Delegates & Democracy

One of the reforms made at #Lab18 was to make the adoption of All Member Meetings (AMM) as the Governance structure of a CLP easier. We tried this in Lewisham Deptford in 2012 for six months. I wrote about the debate at which we chose to revert to Branch & Delegate structures in Feb. 2013. It’s another of these ironies that it was originally pushed by Progress and the Blair’s leadership as a means of side-lining local leaderships, but it is seen today as a tool of Momentum to re-engineer the Party in its own image.

Have my views changed? I have reproduced an updated version of my balance sheet below, but most importantly,

All Member Meetings kill branches, organizationally, politically and socially.

All Member Meetings kill branches, organizationally, politically and socially. They may exacerbate the stridency of factional dispute as the factions do not even unite in the branches around common tasks such as election campaigning and fund raising. Most members given a choice between one of two meetings will choose the CLP level AMM where policy and politics are discussed. Furthermore, my experience is that where branches do policy development and political education, they are more active and vibrant and more likely to grow.

It’s most powerful argument is that the delegate based system is elitist and excludes people. Our experience, we trialled it for 6 months, is that the chief beneficiaries of the move to AMM was those councillors not on the General Committee. We were a party of 750 and about to win every council seat in the constituency bar one. There were few ordinary members that took advantage of the right to attend AMMs although the party is much larger now and circumstances might be different.

We also should recognise that some people may for many reasons not wish to attend meetings, and are happy to elect delegates to represent them. (This may be influenced by the geographic size of the constituency, East Hampshire, not the largest by a long way, is nearly 200 sq. miles, while Lewisham Deptford, where I live now, is 14.)

Gender Quotas cannot be applied to AMMs.

Some people argued that AMMs are easier to pack, but my experience over the last three years that while the left may seek to win meetings by recruiting members[1] and talking politics, there are others who have strong networks and use Trade Union links and the Socialist Societies to win places on delegate based GCs which at times are of questionable existence or compliance with the rules.

On the other hand, when the Trade Union link works genuinely, it’s a tremendous asset to the Labour Party as the good relationships between our CLP and the local Trades Council goes to show, but aggressive or corrupt manipulation of the rules damages the link, and is part of[2] what led to the booing of the Trade Union delegates at #Lab18.

All member meetings will be administratively more expensive both in terms of room rental and real mail, although you can’t claim that it won’t benefit many people and that it will be more expensive. Brighton District CLP had over 600 people at their 2015 AGM (about 10%) and had to circulate people through the room, recent Parliamentary selections across the country have attracted from 35% to 50% of the membership. Some CLPs now have over 2000 members and booking a room large enough to accommodate a high turnout AMM is challenging.

All member’s meetings diminish the Trade Union link as Unions cannot appoint additional voting members. As I have said, so does fraudulent behaviour as obviously occurred in the Newham Mayoral trigger ballot albeit by a socialist society and we all know of CLPs where the affiliate delegates outnumber those appointed by the membership branches. I also know of CLPs where the number of branch delegates is capped[3], but where it works well, it is a massive asset to the Labour Party.  The Socialist Society’s relationship with AMM led CLPs is also weakened but the value of the Socialist Societies to the Labour Party is in their policy development and campaigning and as stated here and elsewhere their affiliations in some cases are used to block the will of the individual membership.

We should bear in mind that AMM governance model wasn’t designed to be effective, it was designed to weaken the voice of activists against the leadership.

AMMs increases accountability of the management meeting to the membership because there’s no waiting period for new members to participate in the management of the local party, they need neither wait for a branch AGM nor wait for a space in the GC delegations. I think that the Branch and Delegate GC’s have taken longer to become representative of the current membership because of this built in delay. The competition for places in my local party, means that good people have not been elected to the GC and their contribution to the Party’s management will be missed.

Finally, I think constituency geography counts, I am not sure how but it would seem to me compelling that large rural constituencies might benefit from a branch and delegate structure to maximise the administrative simplicity and minimize the cost of the meetings but I am basically of the view that the arguments to adopt AMM is not compelling.

