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July 26, 2016


Luis Enrique

I have also been wondering about a sort of split and coalition - that is have two factions within one party, perhaps overseen by a committee or general secretary, with each faction competing to supply constituency candidates for GE. Just something to diffuse the conflict and give both sides and continuing role without one having to beat the other. But I don't imagine any such arrangement would work and the whole system is set up to produce a single leader.

[also: at least some of those labelled neoliberals are going to say they don't reckon on heroic CEO-leaders but merely heroic markets to select for success]

Dave Hansell

I suspect the fly in the ointment here is that, whilst it is perfectly possible for the Labour Party to organise it's structure and processes along such lines, the wider political, media, cultural and social environment in which it operates and exists will continue to function in the present dumb mode. Which suits a range of vested interests.

Operating in such a way whilst the rest of the bubble carried on in the same feudalist manner would be problematic at best. For sure, it demonstrates an ability to think and act outside the arcane fiddle which passes for democratic made up on the hoof to suit powerful interests constitutional politics in the UK, and progresses beyond the mindset of "nobody told us we could do that" (a la former Chancellor Snowden). However, to have any progressive traction outside one Party the whole stables need to be cleared out, including not just at national,regional and political local levels but also the former forth estate which is now reduced to little more than a fifth column.


I've been saying this for a while. Here's something I wrote on the 28th of June:

"If the Labour leader is unaccountable, let’s build structures of accountability. If he thinks he’s accountable to the party more widely and doesn’t need to answer to the PLP, let’s have that discussion. If what the PLP mean by ‘leadership’ includes things which Corbyn’s unwilling or unable to deliver, let’s talk about how those things can be delivered, who can deliver them and how those people can work together with Corbyn. In short, let’s see how Corbyn’s leadership can be made to work. This, incidentally, is the kind of constructive, grown-up conversation I hoped Corbyn’s parliamentary allies would be having with him when he first became leader ... Even the eventual succession could have been planned quietly and sensibly; with a bit of good will it could even have been agreed by now."

And on the 26th:
"You agree among yourselves what you want from a leader, or a leadership team; you put your demands forward; and, when your leader says he isn’t the guy to deliver what you’re asking for, you ask him how he’s going to get it done and who he’s going to get it done by. Basically you break the job of leadership up into bits that can be done by other members of the leadership team – then ask your leader who he’s going to get to do what, and how he’s going to make sure they do it. You can get what you want, if you’re willing to go through the hard grind of identifying what it is you want and making sure structures get set up to deliver it. This would also be a lot more democratic and participatory than pinning your hopes on a Great Man (or Woman), and would represent a return to the collegiate style of politics that was lost in the wreck of Old Labour."

Dave Timoney

This sounds like a proposal to marginalise the membership through the institution of the Chair. In the example outlined by David Owen, the role would clearly have little power to effect policy and strategy (routinely outvoted by the PLP Leader & Gen Sec combo), presentation (MPs and the PLP Leader would always "interpret" for the media), or candidate selection.

One explanation as why the members are so keen on Corbyn is that the only lever they currently possess to keep the Party "honest" is the leadership ballot. Had the Party encouraged greater internal democracy over the last 20 years, rather than varieties of PLP/union stitch-ups and the parachuting in of besuited drones, then the Corbyn insurgency might well not have happened.

Of course, if they'd done that then Tony Blair might have been deselected as Leader after 2003, the 2010 general election might have been fought on a "make the bankers and their Tory mates pay" ticket, and the PLP might not have committed to mini-me austerity thereafter.


Why couldn't they come up with that idea when the right led the party? I.e. when that mass murdering criminal Blair and his gang had their filthy hands round the party's neck. This is just the idea of the bad loser! pathetic.

