Attacks on party democracy hold back community and workplace views – Nadia Jama, Labour NEC


“Too many people high up in our Party seem to see the membership not as an asset, but a problem to be managed.”

By Nadia Jama, members’ representative on the Labour Party National Executive Committee.

Our members are the Labour Party’s most valuable asset. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement in a party of hundreds of thousands of members. But it is.

In the last few months we’ve seen relentless attacks on party democracy and the rights of party members – from shutting down legitimate debate about the party’s direction in terms of ‘gagging’ orders on motions, to the unfair attacks on Young Labour, to the retrospective expulsions of people “associated” (however loosely) with now proscribed organisations, to refusing entry to the PLP of one of the most popular figures in the party, our former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Too many people high up in our Party seem to see the membership not as an asset, but a problem to be managed. Fundamentally, for those who would like to place serious limits on Party democracy, that problem is political – it’s likely that the kind of people who join an organisation which defines itself as a democratic socialist party will have socialist politics, and therefore push the party to adapt socialist policies.

If you don’t wish for Labour to have a socialist platform, then the need is to transform the democratic forums of the party into ‘media showpieces’ that rubber stamp the decision of wise leaders who make “sensible” decisions – and use the members as doorstep fodder.

But our vision of the party is different. The surge of members from 2015 represented something real in the country. Rather than diminishing our political offer, the talents and expertise of those members – their closeness to their communities and workplaces – strengthen it.

It’s that clash over what the party should be that drives the attacks on democracy we are currently seeing – is it a small cabal of political operatives who interpret polls and reflect the imagined views of the public back at them? Or is it a real, living movement rooted in communities and workplaces, shaping the political agenda, and standing with all those fighting their oppression?

The fight for party democracy is political – we’ve seen that in the gallop to the right on a host of issues in the last 18 months, while member and trade union voices have been ignored. We must fight on both fronts – for party democracy and a political approach of taking the fight to the Tories and for socialist policies. Ultimately, the attacks on democracy are about holding back the tide of the real world to prevent it from entering the party. Our task is to break the dam and let the water in.  

  • Nadia Jama is a members’ representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee. You can follow her on twitter and Facebook.
  • This is the online version an article in the Labour Outlook Autumn edition. You can read it in full here.
Nadia Jama, Members’ Rep. for the Labour NEC.

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