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Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Who should elect the Leader of the Labour Group?

Comrade Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the recently elected MP for Brighton Kemptown, has written an interesting article proposing that Labour Group Leaders should be elected by the Party membership, rather than simply by Labour Group Members.

Lloyd argues persuasively that this would be consistent with the approach to electing the Party Leader, a decision which was wrested from sole control of the Parliamentary Labour Party in the 1980s and has never been taken back.

This is also, of course, the approach we take to choosing candidates for directly elected Mayors – and it is that comparison which gives me pause for thought. Lloyd sees the positives asking readers to “imagine the genuine local engagement and policy development that would be gained from leadership contests between those vying to lead our cities and counties. Leaders who would go on to foster the values of their membership while governing creating a ‘mass movement to transform society’”.

This process, Lloyd argues “has delivered successful mayors and national leaders and it would do the same for council group leaders.” I think this needs a little more thought however. At the moment Labour Group Leaders (even when they are Council Leaders) have the authority given them by their fellow Councillors (and only that). They do not have, and cannot (or ought not to) claim authority in relation to the wider Party (which elects its own officers) nor can they claim a mandate – within the Party – which competes with that of the Party Leader.

The remnants of the careerist clique whose hold over the Party was shaken in 2015 particularly like to focus on the mandate of any elected “leader” who may advocate more “moderate” and “responsible” policies than the Party Leader. That is not – of itself – an argument against direct election by Party members of Group Leaders, but it does highlight one of the potential consequences of what would be a deliberate fracturing and further federalising of power and authority within the Party.

From a parochial point of view I can see both the benefits and risks of our membership electing a local Labour Group Leader. Certainly this could mean that such a Leader would have the support and direction of the Party’s mass membership, giving them both courage and confidence to act in accordance with the radical policies of the Party.

However, we might thereby concentrate power and authority in the hands of an individual (having also created yet another role to which the ambitious might aspire) – and that might not be the way to devolve and decentralise power (nor, which is always most important, to hold power to account).

We certainly need checks and balances to restrain and control all those to whom we give power, whether in the Party or through elected office. Direct election (and – to be controversial – mandatory reselection) are both worthwhile examples of such checks and balances – and the current system of Labour Council Leaders dominating self-referential (and frequently self-obsessed) and isolated Labour Groups is not a working system in many cases.

Lloyd’s proposals demonstrate thought and imagination about our future and are worthy of consideration, although it is perfectly acceptable to remain (like your blogger) unconvinced and therefore undecided.

Certainly, Lloyd’s ideas would require amendment to the Rules of our Party if they were to be given mandatory effect – and therefore there needs to be a debate in the Party about whether or not to propose such amendments. However, we could discuss locally whether or not to experiment with Lloyd’s preferred approach.

Clause Nine of Chapter 13 of the Rule Book provides that “the selection of nominations for civic offices, council leadership, chair and vice-chair of any committees and allocation of members to committees shall be made in accordance with the group standing orders, and in a manner that ensures equality of opportunity and encourages underrepresented groups to come forward. The Party expects Labour cabinets to reflect the diversity of the area represented by the local authority as far as possible, and to discuss any failure to do so with the RD(GS). Where a vote for a nomination is necessary it shall be by secret ballot. The appropriate Local Campaign Forum of the Party shall have the right and opportunity to submit names for consideration, but formal nomination and selection shall be as specified in the group standing orders.” (I have added relevant emphasis).

So, under our current rules, it is quite open to the Local Campaign Forum (perhaps following a process of democratic consultation with members like, for example, a ballot) to submit a name to the Labour Group with a recommendation that they should be the Leader of the Council (albeit the Group should then have a secret ballot in accordance with their own standing orders).

We could use such a democratic process to – in effect – pilot Lloyd’s idea following any election which leads to a Labour Leader of a local authority within our current Rules, whilst we consider whether or not to amend them.

This is a discussion which, having been started, should now be taken forward.

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