This weekend, there will be a Labour Party special conference where we will debate our future relationship with millions of our supporters and members.
It’s easy to dismiss such debates as navel-gazing. In reality, how the Labour Party empowers its members and supporters, how we engage with organised workers, and how we campaign and connect to our constituencies are vital questions.
Political parties must play a central role in our democracy: they remain the best way to aggregate views, give citizens a platform and make sense of representative assemblies.
How parties organise themselves is of wider concern than just party members. In a world where people are risking their necks for democracy, we must always be seeking new ways to reinvigorate our own.
When we debated the Collins Review recommendations on party reform at the Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party meeting last Thursday, the ideas were unanimously supported.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has shown colossal courage to push for party reform. We should back him every step of the way. Ed is finishing the job started by the late Labour leader John Smith. But that was over 20 years ago.
Modernisation of the Labour Party came to a halt after 1997, and that was a mistake. Society has transformed since the mid-90s, yet the Labour Party has not changed with the times. So on Saturday, Labour has the best chance in a generation to modernise our party for the 21st century.
It is obvious that we need to harness the energy and ideas of millions of people throughout our communities.
For those in work the trade unions remain the best conduit. But the party needs a direct relationship with our natural supporters in the workplace. It is right that union members will be offered a choice over payment of affiliation fees. Those that wish to will become affiliated supporters, with a real voice inside the party. When I’ve discussed this proposal across Liverpool Wavertree, individual trade union members are very keen on this idea.
Most importantly, we will have an equal say over who leads us.
I’m proud to be a Labour MP, but I don’t think my vote for the leadership of the Labour Party should count many times more than the members of my local party in Liverpool. The days when the Parliamentary Labour Party saw itself as superior to other servants of the party are over.
Labour MPs are in Parliament because of Labour activists and Labour voters. I, for one, am more than happy to relinquish my disproportionately influential vote for the leadership, in favour of more powers for members and supporters.
There are those concerned that allowing registered supporters and affiliated members to participate in Labour will ‘water down’ the influence of members. In fact, under Ed’s proposals, full members retain their rights to select candidates for the council, assembly or parliament; to stand as Labour candidates; to attend conference as delegates; or to be an officer of a local constituency party.
The low membership fees for unemployed people, students, young people or members of the armed forces have proved effective in recruiting new members. There are more than twice as many members in my own constituency party since the 2010 election. A system of registered supporters and affiliated members will provide a pathway for thousands to full membership, boosting the numbers of party members.
No doubt over the weekend, the Tories and many in the media will try to paint these reforms as being about giving more power to ‘the unions’.
Whenever Tories bang on about the unions, they merely show how out of touch they are with ordinary people who work in offices, call centres, supermarkets, in the NHS, in our schools and colleges, in factories and the transport system.
Giving working people a stronger platform in our party is good for Labour, but more important it will be a shot in the arm for our democracy.
It is the Tories who want politics to be a transaction between elites, with citizens relegated to the cheap seats. On Saturday, the Labour Party will prove our trust in the people.
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