Launch of Labour for Democracy

Today, an influential group of Labour members are launching a new movement within their party: Labour for Democracy.

Its aim is to reach out to Lib Dems (and possibly Greens as well) in order to prepare a pluralist agenda around progressive issues. Although it does not explicitly say so, it is presumably also preparing the ground for a possible Labour-led coalition after 2015. Their position is based on polling evidence:

On all the major issues  Labour and Lib Dem voters tend to give similar levels of support to broadly  ‘progressive’ value statements, with Labour voters giving slightly stronger levels of support on all issues other than the environment. On harder edged positional statements, Labour voters tend, not surprisingly, to lean more to the left, and Lib Dem voters to lean more to the right.

John Denham, one of the leading lights of Labour for Democracy has written about it in the New Statesman under the headline: Labour must not turn its back on pluralism:

The launch of Labour for Democracy on 4 December is an attempt to break down tribal sectarianism and promote a pluralist culture within the Labour movement. The focus is not on coalitions or cross-party deals, but on finding ways of delivering what progressive voters want.

 

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38 Comments

  • Pity they didn’t think to give us democracy while they were in power, although we have never had a true Democracy in this country, what we have is an Elected Oligarchy – BIG DIFFERENCE. I can’t remember the last government in this country to have a true over-all majority of the public vote. Voting should be compulsory with a “NONE OF THE ABOVE” option. x

  • Foregone Conclusion 4th Dec '12 - 2:42pm

    Sounds promising. The reply from Nathan Akehurst is hilarious, though, I have to say.

  • paul barker 4th Dec '12 - 3:10pm

    The blairite Labour First immeidiately attacked the new grouping as a “slap in the face” for members. I liked the 1st comment on the Labour List article – “Oh good, an internal party slap-fight, … just what we needed.”
    If even Blairites jump on them imagine how The Unions will react.

  • mark fairclough 4th Dec '12 - 3:23pm

    definately not a group for me

  • Martin Lowe 4th Dec '12 - 5:56pm

    It’s a nice idea – and I can’t fault their logic – but with Labour, rampant tribalism and bitter factionalisation will always come first.

  • Labour for Democracy? Pah!

    Seeing how their voters queued up to vote down the first tiny step towards greater democracy in the form of AV, this should be shunned like the plague.

    Labour is simply not democratic and never will be. It’s all about grabbing power with a minority of the votes.

  • @RC 4th Dec ’12 – 8:40pm
    “Labour for Democracy? Pah!
    Seeing how their voters queued up to vote down”

    You have a strange idea of the meaning of democracy, are you of the opinion it is only democratic if the vote goes your way?

  • Richard Harris 4th Dec '12 - 9:21pm

    @RC – “Labour is simply not democratic and never will be. It’s all about grabbing power with a minority of the votes.”

    Given that the Lib Dems are a minority party keeping another minority party in government at the moment, I think this statement may be seen as a little ironic?

  • The Labour leader voted for and supported the AV campaign,. One of the few significant non-Lib Dems to do so. He gave his party a free vote. They are in opposition not in power.
    Personally, I think this is an interesting move and much more in line with my views than the current Coalition. It shows that at least some Labour thinkers are engaging with the development with pluralist politics. So why shoot them down. for it? After all Clegg did say people like me should just go and vote for labour.

  • Richard Church 4th Dec '12 - 10:50pm

    There are some people in the Labour party who are not sectarian and tribalist and who recognise that there are progressive people with similar views on key issues in other parties.

    Sadly, there are not enough of them, but good luck to them. They need our encouragement.

  • ..didn’t the Lib Dem Conferance vote agains NHS privatisation?.. so much for domocrecy eh!..

  • “Labour for Democracy” seems like a fair group to me – every party has its different factions, I don’t think this is a bad thing, in fact different views are always good, when negotiated properly it ensures communal rigidity.

    From my experience the Lib Dem membership is made up of people who are largely believers of a communalist economy, are socially libertarian and quite like decentralisation. Whereas from my experience Labour membership seems to (again) like a communalist economy but have a more authoritarian centralised society perspective. Of course, there are exceptions, and I might have only met those kinds of people. It is, of course, a little bit different when it comes to Members of Parliament, parliament seems to bring centralisation-authoritarian schemes into practice and even a more libertarian economy into practice (no matter which political party! (e.g. Tony Blair wasn’t the most economically communalist person)).

