A new campaign to save Labour Party democracy

The recent blocking of Mish Rahman yet again showed contempt for Labour Party democracy — we need permanent campaigning for the right of members to decide, writes MATT WILLGRESS

LOCAL Labour Party members in Wolverhampton West recently wrote an “obituary” marking the death of party democracy in their constituency.

It followed the recent exclusion of Labour NEC member Mish Rahman from the longlist in their parliamentary selection, and Michael Crick reporting that the “local Labour executive [is] in revolt over NEC bigwigs taking control of selection.”

Rahman’s blocking is yet another example of members and affiliates blatantly being denied the democratic right to choose candidates. And anyone who still doubts that trade unions’ views are not being taken seriously when it comes to candidates’ selection under the current regime should note that Rahman had the backing of seven trade unions and affiliates.

This anti-democratic move came hot on the heels of the exclusion of Jamie Driscoll from the longlist as Labour candidate for North East Metro Mayor.

And this of course also came on top of numerous other similar moves, including perhaps most prominently Keir Starmer’s railroading through Labour’s NEC a decision to deny Islington North the right to select their own candidate for the next general election by blocking Jeremy Corbyn from being a Labour candidate.

In response, a statement from the officers of Islington North CLP on March 28 noted: “We reject the NEC’s undue interference in Islington North, which undermines our goal of defeating the Conservatives and working with our communities for social justice.”

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Members in Hackney North and Stoke Newington are also greatly concerned that if the Labour leadership doesn’t heed the advice of Martin Forde KC and others by accepting Diane Abbott’s apology and restoring the whip to her, they too may be denied their choice of candidate at the next general election.

And these are not isolated examples.

Under the current Labour leadership, members have too often been denied the option of selecting from a full range of candidates — meaning that many candidates, like Rahman, with significant support from trade unions and left-wing members have not reached the shortlist for often extremely dubious reasons.

The list of CLPs this has affected is now long, and includes Broxtowe, Milton Keynes North, Kensington and Chelsea, Camberwell and Peckham, Stroud, Hastings, Sedgefield, Bolton North East and more.

Within this context, recently a range of organisations plus Labour members and affiliates have issued an appeal for support for a statement entitled “Let the members decide — for Labour Party Democracy.”

The statement was launched at a massive online event during the recent Arise festival of left ideas, making the case for Labour Party democracy, members’ rights and the trade-union link. The statement reads as follows:

“We, the undersigned, note the Labour Party’s constitution states it is a ‘democratic socialist party’ (Clause IV).

“We further note that Starmer stated in February 2020: ‘The selections for Labour candidates need to be more democratic, and we should end NEC impositions of candidates. Local party members should select their candidates for every election.’

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“We agree with his statement, and strongly believe that it should be the democratic right of constituency members to choose their prospective candidates.

“With regards to the selection of parliamentary and other candidates, we note the growing concern across our movement at the imposition of shortlists and/or the exclusion of popular local and trade-union-backed candidates in numerous areas.

“We therefore call on the NEC to confirm that the selection of candidates is the democratic right of local Labour Party members and must be upheld.”

It is clear that many cases where local members are being denied the right to select their own candidate are seeing mass local opposition and broad condemnation across the Labour movement, and the same is true of other attacks on pluralism and Labour Party democracy, such as the recent moves against Neal Lawson of Compass.

What is needed urgently from the left is a determination to keep this issue permanently on the agenda — and not let anger at different individual cases fizzle out — and further campaigning initiatives on these vital issues will also be announced in the months ahead.

As Jon Trickett MP recently commented, “I believe it is incumbent on all democrats in the party, including the Labour left, but also beyond it, to make a stand. This should embrace every level of the party, including members of the shadow cabinet, the PLP, leaders in local government, the affiliated unions, local parties and activists.”

Now is the time to speak up and get organised — please spread the word.

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The statement can be signed at www.bit.ly/letmembersdecidestatement.

A model motion can also be found at www.bit.ly/modelmotionletmembersdecide.

Matt Willgress is the national organiser of Arise — @Arise_festival.

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