Friday, October 30, 2015

Democracy and leadership in the Labour Party - by Mike Hedges AM

Immediately after the defeat at the General election in 2015, Ed Milliband resigned. What if he had decided to stay on? We do not know.What we do know is what happened in Scotland.Jim Murphy was elected Leader in October 2014. 

Following his defeat and Labour’s rout in Scotland, Murphy said he would remain Leader of Scottish Labour. First to call for Murphy to resign from being leader was unseated MP, Ian Davidson, who said, "Morally, as the man who has led us to the biggest ever disaster that Labour has suffered in Scotland, he can’t continue." Then Pat Rafferty of 
Unite called for Murphy's resignation, followed by Kevin Lindsay of ASLEF. Then Neil Findlay MSP resigned from Murphy's shadow cabinet, citing the election results, followed by  MSP Alex Rowley.

The decision of whether he should continue was made by the Scottish Labour Party Executive. Jim Murphy narrowly survived a 
vote of no confidence by 17 votes to 14. Three of the 17 votes in support of Murphy included that of Murphy himself, that of Ian Murray MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Labour's only MP in Scotland, and that of a Labour Peer. Murphy then announced on 16 May 2015 that he intended to step down as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party in June. 

In 2010 Gordon Brown did not resign until he had failed to negotiate a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats. Gordon Brown announced on 10 May 2010 that he would stand down as Labour Leader 4 days after the election defeat that left a hung parliament. Am I the only one who thinks a new acting leader would have had a greater chance of successfully negotiating a Labour led coalition? Gordon Brown could have gone to the National Executive and he would almost certainly have been successful in continuing as Leader. 

I believe that there is a moral obligation on anyone who leads a party to electoral defeat to resign immediately. If you have been rejected by the electorate then I believe you have lost the authority to lead the party. At a more local level, the vast majority of the Labour Group in Swansea wanted to remove the Leader of the Labour Group who was also Council leader. To remove the Labour group leader, they needed to get a written request for a leadership election signed by two third of the group.
 This was a lengthy process. Whilst the removal of a Leader is not and should not be something undertaken lightly, making it incredibly difficult also does not help.

The mechanism of electing the leader of the Labour party at Westminster, Scotland and, I believe, Wales by one member one vote is highly democratic. The party members choose the leader of their party, as almost 60% of those that voted, voted to elect Jeremy Corbyn.

Two things I learnt from this election. Firstly, allowing MPs to be the gatekeepers of who gets onto the ballot paper came very close to keeping Jeremy off the ballot paper. Someone who was overwhelmingly elected by the members nearly did not make the ballot paper. Why cannot members either self nominate or have a proposer and seconder? Whilst, with the first system, all MPs could stand and under the second system in excess of 50, what it would do is widen the debate and allow everyone a chance. My expectation is that under that system a few more - perhaps up to six - would have stood. Surely democracy means you should have the maximum possible choice?
Secondly, members are enthused by the chance to hear a debate inside the party.  When I spoke in favour of Jeremy at the Swansea meeting I was amazed, as I know others were, at the number attending and the enthusiasm generated. By the time Cardiff was reached, the number in attendance was huge. A bus full came up from Swansea and there were people from all over south Wales present. Party membership in Swansea East is at its highest during the 40 years I have been involved. There are far more members that in the run up to the 1997 general election.

I want to now turn to internal party democracy and discuss West Glamorgan County Council, Swansea Council and the National Assembly Wales. Two bodies I have been previously been elected to and one I am currently a member of. In the days of West Glamorgan County Council and the early days of Swansea Council or decisions were taken collectively by the Labour Group. Whilst the Leader and committee chairs would have agreed the report with senior officers and would report to the Labour group, the final decision was the Labour group as a whole. They could and sometimes did reject or amend the recommendation. Also, members collectively made recommendations at sub committee that were then recommended either to full Council or to a committee of all Councillors. When the cabinet system was introduced, decisions became delegated to Cabinet members and then on in many cases to Council officers. 

Turning to the Assembly: this works on the system of a Leader directly elected by the wider party membership but with the Assembly members acting as the gatekeeper on who can stand. At the last election, won by Carwyn Jones, a Labour group of 26 members and a candidate needed to be nominated by six members meaning that the maximum number of candidates was four, three actually stood.Do we need Assembly members to act as gatekeeper? Why cannot a system that provides greater choice be brought in?Whilst we may not have a leadership election for sometime, a system is needed to be in place that makes it easier to get on the ballot paper in Wales, as much as it is needed at Westminster.The First Minister has immense power, brought about by being the Leader of the ruling group and directly elected by the membership.The Leader has absolute control. They choose the Cabinet. They can appoint to the cabinet who they want. They can remove any cabinet member at any time via a reshuffle. 

As you will have seen, there are other posts that are in the gift of the First Minister such as chair of the European monitoring committee. How did I find out that Jenny Rathbone had been removed? David Deans, the Western Mail journalist, told me. Whilst I am pleased Mick Antoniw has been appointed to the post, how did I find out about the appointment? No, it was not the Western was the BBC. I still have not been told about either event officially. There is no reason for the First Minister to tell me. He is not accountable to me as a member of the Labour Group. He is not accountable to the Labour group collectively or individually. His only accountability is to the Welsh Executive.We need to achieve two things: firstly, to make it easier for candidates to get on the ballot paper. Secondly to have greater accountability. This is a debate we need now when there is no leadership election imminent, rather than wait until we have a vacancy.

This is the text of Mike's contribution to a roundtable discussion at the Welsh Labour Grassroots AGM in Cardiff on 17 October 2015. 

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