnell. The people who don’t reap the fame and the glory, but get the sore feet and the cross word when they send you out to do another bloody leaflet round.
John didn’t start his life as a Labour man. in fact he’s the son of a Tory Councillor and Street Captain (I don’t know what a street captain is, other than something they had in the Tories in the 60s and 70s, but by all accounts my Nana was a formidable one). Comfortably suburban and newly middle class, the Burnells sent their son to a private school he hated and then packed him off to university expecting great things. From the rows that followed, I’m not sure that becoming a Labour Party organiser was what they had in mind!
John worked for the Party for a while then went into Personnel, eventually setting up his own one man band consultancy. Every summer, John’s incoming profits – healthy the rest of the year round – would dip alarmingly. He simply couldn’t work out what was causing it. Until I realised he lived in an area with elections practically every spring. John had – of course – been spending too much time leafleting and canvassing for Labour and not enough chasing business for himself.
The highest office John has ever held was as a Hackney Councillor. He also edited a book once. The Institute for Workers Control sounds quite Trot-like. I think John probably was of the Left back in the day. But one thing he has never and would never be is a Trot. His highest value is loyalty to the Party. He knows and understands that all other values spring from there. Without the party we’re a bunch of lost individuals shouting into the void at the unfairness of it all. Together, we are a collective that can, has and will change the world. John Burnell is why I wear the name triballist with pride.
John retired last month. In real terms of course, this simply means that he’ll have more time than ever to dedicate to the Labour Party. He must be thrilled that Stevenage is an Island seat, selecting early. It will keep him busy for the next few years. Watch out East Herts!
John can be a tough nut to crack sometimes. He doesn’t suffer fools – or people not willing to go on one last GOTV mission at 9.45 – gladly. He gives his all and he expects others to do the same. But if he’s ever campaigned with you or for you, my God are you glad when he’s on your side.
John’s given 45 years to the Labour Party. God willing he’ll be giving at least 20 more. The Labour Party owes John and the Johns of this world a massive debt of gratitude, and I will be looking into ways they can do that. A simple thank you would mean the world to this man who has dedicated his life to his Party.
John Burnell is my Dad and he’s my all time political hero.
I’ve been a member of the party since I was 15 years old. I have stuck with it, as I have the sense to understand that it is when the left splinters that the right wins. I also know that it’s not about political parties winning and losing a giant chess game, but about the people the parties represent and the competing visions for Britain that our parties – at their best – represent.
I stuck with Labour in Government, through Iraq, through arms sales to Tanzania, through control orders and 90 day detention, through ID cards and being extremely relaxed about the rich” because I knew that on balance we were doing good. I was critical internally but loyal to the party, because i know that a civil war in the Labour Party will only hurt the people we are supposed to protect.
There are people int he party who differ from me. They do see the whole thing as a game, and there is definitely more than one opponent. They are playing games with the stability of the party, threatening war, rather than engaging in conversation. As Labour goes into a long process of policy making, they don’t want to stick around supporting the party through the result. They see how far we are from a General Election and, hooked on the adrenaline and testerone they overdosed on during first the election campaign and then the leadership, they can’t stop campaigning. They have decided to wage an addled permanent war with anyone who might make the Labour Party look vaguely different from the mould they set in 1994. They are also, to be charitable, scared. There are other kids playing with the toys they used to claim were theirs alone. They are worried about where they fit in a post New Labour future. Where once they were kings, now they are members.
Red Ed is – in reality – anything but. He’s a social democrat with some considered and nuanced positions on civil liberties that move the party beyond the Blair years, but he’s not Michael Foot. What Eed seems to be intent on doing, if having a conversation with the party, the unions, the Socialist Societies about how we develop a new raft of policy. He’ll get some of that wrong (and we’ll all disagree on exactly what he gets wrong, as we will all have our own ideas) but if he really listens to the whole party, he’ll also get a lot of it right.
The Milburnite Militant Faction will have to learn that their role is to be like the rest of us. Not better, not worse. We are here not to beat you but to converse, convince and hopefully convert you. Convert you back to being a democratic socialist who understands that
The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. That it believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.
Every time you lash out, you wound not the leader but the party. Every time you engage in constructive dialogue, you convince a few more people. Sometimes we will convince you. Sometimes you will convince us. But you will not convince me or anyone that your sniping and backbiting is done for the good of the Party and more importantly for the good a country cowering under the treat of horrendous Tory cuts.
The Party is at a good place in the polls. We are ready for a coherent policy process alongside a demonstrable fightback against this coalition. We have a leader and we aren’t going to have another contest anytime soon. Do you want Labour to win the next election? If so, and if you really think we’re going so badly wrong, get into the process, have your voice heard. But if you continue to brief against the party, knowing that it will lead to electoral defeat, you are the new Militant, and your nihilistic destructiveness will not be forgiven. Not by the party and not by the voters.
