Sunday, March 06, 2011

LGA LG Spring conference 2011: “Representing our Roots”

After the keynote speech by Ed Miliband I went to this workshop with Iain McNicol (GMB National Political Officer) and Cllr Josie Channer (Barking & Dagenham).  Cllr Ann Lucas (Coventry) chaired (middle).  Please note the health warning about the accuracy of all my hurriedly typed notes.
Iain started with this story about Tory MP’s Tim Sainsbury and Nicholas Soames.  Sainsbury saw Soames in the House of Commons on a Friday afternoon dressed in his tweeds and said to him “Going rat catching this weekend Nick?” Soames replied “screw you grocer boy: people like you don’t tell me what to dress on a Friday”.  Which shows class is still important even to the Tories.  There are 18 millionaires in today’s cabinet.  In 1979 16% of MP’s were manual workers now only 4%.  Trade union and local government service is seen as the “poor relations” in the Party.  It became acceptable for ministers to define themselves against “Loony Councils” and “out of touch” trade unions.  Things were never perfect but this has led to a catastrophic collapse in activists.  There has been an onward march of professional Politian’s which is not in itself a problem but it is if it squeezes others out. What to do? Identify and encourage future Cllrs and MP’s;  select more local candidates that represent their community and set up training courses to make it more of a level playing field.
Josie was elected last May for the first time as a Councillor in Barking and Dagenham.  78% of Cllrs are from a professional background.   The 12 BNP Cllrs in the borough came about because the Labour Party failed to work with the working class community.  Need to recognise that people support the BNP on an emotional level and do not pay attention to “facts” about them. 
57% of British think of themselves as working class.  You need money to become an MP.  You need a minimum of £2000 per campaign.  She went to a training course for women interested in becoming MP’s and was told that you need to run for at least a couple of seats to get the experience.  She was thinking: “that is £4000, how can I afford that?”  What to do?  You need not to just talk about fairer representation; it has been talked about for a long time.  There needs to be changes.  You need to talk to the Unions.  The support of union members can make a difference. The Party needs to take this issue seriously and look at the selections processes, look at the social economic back ground of candidates, is the panel representative of local class and ethnic groups.  Will the Party commit to the time and resources needed?  Need to think collectively. 
In the Q&A I made the point that I agree with nearly all the analysis that the Party does need to change but we in the trade union movement also have to look to ourselves.  Sometimes I have heard affiliated trade union leaders use the language of the ultra left about the last Labour government and Labour Councils.  This is probably said in frustration with the Party, but if we mimic those who are enemies of democracy and socialism then it is no wonder that this feeds back to our members.  Who then come out with things such as “they are all the same” and don’t vote.  We need to think about different models and relationships - perhaps look at what happens in Nordic countries which have huge union density and are far more equal societies.
I’ll finish with another quotation by Iain.  This was from former GMB and Labour Party leader JR ClynesI didn’t come into politics to fight the class struggle I came to end it!”

Update: Iain has been appointed as the New General Secretary of the Labour Party (July 2011)
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