On Wednesday Labour MPs looked in a mess over bombing Syria. Their leader and over two thirds of their parliamentary party voted against the strikes but a significant proportion, including their shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, voting against. Labour desperately need to look united to mount a successful challenge to the Conservatives. Many on the party’s right would like the unity to come by the left compromising their most controversial views such as their opposition to trident renewal and scepticism of foreign intervention. However, this approach, although popular among many of the most prominent MPs, is very unpopular among the party membership at large. Surely any approach to maintain unity should be based on a compromise of everyone within Labour, rather than just a few powerful MPs at the top; for a start, to do otherwise would compromise the values which lie at the heart of the party. An effective way to maintain unity in a way that gives power to the many, and disempowers the few influential outliers, is to change the way Labour makes policy.
At present Labour party policy is made up through a complicated combination of the leader, MPs, the delegates at the party conference and various policy committees most notably the National Policy Forum. The Lib Dem and Green way of making policy is via a one member, one vote system. This allows party member voice to be better heard when creating party policy.
This method of policy making is favoured by Jeremy Corbyn and gives a firm ‘binding’ party line for which MPs are whipped. Although no party can create policy based on emergency situations, they give clear guidelines for how MPs should vote. Labour’s policy making process means that MPs are not held to account directly by anyone as although the party conference gets to have its say, it is of less importance than in those parties that have one member one vote. If the Labour party had this system of voting presently the Syria debate in Labour would look much different; MPs who voted for strikes would not have just voted and spoke out against their leader (as Hilary Benn did very eloquently), they would be voting and speaking out against the formally agreed will of their members: 75% of which are opposed to air strikes.
Changing Labour’s policy making process change should be complemented by the introduction of mandatory reselection so any MPs who do deviate from the agreed party line can be formally held to account. Although it may seem harsh to make MPs have to re-stand each election to get the support of their local members, it is an important policy to make sure that the MPs actually represent the people who helped get them there in the first place. That said, sadly this is unlikely to happen anytime soon as it has been ruled out by the party leadership.
Changing the Labour party democracy will not be an easy thing as MPs are naturally resistant to anything that might make them more accountable and take the power away from them and give it to the broader Labour party membership; however, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership hinges on enforcing his left wing agenda within the Labour party. How better to do it than by giving power to the people!