I would also add that the case that AMM is more democratic is far from proven; I am not sure how you measure the democracyness of a governance structure although I have looked at means in this article and this article.

ooOOOoo

[1] Although it all turned to shit in Falkirk; http://davelevy.info/the-end-of-the-road-from-falkirk/

[2] Another part is the naivete and self-entitlement of the supporters of open selection.

[3] This  has the effect in large parties of reducing the proportion of delegates representing and elected by individual members. …

Renewing Party Democracy

Renewing Party Democracy

The LP NEC is having an away day to discuss reforming its rules and internal democracy, mainly in the light of the massive increase in membership to more than half a million members.  Here’s my manifesto for a member led party, I hope to supplement it with some ideas on the use of IT to aid in policy development and expressing the membership voice, but in terms of rules reform …

Does the Labour Party want “all member” management meetings?

When the Labour Party was founded, for various reasons, it adopted throughout it’s structures the ability for its supporters to act as an individual full member or as part of an affiliate, or both. This is happens at Conference, the UK Labour Party’s supreme decision making body, and on the National Executive Committee by the representation of the Trade Unions and other affiliated societies. It is also represented at the Constituency level where the General Committee (GC) is made of delegates from individual membership branches, trade unions and other socialist societies, who serve for one year. Constituencies also have a smaller, executive committee, known as the EC, the officer members of the EC are elected by the delegates on the GC from amongst themselves, and the remainder is appointed by individual membership branches.

One of the proposals emanating from the Labour Party’s review, “Refounding Labour” is to convert these delegate bodies into all members meetings. This proposal was debated in the Lewisham Deptford party. On Thursday night, the delegate GC instructed its executive to prepare rule changes to replace the GC with all members meetings.

The main argument in favour of all members meetings are that it will increase membership involvement and reduce the elitism of local leaderships. I am curious as to where the evidence that this will happen is, but I do accept voting to exclude ordinary members is a bit shit, and I have come to the conclusion, as a result of the debate that the year long term of office of the GC inhibits new members become politically active in the management of the Party quickly. People need to wait for the next AGM and build the record of activity and trust to win election to the GC.

However in my mind, the first beneficiaries of a move to members meetings will be those elected borough councillors who are not currently elected delegates because they attend the meetings anyway. In some ways, this is potentially bad, as it may increase the power of the political leadership, rather than increase its accountability.

One of the delegates, from one of the smaller branches raised the question, that if members’ most powerful expression of their politics within the Labour Party was at GC, what would happen to the Branches. He suggested that there is a risk that the activism within the Branches might be diminished. (In CLPs with serious branch viability issues, it may be that all members meetings would be more effective form of governance.) It was suggested that Branches could/should focus on Councillor accountability. This isn’t easy in a London Borough with an executive Mayor since the Councillors have few powers and taking register is not political activism.

Another delegate, stated that he opposed the move from delegate meetings because gender quotas apply to the delegate election, but can’t be applied to all member’s meetings.

A third delegate stated that all member’s meetings would be easier to caucus and pack.

It was suggested that the expense would be higher as we would need to pay for postage for members without email, and room rentals would  be higher if we needed bigger rooms. Mind you, that latter problem would be a nice one to have.

Moving to all members meetings will also exclude supporters of the Labour Party in the Trade Unions and socialist societies. I am unclear how real the local affiliations are these days. I have seen it operated very effectively; it was a while ago. Where it works, it strengthens and broadens the Labour Party’s connection with the community.

So I make it one unproven plus, one piece of guilt and five minuses, I understand that it’s not proved that popular, but I changed my mind three times during the debate. In the end I followed my branches mandate, and voted for the transition, but I would be delighted if anyone, particularly Labour Party members would comment on their experiences. I have also posted this to the member’s net blog, which you can use if you prefer to reply or comment inside a Labour Party firewall. Taking the mandate is another minus, not everyone wants or can do these meetings, the use of mandated delegates allows them to influence the decisions without fetishising meeting attendance.

I have also posted this to the Labour Party’s linkedin group. …