THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY WENT THROUGH A REMARKABLE AND HISTORIC CHANGE A FEW MONTHS AGO. IT RADICALLY RESHAPED THE WAY IN WHICH PEOPLE AND ORGANISATIONS AFFILIATE, AND CARRIED THROUGH REFORMS AMONG THE MOST SIGNIFICANT IN THE POST-WAR PERIOD.
Despite the doom-laden predictions of some, the Party is not in the throes of civil war. And although Labour has taken a substantial financial hit as unions reduce their affiliation fees, Labor is still going strong, as is its historic link with the trade union movement.
An implementation committee is hammering out the precise details of the final settlement. But the essential contours of the revamped Labour Party are clear:
1. Opt-in process for trade union members
Trade union supporters will be subject to a double opt-in process if they’re going to get a vote in the leadership election. They’ll be asked to confirm they want their union affiliation fees to help support Labour – and if they do, they’ll be invited to become affiliate members. If they choose to do both, they’ll get a leadership election vote. However, there will be a five year ‘transition period’ for opt-in.
The Electoral College – where MPs, members and affiliates (mostly trade unionists) vote for the Labour leader in separate sections – is dead. There will now be ‘One Member One Vote’ for the leadership contest, open to current full members, and new affiliated members and registered supporters.
3. MPs lose bloc vote
While Australian Labor Party MPs retain 50 percent of the votes in a leadership contest, UK Labour MPs now have the same voting power as other members. However candidates will still need the support of a substantial number of MPs to get on the ballot paper.
4. Collectivism retained
Many in the trade unions were concerned that the ‘opt-in’ method would sound the death knell for collectivism in the Labour Party – but unions and other affiliated organisations retain vote shares at conference and the NEC.
5. Registered supporters get a voice and a vote
As well as the new affiliate members, there’s a new category of membership – registered supporters. Those who want to be part of the Party but not as full members can take part in the leadership election – and work with their local Party – by paying a small fee.
That’s not dissimilar to the closed primary system used by the French Socialists to select their presidential candidate. But full members still have more rights than these new members.
These changes will have a substantial impact on the Party.
However the big test is whether the new system enables the growth of a genuine mass movement Party. Our opponents have far greater resources and the backing of a hostile media.
Only by reaching out and enthusing supporters to campaign for us face-to-face can we take on such imbalances and opponents. That will be the mark of whether Miliband’s reforms were worth considerable time, effort and energy – or whether they were a distraction. The 2015 general election will provide the first answer to that question.
Editor of Labourlist.