The Refounding Labour offer to non-members

Refounding Labour offers lots of opportunities to non-members - if the resources are available.

While much of the media reporting around Refounding Labour – the party’s attempt to reinvent itself – has focussed on the impact of unions and ordinary members, the most innovative part of the reforms is its attempts to reach out to non-members.

However, it is clear that the report’s recommendations will be permissive rather than obligatory, and will be about as much a clarion call to staff and activists to change the way they do things than constitutional reforms.

As far as reaching out to non-Labour members, the main proposals seem to be:

• An official supporter status which, unlike membership, will be free and will come with a vote in leadership elections;

• A sharing of data between affiliated unions and the party at national and local level;

• A non-voting role for non-party NGOs in the party’s policy-making processes.

There will be permission to local parties and regions carry out open primaries in selection of candidates in which non-members can vote.

As the details have leaked, there have been howls from the Labour activist twitterati of ‘what’s the point of being a member’ if non-members get to vote. But the sense from the Refounding Labour crew is that Labour should function more like an NGO like Amnesty International or Save the Children – where you become a member as a statement about yourself, rather than because of anything you get out of it.

This may well be a more realistic way of viewing membership that the traditional concept – a party that is the sum of its members and therefore directed by them.

Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson and Callaghan all relied on the union block vote to keep Conference in check,  the traditional tool for the membership to direct the party. The most momentous decision made by a Labour government – the decision to build the atom bomb – was carried out without even reference to Cabinet.

A party owned by its members was a Labour dream that became a myth, and now it may be time to put it to rest as a legend.

Ironically in a party that relies on its ‘ground campaign’ – street activists and personal links between volunteers and their communities – to win elections and fundraise, a key part of the Refounding Labour vision, activists will be more powerful than one in which they enjoy  only formal constitutional rights.

The unions’ power in Labour  grew when the party depended on their money, not out of any formal constitutional change. Refounding Labour offers a similar opportunity to members – supporters are as likely to trust the judgement of local members that they know personally, than a remote leader on TV.  

The real problem with these reforms is lack of resources. For unions and local parties to share data, it requires paid local organisers to take advantage of it. Primaries cost money – something in short supply in Labour.

Until the resources are available, those who fear these reforms or look forward for them, should probably be less excitable.

12 Responses to “The Refounding Labour offer to non-members”

  1. Anon E Mouse

    Will this be a genuine attempt to engage with electors interested in the Labour Party or just another bunch of spin from the party control freaks?

    For example would the 86 year old, lifelong Labour supporter, Walter Wolfgang be arrested by thugs under the Terrorism Act for trying to debate at the party conference?

    It’s about time the Labour Party started listening to what people actually want instead of hectoring us by the likes of Harriet Harman and other people who, despite the terrible mess the party is in in the polls, continue to act as if they weren’t comprehensively thrashed at the last election.

    If this is real then it’s a good idea but I have my doubts…

  2. Robert

    An Argument has already occurred at my Union over whether it would be a breach of data if the Union the GMB sent my details to the Labour party, the Union might say since we are part of the Labour movement then levy payers are just part of the Labour movement, but what about if a person votes Tory, or Liberal or BNP. I’m sure people will not want to have data send to a party they do not vote for, I have today asked that my political levy be paid to a charity.

    But come on this is just showing people that New labour is dead, long live the Newer New labour.

  3. Daniel Elton

    Hey Richard,

    thanks for pointing out – I’ve amended to make the sentence grammatical,


  4. paul barker

    You are right that the idea of Labour as a Party owned by its Members was always a myth. I am so glad that I am a Liberal Democrat, in a Party that is owned & controlled & funded by its Members.

  5. Robert

    I may well join you.

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