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Labour seeks to strengthen grassroots amid interference fears

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Proposals to strengthen the influence of rank and file Labour members on councils are being widely discussed as part of the party’s democracy review, it has emerged.

Party members and affiliate organisations are currently being consulted on proposals as part of a review launched by Jeremy Corbyn last year, and there is concern among Labour councillors that their autonomy could be curtailed in the wake of the national executive committee’s recent intervention in Haringey LBC.

One proposal LGC has been told is being widely discussed, and backed by campaign group Momentum, would require local party members to endorse a Labour council group’s choice of leader.

Another consultation question asks members how the relationship between Labour-led local authority representatives and the local party should be “developed”.

Guidance issued by Momentum on how activists should respond to the review states: “Local authorities are often dominated by small numbers of people who exercise large amounts of control over groups, cabinets, individual councillors, candidate panels and selection processes.”

The guidance, seen by LGC, suggests: “The election of council leaders and deputy council leaders could be democratised.”

Shah Ahmed, a Momentum and Labour member in Waltham Forest, told LGC the proposal for members to elect or endorse council leaders has been discussed locally, and on a national level by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy group.

He said members were confident the review would result in a range of measures to empower the party membership, including more influence over Labour councils.

Southwark LBC leader Peter John said he was aware of the proposal and said there is a risk that the democracy review could result in tighter controls on Labour councils.

He added: “The relationship between the leader and the group would be almost broken. 

“Arguably you are moving to more of a mayoral model but it comes back to who has responsibility here. Is it the machinery of the party or is it the machinery of the local administration? It has to the machinery of the administration if you want to get anything done.”

Cllr John has strongly criticised the decision by the NEC to intervene in Haringey over its plan to establish a large public-private regeneration vehicle, claiming it showed a “lack of respect” for local government.

Commenting on the democracy review Haringey LBC leader Claire Kober told LGC that the direct election of leaders by members rather than group members was a concern.

“It undermines the notion of democratic representation and some of the people who understand best the challenges the council faces and therefore the sorts of individuals and skills that need to be brought to tackle those challenges,” she said.

In a speech to the Local Government Association Labour councillors conference last weekend, the party’s LGA leader Nick Forbes said the democracy review must set out a new settlement for local government in the party based on “mutual respect”.

He added: “[The review should establish] our right to determine policy in our democratically elected Labour groups that is right for our communities, not to have interference based on supposition and poorly informed opinion.”

 

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