Refounding Labour: Will Straw’s Labour loves and loathes

by Will Straw

Peter Hain’s Refounding Labour review moves to the next level this week with the launch of its website. The new site has been set up to provide a place for members to “critically review and assess the current structures and processes of the Labour party”. Members are being encouraged to set out what they love and want to change about the party.

The thing I love most about the Labour party is how it is arguably the most diverse organisation in any local community. Wherever I have lived I have been struck by how Labour party meetings, social events, and campaigning sessions bring together men and women from different age groups, social classes, ethnicities, and religions. In my CLP, for example, we bring together people from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. That might not seem unusual in London when we all share public transport, doctors’ waiting rooms, and supermarkets with people from a variety of backgrounds. But the Labour party must be unique in bringing such a range of people together for a common cause.

The main thing I would change about the Labour party is the excess of interminable meetings. These can be new members’ first experience of the party, since meetings often outnumber campaigning events. The fixed agendas and arcane rules may provide comfort to party stalwarts, but too often our meetings resemble a Monty Python sketch.

The annual votes for specific positions – often held year on year by the same people – can also mean that energetic new recruits are put off getting more involved. Our structures would work much better if meetings were aimed either at political education by bringing in expert speakers for a discussion and debate, or used to update on campaigning activity and outline the next set of action points. Some CLPs seem to manage this, but it would be good if the rule book were updated to reflect the organising norms of the twenty-first century.

You can have your say on what you love and what you’d change about the party from tomorrow at

Will Straw is associate director for strategic development at the IPPR.

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8 Responses to “Refounding Labour: Will Straw’s Labour loves and loathes”

  1. ALW says:

    Our CLP has made several changes to our meetings to make them more interesting and inclusive. Administrative items which used to dominate branch meetings have been reduced to swift exercises when it is really needed – the in depth discussion happens at EC meetings. Branch meetings are now about Councillors reports and discussions, presentations and debate on Council issues and arising issues of national interest and campaign discussion and feedback between campaign teams. We hold forums bi-monthly where the CLP get together, supporters are invited along. These started last year following the General election, there was one for the Leadership election and we held one for the Local elections. These are the best attended meetings we have had for years, whereas typically mettings included the same 15 or so faces, these have attracted around 50-60 people.

  2. Richard says:

    Website couldn’t come soon enough considering it’s all to be over by the June 10th. Why they didn’t launch it at the same time as the review beats me. Or perhaps not. Typical Victoria St lack of organisation and efficiency.

  3. JK says:

    What I like about the LP is that there are people, despite the odds, that still are committed to it and its founding values. And continue to campaign for Party candidates, even when once elected they ignore the concerns of their constituents.

    What I loath about the LP is those who dismiss grass roots party loyalists as being ‘tribal’.

    I also have a major dislike of Oxbridge educated spotty faced herberts, who incidentally were reared in close proximity of the New labour leadership and their infatuation with neoliberalism and has seemingly imbibed much of this nonsense, claiming if the so called tribalist spent less time worrying about holding local and national representatives to account in ‘boring meetings’, then everything would be ok.

    I am also less than keen on so-called leaders of the party who spend an inordinate amount of time arguing for defeat; why else claim that only by entering in with a alliance with the LibDems could Labour ever hope to win again.

  4. Will Straw says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    ALW – sounds like a model that many more should adopt. The GC meetings in my CLP have been done in a similar way but for some reason we still struggle with an overly formal approach to branch meetings. Even if you try and take an informal approach, some people in the room still want to endlessly debate points of order and you can see the rest of the room (especially new recruits) switching off and then not coming back.

    Richard – Very fair point although I think this phase is meant to complement the longer consultation period. But I agree that the whole thing has been too rushed.

    JK – I honestly dont see the need to get personal about this. I was brought up in the Labour party and dare say that I’m as committed to its aims and values as you. Furthermore, I dont recognise your description in myself or family members so perhaps you’d be wise to spend a bit more time being positive about 13 years in government and a bit less chasing shadows. But I agree with you that we need much more ambition that a Lab-Lib pact.

  5. Richard says:

    “Members are being encouraged to set out what they love and want to change about the party.”

    And how precisely are members being encouraged? South West regional office hasn’t informed a single CLP, and neither has Victoria St of this website. There seems to be no structure or process in place for feedback to be channeled back up. Both are very good at bombarding members with emails come election time, asking for us to volunteer our manpower on the pavements, yet when it comes to asking us for our ideas, nada, nil, zippo. And to add insult to injury, South West regional office is organising a post-election event for us to provide feedback and has the cheek to ask us for a tenner to share our thoughts and doorstep experiences. And a tenner for what? A few duff sarnies and a cereal bowl of crisps as usual.

  6. Chris Morris says:

    Point one. JK. We have a leader. Based on the minimal experience of getting to ask him the AV question at the Canary Wharf hustings, where he had to go first so pretty much had to give a straight answer, it seemed to me that he may actually have a principle or two. He was not my first choice before that. He is now. That’s irrelevant here. What is relevant is to look at successful institutions, for example my club Manchester United. Choose your man and stick with him. Run your socks off for him. Or her, as the case may be. I take exception to the phrase ‘so-called leader’ – we elected him under our rules. And he had the balls to stand. Let us show some loyalty until or unless there is good cause to do otherwise.

    Point two. I am with Wealden CLP. Tory heartland, abandoned years ago by any half-serious Labour politician. I may be a bit off-topic here. In 2007 we had three candidates for the District Council elections, and a little over 400 votes. General election last year 70% turnout and a bit over 5000 votes. This year we fielded 22 candidates, would have been more if the Greens had told us they were abandoning two seats they held to give them to the Tories nem con, and we pulled in 6138 votes. On a 49% turnout skewed mightily by Tories turning out to vote no.
    OK so we took no seats. But why has nobody asked the bloody obvious question – 6138 votes – how did that happen ?

    If there is any interest out there in my rants, there is lots more where that came from. Best wishes to all.
    Chris Morris.

    oh, and pedantry corner re Bear and Blair – ‘A rhyme is not classified as a rhyme if one of the words being rhymed is the entirety of the other word (for example, Ball and all).’ Attention to detail, people, please.

  7. Chris Morris says:


    is this a private argument or can anyone join in ? My experience in the whole year since I joined the party is much the same. Please note I have been a union man all my life. So if we can share experiences and maybe kick a little ass gently someone may possibly listen, so for what it’s worth and assuming it gets past the moderator my email address in Christophermwm@btinternet,com. If you are interested. I am a recent convert to Facebook – are you on there ?


    ps I assume you don’t actually begrudge the tenner ?

  8. JK says:

    Will Straw – I was and continue to be very positive about what Labour achieved in office. But far less chuffed with how embraced New Labour privatisation/marketization/outsourcing and started the ‘reform’ of public services that the Con led coalition are so keen to continue in the NHS for example.

    The plurality of the LP is a major strength; however what is dispiriting is that too many members lack or even denied opportunities to speak truth to power. And this present consulting exercise seems to reiterate the failure of the LP leadership to put into place the mechanics to hear members’ opinions – see Richard’s points.

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