Party Democracy is the key to a united and effective party – John McDonnell MP


“Complaints about the blocking of candidates on what some would consider as specious grounds for both council and parliamentary selections have mounted on a scale never witnessed before in the Party.”

By John McDonnell MP

Like justice, democracy not only has to be done, it has to be seen to be done if people’s faith in it is to be maintained. 

This is the lesson Keir Starmer as leader of the Party, David Evans as General Secretary and all those in leadership positions on Labour’s National Party’s Executive need to consider.

I admit to privately fearing that the appointment of Martin Forde KC and his carefully constructed panel would be a whitewash of the behaviour of Party officials and the operation of the Party exposed in the various documents leaked from within the Party. 

 Instead, it turned out to be a step forward in attempting a relatively objective assessment of the culture that had developed in the Party. 

The culture of hyper-factionalism and the use of Party mechanisms, especially the disciplinary processes, for factional advantage was one of the most significant findings of the Forde inquiry. 

Regrettably many now feel that the factionalism did not disappear after Forde called it out, but simply transferred from the use of the disciplinary process to the candidate selection procedures at all levels of the Party. 

Complaints about the blocking of candidates on what some would consider as specious grounds for both council and parliamentary selections have mounted on a scale never witnessed before in the Party. 

If faith and confidence in the democratic processes in the Party are to be maintained there clearly needs to be consideration of some basic reforms.

At the moment, following the imposition of new constituencies by the Boundary Commission,  the reallocation of sitting Labour MPs as candidates has gone ahead with a minimum number of contests between sitting MPs being needed. 

However, there are some issues that do need to be addressed immediately to maintain confidence in the system for selection. 

There have been many complaints about the overall administration of selections, especially the online voting processes, and the importance of the independence of the operation and scrutiny of the process.

The straightforward solution put forward recently by several unions is to follow the example of union practice and to appoint independent bodies to administer and scrutinise the process, including the operation of the voting systems. This should put the process beyond reproach.

Major concerns have also been expressed at the imposition of a completely online selection process with no in-person meetings or even hustings. This is currently happening in the selection in Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon

Although there has been a massive expansion of the use of online engagement in recent years, nevertheless there are still many who do not have access to online facilities. 

Moving precipitously to solely online selections has the effect of excluding, it is estimated, as many as 20% of the membership. This level of digital exclusion, it is claimed, flies in the face of our Party’s equalities commitments and possibly equality’s legislation. 

There are also anomalies that have arisen over the approach to MPs facing possible disciplinary action. In some cases those who have had claims made against them and have had the whip removed have been waiting months to have their case heard and are still waiting with no timescale provided.

Now that the selection process is underway, they are barred from even applying for their constituency and the selection will be over before their case is heard. 

In other cases the disciplinary action has been dealt with and even where the individual has been found guilty and sanctioned, they have been allowed to be allocated a seat. 

This anomalous situation has to be addressed if natural justice is to prevail.

Sone may argue that when we are 18 months off a general election, now is not the time to be raising these questions and we should concentrate on attacking the Tories.

My response to that is of course we must concentrate on taking on these wretched Tories. To do that we are so much more effective when we are a united Party. To ensure that unity, the first step is to eliminate any potential source of division.

Ensuring we uphold the highest standards of democracy is the way we overcome any potential for division and provide the basis for a united Party ready to defeat the Tories and govern confidently. 

  • You can follow John McDonnell on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
  • This article was originally published by Labour Hub on May 28th, 2023.
Featured image: John McDonnell speaks at the Britain is Broken rally at London’s Trafalgar Square on Saturday 12th January 2018. Photo credit: Garry Knight under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

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