Controversial proposed changes to how council Labour groups operate, including the possibility of party members electing Labour council leaders, will now be considered as part of a local government review next year.
Nick Forbes, leader of the Local Government Association’s Labour group and member of the party’s national executive committee (NEC), last month launched a scathing attack on the proposals set out as part of the findings of the internal democracy review, branding them “deeply insulting” and “depressing”.
At the first NEC meeting last week since his intervention, the issue of tackling anti-Semitism within the party garnered the most attention but the democracy review was also discussed.
NEC member and Islington LBC councillor Alice Perry said some of the proposed party rule changes will be considered by Labour party conference delegates later this month. However, she confirmed the aspects relating to local government will be subject to a review next year, which will “fully involve” councillors, the Association of Labour Councillors and the Local Government Association.
As well as the proposal for party members to elect council leaders, the review also 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”.
One long-serving former Labour council leader, who asked not to be named, told LGC he broadly backed Mr Forbes’ response, adding member elections of leaders could be “worse than a hung council”.
He added: “If it is [an election] every four years, you have effectively got an elected dictator who the group might not even like. Whoever gets picked [the group] has got to follow.
“If [the group] has no faith in the leader then it is just a shambles because at that point the officers will have no faith in the leader.”
The former leader said the proposal in its current form was “asking too much of the party’s large membership” and questioned how the elections would be paid for.
Kirklees MBC leader Shabir Pandor also shared the concerns about the review, saying there has always been a lack of appreciation of Labour councillors among the national party hierarchy.
“The democracy review should have been an opportunity to do something about that,” he added.
Roger lawrence web
Despite widespread concerns among Labour councillors about the democracy review findings, Wolverhampton City Council leader Roger Lawrence said he believed the proposals were driven by issues in some London boroughs, such as Haringey LBC, where there has been animosity between party and trade union members and Labour groups.
But he said “there is work to be done” to improve internal party processes.
“The connection between Labour groups and the wider memberships is something that very much needs to be addressed given the growth in membership,” he added. “Also, there should be more opportunities for people to express their views and have dialogue around policy issues.”
Cllr Lawrence added the one-member ballots on council leadership is “one of the things I have less of a problem with”, but said it was probably illegal due to the requirement for councillors to elect leaders and would need to be a “consultative” process.