Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The problem of slates

An interesting debate is emerging about the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance and the extent to which it can depend on the votes of those whom it hopes to represent. Discussions have been taking place on Labourhome and at Grimmerupnorth, largely as a result of John Wiseman's decision to stand for the NEC.

I am very far from making a decision about this myself, but it is certainly something that we should be discussing on Labour Left Forum.

On one side of the argument, the CLGRA has served us very well, more-or-less since the inception of New Labour and, by bringing left and centre-left together in an, at times, difficult unity, maintained a significant left and centre left representation on the party's executive committee. Excellent NEC members, such as Christine Shawcroft, have owed their position thanks not just to the votes of their natural supporters on the left, but to the wider votes secured by standing as part of a slate with centre-left candidates. I have been a supporter of the approach from the beginning, and indeed proposed expanding the same approach to other aspects of internal party politics (many moons ago!)

On the other side of the argument, no slates in internal elections have such a mandate that they can demand the loyalty of party members - especially party members who have not played any part in the choosing of such slates. Any member is entitled to stand for the NEC. Any CLP can nominate that member. Any member can vote for any candidate. With that in mind, what do people on the left do when presented with a candidate who ticks all the boxes but is not on the CLGRA slate? Without in any way meaning to attack or criticise anybody on the CLGRA slate this year, because of basic issues of political principle, I find John Wiseman a more appealing candidate than some of them. John has made the point that he is standing not just as a grassroots candidate (though that is clearly a major part of his bid) but also more specifically for the younger grassroots, and there is certainly an argument that there is a gap there (and one that can not, at least without a concerted effort from SYN or something similar, be filled through Young Labour rep.)

The debate at Grimmerupnorth has also moved on to another area - which I would like to keep seperate from the issue of whether left-wingers should nominate/vote people outside the CLGRA - whether the GRA needs to be completely restructured in the future. The CLPD and STLP do very important work in the party grassroots, but there is certainly a case to be made that an opportunity to involve a far greater number of activists could be developed in the GRA, were the LRC and Compass to play a part in the organisation. I don't know whether LRC and Compass organisers have expressed any interest in this, nor whether both groups' membership criteria could pose difficulties regarding such a role. But the GRA slate would certainly be representative of a very significant tranche of party opinion if those groups were to be incorporated. Furthermore, there would be a real momentum for developing such organisation into areas such as the National Policy Forum, etc.

So - two debates, really! One - what to do about the admirable Mr. Wiseman! Two - how to deepen and improve the CLGRA for future years.

I look forward to reading the debate!


Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Doctor Dunc

You are right. This is an important debate. Having been at this for five years now, I think it is reasonable to suppose that there is now tacit agreement between CLPD and STLP that CLGA candidate selection has to reformed for future elections.

Concerns expressed at the LRC National Committee about the current slate are due to be considered at a meeting they have requested with CLGA probably later this month. I am due to meet colleagues in CLPD and STLP about this informally tomorrow night.

My hope is that the arguments about the need for unity and discipline eventually hold sway. Susan and I lost the argument for fundamental reform of the CLGA slate selection process. I accept collective responsibility matters. Susan has made her own position clear in planning to exercise the right to pick and mix.

While the Centre Left continues to operate like my concern is that the Leadership will continue to maintain its stranglehold on the Party.

Doctor Dunc said...

Thanks Peter; I'm interested to hear of the various meetings you referred to. One problem I can envisage is, while you and Susan have been at the heart of the process and are therefore making informed decisions on that basis, most members are confronted with a list of names and statements/CVs and will make their decisions on that basis, with some understanding that there are slates (primarily based on some of the candidates recommending a vote for others at the end of their statement). Such members are likely to make their choices based on the six statements/CVs that appeal to them most, rather than necessarily following any one of those candidate's recommendations. In fact, I have had difficulty in the past getting my CLP to nominate the CLGA slate. They have usually preferred to nominate one or two individuals from both slates or none, despite the fact that there is a significant majority in favour of a CLGA-style analysis and approach. There is something of a mistrust of slates once you get beyond the realms of those actively involved in internal pressure groups. As such I wouldn't be at all surprised if my CLP chose to nominate John Wiseman, as they would like what he has to say and would feel that he lacked a perceived baggage of mysterious organisation that a slate brings (from their perspective). Now (apart from me) they're not members of the LRC either; a few of them go to Compass events, but I'm not saying that an increase in the number of groups in the alliance would necessarily make a big difference for those activists (who, I suspect, are not unrepresentative of activists around the country). And as for inactive members - goodness knows what sort of issues effect their decisions on who to vote for. There has also been an issue the last couple of times with turnout at NEC elections which perhaps should be considered at the same time

susan press said...

