This post was originally published here on Labour Teachers on 2nd January 2016.
Labour is a Democratic Socialist Party. It says so on my membership card. It’s a party built on an internal democracy. Historically, policy decisions have been made by the membership, rather than the small proportion of that membership who sit in the commons. We have the national policy forum and we have policy decisions made at conference. Parliamentary candidates are selected by the membership, democratically, before they stand for election.
I know all this, but earlier this week I read this piece from Tarjinder Gill (@teach_well) who was arguing that these things actually make the Labour party less democratic. I read this albeit well written piece with a bit of bemusement. The argument was that actually these PLP members have been elected by the general public in an election and as such have more of a mandate to set policy than the wider membership, and more than our democratically elected leader.
I feel that this is a twisted an flawed logic. Granted they have been elected by the populous, but there are many reasons why the logic is flawed. Firstly, the majority of these MPs were elected more because they were standing for the Labour party rather than their own personal policy views. I believe that these MPs who have been so outspoken against the leadership understand this, or they’d be able to break away safe in the knowledge that they would be returned as independents, or members of an alternative party, in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should, I feel there’s room in the party for all the views and that we can look to work together, I do think that some of them need to stop writing vile horrible things about their leader and members though.
When it comes to policy decisions one wonders why these PLP members are so scared about the membership having a say. Surely if they believed their policies were best they’d be able to stand by them in a debate and get across to members why they should side with them? These are the members who selected them to run in the first place after all.
The article, and many of the things we have seen in other media written by Corbyn’s detractors, tries to conjure up an idea of him as a Stalinist, a totalitarian of the hard left. He’s not, he’s a democratic, keen to make the democracy even more democratic by removing the unelected elements we still have and keen to make his party even more democratic. He’s also not “hard left”, he’s further left than any leader recently, and is further left than the other main parties (and so the labour leader should be!) But he’s not hard left. In the party of Bevan, of Atlee, of Keir Hardie, he’d have been considered a moderate.
The internal democracy within the Labour party is a strength, not a weakness. Policy decisions, selection decisions and other decisions can be made together, through discussion and debate. That’s what Corbyn wants, a party that works together to build a better future for all. I just wish that everyone within the party would get behind him and engage with these debates to ensure their view is heard and the policies are the best for all. This would be much better than the vile attacks we are seeing on our leader and his supporters, and the equally vile retorts that some of his supporters feel the need to issue.