Labour: Reform and Unite

Keir Starmer

The Labour Party is built on shared principles and values that have changed millions of lives for the better.

Created by working people, for everybody, Labour has never been afraid to stand with those who most need us and to support the cause of democracy and human rights around the world.

We built the NHS and defended it for 70 years. We transformed education. We fought for workers’ rights. We are the party of common ownership, environmental protection and equality.

But there is no escaping from the fact that we have just suffered our fourth successive general election defeat, and we need to turn that around. We must focus on winning not only the votes of the people we seek to persuade, but also their trust. We cannot change lives from opposition.

I am immensely proud of the size and energy of the party. People were inspired in their thousands by Jeremy Corbyn to join Labour, and we must not lose that idealism and radicalism. We can, however, channel it more effectively. We owe it to our members and our country to be a professional, effective campaigning organisation that is geared to win. We have come so far since 2015 as a movement and now, in the wake of defeat, we must dig deep and keep moving forward. We must reform.

I believe we can do this. I know that we must. A reformed party will not only be more effective, but will demonstrate how we behave towards each other, make decisions, and get things done. We will show everyone that our culture is open, respectful, creative and engaging.

The Labour Party has always been a place where different ways of thinking come together. Our trade unionist, reformist social democrat and radical socialist traditions are still at the heart of our movement, and over the decades Labour has also become a home for feminists, environmentalists, internationalists, LGBT+ movements and more. But too often we find ourselves focusing on our differences rather than the values and principles that brought us together, and that comes at a cost.

Our party is divided, and unity requires reconciliation.

The best place to start this journey is by revisiting our founding principles. Labour was built on the principle of justice. We stand for decency in how we treat one another and fairness in how we share out the advantages and burdens in society. The moral heart of justice is equality: each person is of equal worth.

We must embed into our systems and actions this principle that all members are equal. I am clear: reconciliation does not mean shying away from the real political differences that exist. Reconciliation is not submission to the strongest or loudest, nor is it compelling others to conform to an ideological norm. Unity cannot be forced and is entered into willingly, with open hearts and minds. Working together does not mean surrendering our own personal views about how our values are put into practice; that debate and those differences are what keeps us alive and relevant. We need our Party to function like friends round a table, where each of us can be confident that our ideas are valued while we work together to find a way forward.

Unity can only be achieved through respect for others and the recognition that no individual, group or faction has all the answers.

Labour’s traditions will always be with us, they are a part of us. The future of our party must be built on a new, more inclusive, more democratic culture of dignity and respect.

I hope the following ideas will be the start of a conversation that we can all be part of.

1. Recruit a truly representative set of candidates for future elections

Labour, with our Trade Unions, must be at the forefront of championing diversity and bringing people into politics who have not previously considered becoming involved. Our mission should be to make sure our elected representatives reflect modern Britain in every way. We must break down barriers in this area as we have done in so many others. We should establish a ‘Labour Party College’ – accredited to further education standards – that offers political education, training in campaigning, development of leadership skills, and supports the next generation of working class councillors, MSPs, AMs and MPs. We should provide online courses and establish formalised mentoring programmes to help those who are less likely to participate in party decision-making to play their part. We should use our parliamentary representation to push for legislation that will make it possible to run all BAME shortlists. We should set up bursaries for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to help with childcare, travel and training.

2. Provide better access for disabled members

 Too many people are unable to participate in party activities as much as they would like. We should provide remote access to branch and CLP meetings to all disabled members who require it. I would explore a full inclusivity review of all of our structures to identify who is being excluded and what action we can take.

3. Become campaign innovators

Our greatest campaigning asset is our network of committed staff, members and activists. But in many other ways we have not run the campaigns needed to win elections.  I want us to lead the way in technological innovation, campaign techniques and membership mobilisation. We must invest in creating and maintaining a leading technology position so that we are ready to fight and win the next election. Our distinctive strength is our mass membership, and we must develop ways to deploy our activists so that their time is used wisely and well, their feedback is sought and acted upon, and opportunities are provided to enhance their skills. Our entire campaigning infrastructure and techniques must now be reviewed and reformed. As leader I would initiate such a review.

4. Make the selections for Labour candidates more democratic and end NEC impositions of candidates

Local Party members should select their candidates for every election. The NEC should not impose candidates on local parties.  More widely, we must improve our selection process. The current system is impenetrable with too much reliance on who people know rather than what they can do. It costs too much and takes too much time, effectively ruling out potentially excellent candidates. We must make sure that our selection and accountability processes improve the interactions between candidates and local parties and help promote good relationships within our party.

5. Set up an assembly of members and trade unionists to look at how we can develop policy in a more democratic way

All party members and every part of our movement should have input into Labour Party policy. We must bring together the roles of CLPs, conference, local councillors and mayors, Welsh and Scottish Labour and the shadow cabinet and find ways to discuss our long-term policy challenges together.

6. Launch a transparency revolution

There should be no power without accountability, and true accountability requires transparency. Information about all party structures and decision-making bodies should be available on our website so that any member can see what decision is made, where and by whom. Too many decisions are made behind closed doors and too far away from members. The membership of key committees should be public. There should be systems in place to allow members to communicate with their representatives on the NEC.

7. Scrap the NCC and create an independent body to deal with complaints

When complaints are made all involved including the complainant must have confidence in the system.  Our current system does not work to this principle and it should be replaced by an independent panel with experts on racism, sexual harassment and poor personal conduct cases. All members and communities must have confidence in the rigour and independence of our disciplinary procedures. We should extend auto-exclusion to include expressions of clear-cut racism including anti-semitism.

8Never forget that we are the party of the Labour movement

In the era of austerity, the relationship between Labour Unions and the Labour Party has never been more important. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with trade unions. As part of this, we should establish a review to explore how we can encourage more party members to become active in their trade unions and more trade unionists in the Labour party.

These ideas are offered for debate and discussion, in the same way that I would approach the reform of our party. We have a wealth of creative, innovative and values-led ideas that we must build on,

As we decide what we want the future of our party and our country to be, I believe we must start as we mean to go on, not with change pushed from the top down but reform driven from the bottom up. That is something that can be achieved not by me alone, nor by any individual, but all of us working together for a common aim, with systems in place to give voice and power to the principles that drive our movement.

I want to know what you think.

The future of our party will not be built by any one person. I want you to tell me how you think our Party can be more open, respectful, creative and engaging.

Fill in this form to let me know – I look forward to hearing from you.

Keir Starmer