Devolution needs to be at the heart of our party
—While the debate rages about the future of our party and its route back to national government, we run the risk of making a catastrophic mistake: ignoring the hundreds of examples that already exist of how Labour in communities up and down the country has rebuilt and earned the trust of voters, demonstrated credibility and delivered fairness, innovation and social justice with massively dwindling budgets.
Around four out of every 10 people in the country live in areas controlled by Labour councils. In our great towns and cities Labour is running the services that matter most to people. Yet devolution has always been at the heart of our politics but not of our party. For too long councillors have been simply seen as foot soldiers to deliver leaflets. Our party is all the poorer for not making full use of Labour councillors’ insight, knowledge, connections with local communities and understanding of how to govern Britain.
Our National Executive Committee has six representatives from the shadow cabinet, 12 trade union reps, six representatives from constituency Labour parties, three from the parliamentary Labour party, one each from BAME Labour, Socialist Societies and Young Labour and only two representatives from Labour in local government. This has to change. Labour councillors are now one of the biggest funders of our party – we are one of the few elements of our party actually in power right now, implementing Labour policies every day, not just discussing them. Labour in local government should be given at least four places on the NEC and arguably more.
The future of the House of Lords as an unelected chamber may be in question, but while it is in existence Labour should be making use of the talents of our leading Labour council leaders. The last time the Labour party appointed a Labour council leader to the Lords was 17 years ago in 1999 – Peter Smith, leader of Wigan council. If we are serious about preparing for government in 2020 we should be appointing those with experience and knowledge of actually dealing with austerity politics and tight financial budgets.
Labour exists to be a party of government, not a protest movement. To show we are serious about winning power nationally again we need to listen and learn from those governing Britain right now – our hard-working elected Labour councillors, all 6,500 of them.
Michael Payne is deputy leader of Gedling borough council
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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