#029 A “People Powered Party”
Is the Labour Party Really Democratic?
The Labour Party calls itself a democratic (socialist), people powered organisation, but in reality it is neither a socialist nor a democratic party.
Here are eight reasons as to why.
- In the summer of 2016 Hilary Benn MP, then a shadow cabinet member, contacted multiple members of the then shadow cabinet, to try to coordinate a coup and force out the then leader of the labour party, who was elected by the labour membership less than a year prior. The coup failed, as 61.8% of the membership later voted to keep the leader in position, in response to the all out leadership challenge, but the fact many Labour MPs considered it acceptable to explicitly dispense with the democratically elected winner of the 2015 labour party leadership election suggests that many Labour MPs simply put their own views, interests and preferences ahead of respecting basic member democracy in the Labour party.
- In 2017, the Labour Party won 262 seats in the house of commons on the manifesto pledge, “Labour accepts the referendum result”.
By the 2019 manifesto it had pivoted to “Labour will give the people the final say on Brexit. Within three months of coming to power, a Labour government will secure a sensible deal. And within six months, we will put that deal to a public vote alongside the option to remain.” This pivot suggested the Labour Party would be willing to reverse a national, democratic decision, despite the results of both the 2016 E.U. referendum itself and the 2017 general election, where the majority of votes went to political parties accepting & respecting the vote to leave the European Union.
- The Labour Party does not have primaries, alternatively known as Open Selection or Mandatory Re-Selection, where party members always select their constituency parliamentary candidates democratically, before each general election, where the incumbent member of parliament faces off against possible challengers in their local constituency party, https://www.labour-open-selection.org.uk/.
- The Labour Party, in late 2020, banned all motions around Keir Starmer’s decision to withhold the parliamentary whip from Jeremy Corbyn MP from being heard, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/keir-starmer-suspend-whip-jeremy-corbyn-labour-nec-walkout-b1760936.html, in doing so, the labour establishment sought to control and police what could and could not be discussed democratically in labour party branch and constituency meetings across the country. This has also happened on other occasions.
- The top echelons of the Labour Party, in 2021, ignored conference votes despite conference being the supreme decision making body of the party, in favour of the NEC decisions. In September 2021, a rule changed was passed at conference that said selecting parliamentary candidates would be made by a five-person panel, including representatives from the local party, who must undertake long and short listing when there is no time for the normal process.The panel would contain three representatives from the local party (CLP), appointed by the local executive committee, one representative from the regional executive committee, appointed by the chair and vice-chairs of that committee and one from the NEC. Despite this, the very first snap by election after this vote, Old Bexley and Sidcup, the Labour party instead changed the selection panel’s makeup to three Labour national executive committee (NEC) members, one regional executive committee (REC) member and one local party representative, anti-democratically from upon high so that Labour’s national executive committee retains control in selecting candidates for snap parliamentary elections. https://labourlist.org/2021/10/revealed-labours-selection-process-for-old-bexley-and-sidcup-by-election/. This was repeated in other later by elections, for instance, in May 2022, all 14 current members of the Wakefield Constituency Labour Executive resigned en masse, in protest at the stitched up selection process used to find Wakefield’s 2022 by election parliamentary candidate.
- The Labour Party establishment frequently narrows choices available to party members on ballots. This can be illustrated when it comes to electing party leaders but it also can be illustrated when it comes to the party creating shortlists of candidates for members to vote on, such as Bristol city councillors (which lead to major losses for Labour to the Green Party on Bristol city council in May 2021) or the Liverpool Mayoral role, where in the 2021 election, the Labour Party interviewed and shortlisted three candidates to go forward for democratic vote to become the Labour candidate vying to become the new Liverpool mayor, then suddenly re-opened applications, barring the three previously shortlisted candidates, for political reasons unknown and undisclosed. It can also be shown through the labour party’s decision to transfer power from local labour parties, to long and short list potential parliamentary candidates, up to the regional and national level, for example in Stroud, the Labour leader of the district council was excluded from the long list of potential parliamentary candidates, despite her sizeable local and union connections. https://labourlist.org/2022/06/labour-council-leader-excluded-from-standing-as-parliamentary-candidate/.
- The Labour party, in July 2021, began ‘proscribing’ members of organisations that the leadership deems “incompatible” with membership of the labour party, in a blanket manner that runs counter to the very basis of natural justice - the party is auto expelling people who are members of the proscribed groups *before* the proscriptions rule were brought in (retrospectively), contrary to normal legal practice. This was executed to purge, silence and marginalise people, that questioned the strategy of the leadership of the time, and to set a precedent for future democratic repression.
- Although the labour party has democratically elected the chair of Young Labour since 2009, voted for by delegates at Young Labour’s national conference, engagement with Young Labour is still outright refused by Labour Party staffers, working under the (appointed) General Secretary and the Labour Party leadership office in 2021. The group was stone walled and cut off from almost all information ahead of the September 2021 Labour Party conference and barred from holding their own conference.
Later, in February 2021, the Labour Party, under Keir Starmer’s leadership, even went as far as to block the democratically elected Young Labour leadership from accessing their social media page, without any prior warning or discussion with the committee, reduced their funding and scrapped their annual conference.
Even high level labour representatives question the Labour Party’s commitment to democracy.
Moreover, and maybe most importantly, (as alluded to in point 5), the groups within Labour that draft the manifesto are not bound by any policy or motion voted thru at any labour party annual conference, which is supposed to be the supreme decision making body in the party.
“The party is not bound by policy passed at its annual conference — even if motions are passed unanimously. It is Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) and ‘Clause V’ meeting before an election that decides which parts of the party programme are included in the manifesto.”
In conclusion, it’s very clear to all who look objectively, in 2021, that the Labour Party is not the place for supporters of democracy.
“All real progress comes from below…We are many, they are few” (Tony Benn)