There was a ballot of STLP members and I lost. No problem with that. Did not expect to win.....The problem with the rest of the CLGA slate is it's a random mish-mash. Last time round Walter Wolfgang was put on the slate - and won place ON NEC. A great PR victory and Walter is a splendid chap. But, really, it shouldn't work like that because someone else was chucked off the slate to make room for him.
That's why I urged CLPD to have proper hustings - to no avail.
Duncan's also right about CLPs mistrusting slates.We got the lot through my CLP last year but my CLP has since moved to the right and we wil have difficulties this time. Ann Black, let's be honest, could stand on her own and win - the CLGA would arguably have benefitted from Ann going solo and making space for another left-of-centre person.ie from Scotland
Ann would thereby possibly have trounced one of the Labour First slate....the bottom line is the whole thing needs looking at. I will still vote for 5 of the 6 CLGA candidates if John Wiseman stands......

Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Susan

Perhaps your perception of the result of the STLP slate explains your current position. You did not LOSE. You came third. If I fell under a bus you would be seen by STLP as next in line to stand on the slate.

You may have picked up from my own blog that John Wiseman rang me this morning. I asked him to stand down in the interests of centre-left unity.

Curlew said...

As my first CLP meeting since November is going to happen next week - can someone inform this ignoramus what a slate is - so that I can persuade my CLP to do the right thing.

No wonder ordinary members get it wrong - sometimes the language of the party is very obscure :-)

Doctor Dunc said...

Hi - a slate is a group of candidates standing on a shared platform. You only tend to get them in elections like the NEC constituency section where everyone gets multiple votes to vote in multiple candidates. Since about '97 or '98 (I think) there has been a Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance slate. This is a left and centre-left slate chosen by a few left and centre-left internal party groups (it used to be quite a few groups I think, but it seems to just be CLPD and STLP now). The system has enabled us to have quite a reasonable showing on the NEC for most of that time. There is also a 'Labour First' or right-wing slate and normally a few candidates who don't belong to either.

Although I said earlier that CLPs can be reluctant to nominate slates (and they can) there isn't really any way to combat the massive organisation on the right of the party without organising ourselves. There is plenty of room for a discussion about how we organise and whether a different process can exist for choosing the slate next time, but I do think having a slate is of fundamental importance. (I notice that some people are very hostile to the whole concept - e.g. Alex Hilton at Labourhome).

Graham Day said...

OK, if I can talk as someone who is pretty marginal to these things... the point I would make is that while the CLGA has been effective in getting people elected to the NEC (no bad thing), it has not been effective in a) recruiting "socialist" people to the Labour Party and b) actually winning it's position within the NEC. As far as I can see, this is because the Trade Union reps on the NEC vote (in general) with the leadership. Therefore, we need an organisational model that reflects our goals... and in my view that involves the supremacy of Trades Unions in any discussion of public policy (incidentally, that excludes anyone who votes to restrict trades union privileges in Parliament from being considered "Left").

Curlew said...

Cheers Dunc, think I've got it - voting for the slate means no wasted votes.

Doctor Dunc said...

The constituency section used to be made up of MPs and then, of course, people knew rather more about the candidates (even though it meant there was even more PLP domination, I guess - although I preferred the option of voting for MPs than just having lots co-opted on hither and yon) - so some of us would vote for what amounted to a Campaign Group slate, but many more would vote for Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner (say) but then also for other well-known MPs they liked who may have come from a different political tradition.

When the system changed the candidates were unknown to most party members so standing on a common platform made sense (aside from the general point about the left and centre-left lending each other votes).

Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Doctor Dunc

I've been wondering if the political labels - 'left', 'right' and 'centre' aren't getting in the way.

