“We cannot give voters the impression that we don’t trust them to make decisions for themselves. We are at our best when we are a movement for social justice, rooted in communities, and profoundly democratic.”
By Jon Trickett MP
Over the last year I have lost count of the number of reports about Labour Party democracy being undermined by London-based officials. They are intervening in local party matters on an unprecedented scale, often to ensure their favoured candidates are selected to stand for the Party. The apparent removal of sitting North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll, from the North East Metro Mayor longlist is just one in a string of such actions.
They gloated over the fact that they removed the democratically-elected leader of Scottish Labour. They took control from on high of the Birmingham Labour Group. Interference from above in members’ rights when it comes to candidate selections is now the rule, not the exception.
Labour Party democracy has never been perfect, but this latest trend undermines our core democratic principles and the traditional autonomy of local party members. In the past our representative posts – MPs, councillors, even school governors – were determined locally. Our representatives were meant to give expression to the wishes of the movement, not vice versa.
This was how Jamie Driscoll was first selected and then elected. He was a product of the North East. He was accountable to his electors and to the wider Labour movement there. After the decision to block Jamie, we must face the stark reality that no elected Labour official is safe. No longer are the Party’s representatives answerable primarily to voters or Party members. Rather their position increasingly depends on arbitrary and capricious decisions made in London.
It is a profound mistake for Labour to allow a Blackfriars-based clique to determine who can or cannot stand for the Party. In order to win the General Election, Labour must win back communities in the Red Wall who felt that we’d stopped listening to them. This will simply not happen unless the Party listens to voices in the Red Wall. The same applies to other parts of the country.
So there is a danger that an elitist and authoritarian culture will imperil an incoming Labour government. We cannot give voters the impression that we don’t trust them to make decisions for themselves. We are at our best when we are a movement for social justice, rooted in communities, and profoundly democratic.
I believe it is incumbent on all democrats in the party, including the Labour left but also beyond it, to make a stand in defence of Party democracy and local autonomy. This should embrace every level of the party, including members of the Shadow Cabinet, the Parliamentary Labour Party, leaders in local government, the affiliated unions, and local parties and activists.
If the Leadership of the Party doesn’t trust our members or affiliates then how will we persuade the public to trust us with power?
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
- This article was originally published in the special 50th anniversary edition of Campaign Briefing, Read the full magazine here.