Measures outlined for local government as part of Labour’s democracy review have been branded “deeply insulting” and “depressing” by the party’s most senior local councillor.
In a scathing response to the proposals, leader of the Local Government Association’s Labour group Nick Forbes said it was difficult to comment on aspects of the review due to the “confused and inconsistent” way the chapter focused on councils was drafted. Cllr Forbes said the content of the review showed “a lack of understanding” and “an astonishing lack of respect towards” Labour councillors.
The review recommends that the party returns to a local government committee system coterminous with council boundaries. Labour councillors would be accountable to these committees, which would oversee “all issues” relating to local government - including policy development and candidate selection - and have a role in ensuring manifesto pledges are delivered. However, councillors would be excluded from committee membership and voting rights due to an undefined “conflict of interest”.
Cllr Forbes, who is also leader of Newcastle City Council, said the plan would downgrade “perplexed and offended” councillors to the status of “second class membership” of the party with no justification, a move he described as “completely unacceptable”.
Cllr Forbes added the review “seeks to downgrade [councillors] importance, exclude their experience, and subsume their role to that of a mandated delegate.”
“The stupidity and self-defeating nature of attempting to exclude those party members who have the deepest knowledge, experience, and responsibilities towards local government, not to mention their breadth of campaigning expertise and financial commitment, is breath-taking,” he said.
The review proposes that leaders of Labour councils are directly elected by party members, rather than councillors.
Cllr Forbes said the benefits of such a move are not outlined, nor are the reasons why it would be “political desirable or electorally advantageous”.
He questioned how such votes could take place either before an election, when it is not known who the councillors will be, or after - when there would not be time to hold a meaningful vote before councils’ annual general meetings.
Cllr Forbes also said there would be “astronomical costs” in holding the votes, as well as the proposed membership votes on manifestos, and questioned what would happen if a leader lost the confidence of the Labour group or party membership.
He said the review had been an opportunity to improve processes to help Labour councillors deliver for communities and ensure the role of local government is “properly understood and recognised in the party”.
”The underlying assumption, manifest throughout the review, that Labour party members who are councillors are somehow influenced by differing motivations to those of their fellow party members, and are therefore ‘conflicted’ when it comes to local government campaigning and policy development, is deeply insulting and frankly uncomradely,” Cllr Forbes concluded.
He has previously expressed concern over a desire among some influential members of the party for central control. During a speech to the Labour Party conference last September he warned that Labour in local government had much work to do to persuade the party that councils are a “force for good” and should be taken seriously in policy discussions.
Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne has been contacted for comment.