Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Labour Party leadership: no democracy

The Labour Party moved away from only the parliamentary party electing the leader many years ago.

It's only right, after 13 years without an election, the party should nominate competing candidates for election before the the whole party.

The notion that (because its deemed an easy victory for Brown) there is no point in having the election violates a first principle of any democracy: the right to vote (be it taxpayers and citizens in General Elections, or party members and trade unionists in the Labour Party.) That is the first principle, not party bureacracy.

Democrats don't violate such a principle. It's not violated in Bolsover or Buckingham, where election results are foregone conclusions. People still vote: it's a part of democracy.

What the PLP did in nominating Brown in such large numbers was to forestall democracy in the Labour Party. Their task was not to vote for Brown. Their task of nominating candidates was the initial step in a wider democratic process.

By nominating Brown as the only candidate they have behaved liked nomenklatura in a Communist state. Communist countries sometimes have limited formal democratic structures. But these structures are either sidelined or entirely dominated by the governing party, therefore making a mockery of any putative democratic function. The PLP was involved in a similar process: the sidelining of democracy.

The result: Gordon Brown was nominated as the only candidate to go through to hustings devoid of democratic debate. Members and trade unionists are now prevented from voting for the next leader.

Note how the nominations process was staged over a period of time, with updates provided via the Labour Party website which was not unbiased: 308 was the target in a gameshow.

The nominations process was not secret (a secret ballot is essential in a democracy) and the whole process was designed to "ramp up" nominations for one candidate.

Brown, of course, was easily on the ballot paper: there was clearly no need to persuade any MP to nominate him. But it's now clear that Brown was telling fibs when he said he would welcome a contest.

Brownites continued to persuade extra MPs to back him, and according to one report, Brown personally succeeded in persuading a wavering Gavin Strang to nominate him. Why? The reason is clear: not to ensure Brown's nomination (probably in the bag within minutes of nominations opening) but instead to prevent party members and trade unionists having a vote in a contested election.

A democratic party should not deny its members a vote through these cynical procedural means. It's not expedient to deny people the vote. It is fundamentally undemocratic.

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