But it is worse than that because it is a proposal that smacks democracy in the face. What we have now is a technocracy and not a democracy. As Ken Livingstone pointed out, before Blairism the Labour party had over 100 working class MP's but what Blairism did was to make the job of an MP a career rather than being a representative role. So today MP's are now overwhelmingly Middle Class because that is what the job now demands, i.e. it is a technocratic role.

Voting for MP's, the action elections are merely a ceremonial process, like the Queens coronation.

The answer to Labours problems is not to accept the death of democracy and the rise of technocracy and assume the PLP are separate from the party. No the solution is mass deselection of the traitorous losers that are the PLP, to be replaced by people who are more representative.

Maybe Chris should go to the Lib dems where he will find policies more to the liking of a Liz Kendall supporter. It is as if people like Chris don't have choice!!!!!!!!

Igor Belanov

These type of proposals are merely papering over the cracks. They could work in a party that had some degree of consensus over aims and a lot more trust on issues relating to accountability and procedural fairness, but the party is much too polarised for that. All that would happen in these scenarios is that whichever group had 'control' over a certain function would basically seek its own agenda and there would not be any real source of coordination.

What we are seeing now is a power struggle that will not be resolved to every Labour supporter's satisfaction. For the party to 'come together' in the future would require a mammoth act of renunciation of commitment and principle from the membership, because the bulk of the PLP are determined not to compromise.

David Owen

We might note that a similar system worked well for German SPD during the years they dominated German politics. And in response to BCFG above, it is partly to stop any individual having the kind of power over the Party that Blair had that I propose this. Two points I'd like to add:
1.) In my Open Democracy blog, I probably should have said something about the different veto powers that each of the triumvarate would have, e.g., the idea is that you keep the PLP leader responsive by giving veto powers to veto policy agendas to Chair/President and GenSec.
2.) I am not wedded to this specific proposal for dividing leadership if others come up with better ones which is quite likely - I just want the conversation to get started and for people to stop the toxic enmity talk and think about how to channel the different stands of the Party so that strengthens rather undermined its effectiveness.


"it is partly to stop any individual having the kind of power over the Party that Blair had that I propose this."

Seriously do you think everyone falls for your bullshit? Your measures are so measly and conveniently limited that this by itself reveals your true motives. I.e. restore Labour to the bastion of Blairism and undermine Corbyn and the members.

We need radical measures, empower the members, drastically reduce the power of the PLP, ensure the trend to technocracy is halted and that MP's are made representative and accountable.

The PLP are losers, we are coming from a position of strength. We should be dictating terms to the PLP losers and we should say to them, like it or lump it.

And we should not fall for wolves in sheep's clothing like David Owen, who remained quiet during the Blair catastrophe and now all of a sudden see a need for measly change. How very convenient.

For the first time in many years we now have choice in politics, Chris can choose the Lib dems or the Tories to realise his Liz Kendall agenda. Do let the likes of David Owen take away your choice, take away your voice.

David Owen is a voice thief, who wants to you to keep quiet and tow the line.

Igor Belanov

'We might note that a similar system worked well for German SPD during the years they dominated German politics.'

They've got the same system now and yet they are effectively the lap dogs of the centre-right and have haemorrhaged support dramatically. This suggests that inventing institutional castles in the sky is less important than dealing with actual power relationships and conflicting political platforms.


So lets imagine the scenario - the Labour membership elect Corbyn as their triumvirate member, and the PLP elect (lets say) Hilary Benn as theirs. How much further forward is the Labour party? It still has a total disconnect between the sort of policies and aims the members want (regardless of their appeal to the wider electorate) and the sort of policies and mood messages the MPs know are required to attract the centre voters where elections are won and lost.

Structural changes can help when everyone broadly singing from the same hymnsheet, when the two ends are tearing off in different directions they are just deck chair rearrangement on the Titanic type activity.

David Owen

BCGF - well you obviously know what I think so much better than I do, you can reply to yourself. But once you have recovered from your hysterics, you might note the point where I say that I am not wedded to this proposal but trying to get a conversation going on the structures that might turn the Left-Right conflict into a strength not a weakness.