Some questions and suggestions from some of the great people I talked to at conference. Apologies for the dodgy filming!
So we won. And not just the leadership contest, but the wider battle to bring the party together and start the process of uniting behind a new leadership and a new direction. The healing process has only just begun and will take time, but Ed’s confident, assured and frankly barnstorming speech, one which outlined every value I have wanted to hear from a Labour leader for so long, started that process. Tuesday the party felt like it was healing the wounds that had threatened to tear us apart. By Wednesday we were looking and talking like one party working together to rid ourselves of the truly destructive force of the government. It won’t be easy and it’s a long hard road ahead, but I do feel we have made the best of all possible starts.
However, it would be inhuman not to feel for David Miliband at this point. He’s an extremely bright and able man who is far more nuanced a thinker than is sometimes presented. He will be a loss to frontline politics, but I believe he has made the right choice for himself and for the party.
Later on I will upload some more videos of some ordinary members I met with their asks for the party.
I have to say – and of course as an Ed M supporter I am clearly biased – but I think Ed has played a canny game with his recent pronouncements both that let down Lib Dems should look again at Labour, and at the same time predicting their extinction to Kilmarnock Labour Party. And while I doubt that he had anything to do with the Kennedy rumours directly, they won’t have hurt him with his chosen audience either.
Because Ed isn’t really speaking to the Lib Dems. He’s speaking to the Labour members who want to see us take the best of what the Lib Dems might have offered in a Lib Lab coalition – on civil rights for example – but also have a strong belief in the ethos and importance of the public sector and Keynesian economics.
Oh he may be appealing to Lib Dem voters who are waking up to the difference between what they thought they were voting for and what they got. Probably more to voters than to members for now, but that can and will change as the Government implement their vicious cuts.
But what he’s really doing is proving that he know how to win and fight an election. He’s looking at who his electorate are (including the 10,000 recent members previously identified as Lib Dems who will probably vote as newly active members) and what they want and he’s giving it to them in good policy based terms.
Critics say that pandering to the party won’t win the country, but I disagree. Firstly, re-energising the party will build a huge advantage that money can’t buy. It was activists who stopped the last election being the disaster it could have been despite all of Ashcroft’s millions. Keeping them energised for the fight will be essential. Secondly, there is a good electoral strategy coming out of Ed’s thoughts both on where the Labour Party should be, and also on whose votes we should be aiming to win. It’s a winning combination of strategy and good policy that could well push him over the top come September.
I’m not surprised or disappointed that Alan Milburn has agreed to work for the coalition, I’m surprised and disappointed that a man like this ever managed to make his way through the Labour ranks in the first place.
For every Labour Party member who makes it to Parliament, to Government, to leadership, there is an army of people who made this happen. these lucky few aren’t uniquely blessed by God, they were chosen among a number of other suitably qualified candidates and fought for by a determined army. We praise and appreciate their talents, but don’t ever think that doesn’t mean that we aren’t equally aware of their weaknesses. They are there because of us, and while they are elected to serve the country, their first mandate is to do so in the democratic way that we as a party agree is the best way forward. We have different ideas from the other parties, and we know in our hearts that ours are right. They should never, ever forget that they are there as our representatives. They are not bigger than the party, and the way we all know this is that they wouldn’t be elected as an independent.
We don’t work this hard for the betterment of one other person’s career, but because we believe in a better way of organising society. That’s important to us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need or want to be challenged. We understand the need to be constantly evaluating what this organisation means and would mean to our modern citizens. It does mean that when we take you on as our representative, this underlying belief is what you are there to represent. That we will only accept a challenge when presented through the prism of our unchanging values.
Having this army of volunteers work for you must feel good. I can understand how a person may come to think that it is their unique talents that is important and not the collective values they are there to represent. My understanding this doesn’t make it right. It isn’t.
Neither does this make our party one of narrow interests. The myriad interpretations of our values always make for interesting policy discussions and debates. But in the end, we do come back to our core values in an understanding that they are what unites us.
The last time I saw Alan Milburn speak, it was at a Fabian Conference. He spoke shallowly, attacking the concept of Social Housing seeing only an outmoded model of community based housing vs an ownership society. His model of Social Mobility is well meaning, but narrow and shallow. His willingness to work with the coalition doesn’t surprise me, as he is exactly the kind of New Labour politician who forgets why he was elevated and what was holding him up. He believed far too much in his own mythology, and I’m sure has taken this position with the coalition is the certain and unswerving belief that he is the only person for the job.
But anyone who shared in the values of the Labour Party would have no faith that this ideologically manic government would implement the kind of solutions we believe will actually work. And anyone who was willing to implement the kind of small state sticking plasters solutions to the gaping wounds this government is already inflicting could never have shared our values.