    Perhaps the problem is not really with political parties as such, but with the form of democracy that we have in this nation, and in particular with the Houses of Parliament. I think that if the AV referendum turned out to be a “Yes” then I think we would have had a step towards a better democracy (it wasn’t necessarily the best form of democracy, but it was better than FPTP and was a compromise for those who don’t want PR), but alas it was not meant to be. So I think that we need to be human, we need to utilise the wisdom of the crowds, and so if people and groups (such as “Labour for Democracy”, “Social Liberal Forum” , those people in The Green Party who push for further democracy, and even those in the “Tory Reform Group”) can work together to actually progress Britain into a more democratic and a happier place then that is good.

    Just some thoughts. I’m enjoying reading other peoples thoughts too, very interesting indeed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Dec '12 - 11:43am

    Richard Harris

    Given that the Lib Dems are a minority party keeping another minority party in government at the moment, I think this statement may be seen as a little ironic?

    So who do you say should be “in government”, following the 2010 general election? When you write “keeping” that suggests there is another party you believe should be there instead. Which is it and why?

    In fact both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party support the idea that representation should be distorted so that the largest minority party gets complete power in most cases. Although the distortion of the system which both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party support did not quite do that in 2010, it worked enough to make sure the only viable government was one led by the largest minority party i.e. the Conservative Party. The distortion against smaller parties which leads to them getting a smaller proportion of MPs than their share of the vote, which both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party regard as one of the principle merits of the electoral system they support, meant and mean that the Liberal Democrats have very little leverage over the Conservative Party leading the government. So even though it did not quite work to give the Conservative Party a full majority it delivered a Parliament in which a government which is almost completely Conservative in its approach came into being and remains in being. That is, it still delivered what both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party believe to be the best thing – a government which is very decisive because it is dominated by one party, that being, according to the Labour Party and the Conservative Party much better than a government of several minority parties which accurately reflects the share of votes each achieved.

    So why should it be considered wrong for us to point this out? The Liberal Democrats do not support the current electoral system whose distortion gave us this government, but we did not get many votes – most votes went to the Labur Party or the Conservative Party which do support this system. What is more, when we offered the people of this country a chance to change this system, a chance to indicate any dissatisfaction with it and its results, they voted by two-to-one to retain it. The successful “No” campaign had the support of many prominent Labour politicians, and though some Labour politicians supposedly did want a change none of them was vocal about it in the referendum.

    It fell to the Liberal Democrats to recognise the logic of the system which both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party support, but we do not, when in 2010 in order to give Britain a stable government we had to concede to the government that system led to. There was no evidence at the time that had we stubbornly resisted it and demanded the sort of government that would have come from the proportional system WE want, the people of Britain would by and large have supported used and thus tolerated the instability that stubbornness wold have led to. The fact that a year later they rejected by two-to-one even the tiniest reform of that system, after a “No” campaign which explicitly put the distortion of the current system as its greatest merit, shows clearly that the British people would not have felt our resistance to it was a worthwhile stand that they would admire us for taking.

    The clear cold logic is that the current government came from the system the British people have carried on giving their support to – we oppose that system, but our opposition is not shared by many others. So to accuse US of “propping up the Tories” is ridiculous when we have been the chief movers of the idea that the system should be changed so we never again get such an unrepresentative government as the current one. It is the Labour Party, by its support of the current system which made the current government with its bias inevitable, which is the real prop to Tory domination. Our acceptance of the coalition is simply an acknowledgement that we are good democrats – we lost the argument, we lost the election, and that was confirmed when we lost the referendum – so we accept what the British people by their votes have said they want.

    Of course, if the British people feel they don’t REALLY want it, perhaps, just perhaps, they might think through, and come to the conclusion – you get what you vote for. If only 23% of you vote Liberal Democrat, you won’t get a Liberal Democrat government. If you vote for the principle of distortion in favour of the biggest minority party, that’s what you will get, and that’s what you HAVE got right now. That’s it, British people – you voted for it, you’ve got it. If you don’t like it , don’t make the same mistake again – vote Liberal Democrat instead, and demand proportional representation to replace the system which gave the Tories almost all the power with just 36% of the vote.

    It would, of course, be nice if our leaders were to manage to get this message across.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Dec '12 - 12:03pm


    It would, of course, be nice if our leaders were to manage to get this message across.

    And, of course, they didn’t. They did the opposite.

    They PRETENDED we had got the result we wanted. They pretended we had not even a government where the balance of the two parties reflected the balance of their votes, they actually put out imagery which suggested the Liberal Democrats had equal power and hence equal responsibility for this government. Indeed, they jumped at some back-of-an-envelope research which suggested – against what anyone who actually just looks at what this government is doing can quite obviously see – that this government is putting forward policies which are 75% Liberal Democrat.

