The end of Labour Party democracy?

JVL Introduction

Barrister Duncan Shipley-Dalton has issued a dire warning on Skwawkbox.

The recent readmission of some suspended elected officers has been done on terms which constitute a grave threat to Labour Party democracy.

For it assumes a relationship of complete subordination of CLPs to the party machine.

That, together with  the right of the general secretary to instruct officers and members to do whatever he instructs without question will, quite simply, spell the end of party democracy.

This article was originally published by Skwawkbox on Mon 8 Feb 2021. Read the original here.

Barrister and Labour rules expert says Labour’s approach to re-admitting suspended officers ‘incredibly dangerous’ and step toward ‘removing union movement from party’

Seventy or more elected local officers of the Labour party were suspended by the party’s hierarchy simply for allowing members to discuss motions declaring solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn. Some have been allowed back into the party, but a Labour rules expert considers the circumstances a severe threat.


Duncan Shipley-Dalton is a barrister and expert on Labour’s rules. He has written about the recent readmission of some of the local elected officers who were suspended by the party for allowing their members to debate and vote on expressions of solidarity with former party leader Jeremy Corbyn:

Labour’s ploy in is incredibly dangerous and accepting it or painting it as a victory would be major tactical error. The description of CLPs as subordinate to the party machine is a very different approach. There is a hierarchical relationship between the NEC and CLPs but not one of complete subordination and control.

The end of any semblance of local democracy in the Party

If this approach combined with the GS directing CLPs and CLP officers and members to do whatever he instructs without question and on pain of punishment for breaching rule 2.I.8 then it is the end of any semblance of local democracy in the Party.

What would stop the General Secretary (GS) stopping all discussion or motions on any subject other than those in his ‘approved’ areas?

So the Party adopts a policy e.g. to no longer support increased Council House Buildings and CLPs are directed by the GS they may not discuss it or contradict the policy.

Or the party leadership supports a policy of supporting a US-led military invasion somewhere and the GS directs no discussion or criticism of his policy. A CLP wants to make donation to a food bank or local charity and the GS says NO.

This is a slippery slope to the complete removal of any local democracy or freedom of expression for members. It is an attempt to remove the power of the members and push power and control to the centre. Members won’t be a co equal bloc; they will be pawns to be pushed about as the Party dictator sees fit.

A blatant defenestration of the NEC

The other point to note is the assertion by Evans that the GS has all day to day control delegated to him by the NEC. Is he asserting he has full budget control? That all administrative decisions are to be made by the GS? Once you take into account the power to pick and choose candidates that has been handed to the GS, this is a blatant defenestration of the NEC.

A history of centralising control and of circumventing democratic checks and balances

All this is exactly what I had expected and warned about some time ago. Starmer has a history of centralising control and of circumventing democratic checks and balances when it doesn’t suit his objectives. In my view the objective Starmer and Evans are pursuing is to turn the Labour Party into a ‘normal’ political party – and to remove the union movement from any influence or control. It is a fundamental re-envisaging of the Labour Party as something different to its past and history. It would no longer be the political arm of the union/labour movement.

This is being done by slowly tearing the heart out of the NEC and therefore removing the direct power and control that the unions currently exercise through their NEC Reps. They all need to wake up or they will soon find they are not in control of the movement they started. Those on the left who think we can wait until Starmer fails in 2024 and then have another go at electing a left leader seem to missing the fact that by 2024 the candidates running will be hand-picked and controlled by Evans and the right wing.

Even if a leadership contest opens up in 2024 after a general election, there won’t be enough left members of the parliamentary party to get a left choice on the ballot. And that’s even assuming that the OMOV (one member one vote) system survives.

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Comments (5)

  • Tim says:

    Did the readmitted officers have to sign anything before being readmitted? One would hope they had the good sense not to!

  • Hazel Davies says:

    It’s truly the Stalinisation of a once democratic Party. ‘Animal Farm’ comes to mind. The pigs are starting to look like humans.

  • Harry Law says:

    First a trawl through a candidates declaration form listing…
    Example Plus all profiles as above.
    “I have provided details of all social media accounts to which I have or have previously had access, and specifically highlighted any social media comments or posts which may be of interest to the media or to our political opponents”.
    After the trawl [going back how many years???] any one found to be critical of Israel policy I don’t think should apply, after all R L Bailey told Robert Peston at the JLM hustings last year that anyone critical of Israel was an anti Semite.

  • Les Hartop says:

    I agree with the warning in this article, however this rescinding of suspensions is a a retreat from recent statements about expelling thousands and thousands of members.

    It’s encouraging to see that resistance can work.

    Of course it may be designed as temporary and tactical, so the next step we need is for the readmitted members to continue in a manner which ignores the dictats in Evans’s letter.

    Whatever caused Evans to readmit these members, whether it was the legal advice he received regarding Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), or the pressure from members and unions, those factors will still apply or still be there the next time he suspends or expells or attacks members rights to free expression.

  • Doug says:

    How many legal challenges are there still in the pipeline and how close are they to being heard

Comments are now closed.