Given that the central problem for the last [inset number of years] is No. 10's stranglehold on the Party, would it be easier for members to rally behind a Labour Democratic Alliance slate?

Peter Kenyon


susan press said...

Number 10's stranglehold on the Party is also an ideological one - not just procedural one . Democratic Alliance? Not something I would be happy with at all . You could argue "Centre left" will deter some people nut a vacuous term like Democratic Alliance will not exactly win people over.....and the fact is the CLGA slate has two candidates of the centre, three soft lefts and one left-winger . So, yes, the term is pretty accurate

UnitedLeft said...

This debate reminds me why many younger activists are not wasting their time with CLPD or STLP. Too often myself and younger comrades are shut out of such organisations because they only focus on perpetuating an anti democratic clique on the top.

Wiseman is exactly the sort of person those of us on the left are after. He is also a bit more youthful than some! When the right are able to field Ellie Reeves and win why can't we see more people elected from the left of her generation? Although not with those politics!

Doctor Dunc said...

Although I've no great objection to your suggestion Peter (I remember doing something similar in a student politics context many years ago, establishing the 'Alliance of Democratic Labour Clubs' to challenge the leadership dominance of NOLS (with mixed results). However, I could see it making the current problem all the more acute. If the only thing uniting the slate was a certain degree of independence (and perhaps a joint view about some internal party matters and democratic reforms) then it could be harder to get people to adhere to it. While there are lots of us who are greatly concerned about the internal workings of the party (and rightly so, because an awful lot of other things stem from that base) it is probably not what is at the forefront of most people's thoughts as they cast their votes in the NEC elections. Often that is more like 'what do they think about PFI or Iraq' (however unrealistic it is that the NEC would spend much time on such matters!)

United Left's point is an interesting one, but concerns me a little. Really the role of CLPD and STLP is to do the exact opposite of what is suggested (to stop the party being run by a clique at the top) - but opposite view has been presented by the Blairite tendency for a long time: this mythical notion that unrepresentative cliques used to run the party until he 'liberated' it for the membership via OMOV reforms and PiP, etc.

UnitedLeft said...

It is all about perception and legitimacy. My friends are more likely to go to Compass events and blog online about it than they are to work within STLP CLPD and break into what we see as a clique. And worse an unelected slate! We've seen how cliques work before in the youth & student days and this lot are just as bad. At least that lot have the decency to have a ballot of sorts. With this slate I cannot see where the democracy lies in the running of some candidates. Even worse the reaction to Wiseman is appalling. Because he dares break the mould he must be shot down.

Some of us would prefer to see genuine grass roots activists break through and an end to the old politics that those groups are associated with. This year's slate has proven that its time for a change. If we want change in the Labour Party then we need to do it ourselves and ditch your discredited ways. The Cruddas campaign brought together so much energy up and down the land that its time for people of my generation to tap into that and support comrades like Wiseman who dare to challenge the old ways. I hope next time around there will be people willing to stand up and say "Take back the party but not on the terms of a shadowy closed shop!"

Curlew said...

Another question. Is there a website where I can view all CVs for the candidates - slate or otherwise?

Doctor Dunc said...

Curlew - all the CVs will be published (on the party site I guess?) and sent out to members, but I'm not sure of the timetable at this stage.

Unitedleft - cliques operate in all sorts of ways. For example, I don't know how Compass reached the decision to back Cruddas for deputy and Brown for the leadership - I know there was a vote about backing Cruddas, but I don't think people were given the option of other candidates? And the leadership question seemed to be settled by Neal Lawson alone? I know there are lots of debates, etc. at Compass events, but that doesn't necessarily mean its any more democratic.

I agree people shouldn't jump down John Wiseman's throat over this - he has every right to stand, and I'm minded to vote for him (despite my general continued enthusiasm for the CLGA slate).

But I think it would be a mistake to abandon that CLGA approach altogether. Yes, it needs reforming, and it sounds like that's going to happen for next year. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

susan press said...

As I said originally, the LRC and others need to get involved, the CLGA slate must be properly democratic if it's to have a future. John W's decision to have a go has opened a can of worms, frankly. They should have listened to me and had a ballot.......