You’re new members of the Labour Left. You’ve voted for Jez. You’ve maybe even appealed your membership rejection. But what now?
Here is a brief introduction to how the Labour Party works, and what we think that left-wing activists should spend their time on.
Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) are the life-blood of the party. These local groups co-ordinate local campaigning, select and hold accountable the area’s MPs, and act as the main link between members and the party. Many are dominated by right-wing councillors and their hangers-on so one task for left-wing activists is clearing these people out to make room for activists who can make sure elected representatives genuinely carry out democratically-agreed policy.
There are 14 Trade Unions affiliated to the Labour Party. They provide a huge amount of the party’s funding and run the party’s infrastructure in many parts of the country. They have significant representation in all the party’s structures, from branch level right up to the NEC. Too often, trade unions’ political structures do not seriously fight for the unions’ policies. If you are in a union affiliated to Labour, get involved in your union’s political structures and fight for real workers’ political representation, not backroom deals or “clever” negotiating strategies that fail to deliver.
There are 22 affiliated Socialist Societies. Some of these represent specific groups of people: Labour Women’s Network, BAME Labour, Labour Students and the Jewish Labour Movement. Others are based on a specific issue: Labour Housing Group and Labour Campaign for International Development. Socialist Societies have similar democratic rights to the trade unions but, due to their smaller membership, on a smaller scale.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) is the most senior body in the party. It employs the party’s General Secretary. Its members are elected from all sections of the Labour Party. For instance, CLPs share six seats on the NEC while socialist societies share two.
The National Policy Forum (NPF) is elected to decide Labour Party policy. This used to be the job of party conference until the Blairite assault on party democracy. The NPF is largely toothless and only produces fairly vague commitments which the Leadership then adapt to suit their priorities. Everyone on the NEC sits on the NPF too.
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is the term used to describe the Labour MPs. It is the most right-wing section of the party. If Corbyn is able to democratise the party structures , a key struggle is ensuring Labour MPs hold to democratically-decided policies – and de-selecting them if not!
Branch Labour Parties (BLPs) are based on council wards. Where they exist, they select and hold accountable councillors, and as affiliate bodies of CLPs can send motions up to the CLP General Committees.
Party conference happens in September. It used to decide the party policy which the leadership then ignored. Now it has less power and is more an event for discussing political ideas and networking. Under a Corbyn leadership this could and should change. Voting delegates are sent by each CLP, Trade Union and Socialist Society, but any member can come if they’re willing to pay for a ticket.
Labour Students is a socialist society. This makes it officially autonomous. However the party is the legal employer of its three elected full-time officers so wields a lot of power over the organisation. It is made up of individual members who are part of campus Labour Clubs.
Young Labour is the party’s youth wing. It is not a socialist society, it is part of the party itself. It consequently has no autonomy and is subject to the decisions of the NEC and party staff. The national body doesn’t seem to do very much but regional branches, like London Young Labour, are more active. If you are under 27 you are automatically in Young Labour. Some CLPs have Young Labour groups but this is sadly quite rare.
Labour Campaign for Free Education (LCFE) is the attractive bunch who wrote you this. We fight for free education in the Labour Party, Labour Students, and the trade unions. We also participate in the wider (Young) Labour left, pushing for greater democracy.
Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) was founded in 1973 after a period of Labour governments ignoring conference policy on key issues. It was a key component of the movement to elect Tony Benn as deputy leader in 1981 (the Bennites).It proposes rule-changes to improve party democracy which it distributes through its very well-connected membership. Officially its objectives are fairly narrow but in practice it serves as a meeting point for the Labour left, and demands for greater democracy are crucial if we want Labour to be an adequate vehicle for labour movement political representation.
The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is the hard-left organisation in the Labour Party fronted up by John McDonnell. It is named after the body that created the Labour Party a century ago. It produces one of the two journals called Labour Briefing.
Progress is the shadowy party-within-a-party funded by Lord Sainsbury and committed to Blairism. They have a monthly magazine which discusses right-wing policy in some detail. They have lots of members in Labour Students and the PLP. They describe themselves as Labour’s new mainstream and their leadership candidate, Liz Kendall, just won 4.5% of the vote.
Labour First is the pre-Blairite ‘old-right’ faction. They are committed to moderate trade unionism and consider nuclear weapons to be one of their key principles.
The Fabian Society is a socialist society which thinks of itself as the party’s think-tank. Officially non-aligned and with a mix of views, its ideas tend range from centre-left to right-wing. It has traditionally been, and continues to be, one of the more middle-class sections of the party.
What should Labour lefties do?
- Keep up to date with LCFE – we will be launching a formal membership structure soon so watch this space!
- Students! Go to your campus Labour Club – make sure that the club is involved in both campus activism and the fight for leftwing politics in Labour Students
- Young people! Get involved in Young Labour. If you have a Young Labour group near you, get involved. If not then start one up. Keep an eye out for when Young Labour National Conference is announced – LCFE will organise a strong presence there and we want you to be part of it.
- Get involved in your Branch and at its AGM ask to be a CLP delegate so you can move motions, initiative political discussions and hold councillors and MPs to account.
- Join a trade union. If possible join one that affiliates to Labour, but only if that makes sense in your workplace too. Ask your union branch to send you as a delegate to your local CLP and fight for the union to assert its (usually more left-wing) policies in the Labour Party and in wider society.
- Come to the meeting on September 20th. The Labour left is no longer fit for purpose. We’re going to relaunch it. Be there for when it starts.