For all the uproar around a couple of specific issues, Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool, which still has two days to run, has already seen a number of successes for member empowerment on a scale that members would hardly have dared dream about just two years ago.
Sometimes we forget how far we’ve come.
In 2016, the last time Conference took place in Liverpool, Jeremy Corbyn had just been elected as leader for the second time – but outgoing right-wingers were launching a ‘silent coup’ by anti-democratically adding two further places to Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) and filling both of them with unelected representatives of right-wing leaders in Scotland and Wales.
The right also held a substantial majority among delegates, leaving the left hamstrung and trying to fight a rearguard damage-limitation action.
What a difference a year or two makes.
In 2017 in Brighton, Labour’s left-wing majority saw the first sign of what could be achieved if it matched the right for organisation, as a decisive left majority saw new member representative places added to the NEC, the approval of Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘democracy review’ and other victories won with almost anti-climactic ease.
But even if there has been disappointment at the democracy-review recommendations that were not approved by the NEC last week for this week’s Conference agenda, this year’s event has already eclipsed last year’s success in terms of member empowerment and the broadening of the party to reflect the Labour movement – and it’s only halfway through.
Here are ten landmark successes already achieved this week:
The changes to parliamentary selection processes and the removal of the ability of affiliate organisations to hamper member decisions about their candidate are huge compared to the previous cumbersome and easily-rigged ‘trigger ballot’ process – but the new rules preventing failed right-wing NEC candidates walking onto the committee if a member leaves, the quarantining of damaging deputy leader Tom Watson, the addition of an NEC representative elected by disabled members and the other changes are no less seismic in their way.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and its annual conference are not perfect and nobody can even be 100% satisfied – nor should we be.
But the party is a new type of force in politics, combining popular vision, member empowerment and movement-wide solidarity with organised labour in the unions in a way that no other party can hope to match. And we must not become so used to our successes that we fail to appreciate them and their importance in the hurly-burly of the drive toward change and government.
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