CLPD - 21st Century Party Consultation  

Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

21st Century Party Consultation 2000-2001


( Suggested Response below )

CLPs and affiliated organisations are being asked to look again at the Millbank proposals to re-structure local parties. At the 1999 conference we were promised that the 21st Century Party consultation would result in rule changes based on the responses received. But instead of rule changes, delegates at Conference 2000 as well as CLP Secretaries were presented with a new 65-page consultative document : 21st Century Party Report to Annual Conference. (Hereafter the Report).

Despite the original document's bias and a heavily loaded questionnaire, the answers Millbank sought weren't forthcoming. The Report had to pretend that its proposals were based on members' responses whilst pushing Millbank's hidden agenda. As the result its assertions are not consistent with its findings.

The original 21st century party document complained that "branches and committees may ... meet on a rigid monthly basis to no obvious purpose". The "key consultation question" No 5 asked what changes would make branch and general committee (GC) meetings more effective? The hoped for answers were spelt out in Labour Organiser by the Party's Assistant General Secretary: "Placing the policy forum principle at the heart of our activity will remove the pseudo-democratic paralysis that hamstrings innovation and flexibility....Once the policy making is removed from branch and constituency, then an Executive or Officers can undertake the business." In other words: leave policy to the 175 members of the National Policy Forum.

Members who completed the questionnaire disagreed. On Question 5A, 56% thought that more political discussion and greater participation at branch level would make the party more effective, whilst 12.2% thought no changes were needed. As for GCs (Question 5B), only 8.7% wanted them "radically changed/got rid of", while 25% wanted them to be "more democratic", have "more policy discussion" (27.5%) or "not changed" (12.4%). As to what would most help local parties to achieve their objectives, "more discussion of policy" (22.48%) topped the list of responses to 9 selected options.

Faced with these responses, the Report had to concede that "individual members want ... meetings relevant to the main reasons they joined the party." According to the consultation 25.9% joined the party to change society, 35.7% to bring about social justice. Members overwhelmingly agreed that at constituency level "a co-ordinating organisation" is needed. Millbank's problem was to reconcile the membership's desire to "contribute to the development of policies" - which can only be done by giving branches and GCs more political clout - with the officially sponsored structures which would reduce members' political effectiveness. Hence the shift in the Report's emphasis from the changes members want to the "best practice that is already happening in some constituencies" and the sneaking-in of yet another 'consultation'.

The problem how to reconcile the irreconcilable is once again to be solved "administratively" - as when Partnership in Power was introduced in 1997. Then not enough time was allowed for discussing the Millbank proposals, so that they could be safely railroaded through Conference. This time around, the Report informs us that "changing the ways we work ... will take time", and assures us that we "are not asking anyone to rush into this process". But the timetable for the new 'consultation' negates this assurance. We are told that "in the next twelve months or so all our energies should be focused on winning the second term". If so, when will party members have time to study the new proposals?

Up till now (early December) Millbank has not stressed the need for members to consider the proposed rule changes. The time-table is once again tight. The closing date is 31 March 2001. In December many CLPs have fund-raising events instead of ordinary meetings. Their AGMs are held in January or February. If the election is in May, members will be too busy campaigning to devote themselves to responding to a 65-page Report. Rule changes, presented as the result of the consultation, will be voted on at Conference 2001. This is why we are drawing attention to Millbank's main proposals, and asking members to look at them now. Even though the consultation is addressed to organisations we urge members also to respond individually. This time there is no form to complete. Simply send your comments to Andrew Sharp, 21st Century Party Consultation, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4GT. Our suggested draft response is below. A more detailed analysis of the Millbank document is being prepared and will be available from the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, 10 Park Drive, London NW11 7SH Tel/Fax 020 8458 1501.


21st Century Party Consultation 2000-2001

Suggested Response

November 2000 / January 2001



We welcome both the document's recognition of the local Party branch as "the key to local community organisation" and also its acceptance that it is "universally the view of local parties that there is a need for a co-ordinating organisation at constituency level". While accepting that certain tasks may be delegated to the Executive Committee or other sub-groups, we reaffirm that the supreme body at constituency level should remain the General Committee; neither the GC's status nor its frequency of meetings should be reduced.


We agree with the principles identified in the consultation document, namely that selection procedures should be "fair" and "transparent", and "ensure accountability of elected representatives". We therefore

1. oppose any rule whereby potential candidates must be drawn exclusively from Panels. This would severely restrict the freedom of members to choose the representatives they want. We believe Party members can and must be trusted to make these democratic decisions without interference.

2. oppose shortlists being drawn up by centrally-appointed boards. Rules should lay down that in selections/reselections any nominee receiving a significant number of nominations (say 15% of them) should be automatically shortlisted. The rest of the shortlist should be determined not by an outside "selection board" but by the relevant party organisation.

3. welcome the proposal that in European selections members will have direct responsibility through OMOV for the order in which candidates are listed. The same principle should be extended to other elections (e.g. Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Greater London Assembly) where list systems are involved.

4. support the principle of OMOV and therefore oppose electoral colleges which give excessive weight to parliamentarians and Assembly-Members whose individual votes are made equivalent to hundreds, if not thousands, of other Party members. We recognise that some limited weighting may be appropriate in the election for Party Leader, since s/he is also responsible for leading the PLP. But the extension of the same formula (one third, one third, one third) is inappropriate in other selections for public office holders. Disparate small groups of "the party's major stakeholders" (e.g. MPs, MEPs, SMPs, WNA or GLA members) should not be in a position to overrule substantial majorities among individual and levy-paying members.

5. welcome the Party's commitment to take the necessary legislative action to introduce measures which guarantee selection of more women and ethnic minority candidates for winnable seats. In particular we call for urgent legislation permitting women-only or ethnic minority shortlists; gender balance and inclusion of black nominees to apply also to shortlists for reselections.


1. As far as Labour's internal elections are concerned, we are against the proposal to reduce the frequency of elections from annual to biennial. We value the existing annual accountability of our representatives on the NEC and Conference Arrangements Committee and do not wish to see it reduced.

2. We believe the number of constituency representatives on the NEC should be increased from 6 to 8, with the 2 new places being filled by separate OMOV ballots of Party members in Scotland and Wales respectively. We do not believe that Scottish and Welsh representation on the NEC should be (as proposed in the document) restricted to "liaison", with "non-voting ex-officio members".

3. We do not believe that members of the House of Lords/Second Chamber should be entitled to stand in the NEC constituency section.

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