Labour Party

Time for a local government clean up

Dave Levy, Lewisham Deptford CLP secretary, calls for Labour to put its house in order.

After a year’s rest, local elections and Labour selections are back in the news. In addition to mayoral and local authority elections of various types, there is also a backlog of by-elections in many areas, stored up as a result of the last year’s lockdowns.

The Labour Party is in transition in the way it manages local authority selections from Local Campaign Forums, set up in the Miliband era, to Local Government Committees approved by the 2019 Conference. Though set to be larger than LCFs, LGCs are likely to reduce the proportion of CLP representation.

For the last two decades since New Labour blocked Ken Livingstone, there have been a massive number of problematic selections in local government, with what seems to be a reprise of the Livingstone debacle in Liverpool today. Talk to CLPs up and down the country and you will hear similar stories in which local members’ choices have been denied. There can be no doubt about the power of Labour’s full time staff to influence selections, often in alliance with incumbent councillors, mayors and leaders, and now reinforced by the General Secretary’s powers of ‘quality control’.

Many hoped that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader would establish the principle of a member-led party, rather than one governed by the PLP and/or Labour Groups.

The Democracy Review introduced a Members’ Rights Charter, which among other things, states, (Chapter 2.II.7):  Members have the right to dignity and respect, and to be treated fairly by the Labour Party. Party officers at every level shall exercise their powers in good faith and use their best endeavours to ensure procedural fairness for members.

The rules stress at length the need to select candidates who reflect the diversity of our local communities, (Chapter 5.I.1.E.i): The Party will take action in all selections to encourage a greater level of representation and participation of groups of people in our society who are currently under-represented in our democratic institutions. In particular, the Party will seek to select more candidates who reflect the full diversity of our society …

It’s important to hold the party to these aspirations and goals.

LCFs were small and designed for control, with the annual election of CLP contrasting with the stability of Labour Group delegates. Labour Groups have also tended to hold the whip hand financially, raising more money than CLPs, thereby reinforcing the power of incumbency.

Selection rules, where Assessment Panels are chaired by an outsider appointed by the Regional Director, further reinforces the power of incumbents. Assessment Panels cannot meet without permission of the RD and have been prohibited from opening up the panel of candidates in a number of local authorities, denying newer members from putting themselves forward.

The rules are also appallingly weak on defining conflicts of interest, with only family and marriage requiring to be declared – meaning that declaring landlord/tenant and employment/business relationships, along with other potentially compromising ones, is not required. In some cases, insufficient due diligence on the residence qualification for councillors has been undertaken. There is also no rule prohibiting the procedures secretary from standing as a councillor, as has occurred in at least one place where the fortunate individual found herself elected as Leader. These obvious conflicts of interest need to be prohibited. If the Labour Party is serious about fighting corruption, it needs to clean up its own selection policies and procedures.

Two major reforms of the rules over the last two years refer to all women shortlists (AWS) and trigger ballots. An AWS must be used for by-elections if the group is less than 50% female. The requirement to hold trigger ballots for incumbent councillors has been removed. Since this took place by amending Appendix 4 of the Rule Book, which only has the status of NEC guidance, it would be best if we proposed amendments to Chapter 5, prohibiting their reintroduction.

The next round of selections will presumably be run by the new LGCs, which are to be made up of equal thirds of CLP, Labour Group and trade union delegates. Let’s hope that the trade union link is real and strong, and that unions stick to appointing Labour Party members who are members of the local CLPs in the electoral unit covered. We should argue that Labour Groups must use STV to select their delegates.

Whatever happens, we must use the opportunities available to hold Labour councils accountable to the will of the whole membership and to ensure that Labour staff serve the membership rather than the incumbency.

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