    In doing so, they threw away our best line, they threw away the defence we could make of our position, they threw away the chance to argue for that great cause we have for so long supported: that of constitutional reform which would rid us of unrepresentative governments.

    They are STILL doing this. Nick Clegg in his Brighton conference speech did not put forward the line which is the truth which is actually how most Liberal Democrats see it – that the current government is a miserable little compromise, something we have had to accept not because we particularly like it but because it, far form our ideal as it is, is the best we could have obtained under the circumstances. Oh no, Nick Clegg spoke of the current situation as if it IS our ideal, as if it is all we have ever wanted all these years.

    Doesn’t that have “LOSER” written all over it? You have had to accept the Bronze medal, and you say that’s all you ever wanted, you’ve reached the peak of your achievement, you’re oh-so-happy about that?

    No wonder we are losing support by the bucketload. Our party is lions led by donkeys,

  • paul barker 5th Dec '12 - 2:40pm

    Of course we should welcome labour for democracy but we shouldnt imagine they have any chance gaining majority support. Look how quickly they were attacked by labour first, a fairly mainstream faction.
    Part of the significance of this new group is that its the 4th or 5th such since the election. No-one can accuse labour of being under-factionalised. Its worth reading labour blogs & their comment threads see how divided they are.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Dec '12 - 3:26pm

    peter.tyzack

    This is the party who would not join the newly elected Mayor’s cabinet in Bristol, because the regional executive told them they couldn’t… funny sort of local democracy…

    I did not join the (Labour) mayor’s cabinet in LB Lewisham when invited to do so when I led the LibDem group there because the group felt our role should be a united one on the scrutiny side. I received a lot of abuse from Labour over this, about “running away from responsibility”, “not taking power when offered”, “letting down my constituents”, which I felt was telling – it meant that for all the propaganda they issued about the value of the scrutiny role, in reality the Mayor system meant a centralisation of power and a reduction of most councillors to a mere token/social-worker role. Actually I felt sucking in the Leader of the Opposition into joint Cabinet responsibility was a way of breaking us up and stopping us doing the effective job we were doing in challenging the dominance of Labour and its Mayor. I feel Labour has made the right decision here, I don’t think we should be making political capital out of it.

  • timeo Danaos et dona ferentes or for those who did not study Latin at school “Beware of Greeks and the gifts they bring”, a remark made during the Trojan war when debating whether to let the infamous Trojan Horse into the City.
    Hopefully e all know the legend of the Trojan Horse don’t we ?

  • Tony Dawson 5th Dec '12 - 7:49pm

    I understand that a message of solidarity has been received by LfD from their sister organisation ‘Prostitutes for total Celibacy’. :-)

  • Tony Dawson 5th Dec '12 - 7:53pm

    @Richard harris:

    “Given that the Lib Dems are a minority party keeping another minority party in government at the moment, I think this statement may be seen as a little ironic?”

    This is what happens in democratic government in most cases – the exception is the very rare cases where a single party gains a clear plurality of the popular vote. Sometimes there are more than two parties involved. it is called democracy. You can query the manner in which the two or more parties arrive at their programme and support it (or not) but not the principle of such an arrangement taking place at all. Unless you are not a democrat.

  • The cynicism is understandable after the mainly Blairite authoritarian fag end of the last Labour govt . And there’s no doubt Labour have a fair few tribal dinosaurs in their ranks. But Labour in ’97 represented an infinitely more progressive ticket than Major’s Tories. FoI , ECHR incorporation , Devolution , social chapter- would these have happened under the Tories?

    More recently ,the present Labour leader was in favour of AV ; In favour of a fully (100%) elected Lords. More recently still, agreed with the LD position on Leveson and spoke out confidently in favour of a ‘yes’ vote at the UN. Isn’t it the case that a coalition with Labour would have been a far more relaxed ,harmonious relationship than that being endured by the Lib Dems with the deeply regressive , authoritarian by instinct , Tories?

  • I’d very much like Labour to show they support a form of democracy which is more than a contest to see who can shout loudest.

    When that happens is when I’ll take this new group seriously.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Dec '12 - 12:14pm

    Glenn

    The Labour leader voted for and supported the AV campaign,. One of the few significant non-Lib Dems to do so. He gave his party a free vote. They are in opposition not in power.

    I cannot see what difference it makes to what Labour’s position should be that they are in opposition, not “in power”. I think also we ought to be cautious about that phrase “in power” – in a coalition situation being one of the government parties does not imply “in power” as used to be understood, meaning in complete control of the state. Part of the problem for the Liberal Democrats now is that our leaders have been boasting about being “in power”, and people have supposed that means they could get any of our policies through, which obviously we cannot.

