As we go to press (17 September) the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party is finalising the Party’s Democracy Review which will be voted on at conference. Both Momentum and the press have jumped on rumours that the unions will attempt a “power grab” for the selection of leader.
The five biggest unions have apparently come to a compromise position on the election of Leader in the case of a vacancy. According to the Guardian the change would stop someone from both the far left of the Parliamentary Party and from the right being able to stand. A proposed increase in the threshold of MP support to get on the ballot from the 10% compromise put forward by Momentum last year is likely to be shoe horned into the review.
The two proposals which have previously been floated are that candidates may get nominations of 10% of local parties plus at least 5% of MPs, or from at least three trade unions comprising 10% of affiliated trade union membership plus 5% of the MPs. The third option is 10% of MPs alone.
The new union-backed option is that an MP would only make it onto the ballot paper if they had secured the backing of 10% of MPs, 5% of local parties, and at least three Labour affiliates — with at least two are trade unions making up 5% of the affiliated membership.
One NEC member quoted anonymously said. “For the past three years, members have fought tooth and nail for a more democratic party only to be rebuffed time and again.
“The democracy review was supposed to represent the desires of members, thousands of whom spent their evenings attending meetings and writing in submissions. If all that effort is wasted and the democracy review ends up making the party less democratic, the members will be in open revolt.”
There are justifiably concerns about what is being missed by the review and what may be kicked into the long grass, including reform of the selection procedure. Despite a very professional and strong campaign by Labour International for “Open Selections” for MPs, it looks increasingly likely that movers of the motion will be advised to remit it rather than risk losing the vote due to the strength of union votes.
But NEC member Darren Williams told Solidarity, “Last year’s conference took an important decision to embark on a Democracy Review to engage our massively increased membership and give force to Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to put members at the heart of decision-making.
“Some really important proposals have come out of that Review, which could boost democratic accountability in such areas as leadership elections, local government structures and policy-making. I hope that conference will adopt some of these key proposals and also introduce long-overdue reform of our parliamentary selections process.”
However speaking after the meeting on 18 September he posted the following on Facebook.
"On the train back to Cardiff after a nine-hour meeting of Labour's NEC, most of which was devoted to the outcome of the Party Democracy Review. I have to say that I'm deeply disappointed with how little remains of the exciting - but perfectly reasonable and practicable - set of proposals drawn up by Katy Clark and her team. Some positive decisions were taken. We agreed to scrap the "contemporary" criterion for conference motions and to increase the number of subject areas debated at conference to 10 chosen by the CLPs and 10 chosen by affiliates.
"We agreed a charter of members' rights, mainly revolving around shorter qualification periods for engaging in party elections and other activities. We prepared the ground for more democratic structures to be established for women, young members and members from BAME communities. We established a Disabled Members' seat on the NEC. We agreed that the Welsh and Scottish NEC seats should be filled in a way determined by the Welsh and Scottish conferences. And we increased the size of the National Constitutional Committee (which conducts disciplinary hearings) and set out more robust rules for its functioning."
"But everything else from the Review was either kicked into the long grass or killed off altogether, with the exception of the leadership nomination rules, which will be discussed at our eve-of-conference meeting on Saturday (which is also likely to take a position on parliamentary selection procedures). I'm sorry to say that the majority of the NEC - including much of the so-called left - has proven itself too cautious and conservative to grasp the opportunity that the Democracy Review presented."
Delegates should ensure that as soon as the review is released they take the time to scrutinise and discuss the proposals. Whatever the outcome, much more will need to be done to democratise Labour.