Editorial

Ideas into action: Open Labour and internal elections

by: Open Labour National Committee on 14.03.18 | In: Editorial
by: Open Labour National Committee on: 14.03.18 in: Editorial

From our beginning we have sought to build support for an open left at all levels with the party, so it was always our intention that this would include running and supporting candidates for positions in the Labour Party. We want to be part of the fight for ideas within Labour, and that necessitates having a stake in internal elections and campaigns, building on the policy focus and capacity building that we have concentrated on in our first two years. The time is right for us to make the move from ideas to a more strategic engagement within the party. As a new organisation, we also have a great opportunity to do this differently.

The political priority for Open Labour is to broaden the number and variety of left voices, and to increase the representation and profile of the open left in particular.

Ultimately, what defines left ideas is not loyalty, structures or uniform discipline, but content – what route we offer to a fairer and more compassionate society. We feel that socialists in the Labour Party should have representation which reflects our political and social diversity, and the full range of thought on the left.

Our tradition within Labour has worked as part of a wider party left in many internal elections since early in the Blair years, and in the time before that had operated both as part of this broad left and as a standalone effort. Until recently our members and several predecessor organisations have campaigned during NEC and NPF elections, providing the ‘centre-left’ part of the CLGA (Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance). Many of our founding members also have a history of working as part of a broad left within sections of the party like Young Labour and Labour Students.

In each of these arenas our priority has been to press for greater democracy, transparency, and openness of debate, often in difficult circumstances. These remain goals for us and we have been consistent voices on these issues for some time.

We remain open to conversations with other parts of the left in creating slates. We are committed to promoting a broad left and we will consider working with organisations from other traditions if that can be achieved in good faith.

Overall, the left is changing, and in our opinion as it grows in strength it is increasingly forgetting its own political diversity. Over the last year, we have become concerned that political diversity on the left has been deprioritised in slate negotiations in favour of narrowly defined concept of discipline. This shift away from diversity and a disregard for achieving a broad ‘buy-in’ across the left has been the primary reason why we have not affiliated to CLGA as our predecessors have – it is increasingly difficult to be treated as a partner. However, there are examples of areas where similar arrangements have worked out in a much better way, for example where we have continued to be part of the fight to reform Labour students. We much prefer this latter approach.

In a general sense it is obviously impossible to reflect the range of left ideas through one organisation or via electoral slates if they don’t explicitly recognise the need for breadth.

We want to use a different approach, where active members are free to make their own decision to run and then approach Labour’s internal organisations for support with a clear understanding of what those organisations stand for. With our preferred approach, organisations such as our own can publish clearly what their process is, and what they are looking for from candidates. This gives the left as a whole a new opportunity to create a broader politics of alliances and participation, a positive alternative to the ‘domination’ politics of how factions often work – top down and ideologically uniform.

Stepping away from old models means that there will certainly be times when it is important to run Open Labour candidates on a standalone basis, if only because can only really work with people who want to work with us.

But a lot of Labour members affiliated to other organisations still point out that they have much in common with us, so where candidates aligned with other traditions in the party align closely with our values and policies, we need to keep our door open. This means we need to concentrate on the politics of the people members are expected to elect more than which ‘team’ they are from. Specifically, Open Labour must focus on how well those politics can work with ours. As well as knowing we will sometimes have to stand Open Labour candidates, we don’t doubt that there will also be elections where Open Labour jointly endorses and campaigns.

Given the above, there is also a third option whereby we can also endorse people on the slates even whilst running our own candidates at the same time.

Any of the above combinations of individuals and slates can be possible, depending on the environment and attitudes we encounter. What is important for us is that we respond to some of the machine politics of recent months, aimed at commanding and controlling Labour’s membership, with something aimed at disrupting and changing the rules.

So what now?

We have outlined an approach for backing individual candidates below and will operate on this basis before putting this before our members at our annual conference this summer.

We would therefore expect this to apply to NEC and NPF elections, and possibly parliamentary selections.

Our national committee has already campaigned for several candidates for Parliamentary selections and in youth & student elections, with a good number of these being successful. If you identify with our politics, we want to support you as well, so please be sure to ask us.

Build the open left

1. Open Labour does not run a slate of candidates, but we do reserve the right to. For now, we will support individual candidates in internal elections irrespective of their other affiliations if they fit criteria outlined below, and if this is deemed politically expedient by a majority of our National Committee.

2. The National Committee is always open to approaches from our members should they wish to run individually, and to candidates from elsewhere running either as independents or on slates, subject to point 1 above. We can be contacted using admin@openlabour.org. We would encourage you to approach us about these conversations as early as possible in advance of elections.

3. As well as expecting candidates to have a record of standing for politics broadly aligned to our own, we will give additional preference to both longstanding members and those from under-represented backgrounds.

4. In the future we will have a general expectation that candidates who expect us to campaign for them will join OL. This is without prejudice to any other organisations they are members of, as long as these are not hostile to Labour or ineligible for membership.

5. The OLNC will discuss with candidates how we can help to campaign for them and what resource we can offer.

6. When ballot papers are issued or election meetings take place, we will publish a list of candidates we have decided to support and encourage our members to vote for them. We will encourage candidates we have decided to back to use our name and logo in their campaign literature.

Who will we campaign for?

You!

We would love to campaign for you if you are prepared to join us and you can also pledge some minimum political commitments. We support people whose political views are:

• Trade union friendly, anti-austerity and pro-sustainability in terms of economics
• Tough on all forms of racism, prejudice and other exclusionary behaviour. We expect a strong approach against anti-Semitism, transphobia and misogyny, some of the most salient issues in Labour’s current political culture.
• In support of a close relationship between Britain and Europe (including the principles of free movement of workers and high mutual access with the single market), in line with the TUC.
• For a member and affiliate led party: in support of internal democracy, pluralism and free debate within the Labour Party, its sections, and its affiliates.
• Committed to maintaining a diverse range of voices on the left and within Labour, and respectful towards other people who want to be involved.
This describes absolutely tonnes of people in the Labour Party, and probably sums up some of the basic politics of most of Labour’s regular members, new and old. That is where we believe Open Labour should be rooted, and it gives us plenty of optimism about our ability to reach out and grow.

Most of all, we hope that this describes you.

In case you want to find out more, here are some helpful links.

If you want our members to support your campaign, please email admin [at] openlabour [dot] org.

You can join Open Labour on our front page

You can find out more about our policy positions and what we stand for here

Our democratically decided policy paper is slightly more detailed – it is available here.

Comments

  • I am with you on a lot of this, but not your position on the free movement of workers (I suggest you read Collier’s Great Exodus). Nor do I agree with your assessment of the direction of Brexit travel. We are obviously not heading for a hard Brexit. The likely outcome is a Brexit that does not satisfy either Leavers or Remainers. Let’s call it a lose-lose Brexit. The intriguing question is how the Tories will dress this up. They will try to present it as a success; they may succeed in this. Labour will need a convincing response that goes beyond the sound-bite language of hard and soft Brexits. Macron’s ambitious proposals for EU reformation also make such language redundant (although continuing dysfunctionality is as likely as Macronisation).

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