Labour should learn from Hain and Harman

I spent this morning leafletting in the Labour marginal seat of Westminster North, where Karen Buck is the MP. Thousands of leaflets were delivered in that marginal seat today, yet I can't help feeling that the work done by the grassroots on the ground has been more than offset by the politcal blow in the national media from Peter Hain's deputy leadership election arrangements.

I do feel sorry for Peter because it seems untenable that he will remain in his position for another week and the end of his ministerial career is probably only awaiting the Prime Minister's deliberations on the implications for a full-scale reshuffle. It's a shame for all of us to lose Peter's distinctive liberal influence in government.

However, the damage done to the Labour Party's standing by the fundraising arrangements of Peter Hain and Harriet Harman show that the Labour Party cannot leave the administration of high profile, internal elections to chance in future.

Having worked on the Benn deputy leadership campaign, I was surprised by the failure of the Labour Party to forsee many of the administrative issues that emerged, not just in terms of fundraising but also in terms of the acquisition and use of party and affiliate membership lists, which comes under Data Protection law.

The Party has an opportunity with internal elections to provide facilities for candidates for a fee, while ensuring compliance with data protection and elections/party funding laws.

  1. The Party should set up an "Internal Elections" accounting unit under elections law and insist that relevant candidates report through that accounting unit rather than setting up a registrable donee unit.

  2. The Party should check all donors independently of the candidate's teams.

  3. The Party should provide to candidates a legally compliant online donations tool.

  4. The Party should provide mailing opportunities for candidates to party members and to CLP secretaries. For example, over the course of a year, London Region could send ten mailings to members, bundling all internal elections mailings plus any regional or national party communications that are due, or cancelling the mailing entirely if there is no demand. In this manner, candidates get to send mailings to members without getting access to the membership lists and in doing so subsidise the mailing costs for regional and national postal communications with members. During a high profile election, these mailing opportunities could be weekly instead of monthly.

  5. The Party should provide templating and print services to candidates for internal elections.

  6. Instead of points 4 & 5, the Party could send to members (and affiliates?) a monthly newspaper effectively funded by advertisements from candidates for internal elections.

  7. The Party should provide facilities for candidates to bulk email members, or similarly allow candidates to pay to have a meessage included in a section of a monthly email (without giving the email addresses to candidates).

  8. The Party should provide a remote access facility for telephone canvassing / polling Party members and affiliates. Polling in particular could be a paid for service from the party's own call centre.

For NEC / NPF, regional board candidates, youth or other lowish-profile candidates, this would offer a range of paid-for facilities that would give those candidates a real opportunity to revitalise internal party democracy without jeopardising the Party's good name through abuses of elections or data protection law. Secondly, these facilities would give all candidates a level playing field to ensure no-one had privileged access to membership lists, which was the case with the Deputy and Leadership elections. Thirdly, candidates in this way would be subsidising the Labour Party's own national and regional communications with its own members and CLP officers, which has to be a good thing.

Do you think these facilities would be useful to candidates for internal election or excessively restrictive? Could you suggest more facilities candidates could usefully buy from the party?

Is allowing the current laissez faire system to continue really an option?

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Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#1)

Some good proposals Alex. I hope they are adopted.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#2)

All very sensible, and none of it cheap.

I was campaigning with one of the MPs who backed Hain this morning- he had to endure ribs from party members, but to my knowledge it didn't come up at all on the doorstep. 

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#3)

The Party did make a wide range of services available to deputy leadership candidates. All the campaigns were provided with a shopping list including print, mailings, phone banks etc. Speaking personally, and not on behalf of the Johnson for Deputy campaign, I thought the problem with the services offered by the party were too expensive. The party was obviously trying to use it as a fundraising opportunity, which was reasonable, but not when DL candidates were already giving 15% of donations.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#4)

Stuart - I recall the facilities that were offered, though they were not as comprehensive as I propose and as you say, they were expensive. But I'm also suggesting that they should be exclusive and that candidates should not be allowed to run their finances or membership lists independently.

That of course would not preclude candidates from encouraging people to give them their contact details voluntarily for from spending their party-administered funds on facilities not provided by the party.

I also think these facilities should be available for candidates for other regional and national internal elections. Or even for groups campaigning for conference resolutions and rule changes.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#5)

The technology should be available to allow branches and CLPs to include newsletters for their members in a nationally organised monthly mailshot, by emailing/uploading a pdf to be automatically printed and added to regional and national material. In my experience members' skills these days are much more fitted to writing newsletters than delivering them, but not much gets written because of lack of delivery capability. Almost certainly more events would also be organised if it was easy to communicate their details to members.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#6)

This all sounds very sensible and, while not cheap to set up, might well be cheaper to maintain (and some of the technology already exists and would just need tweaking for the purpose - LabourPrint and all that kind of thing).  It would help level the playing field for lower level internal elections too where too often some candidates are in a greatly more privelaged position than others re: equal access to the electorate.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#8)

There are a few facilities on the Membersnet.

There is also (or will be shortly) a section showing best practice on leaflets, fliers etc.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#7)

I know it's hard work, but how about an honest MP.

Re: Labour should learn from Hain and Harman (#9)

Along the same theme as above.  Any accountant will tell you that the best way to avoid irregularities is to have a strong control environment. 

This kind of irregularity is completely unacceptable and has to be seen as something which Harman and Hain cannot weasel out of using legal ducking and diving.  There are eight words required from both of them.

I was wrong, I am sorry, I resign

I know this is quite strong, but we either have moral leadership or we do not.  Personally they should have stood down themselves and if they weren't prepared to do that Brown should have had the strength of character to sack them publically.