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The “Dogs” of Democracy: Chuka Umunna Versus the Labour Membership

For the Labour Party to be able to represent its hundreds of thousands of members, these members must be able to exert some form of democratic influence over the selection of elected Labour officials. At select times (not now), even Blairites like Chuka Umunna agree with such sentiments.

Thus, during the 2015 Labour leadership election Umunna explained that: “The Labour Party’s greatest strength has always been our commitment to a society that is fairer and freer, more equal and more democratic… Today… that task is … more pressing, than ever.”

Although Umunna’s call for democracy was made within a New Statesmanarticle titled “Why we are endorsing Liz Kendall for the Labour leadership” (26 May 2015), he talked about the need to “lead the charge in transforming the institutions of our country to keep up with evolving realities.” Here he wasn’t referring the Labour Party as such, but to the state. He argued that “Labour must lead the charge in devolving power… to cities and regions, reforming our electoral system and political bodies to reflect the more open and pluralistic country they represent.”

But these ideas should apply just as much to the Labour Party as they do to the state. The Labour Party should lead the charge in transforming its own internal structures to make good on the party’s commitment to democracy. It is correct that the party should devolve more power to local members to hold their local political representatives democratically accountable to ensure that they truly represent the diverse nature of the concerns of ordinary Labour Party members.

Of course, there is nothing more that Umunna and his fellow Blairites who dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party fear more than democratic accountability. This is why in response to rank and file calls for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection (now called open selection), Umunna made the ridiculous demand that Jeremy Corbyn “call off the dogs”!

The dogs that Umunna was referring to were those like the members of the Labour International CLPwho late last year “submitted a Labour Party rule changeto democratise the selection of Labour Candidates for the UK Parliament.” As explained on the web site promoting this “open selection” motion: http://www.openselection.org/

“If it passes, the rule-change motion will mean Labour Party members in Constituency Labour Parties will get to select their Labour Party parliamentary candidates by regular open democratic selection, regardless of whether they are sitting MPs or not. The selections will be by One Member One Vote.”

In promoting such a motion, no one is forcing anyone out of the Labour Party, as adoption of this critical motion will merely mean that parliamentary representatives who do not represent the democratic interests of their local members will be able to be replaced by other Labour members who do. Any existing parliamentary representatives who are replaced through such processes will of course then be freed up to join Labour’s hundreds of thousands of ordinary democratic members in campaigning to get a Labour government elected. And no-one would stop such individuals from attempting to seek other leadership positions within the Labour Party.

On Sunday the Blairite fears of democracy led to a destructive headline in the Observernewspaper (September 9) which read “Labour MPs in fresh challenge to Corbyn over purge fears.” The implication being that the introduction of democratic processes like open selection represented a purge, not democratic accountability. “It is time for Jeremy to show some leadership by making it clear he will not support measures to deselect Labour MPs,” demanded Angela Smith, the Blairite MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.

After today’s House of Commons debate on this divisive issue about the Blairites longstanding opposition to democracy, the Guardian (September 10) with no sense of irony referred to the Blairite chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, John Cryer, as warning that the reintroduction of open selection would be deeply divisive. Although the article was at least able to acknowledge how “Corbyn, a longtime champion of party democracy, believes it is not for the leadership to interfere in the affairs of grassroots Labour parties.”

Quite right! Internal Labour Party democracy should be the remit of Labour Party members, and why shouldn’t these members get to decide which one of their many capable socialist members represents them?

 

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Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017).

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