Labour must learn that we will only survive while we champion, rather than hide, our values. The New Labour Milburn days are thankfully behind us, but what is to come is still unsure. I hope for the sake of our values and the people we champions (as opposed to the people we choose to lead the championing) that we get this crucial next phase right by basing it on our core values.
Dear Andy, David, Diane, Ed & Ed,
As you set of on your hols I thought I’d give you a few thoughts to chew over. I know you’re getting advice from every quarter at the moment, but with all of you expressing a greater commitment to listening and to party democracy, I thought I’d add my twopence worth.
I’m a fairly ordinary Labour Party member. I am probably a bit more active in national bodies than I am locally, but I am not important or influential in the party (hands up who stopped reading at that point), I have no money to donate (still with me?) and no strong faction to bring to the table (hello?!). But I understand the Labour Party and its members. I was born into the Labour Party and my parents – especially my Dad – are the kind of grassroots members who keep us going and whose intervention and shoe leather stopped us falling all the way off our cliff in May.
I live and breath Labour politics. I discuss endlessly with my colleagues, friends and family how Labour could win again, could be better and could win/win back the support we don’t currently have. From these conversations, and my own observations I offer you the following pieces of advice:
1. Be a leader, not a fighter.
You will have plenty of colleagues who will be able to take the fight to the Tory coalition. You will need to be a figurehead who is see as above that. Yes, attack at PMQs will be important, as will rebuttal. But wherever possible, you must delegate this, and use your platform to inform and inspire. The more you can be seen as a real embodiment of a positive Labour message, the better.
2. Give up some of your power
If you want to have the ultimate authority of becoming Prime Minister, what you really need is a strong team behind you. Not just the bright young Oxbridge Grads that scoot around after you as you go from husting to husting, but the army of Labour members, who may understand they are the foot soldiers, but still want to play a vital role in policy making and in steering the direction of the party. Let them.
Sure, we may end up with a few policies you think will harm us in the Daily Mail, but then we are never, ever going to win over the Daily Mail. We will definitely end up with a considerably more energised and committed party willing to fight and fight hard for a victory they really believe in.
3. Use the resources the Party has ignored for too long.
One way of doing this is to be more sensible about how the Labour Party utilises the resources it has. One great example of this is the Socialist Societies. These are single issue groups full of people who really, really know and understand both their policy areas and the way these impact on the core Labour values of fairness and justice. As the party currently lacks money for research, this vacuum could be filled by these groups, providing not only a wealth of expertise, but also a great way of offering to members a way of getting engaged in the issues they really care about.
4. Ensure CLPs are properly engaging in their communities
I have been banging on for years about the value of changing the CLP meeting structure and getting people out on the streets, cleaning up graffiti and litter or painting dilapidated play spaces or eyesores. I suspect you as leader could be far more influential in changing our meeting culture to that of activism as well as policy engagement.
5. Chill out!
The coalition may well be here to last for 5 years. Relax and stop obsessing over the polls. Be Labour in the face of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express while in opposition, and you will be able to govern with a strong agenda and mandate. Also lead by example with your work life balance. Get a hobby, take holidays and enjoy your families. You need to be a person as well as a politician.
6. But don’t be someone you are not.
When I say get a hobby, don’t – for Gods sake – focus group it. Do something that interests you, not what a clever pollster tells you the public want you to do. If you actually have terrible taste in music, that’s actually OK, no one will vote for you on the strength of your music taste (though I am impressed with your love of the Wedding Present Andy!).
7. Read something you disagree with every day.
It will raise your blood pressure, but will also keep your skills of argument sharp. I make a point of reading Conservative Home and Lib Dem Voice regularly. Knowing what the other side are talking and arguing about can only make you stronger.
8. The “other side” is never your own party except Frank Field.
The Labour Party is a broad church. You won’t agree with everything and they won’t all agree with you. But that’s not the point of leadership. Never attack your own members. But you should cut Frank Field loose. He’s an embarrassment and we need better party discipline from our MPs.
9. Cut out the dead wood.
This will be really difficult, as it is natural to turn to our predecessors for advice, but the following people need to be nowhere near the Labour Party for the sake of cleansing our brand for the foreseeable and indeed distant future: Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, James Purnell, Charles Clarke. The following should be left on the back benches: Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears, Caroline Flint. I’m sure they are interesting and have much to offer, but the hard political truth, and what they would be advising you were it 20 years ago, is that talent is no match for the stigma they bring.
10. Don’t forget each other’s good ideas
There have been plenty in this leadership campaign. Remember to be both magnanimous and sharing in victory, then coldly pinch all that was the best about your combined talents!
I hope this advice is helpful to you. I promise here and now I will continue to work and fight hard whoever wins, and I hope you all do the same.
Yours in Socialism,