Labour’s party reform confusion

“They’re just chucking things into a pot.”

The Labour leadership has moved quickly to dampen speculation that a new section within the party's electoral college will be opened for non-members, entitling them to a vote on the leadership and policy development.

A report in today's Guardian quotes Peter Hain as stating that individual supporters, as opposed to members, "could be given their own section in the electoral college of MPs, individual members and affiliates". It goes on to add that another proposal being considered would see supporters "put in the section for unions and socialist societies, indirectly diluting union influence and putting them under pressure to recruit".

A second report in today's Independent quotes Labour insiders as claiming the reforms to the party's structures "could prove to be even more radical than Tony Blair's landmark decision to scrap Clause Four, Labour's long-standing commitment to public ownership".

However, other party sources were this morning steering people away from the idea of a fourth section to the electorate college, claiming that the notion was "not familiar" to them. Instead, they stressed that the party leadership was committed to "a genuinely open-ended consultation" on future party structures, and that they were not inclined towards any one "prescriptive model".

But the source did confirm Labour was examining ways of giving "people other than party members" a say in policy and future leadership elections.

The speculation came on the day the party launched the "Refounding Labour" project, with the publication of a 10,000-word consultation document, described by Ed Miliband as "a frank assessment of our party's present condition and its future prospects".

The consultation poses "Four Big Questions": how to build an "outward-looking party", how to provide and enhance "a voice for members", how Labour's membership should begin "renewing our party" and how Labour should go about "winning back power".

The proposals have been met with some scepticism within the wider labour movement. "They're just chucking things into a pot," said a senior trade union source. "We're not likely to see much of this stuff forming part of a concrete policy proposal."

The idea of changes to the make-up of Labour's policy development and leadership election procedures was first floated by Miliband at last November's meeting of the National Policy Forum in Gillingham. Addressing that conference, the Labour leader said:

Some people will want to join our party. Some people will be trade union levy payers, but there are people beyond that, too, that we need to make part of our decision-making in this country and that is also going to be part of Peter's [Hain] review.

A Sunday Telegraph report at the time also claimed: "It is likely that Labour's electoral 'college', which currently gives a third of votes to MPs and MEPs, a third to union levy payers and a third to party members, will in future include a fourth section with a percentage of votes given to members of the public."

Labour Party members will be invited to hold consultation meetings in May, with rule changes arising from the consultation to be considered first by the party's National Executive Committee and then its annual conference in September.