Labour International hosted an online meeting on the 5th December with Corbyn ally and Labour MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson, who has been touring the country with his Democracy Roadshow. You may be labouring under the delusion that internal Labour Party democracy is a tad dry, but Chris has been getting large, enthusiastic audiences and holding up to three meetings a week – and he’s booked out until May next year. As Tony Benn never tired of repeating, to democratise society, you need first to democratise the Party (he also said this meant leaving the EU but that’s another story) – only then can we transfer power from “the wallet to the ballot.” Some sections of the party may resent this push since it infringes on delegate power but it will become irresistible if it comes from the mass membership.
Speaking from his office in the Commons, Chris pointed to a number of key areas:
- Mandatory reselection / open selection – Chris was himself a main mover in this campaign and he honoured Labour International’s key role here. He pointed out that it would be possible to directly lobby the NEC to have this topic debated again at conference after it received such popular support this year.
- Policymaking – it’s important to involve grassroots members in this often complex area. Digital democracy can raise involvement by facilitating information exchange and detailed discussion. Ed Miliband ruefully admitted that we should have listened to our members more in this area.
- Local government – Labour members could vote for town hall leader and help draw up the Labour manifesto for town hall elections, which is currently done by Councillors.
- Regional structures – these also need democratizing, with one member one vote (OMOV) for regional committees and directors. This could lead to a renewal of regional support to help CLPs in areas such as political education.
- Trade unions – Chris has taken the democracy roadshow to some TU branches, though not many. He said it’s important to reach out to TU members with his message and hopefully avoid damaging splits, such as occurred at conference this year when the TU mostly block-voted against further debate of the open selection motion.
There was a lively discussion after Chris’s opening remarks. LI members thanked him for his efforts, pointing out that some campaigning groups often don’t quite meet the democratic aspirations they set themselves in this area so we must always be vigilant. Other parties such as the SPD in Germany should follow in the footsteps of these moves to greater democratisation. There was also a question about greater inclusion of minorities in party posts to which Chris agreed – he made the point that working class people are also still underrepresented in the party although this generally gets far too little attention.