Labour Party 21st Century Commission

The Labour Party’s 21st Century Commission (the 21CC as it’s known in party circles) should be reporting to the Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) soon.  While there’s been plenty of speculation about what’s in it, none of it is particularly accurate according to those who’ve seen the current draft of the document (the Commission itself won’t finalise the document for at least another week).

The Irish Times report is particularly strange, given that they don’t appear to have even gone to the bother of getting the current situation right, never mind what’s proposed (trade unions already ‘opt-in’ to affiliation with Labour and can choose to leave any time they like; and there’s no block votes either on the NEC or at Conference).

In terms of what is coming up, we can only speculate.  There were two sizeable papers published in the run up to last year’s National Conference in Wexford.  One was by ATGWU (written, I believe, by super-blogger of the political-economic variety, Michael Taft, along with many others), and the other by Aidan O’Sullivan (I was a co-author of that one, along with James Doorley, Andrew Montague and a few others). The two had many points in common – the biggest being that Labour’s organisational structures need significant change if they’re to meet the challenges of the current political era – as well as a few where they differed – like links with the trade unions.

I don’t think that anyone denies that Labour is stuck in a rut of sorts.  Having returned almost exactly the same result nationally in the last three General Elections, despite running increasingly professional campaigns and being up against very different situations each time, the Party hasn’t moved an inch at national level.

Meanwhile, in the cities at least, it’s made leaps and bounds at Local Authority level.  Coming out of the first Council meetings after the 2004 Local Elections, Labour held the mayoralties in all four Dublin Councils, and either mayoral or deputy mayoral offices in virtually all other city councils around the country.

Looking at what the 21CC is likely to report, I think we can expect significant movement one way or the other on the trade union link.  I’m personally in favour of removing the formal link (and the tiny amount of direct funding that comes with it).  By rights, Labour and the Trade Unions should agree about 90% of the time anyway.  Where they don’t, the trade unions are probably wrong.

Eamon Gilmore TD

Eamon Gilmore TD

We can also expect organisational changes.   The branch structure doesn’t work in all areas, and has already been superceded to some extent by the options of holding Ward meetings (“Divisional Councils) instead (based on Local Electoral Areas).  Many members have no real links to their branches, and don’t engage on a locality basis, but rather on an issue or sector basis (e.g. women’s rights, youth issues, etc).  The NEC, which is far too large to operate effectively in its current form, will have to be slimmed down.  And the regular duplication of duties between the NEC, the policy committee and the Parliamentary Labour Party needs to be addressed.

The final report, if ratified by the National Executive Committee, will be put to a Special Conference to be held in Kilkenny at the end of November.  While it will be boring for anyone but the most extreme of political hacks outside the party, it will be riveting viewing for those on the inside.  No matter what the content of the proposals, there will be some within the party who will oppose it.  Equally, there will be some who will laud it as the greatest piece of political organisation ever.  The middle ground will likely favour it as the wish of a relatively new Party Leader.

This is Labour’s chance to set the structures that will allow it advance in Ireland.  This is Eamon Gilmore’s opportunity to truly lead the party into the next series of elections.  And if anyone mentions the word “New” with a capital ‘n’, they’ll be turfed out of the room.

For the record, the author has not yet seen a copy of the draft report at the time of writing.  If someone would please forward one, he’d be most grateful.


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