Labour Members Should Decide How Their Representatives Are Chosen

Fundamental changes to how members' representatives are elected in the Labour Party should be made by conference – not behind closed doors in this week's NEC meeting.

Today our union, Unite, is supporting a letter by four grassroots members of the Labour Party to prevent parts of its bureaucracy from making major changes to internal election rules outside of our national conference.

The times we are living through demand a strong Labour Party. We need the labour movement – formed of the workers and their unions who have been on the frontline of this unprecedented and chronically mishandled crisis – to fight for working people like those we represent, and their communities, in the economic crisis which follows.

This is not the time to be talking about internal party structures. But the issue is being forced.

This week Labour’s NEC will consider a paper that aims to permanently change how party members’ representatives are elected, from a simple majority system to single transferable vote. There has been zero consultation with those members and today we have written to the leadership to ask them to hold off on what would be a seismic change.

There are differing legitimate views on voting systems in internal elections. We believe in a democratic system that gives members a strong voice in Labour decision-making, given that members are the majority of the party and hold a minority of places on the executive. We need the time and space to examine and discuss these views.

Whatever decision is made, it should be made at our national conference where the representatives of members and their unions can debate and resolve these questions fully and openly. These debates can be difficult – we have all been involved in many – but evading them by changing the voting system behind closed doors is not the way things should be done in our party.

Conference is the most open and democratic mechanism we have in a party that is often opaque. It is the place where compromises and resolutions to complex issues can be deliberated seriously by the constituent parts of our movement.

This matters because Labour is more than a group of politicians. Its philosophy is based on the idea that people from all walks of life can come together to shape a politics that works for the many, not the few. This is why for the first time in decades, Labour recently became a mass party with hundreds of thousands of members in every corner of the country.

The voting procedure used for the Constituency Labour Party representatives on the national executive may seem dry and technical, and to be fair it is. But anyone who follows the Labour Party closely enough will understand that such procedural wrangling is often a proxy for much broader conversations about Labour’s soul.

In a time when public trust in politics is (with reason) at an all-time low, we need a party that is rooted in and accountable to those it serves.

Labour supporters are fed up of infighting. It has dominated five years and cannot be allowed to dominate more. Those supporters welcomed Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign pledges to lead a unified party.

Changing the system without the proper process would fly in the face of such promises.

A broad coalition is behind our letter, including voices from across the movement and Labour unions.

We hope that Keir Starmer will now step in to address this matter, and can listen to our legal concerns with this move as a lawyer, our democratic concerns with this move as a democrat, and organised labour’s concerns as the leader of the labour movement.

If we are serious about dealing with the democratic deficit in British politics, we cannot allow one to grow wider in our own backyard.