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Campaign Briefing

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Defend Representative Democracy     Go to model resolution

Moves are underway to abolish the branch/General Committee structure and replace it with something far more elitist. In June North West Regional Director David Evans produced a paper entitled ‘A New Labour Party’ advocating that ‘representative democracy should as far as possible be abolished in the Party. All members are equal, so there is no need for General Committees’. Ironically, Evans proposes that GCs be replaced with ‘a working Executive’, a smaller, much less inclusive body. This Executive would be elected by an annual all-member meeting. There would be no chain of accountability as presently exists, whereby GC delegates regularly report back to their branches. Instead Evans' proposed annual jamboree would oblige members to vote for people many will hardly have heard of, if at all. Most would be voting for unknowns. For the remainder of the year, the Executive - insulated from pressure from party branches - would have a blank cheque to run the CLP. So much for all members being equal.

At the July NEC General Secretary Margaret McDonagh and others presented an election analysis blaming Labour’s disappointing performance on the inability of CLPs in safe seats to campaign, accusing them of being bogged down with bureaucracy. The abolition of the GC is presented as the panacea for improving Labour’s electoral fortunes. First, there is no evidence to suggest that members will be more willing to do campaigning work at the behest of a small, unaccountable Executive rather than a larger and accountable GC. Secondly, and more fundamentally, the explanation for Labour’s poor showing in the Scottish, Welsh and European elections lies elsewhere. Election results are determined not by the amount of doorstep activity undertaken but by the electorate’s view of the government. Labour’s core voters are becoming disillusioned with New Labour. Elected on the slogan that ‘things can only get better’, things have not got that much better. Life is much the same as it was under the Major administration. No amount of canvassing and leafleting at constituency level can change this. Only an improvement of policy can do so.

Labour’s electoral setbacks are merely being used as a pretext to extinguish what remains of participatory democracy. It is a bid to remove all intermediate structures in the Party so that we’re left with a passive, powerless membership and an all-powerful leadership. If we don't want this to happen, as many Contemporary Resolutions as possible along the lines of our suggestion need to be submitted.

Model resolution

"Conference is concerned at unofficial proposals emanating from party staff that "representative democracy should as far as possible be abolished in the Party." In particular the proposal has been put forward that the function hitherto performed by CLP General Committees be taken over by small Executives.

Vesting power in the hands of a small Executive would reduce the number of people actively involved in the Party. It would also reduce the role of Party branches since the Executive would be accountable merely to an annual members' meeting whereas, at present, General Committee delegates report regularly to branch meetings. Far from making all members equal, such Executives would institutionalise control of CLPs by small, unaccountable cliques. Members other than those on the Executives would not participate in making decisions. In addition the trade unions and other affiliated organisations would be excluded from involvement in CLPs.

Conference does not accept that such reforms would give power to an annual members' meeting rather than to the Executive. They would merely replicate at local level the current monopoly of power at the top of the Party, which has already led to the leadership getting out of touch and has produced electoral setbacks. The proposals strip the party outside parliament of its political functions, reducing it to nothing more than a piece of electioneering machinery.

Accordingly Conference instructs the National Executive Committee to produce proposals which would reverse the depoliticisation of CLPs, facilitate two-way communication between membership and leadership and bring more people into the policy making process by enhancing the role of party branches, General Committees, and trade union and other organisations affiliated at CLP level. In addition Conference instructs the NEC to ensure that the Rulebook's provisions in relation to the existing role and powers of GCs are fully upheld in every constituency."

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