New Times,
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2 June 2011updated 17 Jan 2012 7:04am

Just who is refounding Labour?

Not unfairly, I assumed it was being run by the Labour Party. I was wrong.

By Dan Hodges

Who is actually refounding Labour? More specifically, who is running the Refounding Labour consultation?

Not unfairly, I assumed it was being run by the Labour Party. I was wrong.

In turns out that the consultation is actually being run by an organisation called Zentrum Consulting. Zentrum is

a limited liability company (LLC) serving political and campaigns clients by offering a full spectrum of services to plan, staff, resource, manage and execute campaigns and organisational change.

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Zentrum is managed by Marcus Roberts, a former “field director” for the Ed Milband leadership campaign, and Frank Spring, a Washington-based political strategist and writer on “defence, innovation and competitiveness issues”.

According to Labour sources, Zentrum was introduced to the Labour Party by Peter Hain, immediately after he was tasked by Miliband with producing “nothing less than the refoundation [sic] of the Labour Party”. Hain’s office partly refutes this, saying Zentrum made a joint approach to both him and the Labour general secretary, Ray Collins.

The party refused to confirm whether Zentrum was appointed as part of a competitive tendering process.

Senior party officials claim Zentrum is being used to effectively bypass the party. “We have been sidelined,” says one. This is vigorously denied by senior shadow cabinet sources, who claim that the firm has been employed to “add value” to the consultation process.

“They have been brought in to provide services the party can’t on a regular basis,” said the source. Examples of these services are “phone canvassing”, “texting and communicating with party members” and “audience-building at consultation events”.

According to party insiders, Zentrum, in effect, is self-managing the project. This is again disputed by shadow cabinet sources, who say Refounding Labour is being tightly managed by senior party staff, including Collins and Alicia Kennedy, the Labour deputy general secretary.

However, claims that the consultation is being run within the party were contradicted after it emerged that Amy Dodd had been appointed as “director” of the Refounding Labour Project. According to her Linkedin profile, she was appointed in May, having previously been employed as operations and events manager at the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign and political consultant to the Oona King 4 Mayor campaign.

“She’s not a member of staff,” said an insider. “She’s not on the phone or email list. We’ve never heard of her.”

However, a spokesman for Hain said: “Yes, we’ve heard of her. Yes, she’s playing a role. But you’ll have to ask the party about her. She’s working for the party. Peter isn’t aware of the detailed roles and job descriptions of everyone working on the project.”

He subsequently confirmed, “We’ve checked with the party. She’s working for Zentrum and is employed by Zentrum.” He added, “It’s not true to say she’s director. Peter is directing the consultation on behalf of the leader.”

Dodd herself referred queries about her role to the Labour Party press office.

The party refused to answer specific questions about Zentrum Consulting, or its role in the Refounding Labour consultation, preferring to issue a statement.

The Labour Party has commissioned Zentrum Ltd to support the Refounding Labour consultation on renewing and reforming the party’s organisation. In particular, to ensure that the consultation reaches as broad and diverse a membership base as possible, the party has tasked Zentrum with securing the views and opinions of specific groups, including new members, recently lapsed members and younger members. Through this we hope to learn the reasons why some people have joined us, why others have left us, and what both they and the new generation of young party members believe a modern Labour Party should look like.

Asked why, if Zentrum was dealing specifically with new members, recently lapsed members, younger members and other “specific groups”, all of the written Refounding Labour submissions were being forwarded not to Labour’s Victoria Street headquarters, but an office in Tower Hamlets, the party issued a further statement: “This is the correspondence address of the Refounding Labour consultation; all material generated by Zentrum relating to the Refounding Labour consultation is owned by the Labour Party.”

Marcus Roberts refused to answer questions about his company’s role in the Refounding Labour consultation, and referred me to the Labour Party’s statement.

A spokesman for Hain said, “It is wrong to say the party is being bypassed. The party is totally engaged in this project. It is completely locked in to it.”

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Refounding Labour has an independent website, has a director who is not a member of Labour Party staff and is being managed by an external consultancy; moreover, all submissions from party members are being forward to an external postal address.

Someone is refounding Labour. But who?

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