    While the Labour leader may have supported and voted for AV, it was done in such a low key way that I suspect few noticed it. Had there been a more vocal support from some prominent people in Labour for AV, it would not have been so easy for it to be dismissed and people got into voting “No” supposing this was a way to protest about the LibDems “putting in the Tories”. As I have said, it was the distortions of our current electoral system which put in the Tories, they were enough to rule out any other government. So anyone who voted “No” to punish the LibDems was actually voting for the very thing they wanted to punish the LibDems for.

    Agreed, AV is not proportional representation, but much of the “No to AV” argument was actually directed at proportional representation, and thus its victory was seen as a rejection of all forms of electoral reform. That is why I keep pushing those who voted “No” or who though this an insignificant issue and did not bother to vote to recognise the enormity of what they have done. The “No” campaign was based on the idea that the party with the most votes has the right to govern regardless of whether it has true majority support, so distortion of representation to achieve that is not just acceptable but a good thing. Anyone who believes this or who gave their support to the idea by voting “No” in the referendum needs to realise that the consequence of this principle in 2010 was that the Conservatives had the right to govern, and should therefore not criticise the Liberal Democrats for having had to accept that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Dec '12 - 12:37pm

    Tony Dawson

    @Richard harris:

    “Given that the Lib Dems are a minority party keeping another minority party in government at the moment, I think this statement may be seen as a little ironic?”

    This is what happens in democratic government in most cases – the exception is the very rare cases where a single party gains a clear plurality of the popular vote. Sometimes there are more than two parties involved. it is called democracy.

    No, that is not how we run things in this country. Instead we have an electoral system which:

    1) In effect forces people to vote for one of two parties in order to avoid “splitting the vote” and so “letting in” the other. This system erects a huge barrier against third parties and independents because they can’t slowly build up support, it has to be all or nothing, either they are one of the two main contenders in the locality or if they are not the safe option is to vote for whichever of the main parties you prefer.

    2) Distorts representation in favour of the largest party. In the extreme case, if in every constituency the votes share of the parties was identical, the biggest party would win every seat. Variability means this is not the case, but if a party has around 20% of the vote and its votes are evenly spread there’ll be few places where it comes ahead, whereas if a party has around 40% of the vote and the remaining 60% is fairly evenly split with no other party reaching 30%, that 40% is pretty likely to translate into winning well over half the seats.

    In rejecting AV, people voted directly to accept condition 1), which AV removes, and indirectly to accept condition 2) because the rejection of AV was seen also as a rejection of proportional representation, and proportional representation removes condition 2).

    We need to make it absolutely clear to anyone who rejects electoral reform that in doing so they are supporting conditions 1) and 2) above, and the consequence is a government that is “decisive” meaning it is dominated by one party, at the cost of representative, meaning that domination does not necessary mean real wholehearted support by an absolute majority in the country. It is these two factors that give us the government we have now. So anyone who does not like that government ought to be made aware of that. If there was a popular call for proportional representation now it would render the current government illegitimate, because the government is the result of the distortions of the “first past the post” system.

    It perhaps takes a special genius to turn dissatisfaction with the government into a referendum vote which effectively supports it because it supported the system that led to it.

  • Tony Dawson 6th Dec '12 - 5:20pm

    @Matthew Huntbach :

    “In rejecting AV, people voted directly to accept condition 1), which AV removes, and indirectly to accept condition 2) because the rejection of AV was seen also as a rejection of proportional representation, and proportional representation removes condition 2).”

    Not so. People did not reject AV. Most people voted without a clue about what AV. In the [b]very[/b]]few places in the country where there was a proper AV campaign, people gave it an acceptance by roughly 2 to 1. In the rest of the country, the Unions, egged on by the Tories, turned the campaign into a referendum on one person.

    I largely accept your critique of our present parliamentary system. But you cannot extend that to criticise those elected under that system for trying to create an effective government when the result comes out a certain way. What I would criticise them for in this recent instance is trying to create a far wider-scoping coalition than was either necessary (other than pumping up a few egos such as Lansley and Gove’s) nor desirable.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “We need to make it absolutely clear to anyone who rejects electoral reform that in doing so they are supporting conditions 1) and 2) above”
    I think we have heard these arguments many times on this site, although I must confess to having to re-read the second condition because my eyes kind of glaze over when it comes to assessing hypothetical percentages and their outcome.
    Making anything “absolutely clear” to the electorate about voting is far harder than most reformers think. FPTP was accepted because it is simple to understand, however iniquitous are the results its produces.
    No thought was given by those running the AV campaign as to why voters’ second or third preferences should count at full value rather than at a lower strength than first preferences. Yes, that may have been an interesting subject to have debated on here (although it wasn’t), but it soon became a major sticking point if it arose when campaigning – just one example of how difficult a fairer voting system, in this case majoritarian rather than proportional, can be to sell. And that’s without opponents being allowed to misrepresent what you’re trying to trying to “make absolutely clear.”

