The last 18 months in British politics have demonstrated perhaps more than ever before that the system is broken and the old club rules of politics are designed to keep people out.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government is pursuing a right wing policy agenda of cuts and austerity for which there was no majority at the general election; the Liberal Democrats for instance promised to do exactly the opposite.
Furthermore, the membership of all the major political parties has been in long term decline: now less than 25 per cent of what it was in the 1950s. Voter turnout at elections has also fallen dramatically.
That is why Labour has embarked upon a radical project of party reform entitled Refounding Labour, in order to open the party up and close the gap between people and politics.
Of course, we should not over-estimate what party reform can achieve, but the more open party Ed Miliband wants to create is in line with his broader agenda for the country.
We have established a new Labour Supporters Scheme to recruit potentially many tens of thousands of Party supporters registered on a database, rather like Barak Obama did in his successful 2008 American Presidential campaign.
Registered supporters will also have a vote in future Party leadership elections. The exact proportion of their vote in the electoral college will be dependent upon how many are recruited and be weighted to ensure that the voice of Party members and trade union affiliates are not undermined. We will also limit multiple voting in future leadership elections. In future, MPs will only be allowed one vote, and we will introduce OMOV within the Affiliated Organisations section of the college.
We have changed Clause 1, the Labour Party’s “mission statement”. It is designed to underline our determination to transform Labour into a grassroots community campaigning movement. This is not about Labour being no longer about winning elections, the truth is that organising on the ground like this and achieving street-level range is absolutely essential to Labour winning elections.
We have made it easier for CLPs to organise in ways that suit them. Removing layers of bureaucracy that act as barriers to involvement, simplified our rules to create local parties that are open and welcoming of members, trade union levy payers and supporters.
We have given more of a voice to our young members. Young Labour now has more autonomy – the same rights as affiliated organisations in respect of Annual Conference and the right to nominate in leadership elections.
We abolished Shadow Cabinet elections. They are a distraction and a legacy of Labour’s past in opposition. Getting rid of these elections has helped us talk to the public rather than ourselves.
We are introducing rights and responsibilities contracts for all candidates and elected representatives. Everyone selected to stand for the party at every level has to sign up to tough new campaigning regimes, more transparency over personal finances, voting and rules as well as greater local accountability.
It’s not just that we want Labour to work better – this is about making politics and civil society work better so that it can reflect the values of the hard-working majority in Britain who too often lose out from an economy and society which doesn’t reflect their values and too often rewards an irresponsible minority at the top and the bottom. The only way to fulfil the promise of Britain and pay our way in the world is to challenge the assumptions about how our politics and economy is run.
This post is part of the ‘Basic Values Debate’ jointly organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Social Europe Journal.