First published Labourlist 22 March 2018
The Labour Party’s rulebook, being a document that has evolved over more than 100 years, does not contain any systematic account of both the rights and responsibilities of membership.
Momentum have put forward a charter for members’ rights, which brings together a modern system of rights and applies them to party members, elected representatives and staff. Without a clear and transparent statement of rights, we’re all operating in the dark.
The dangers of continuing to do so have been thrown into sharp relief in the last couple of years. That the party has a disciplinary procedure protects all of us members from abuse. But for a disciplinary procedure to command the members’ trust, and for it to be effective, it must be seen to be acting fairly.
The rules for the National Constitutional Committee (at Appendix 6 Labour Party rulebook) are broadly considered to be fair. However, there have been concerning practices, arising long before any member subject to discipline reaches the NCC, namely:
- An apparently knee-jerk response by the Labour Party to suspend any member where a complaint has been received, rather than embarking on a preliminary investigation into whether the complaint has any substance and considering whether suspension is justified;
- No reasons given for suspension and no opportunity to appeal against suspension;
- Members left suspended – with no right of appeal against the suspension – for months or even years;
- Members reinstated from a period of suspension without explanation or apology, so with no opportunity to clear their names;
- Members automatically excluded from party membership without a right of appeal when accused of having supported another political party (without any investigation as to whether the accusation is correct or whether, for example, there is a simple confusion of identification).
The Chakrabarti report in the summer of 2016 recommended that suspension should be a last resort and that there should be a limitation period within which a complaint is processed. It is a shame that these recommendations have not been implemented.
Arbitrary decisions do not assist any party member who has complained about the behaviour of another. Nor do they assist party staff, who are often perceived as the decision-makers. And they certainly don’t assist a suspended member who is anxious to clear their name.
Momentum’s charter protects party members from long periods of suspension. It also allows for a procedure allowing complaints to be treated anonymously, if that is appropriate, and for complainants to feel reassured about the process. Importantly, it protects staff. If the charter is adopted and implemented, they will be seen to be acting fairly. It offers a robust disciplinary procedure that will be fair and will be seen to be fair, and therefore also command the confidence of the membership.
The charter enshrines best practice. Nearly all elected representatives take it as given that they should provide regular written reports to their local members, and take into account (but not be finally bound by) their branch or CLP’s views when deciding how to vote. Momentum suggests that this should be seen as routine, rather than just best practice.
The greatest asset of the Labour Party is its membership. One of the many reasons for which the party confounded media pundits in June 2017 and exceeded expectations in the general election was because of the numbers, commitment and enthusiasm of activists campaigning on the doorstep.
Momentum’s charter celebrates Labour Party members: “Labour is at its best when its members are fully engaged and their talents, ideas and commitments can be fully harnessed.”
Please use the next 24 hours to contribute to Track 2 of the Labour Party’s democracy review, which comes to a close at noon on Friday 23 March. Momentum is suggesting that party members support its proposed “Charter for Members’ Rights”, which is relevant to participation and building a mass movement: peoplesmomentum.com/democracy-review.