‘Moderate’ Labour activists are calling for MPs and trade unions to be handed back their traditional role in deciding the party’s leadership elections, HuffPost UK has learned.
In a bid to make the party less ‘middle class and southern’, campaign group Labour First proposes the restoration of an electoral college and the scrapping of the one-member-one-vote system that swept Jeremy Corbyn to power.
In its formal submission to the party’s ‘Democracy Review’, the group recommends a new system with 30% of the votes for MPs, 30% for unions, 30% for members and 10% for local councillors.
It also requests a rule change to ensure any future leadership candidate, including a sitting leader, would need to get nominations from 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in order to stand.
The controversial proposals – which aim to make the party better reflect its working class voters - are a key plank of Labour First’s recommendations as the party seeks to overhaul its structures and elections.
The group also wants to give regional places on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to end a perceived bias towards London and the South East, and cheaper membership to attract more people on low wages.
LGBT, minority ethnic and disabled people should all get new seats on the NEC too once their representative groups hit certain thresholds of membership, it adds.
Under Corbyn, the party has more than doubled its membership to become the largest of its kind in Europe, with more than half a million members.
But Labour First suggests that trade unionists and MPs who represent working class voters are being squeezed out by more the influx of middle class members in local parties across the country.
“The cost of membership remains prohibitively high for working class people, which means the party has a membership that is disproportionately white, middle class, southern and graduates,” its submission states.
“Within CLPs, middle class ward parties are often many times larger than working class ones. The party needs to target recruitment campaigns at working class and BAME communities.
“Now that we have a larger membership and a culture of many members giving small donations, the cost of joining should be reduced and the rates simplified to £20 for people in work and £10 for people not in work.”
It wants to increase the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) rep members on the NEC from nine to 12, but regionalise them with two each for each different areas of the country.
Labour’s review of its internal democracy is being led by former MP and Corbyn aide Katy Clark, assisted by NEC members Claudia Webbe and Andy Kerr.
The wide-ranging overhaul is seen by Corbyn supporters as a key way to give rank-and-file members, many of whom powered his two landslide election victories, more of a voice and more power.
Some MPs and union insiders believe that grassroots group Momentum could use the review to squeeze the trade unions’ role in party conference and decision making.
Some on the Left complain that unions ‘stitch up’ various votes and contests, and have a stranglehold on the party policy to back Trident renewal.
For decades, Labour operated an electoral college for leadership elections, with a third of the votes given to MPs, a third to union affiliates, and a third to members.
Ed Miliband introduced a radical new system to ensure that individual members of the party, as well as individual union members, had all the votes.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said in 2016 that Miliband had made a ‘terrible error of judgement’ in ditching the old rules, and described left-wing grassroots group Momentum members as a ‘rabble’.
But at the time Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell hit back at Watson, claiming the move would be “undemocratic”.
“You can’t have a situation where those people who are selected and elected on a basis of a membership selecting and campaigning for them, you can’t have situation where they then hold the balance of power on the basis of having one MP with 3,000 votes - it unacceptable, it’s not democratic.”
Luke Akehurst, secretary of Labour First, told HuffPost UK: “We have engaged positively with Jeremy Corbyn’s Democracy Review. We have put forward radical proposals to improve the representation on the ruling NEC of grassroots members, local councillors, and minorities such as the BAME and LGBT communities and disabled members.
“Our proposal for regional seats for members would correct a current imbalance towards London and the South East. Our proposal for cheaper membership fees and targeted recruitment would ensure Labour becomes a mass membership party in working class areas like Barrow, Barnsley and Burnley, not just in Bath, Bristol and Brighton.”
Momentum, which has dominated the party’s new membership base and internal elections, is also submitting its own proposals for the democracy review. The group has asked its members for suggestions.
A Momentum source told HuffPost UK: “Without empowering Labour’s mass membership we’d never have had Jeremy Corbyn, a leader who has overseen a huge surge in membership, an extraordinary electoral comeback, a transformative manifesto that spoke to many who have never voted before and a Labour Party now on the verge of government.
“Giving ordinary members more of a say was the right decision, and is now mainstream opinion in the party. It’s sad that a small minority are intent on using the democracy review to curtail members rights. Thankfully, I doubt they’ll have much success.”