Each year Labour's governing body, the National Executive Committee, can propose changes to the party's rules to be voted on at Labour Party Conference. Recently there has been increased interest in what any potential rule changes might be. People have speculated about whether these changes will be used to pursue various factional agendas or "settle scores".
In reality, the rule changes we have spent the past year working on are designed to improve campaigning, communications and engagement through digital technology and Party Reform. Key areas identified for improvement have been increasing support for Councillors, responding to devolution and doing more to ensure our MPs, Councillors, PPC and Mayors reflect the diversity of the communities they represent.
Labour's local government representatives play a huge part in our party, and the introduction of directly-elected mayors of Combined Authorities represent an exciting, new opportunity for us.
If elected, Labour's new Metro Mayors will make a huge positive difference to their communities, building more housing, improving transport, education and more.
So far though, our high profile Mayoral candidates have been male. It is clear we need to do more to increase diversity in local government, including increasing the number of Labour's female Councillors and women in leadership roles within local government. This involves identifying the barriers that prevent more women (and candidates from other under-represented groups) from standing for election and fulfilling their leadership potential, and working to remove these barriers.
Equally, we need to do much more to encourage more BAME, working class, LGBT and disabled people to stand for elected office.
New measures currently being discussed by the NEC include:
- Expand the use of all women shortlists in local government selections.
- Increase the training and targeting currently done for underrepresented groups in local government.
- To support new Councillors, there will be more dedicated local government materials including a pack for new councillors.
- Council and Group executives should reflect the gender makeup of their Groups and should reflect the wider community. If an executive does not reflect the makeup of their group, this could lead to disciplinary action.
- Work to phase out all male member Council wards.
We are also discussing how local government should be better represented within the Party. The local government NEC reps want more NEC places given to Councillors and the Leader of the Local Government Labour Group to be formally appointed to Labour's Shadow Cabinet.
Labour's elected Police and Crime Commissioners and Metro Mayors play a vitally important role at the frontline of implementing Labour's aims and values for millions of constituents. We believe our Mayors and PCCs should be better represented within Labour's structures.
The NEC is looking at rule changes to make selections fairer and more transparent. For example, we are discussing introducing a familial recusal ruling that would ensure selection panel members would not interview or assess any local government nominee who is their own husband, wife, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild. The Labour Party should also produce a user-friendly guide to the selection guidelines for members to circulate to local parties and members.
New Combined Authority Mayors will be accountable to a cabinet of Local Authority leaders, but the Labour Party will make Labour Mayors further accountable to our members and the wider public.
Rule changes we are discussing to improve accountability and transparency includes:
- Requiring governing Combined Authority mayors to send an annual report to members and regularly report back to Labour's regional conferences, specially convened annual meetings, and, if invited, at CLP meetings.
- Increase the visibility of Police and Crime Commissioners at Local Government Conference and other Regional Conferences.
- Labour Directly Elected Mayors and Labour Police and Crime Commissioners are also expected to make a regular report directly to Labour Groups of principal authorities within the Combined Authority at regular intervals.
Despite the drama and distractions of the last few months, it is positive to see Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson and the NEC continuing to work closely on these important reforms. There are some areas of the Party Reform work that requires further thought and reflection, but there are many important areas where there is consensus and we can take action now.
Whether the next general election is in 2020 or sooner, we must all put aside our differences and take the fight to the Tories. I hope the new initiatives proposed will build a stronger Labour Party ready to face the challenges ahead.