Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a ‘member-led’ Labour party is set to become a reality under radical plans to introduce e-voting to transform its policy-making and internal democracy.
The party’s confidential ‘Democracy Review’ report, which has been leaked in its entirely to HuffPost UK, includes proposals to allow online ballots for annual conference, local constituencies and national policy formulation.
The unprecedented move is aimed at handing more power to the rank-and-file who have doubled the party’s membership to more than half a million people since Corbyn became leader in 2015.
The proposal to allow e-voting, and not just paper voting or a show of hands at meetings, has been inspired by grassroots pro-Corbyn group Momentum and its spectacular success in mobilising its members to participate in internal Labour elections.
Remote voting will be used to let new members bypass more traditional structures to get their views heard directly without having to attend in person a local meeting or conferences.
Backers of the idea believe that it will be used to allow the grass roots to have a say on everything from policies such as Trident renewal to choosing their local Parliamentary candidate.
Some critics fear the plans will help “clicktivists” to avoid more conventional activity like canvassing, but Momentum and others say their members proved in the general election that they can prove effective in boosting the Labour vote.
The idea of using e-voting to replace ‘card votes’ at party conference, which can take an hour to organise and count, is popular on all wings of the party.
The ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) welcomed the confidential plans at its last meeting in July, and is set to give final approval in September before the party conference in Liverpool votes on the recommendations that month.
The Democracy Review, led by former MP Katy Clark, received 11,000 submissions during its months of work.
Among the other recommendations in the 83-page Review are:
- A ‘people-powered policy process’ to replace the National Policy Forum
- A review of Parliamentary selections for MPs if Westminster boundary changes go ahead
- Making it easier to hold all-member meetings in local parties
- Members to get ‘minimum rights’ to attend meetings or be consulted online or offline
- Review of current system of affiliation to local parties by unions and socialist societies
- One member, one vote for Labour Students elections
- New rights for women, BAME, disabled, LGBT members
- Registered supporters to get more time and say over leadership election
The Democracy Review’s ‘Developing Digital Democracy’ section is explicit about the benefits of the new approach, pointing out that the General Election of 2017 “showed how social media can transform the political debate”.
“How we use social media and technology to open-up politics has been raised repeatedly in the Democracy Review. Many of our members who can’t make it along to get involved in a traditional meeting culture are enthusiastic to contribute though digital methods.
“Carers, disabled members, shift workers, women and young members have argued it is the poor, disadvantaged and already under-represented who are least likely to have the time and resources to attend meetings…
“The Review looked how we can creatively use social media to build a mass movement and how we use digital technology as part of our internal lay member democracy to transform our Party.”
The ‘Member Led Conference’ section of the review states: “Electronic voting should be used at Conference and the various ways this could be done should be investigated.
“Labour’s Conference belongs to our members and affiliates so copies of policy documents, motions, composites and emergency motions should be available to all members on membersnet.”
Alongside the hi-tech proposals, the review makes it easier to hold more all-member meetings, as opposed to ‘general committee’ meetings which are dominated by a group of activists acting as delegates.
All-member meetings tend to see the Left do well, whereas general committees tend to favour ‘moderates’. Under the plans, the quorum for an all-member meeting will be lowered to 5%.
The controversial issue deselection and reselection of sitting Labour MPs is not formally part of the review, but there is a section on boundary changes that is sure to be exploited by the Left, with ‘review’ promised.
Several MPs believe that they face the axe through the back door under the ‘review’, as it could force them into contests with candidates and fellow MPs backed by Momentum.
Laura Parker, Momentum’s National Coordinator, told HuffPost: “Momentum brought the digital revolution to Labour. During the general election we used platform technology to mobilise tens of thousands to knock on doors in key marginals.
“We’ve now built our own digital democracy tool to consult thousands of our members on the democracy review and we’re revamping our app for this year’s conference and to help Momentum members organise locally.
“If we can do so much with so little, there is no reason Labour can’t use similar platforms to make the party more open and accessible to members.
“This should start with digital voting at conference - where waving frantically is still often the only way of getting the attention of the chair - but could also extend to online ballots for CLPs, so all members can participate.
“As a mass member, social movement party we should be looking to some form of digital platform which enables members to suggest and engage with policy debates. If they can do it in Iceland, Italy and elsewhere, we can do it here.”
One insider said that if the local party e-voting was in place it could ensure there would never again be a situation like the Lewisham East by-election selection, where many left-voting members couldn’t turn up to a meeting to decide their candidate.
James Moulding, of the tech co-op Digital Liberties, said that engagement projects in Brazil had shown that digital democracy worked best when both offline and online processes were used.
“The old party structures have a role to play, alongside what you might call the new power of digital democracy.
“You are basically harnessing the power of the crowd. There are hundreds of thousands of new members and they could be engaged better and they currently don’t really have a say unless they go down to their local CLP meeting.
“Some CLPs are exciting to be around, some are not so exciting. At the moment, your political engagement with the Labour party is limited to that and canvassing. So this is about providing new ways of engagement.”
Moulding, who helped devise the Corbyn Run computer game in the last election, added that he hoped that the proposals would one day be extended to include members of the public in wider policy once Labour was in power.
“The idea is that we can make participation in policymaking as accessible as possible, by for example making a Twitter-length statement over breakfast through a web portal or an app on their phone. Then they are introducing their agency into these processes.”
One former Labour staffer said that some of the proposals, such as ending ‘card voting’ at conference, made sense.
“Sheer force of numbers means that at the moment this will certainly entrench the Jeremy-supporting majority. But Labour moderates can use the digital democracy as much as the Left, it will come down to who is the most organised and can motivate their supporters.
“One worry is the practicality and the sheer cost of all these elections and ballots as paper voting will still have to be offered to the roughly one third of members who don’t have their own email addresses.”
Read the full Democracy Review, leaked to HuffPost, here: