I have never spoken from the platform at conference – perhaps I never will. However if I were to be given the opportunity during this year’s conference to speak up in favour of the proposals in the consultation document Extending and Renewing Party Democracy this is what I would say.
When Labour took office in 1997, Britain was suffering from what Tony Blair later described as a ‘progressive deficit.’ Ten years on and Gordon Brown recognises that today’s Labour party needs to renew and rebuild if it is to avoid its own ‘progressive deficit.’
What Gordon recognises– unlike David Cameron and the Tories – is that ‘change for change’s sake’ is not enough. We have to propose change for a purpose and that purpose is about renewing our structures in order to ensure that as a party we are properly equipped to make more of our progressive agenda in government irreversible; changes that cannot be rolled back by a future rightwing Tory government that wants to dismantle most, if not all, of the things that have been achieved.
This is why I am supporting Gordon’s ‘magnificent 7’ proposals for extending and renewing party democracy. A modern party needs to be proactive in its consultation and dialogue – most of us joined the Labour party to help change the world not change the minutes of the previous meeting! Members want to be part of what the government does, they want to be heard and they want to be listened to. Gordon’s proposal (Proposal 1) to give more support to CLPs to hold their own policy forums is to be welcomed and will go along way in helping reconnect the party with its grassroots.
Likewise the proposal to provide support to local parties (Proposal 7) to actively consult and engage their communities is crucial. It is only when local parties reach out and get involved in their communities that people see Labour politics as a way of helping them deal with their problems and realising their hopes for a better future. A renewed Labour party should be the natural place for people to turn to when they want to change things because a party that gets things done locally – and nationally – is a party that will keep winning elections.
Conference, a renewed party needs to reflect the aspirations of ordinary people but it also needs to be realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. The forces of conservatism are not confined to our public services, they exist within our own party – indeed one often gets the impression that some of our members do not seek renewal but reversal. So, conference, we know that there will be many who will portray this consultation document as a sham, as a PR exercise to show Gordon’s anti-Stalinist tendencies. It is up to those of us who believe passionately in the core values of our movement to take on the cynics and the pessimists within our own ranks, to become the change we want to see – be it in our party or in our country.
Conference, we all know that united parties win elections so I ask you to join me in endorsing all seven of Gordon’s magnificent proposals as a platform for renewal, as a platform for securing a fourth term.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.