13 June 2007

Gordon Brown and Labour Party Democracy

Under the leadership of Tony Blair the Labour Party has become a thoroughly non-democratic institution. Policy and appointments are made from the top with meetings and conferences reduced choreographed photo events. The accompanying heavy-handed authoritarianism led in 2005 to the unedifying spectacle of an octogenarian member being forcefully ejected from the Party Conference for shouting ‘rubbish’ - and then arrested under the anti-terrorism legislation. Throughout the country Labour Party membership has haemorrhaged leaving little more than a thin layer of councillors and other municipal careerists in moribund constituencies.

It is against this background that Gordon Brown – who ensured that his own assumption of leadership was not subject to party-wide election – has, according to The Guardian, plans which ‘include establishing policy forums in every constituency, as well as regular questionnaires to members, and "citizens' forums" designed to improve Labour's campaigning edge and engage local people outside the party.’

All of this, of course, gives citizens and the rank and file a say while the leadership gets its way. It does not include one single element of voting or democracy. In the 1980s the Labour right wing championed one-member-one-vote (OMOV) inside the Party as a means of bypassing the left of centre constituency parties; now the idea of Labour members electing a body, which decided Party policy by means of OMOV, would be dangerous and radical.

Yesterday, the six candidates (all Brown backers) in the almost meaningless Labour deputy leadership election debated religious matters. According to a Guardian commentator, Hain, Cruddas and Harman took a more secular view while Blears, Benn and Johnson took the Christian promotional view. Though I find it absurd that a left of centre party is having this debate at all, it does suggest that perhaps there are nuances of difference among the candidates, though it is not clear what if any power Brown’s party deputy will have. But how much better it would be if ordinary Labour Party members (if there are any left) could directly elect candidates to a body which actually decided the policy of the Party, but such a policy is, of course, far too radical for Gordon Brown.

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