By Michael Calderbank
The Democracy Review conducted by Katy Clark on behalf of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, correctly identified widespread concern over the way Local Campaigns Forums (LCFs) work.
For most of our history Labour has had Local Government Committees (LGC) or equivalent bodies which brought together representatives from CLPs and affiliated unions/socialist societies with the executives of local authority Labour groups, with responsibility for the implementation of Labour policy locally and planning of election campaigns. Whilst far from perfect, the LGC structure at least provided some form of mechanism for the decision making in local Labour groups to be held accountable to the wider party.
However, they were swept away in 2011 to be replaced with new “streamlined” Local Campaigns Forums, which were allegedly meant to make local parties more outward looking and campaigning. However, the impact was to severely curtail democratic accountability, often tending to replace political discussion with planning leaflets and canvassing sessions – with “input” into the drawing up of local manifestos.
Together with the Leader/Cabinet system introduced in the Blair years, which concentrated patronage at the top and limited the power of backbench councillors, these steps effectively allowed Labour leaders in Town Halls across enormous power to simply ignore the views of party members. Small wonder, then, that the Democracy Review discovered huge disatisfaction in how LCF’s worked.
A prior constitutional amendment from Leyton CLP was remitted into the Review, which reported that “a substantial number of submissions have been made in support of the proposal outlined in this constitutional amendment which proposed that the composition of a new local
government structure should comprise 75% delegates from branches and CLPs and 25% from affiliates. Councillors would be expected to attend but would not be delegates for conflict of interest reasons. MPs and other representatives would be entitled to attend with
speaking but not have voting rights”.
After an outcry from the Labour arm of the Local Government Association about the call for OMOV ballots for elected local Leaders, all proposals in relation to Local Government were remitted at the 2018 Conference until this year.
As has become typical with constitutional changes recommended by the NEC, a rule change introducing a new LGC structure was passed at the recent Conference in Brighton – but party members and trade union delegates had less than 24 hours to scrutinise the new model.
The new model will introduce an electoral college, in which members have only 33% of the delegates, with affiliates and labour councillors each having a third of the vote. Whilst correcting the lamentable failure of the LCFs to insist on the inclusion of representatives from the trade unions (although local practice differs), the net affect of the new systems is a serious reduction in member-influence. These are bodies which are supposed to hold Labour Groups accountable to the membership. How can councillors be expected to hold themselves to account? It seems like a spectacular own goal.
The NEC will now be tasked with issuing guidance over the election and constitution of the new Local Government Committees, although it is not yet clear when the old LCFs will be decommissioned, or what extra powers the new LGCs will be entitled to exercise. It would be ironic if the final outcome of the Democracy Review in this respect would be less democracy.