Sunday, 16 September 2018

When it comes to democratic reselection and a 2nd EU referendum Jeremy Corbyn's reputation is at stake

One of Jeremy Corbyn's main points of appeal (beside his longstanding commitment to genuine democratic socialist values when so many Labour MPs abandoned them), is his policy of democratising the Labour Party and making it much more responsive to the views of ordinary Labour Party members.

Given that so much of his support relies on this reputation as a democratiser, his leadership is facing a huge litmus test at the Annual Labour Party Conference (September 23-26).

It's becoming absolutely clear that huge numbers of Labour Party members want to see changes, and two specific changes in particular.

Brexit referendum

The first clear demand from the membership is the widespread call for a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit agreement. Jeremy Corbyn's policy to date has been to subject the Brexit terms to Keir Starmer's six tests, and then oppose Brexit in parliament if the tests are not met.

So far scores of local Labour Party branches have called for a Conference vote on a second referendum, which would almost certainly be won given that well over 70% of Labour Party supporters are opposed to the Tory Brexit shambles.

A vote in favour of Labour supporting a second referendum would surely force Jeremy Corbyn to adapt his method of opposing Tory Brexit from parliamentary opposition (if you look at the actual parliamentary records, Labour have opposed the Tories on practically every single Brexit vote) to officially backing a second referendum on the final Brexit agreement.

Democratic reselection

The second demand from the membership is the introduction of democratic reselection of Labour MPs in order to put an end to the complacency of the 'jobs for life' brigade by allowing local constituency parties to weed out the most corrupt/self-serving/abusive/lazy/incompetent of Labour MPs.

Under the current system the only way to get rid of a disgraceful Labour MP is through the trigger ballot process, which necessitates negative campaigning against the incumbent MP rather than positive campaigning for a rival candidate.

Democratic reselection for all Labour MPs (including Corbyn and his allies of course) would create a much more positive environment where individuals who wish to challenge their local Labour MP get to run a positive campaign focused on how they propose to do a better job of representing the Labour Party and the local community in parliament.

Democratic reselection is hardly a controversial policy (except for those incumbent MPs who would feel understandably afraid of being held to account for their atrocious behaviour of course).

Every single one of the 54 of the Scottish National Party's MPs were democratically reselected before the 2017 General Election because they'd all done a fantastic job of representing the party in Westminster.

But then look at the Democratic primaries in the united States for examples of how open selection contests have reinvigorated Democratic politics. Consider the shock selection of the 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over a 10-time incumbent, and a wave of other progressives taking Democratic slots in the midterm elections.

Without open selection contests how many potential Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez type figures within the Labour Party are being denied the chance to shine in favour of keeping utterly complacent and self-serving old-timers in their party political sinecures?

If MPs do a good job of representing the Labour Party and their local communities then there's hardly any chance of them being ousted through democratic selection (because removing the incumbent MP and replacing them with a newcomer risks increasing the chance of losing the seat to a rival party), but democratic reselection would certainly invigorate local Labour Party politics, gives local people a fair shot at getting rid of the laziest and most self-serving Labour MPs, and give rising stars in the Labour Party a chance to make their own positive cases to be selected as candidates in their local areas.

The litmus test

If the Labour leadership deliberately stonewalls either of these internal democratic campaigns, then Corbyn's reputation is surely going to take a significant hit.

Personally I think it's an incredibly dangerous idea to hold a second referendum when the electoral rules haven't been reformed to prevent the absolute tidal wave of dark ads, lies, distortions and outright fraud we saw in 2016, and because the Electoral Commission who would oversee it are a shockingly discredited joke (just a week before Labour Conference the courts found they had given Vote Leave misleading and unlawful advice that they could channel excess funds through shell campaigns).

But if it's the will of the Labour Party membership to hold a second referendum under such risky conditions, Corbyn would tarnish his own reputation as a respecter of democracy by stonewalling it.

When it comes to democratic reselection I'm strongly in favour. I can't see any reasonable objection whatever against Labour MPs being required to renew their mandate to serve in democratic processes. All the objections centre around a seething contempt for the whole concept of democratic accountability.

If the Labour leadership caves in to the demands of Labour MPs in safe seats that democratic reselection proposals be taken off the table, this would be a much bigger betrayal than stonewalling a second referendum because Corbyn has staked his reputation on the internal democratisation of the Labour Party,.

If the Labour Party ignore the membership calling for democratic reselection in order to protect incumbent Labour MPs from democratic accountability, it'd be a betrayal of one of Corbyn's main points of appeal.

Next week Jeremy Corbyn faces probably the biggest test of his credentials since the General Election, so let's hope he manages to pass it. 

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