Refounding Labour?

Submitted by martin on 7 June, 2011 - 5:49

Around 90 people turned up to the “Refounding Labour” meeting held in Glasgow on Friday 3 June.

“Refounding Labour” is the title of a document drawn up by Peter Hain which is intended to promote discussion about how Labour should re-structure and renew itself after last year’s general election defeat.

In Scotland the “Refounding Labour” roadshow – which involves meetings in all major Scottish towns – has merged with the “Review of the Labour Party in Scotland”. This review has been triggered by Labour’s defeat in last month Holyrood elections.

The meeting opened with a power-point presentation providing a breakdown of Labour’s vote, and loss of votes, in the Holyrood elections. Its concluding section highlighted the number of affluent voters who switched from the Lib-Dems to the SNP.

Message to be drawn: if Labour is to win elections in future, it needs to win those votes. As Douglas Alexander recently put it, rather more explicitly: Labour needs to be the party of “middle class aspirations”.

Next up was Sarah Boyack MSP, who explained the remit of the Scottish Labour review and the composition of the committee which would be conducting it.

Incredibly, Labour’s two Scottish Euro-MPs have the same level of representation on the committee as do the entire membership of CLPs or the affiliated trade unions – each of them have one ‘representative’, none of them elected, and all of them handpicked by the Scottish Executive Committee.

The plenary session was rounded off with a truly poisonous contribution by Jim Murphy MP, who is chairing the Scottish Labour review along with Sarah Boyack.

We all needed to pull together to rebuild the Labour Party in Scotland. There was no point in getting bogged down in recriminations and forming a circular firing squad. (Decoded: The architects of defeat – such as Jim Murphy – have no intention of allowing themselves to be called to account.)

Labour can no longer rely on tribal voting. (Decoded: The champions of New Labour will do everything possible to stop Labour basing itself on its core working-class vote.)

Voters had a choice between two social-democratic parties in the election. They opted for the one with a flag. (Leaving aside the fact that there was nothing social-democratic about Labour’s election promises, the decoded version of this is: Labour needs to wrap itself in the Saltire as well.)

After the plenary session came the workshops, each of which were confronted with set questions. (Set by whom?) In the workshop “A Voice for Members – Policy-making and National Party Structures” the first two questions were:

“How can we build stronger relations with ... the business community? How can we involve them more in policy making?”

Over recent years the New Labour machine has deprived the Labour Party membership and the affiliated trade unions of the right to have a meaningful input into policy-making procedures. But the first question posed by “Refounding Labour” is: How to get the “business community” involved in determining Labour Party policy!

Most of the contributions during the plenary session and the workshops were very non-New-Labour.

They focused on the party’s top-down approach to policy-making, the way in which Policy Forum decisions had been ignored by the party leadership, the lifestyles led by Labour MPs, Labour’s lack of policies to attract the 50% of the electorate who did not vote, its failure to campaign for collective values, and its lack of any overall vision.

(Others had a more traditional New Labour approach. What was needed, explained one member, was involvement by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in formulating Labour policy at the outset, rather than drawing up the policy first and then checking it out with the FSB!)

But how will the opinions expressed at Friday’s event relate to the outcome of the Scottish Review (or “Refounding Labour” nationally)?

Someone was taking notes in each of the workshops. The notes will be passed on to the Scottish Review committee. (There was not even a plenary report-back from the different sessions.) The notes will be collated with notes from other such events.

And then, with Jim Murphy in charge, the Committee will simply ignore anything they don’t agree with themselves.

The supposedly ‘open’ and ‘participatory’ review of Labour’s general election and Holyrood defeats thereby embodies the reasons for those defeats: no accountability of the party leadership, a disproportionate role for MPs, MSPs and Euro-MPs, the absence of a mechanism whereby the membership of the party and the unions can influence decision-making, and an orientation towards the ‘aspirational middle classes’.

But the “Refounding Labour” and Scottish Labour reviews do provide an opening for activists in the party and the unions to argue and, more importantly, organise against the New Labour attempts to rewrite history and divest themselves of the blame for Labour’s electoral defeats.

If the left in the Labour Party and the unions do not exploit that opportunity, then they will have only themselves to blame.

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