The Labour Party Conference 2018

#029 The Labour Party

Democratic or Autocratic?

Progressive Primers
8 min readMar 14, 2021


The Labour Party calls itself a democratic (socialist), people powered organisation, but in reality it is far from a socialist or democratic political party.

Here are eight examples that support this,

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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,
  4. 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,, 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.
  5. The top echelons of the Labour Party, in 2021, ignore conference votes despite conference being the supreme decision making body of the party, in favour of the NEC decisions. For instance 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,
  6. 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.
  7. The Labour party, in July 2021, began ‘proscribing’ members of organisations that the leadership deems “incompatible” with membership of the labour party. In a 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.
  8. The Labour Party establishment frequently stitches up and narrows choices available to party members on ballots. This can be seen when it comes to electing party leaders but it also can be seen when it comes to the party creating long lists & 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, the North East Mayoral role, where the party blocked the elected North of Tyne mayor from the long list of the new mayoral position, giving no reason at all. Equally in Leicester council, Labour’s N.E.C. deselected 19 councillors (40% or their total in the city) with no regard for local democracy at all,, and Stroud district council, where the Labour leader of the district council was excluded from the long list of potential parliamentary candidates, despite her sizeable local and union connections, In Wakefield Constituency the Labour Executive resigned en masse, in protest at the “stitched up” selection process used to find Wakefield’s 2022 by election parliamentary candidate, In Sedgefield CLP 13 members of the executive resigned en masse in protest at the “stitched up” long list of candidates imposed upon them, excluded local, trade union supported candidates in favour of factionally aligned labour right figures,, and again in Camberwell & Peckham Constituency Labour Party executive selection committee members resigned writing, “we have no alternative but to conclude that the outcome of this selection is being fixed to exclude socialist and anti racism campaigners from the chance to represent Labour in Parliament…when it comes to participating in a fixed sham selection, enough is enough!”, as the Labour Party hierarchy even went so far as to overrule its own selection committee, when it didn’t include Starmer’s office’s preferred candidate (with right-leaning politics and personal connections within the party), dissolved it, and then produced a new shortlist to their liking… Even in Broxtowe constituency, in Feb 2023, where again the local CLP were sidelined, leading to mass resignations. Labour members themselves in this case said “…our choice of candidates has clearly been rigged to suit the leadership’s preference. This is unfair and “runs contrary to the principles of democracy…” & Examples are endless but the very basis upon which the Labour Party operates is questionable, when local constituency labour parties nominate candidates to stand as their representative in a general election, the party is setup so the NEC controls who can make it to the long list and who is held off, allowing the party leadership to effectively block candidates and in doing so restrict, control and curtail local, grassroots democracy. And all of this despite Keir Starmer in 2020 saying,“The selections for Labour candidates needs to be more democratic and we should end NEC impositions of candidates. Local Party members should select their candidates for every election.”
Keir Starmer Tweet (2020)
Former Mayor Jamie Driscoll Tweet (2023)
Excerpt of a LabourList Article (May 2024)

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.”

Labour’s compromised democracy is also highlighted in a 2023 document made by New Labour figure Alistair Campbell and Portland Communications, in 2023, a document titled ‘How Labour Works: A Guide to the Internal Workings of the Labour Party for Businesses’, which seeks to help business influence policy in government.

Three Revealing Excerpts From the Document (2023)

In conclusion, it’s very clear to all who look objectively, in 2021, that the Labour Party is not at all the place for supporters of natural justice or above all democracy.

Maurice McLeod on his lack of faith in Labour Party Democracy & Natural Justice (Novara Live)

‘Big Ideas That Changed the World - Tony Benn on Democracy’ (2005)

“All real progress comes from below…We are many, they are few” (Tony Benn)