  • Sorry, *trying to* twice.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Dec '12 - 9:35pm

    Sean Blake:

    “No thought was given by those running the AV campaign as to why voters’ second or third preferences should count at full value rather than at a lower strength than first preferences.”

    It seems to me that there is a very good reason for this: there is no good reason why they should not count at full value. Second and lower preferences are already inherently less valuable then First preferences, as they only come into play if the First preferences do not produce a result. So they may never be counted at all. And think about how it would work if the multiple rounds of counting were separate rounds of voting. Consider, for simplicity, a vote in a multiple-ballot system where three candidates, Alice, Bob and Carol are standing in the first ballot. Bob comes 3rd, so Alice and Carol proceed to the 2nd ballot.
    It is reasonable to assume that voters for Alice and Carol in the 1st ballot are likely to stay with them for the 2nd ballot, just as their 1st preference votes stay with them in an AV election. Leave aside the fact that what I’m about to suggest would be impossible in a secret ballot system. Why, in the 2nd ballot, should voters have their votes count for less if they had voted for Bob in the 1st ballot, than if they had originally voted for either of the two front-runners? Yet that is exactly equivalent to your suggestion that lower preferences should have a “lower strength” than first preferences.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Dec '12 - 12:06am

    Tony Dawson

    Not so. People did not reject AV. Most people voted without a clue about what AV. In the [b]very[/b]]few places in the country where there was a proper AV campaign, people gave it an acceptance by roughly 2 to 1.

    Yes, I know that, I was after all the person who stood up at the London Liberal Democrats Regional Conference a month before the referendum, said I believed the campaign was being run all wrong with its refusal to come out straight and explain the system in clear terms, and predicted we would lose the referendum badly as a result. I was given a condescending reply the PR people and party high-ups running the campaign, saying they were experts in this, they knew what they were doing and I should just shut up and deliver their campaign material.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Dec '12 - 12:20am

    Sean Blake

    Making anything “absolutely clear” to the electorate about voting is far harder than most reformers think. FPTP was accepted because it is simple to understand, however iniquitous are the results its produces.

    Yes, and the result is the government we have now. The “No” campaign said a lot of dubious things on the sidelines, but its main message was clear – they endorsed the current system because they believed the way it distorted representation in favour of the party with the most votes and against third parties and so generally delivered government completely controlled by one party was good, it was good to have that even if the party really had nowhere near full majority poplar support. The biggest party in terms of votes in May 2010 was the Conservative Party. Although the distortion of FPTP this time did not quite give it a full majority it wiped out the possibilities of any alternative government and meant the LibDems were very weak in the coalition – so it almost delivered what its supporters say is a good thing.

    So I’m sorry, but I think anyone who voted “No” to AV and then accuses the Liberal Democrats of being bad people for “propping up the Tories” is being very hypocritical, because the thing that is REALLY giving the Tories all the power and rendering the Liberal Democrats weak in trying to block them is the electoral system.

    I appreciate the “Yes to AV” campaign was so appallingly badly run that it failed to make this point. Tony Dawson however has completely missed the point I was making. I think we need to re-open the case for electoral reform by showing what is was that people REALLY voted for when they voted “No” and therefore persuading them that they were fooled, tricked into voting against what, had they been better informed, they would have been all in favour of.

  • “timeo Danaos et dona ferentes or for those who did not study Latin at school “Beware of Greeks and the gifts they bring””

    That’s not an accurate translation. Dona “gifts” isn’t the object of timeo “I fear” but of ferentes “(those) bearing”, accusative plural of ferens, which agrees with Danaos. Et can usually be translated “and”, but it also means “and also” and “and even” (in contrast to a contrary supposition), equivalent to etiam. The last is the meaning it has in this verse.

    The expression is somewhat telegraphic, i.e. compressed, both from being poetry and from the nature of Latin itself. Expanded with full redundancy, one might write: timeo Danaos, et timeo dona ferentes Danaos — “I fear the Greeks, I even fear Greeks who are bearing gifts” — or, more idiomatically for English, “I fear the Greeks, even when they are bearing gifts”.

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