Igor - that is perfectly fair and I did try to locate the proposal (which is only a tentative first proposal for discussion as I keep stressing) in one dimension of broader power relations of LP across its history but happy to see further analysis along these lines and this would matter for proposals for institutional redesign.

Jim - structural changes can also help by requiring cooperation and and compromise in short term while restructuring organisation/cultural norms in the medium term. If we have Corbyn Benn and Watson, for example, and each role has specific veto powers then they will be required to cooperate and compromise -- I think the harder problem would actually be getting this type of proposal accepted in the current climate since both sides seem to be treating conflict as a zero-sum game.

Given Party rules on constitutional changes, then unless NEC adopted some such proposal as a matter of importance, it could not come before conference until 2017 anyway.


I'm likely a lone voice here but other than at the edges, re voting privileges when and how, what exactly is wrong with Labour's structure as is? It would be a mistake surley to build anew to escape a particular rather than a general problem. The general being that Labour is, and will doubtless always have to be a broad church and the particular being direction of travel post 2008.


The zeitgiest has changed, didn't the PLP get the memo from the G20? Theresa May did.

No-one in the PLP appears to be able to do the intellectual heavy lifting.

The parade of empty suits, left and right, continues.

It's the vision thing ... and they don't have it.

Igor Belanov

@ David Owen

I'm fully in favour of the idea of spreading authority and responsibility, in society as well as in political movements.

But as a way of dealing with the crisis within the Labour Party, your proposals are unfortunately a non-starter at present. They require a high degree of coherence on the party's values, its orientation towards parliament, membership and public, and the party's trust in each other. How on earth is Corbyn supposed to work with Benn, Watson, Eagle, Smith, etc after the events of the last month? How are members ever going to see the majority of the current PLP as representative of the whole party given their attitude to the membership's views? I think we have gone way too far for compromise to be possible.

Your ideas are sound, but something within the party will have to give first before anything of their like could be implemented.

Dave Timoney

@David Owen

"If we have Corbyn Benn and Watson, for example, and each role has specific veto powers then they will be required to cooperate and compromise".

A party in which conflict is resolved through vetoes is, by definition, a conservative party. Progress is routinely impeded unless there is unanimity.

I appreciate that you're trying to stimulate a discussion here, rather than precribe a particular solution, but your thinking betrays an obvious ideological bias.

David Owen

@Igor, well that may turn out to be true, I think it pessimistic and an hopeful that there are more people in the middle in Labour but I am by default optimistic...

@FromArsetoElbow - well it is true I am on what would standardly be called the 'soft Left' (that is I am have been a member since 1981 but resigned for 2nd half of Blair's PM period, actually pre-Iraq, before rejoining under Brown) and in practice compromise may work to advantage of soft left or centre but it might also work out in other unexpected ways in which some very radical places in one area are traded off for some not at all radical policies in other areas. For the record I would have no problem with any of 20 policies Owen Smith announced today, many of which overlap significantly with Corbyn/McDonnell stuff - and at least in two respects I would go further than any of them in that, unlike McDonnell, I would drop the rule of getting rid of deficit and, unlike both sides, I would push for state as employer of last resort. (I am also much more radical than any of them of addressing global migration issues, but that would take too long to lay out).

gastro george

@David Owen

"For the record I would have no problem with any of 20 policies Owen Smith announced today, many of which overlap significantly with Corbyn/McDonnell stuff ..."

There are two problems here. The first is whether we believe anything Smith says. The second, and more important, is whether he will actually be leader in 2020, or replaced by one of the Serious People - which is probably their strategy.

David Owen

@gastrogeorge The first thing I can help with since Smith has been saying these things in private since at least 2014 (according to friends of mine who are activists in Wales). The second thing I can't help with but I note that the team around him includes people like Lisa Nandy and others who are seen as high flyers so may be hard to do.

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