dramatic image of the white-haired Walter Wolfgang being forcibly manhandled
from the Labour Party conference by Blair’s heavies for the heinous crime of
shouting: "nonsense" during a Minister’s speech, was a graphic illustration of
how they’d like to get rid of long-standing Labour policies. It also scored a
terrific own-goal as the lasting impression left by media coverage of the Party
conference in 2005 – burying the fact that the conference had defied the
leadership by voting against policies like expanding the private role in
traditional Labour values are considerably harder to eject from the party,
where many still cling to their principles – and Wolfgang made a dramatic
return to haunt Blair & Co. a year or so later when he was elected to the NEC,
coming fourth in the constituency poll.
‘Big Conversation’ and ‘Labour Listens’ campaigns were more examples of New
Labour’s Newspeak – and were somewhat undermined by the fact that they seemed
to take no notice of what they heard – especially when those views supported
renationalisation and keeping council houses in public ownership.
Partnership in Power document laid out some of New Labour’s plans to emasculate
the party so that it would become merely a mouthpiece for the government – to
disseminate the message from above. They wanted something more like the
Democratic Party in the USA.
McCartney MP, when Chair of the Party writing in the 21st Century
Party document, says in the introduction: "The ideas discussed in the Building
a Healthy Party and 21st Century Party documents in 1997 and
1999/2000 have really begun to take hold in the wider party."
later says: "We are better placed as a party in electoral terms because of the
changes we made to the way the party works over the past 10 years."
2003 document talks about the Durham North Labour Party with 23 wards each with
its own officers, meeting monthly. It characterises this as time-wasting with
the duplication of roles – rather than seeing it as involving people at a local
level. They grudgingly admit: "In this constituency, most posts are filled and
the constituency works well."
democratic structures in the party, developed over a hundred years, are judged
to be inefficient and time-wasting. The General Management Committees are
old-hat compared to the whizzy idea of all-members meetings, whose views may be
old ward party organisation, allowed meetings at a very local level. There all
members could discuss policies and local issues and move them on in a
structured way through their delegates to the local GC/GMC of the constituency
could be submitted for debate from the branches, via the constituency to be
finally discussed and agreed at National Conference and to make party policy.
I joined the party in 1975, all the constituencies operated in that way. Even
21 years ago, when I moved to Broxbourne CLP, we passed a resolution about
guaranteeing travellers’ rights, which went through the whole process and
became party policy.
new structures seem to be less concerned about policy – although there are lots
of chances for people to get together and discuss things generally.
now have Policy Forums, which can be organised locally, regionally and
nationally – in a body elected by members to serve on the National Policy Forum
documents are sent out to local parties – although the timescale for discussion
is often tight and there is insufficient time to cover these quite lengthy
documents in detail. The discussion questions also often seem to be phrased in
a leading manner.
the local meetings, debates take place and views are expressed. Someone will
make notes of the discussion (although there is often a suspicion that these
may not fully reflect the comments – particularly where these are fairly
radical) and these can be sent on to region or the NPF. It is not very clear
what happens after that – and the impression is that everything disappears into
a black hole.
NPF includes representatives from the Government, including ministers, senior
officers from the Trade Unions and the constituency reps. But, unlike the Party
Conference which used to be fully televised some years ago, the NPF meetings
take place behind closed doors and little of their deliberations comes back to
aren’t so many members around these days – so many have left the party – or
dropped out of activity – in disgust at the policies that the Government has
Harris wrote in the Guardian (30/9/05), that according to party dissidents:
"One of the reasons the party is atrophying is the lack of say in policy matters
given to ordinary members. The proposed solution, naturally enough, is to
create a new category of member, who will have no say whatsoever." Enter the
forget, the Labour Party is the party of the working class and the trade unions
– and it will be taken back and transformed.