Labour’s Organisational Review – Electorates and Branches

This is going to get very detailed, very fast. If the technical details of the internal mechanics of the Labour Party are not something that interests you, then I recommend you watch a video of Barack Obama singing a Justin Bieber song instead.

From the review recommendations…

Electorates and branches will have fewer formal meetings and will be freed up to engage in meaningful policy debate, tackle community issues, campaign in local and general elections, recruit members and supporters, raise funds and organise social activities. To support this, Branches will only be required to hold a minimum of three formal meetings each year; an Annual General Meeting, which also agrees branch goals, a meeting to elect delegates to Regional Conference and discuss the issues which they will be debating; and a meeting to debate policy proposals and elect delegates to Annual Conference. Other meetings can be focused on the branch goals. Similarly, LECs will only be required to hold a minimum of four formal meetings a year, and branch-based LECs are the preferred model.

See attached rule changes affecting rules 23, 35, 36, 37, 38, 48-76,171, 197 and new rules 33, 40A.

Exciting stuff.

Almost all Labour Party members will have been to a meeting that has been bogged down by over half an hour going over needless correspondence, perhaps another half hour with a line-by-line review of a financial report, and by that point, everyone has lost interest.

This part of the review is trying to address that problem, and I think it certainly solves some of the problem. I’m going to break this down into the Branch and Electorate Committee components.

Branches

The change to rule 23 gives branches an actual objective (their exact purpose used to actually be quite nebulous), and requires them to set annual goals and report to their Electorate Committee on them. I will be very interested to see how many branches will actually observe this rule, but I certainly think it is a step in the right direction.

Rules 35 and 36 are being changed so that branches are required to hold two different types of meeting – formal and informal. They will be required to hold three formal meetings: an AGM, a “regional conference meeting” where they discuss policy proposals and elect delegates for regional conference and an annual conference meeting where they elect delegates to annual conference. They can then hold informal meetings as and when required, which presumably wouldn’t be burdened with as much bureaucratic overhead.

Ironically, this actually creates more requirements than already exist. Not only does it create added complexity, but it actually adds more meetings than are currently reading. By my reading (and I may be wrong here!) branches are currently only required to meet once a year (rules 36 and 42).

My gut feeling as that the problem that is trying to be addressed here is cultural, not constitutional. As it stands, if a branch wants to spend its time having social events and talking about politics, there are very few barriers to that in the current constitution. I think the rule changes proposed are much of a muchness- they don’t really create less work for branches, but perhaps they will encourage a cultural change.

Local Electorate Committees (LEC)

The rule changes around LECs also aim to remove the meetings-for-the-sake-of-meetings phenomena. However, instead of requiring three formal meetings, LECs are required to hold four. The purpose of the fourth meeting is left undefined. Perhaps someone just couldn’t let go of that meeting to read the correspondence? The existing rules did express a preference that LECs meet monthly, but again, they were already able to resolve to meet less frequently (existing rule 62). I was under the impression that they had to meet at least six times per year, but can’t seem to find mention of that rule.

For simplicity’s sake, I think it would have been preferable if both branches and LECs had the same meeting requirements. Given I can’t seem to find any particular reason for LECs to be required to meet once more often than branches (please tell me if I’m missing something obvious!) I think I will propose an amendment to remove the requirement for the fourth formal meeting.

There has also been an attempt to require a gender balance on the LEC, though there are some problems with the way it has been drafted. Rule 50 now states that no more than 60% of the LEC can be of one gender, whereas rule 171, which deals with how delegates are selected for the LEC, now states “Where there is more than one delegate at least half of the delegates must be women.” The inconsistency is slightly sloppy, and could lead to problems should more than 60% of the total LEC delegates end up being women, or if lots of small branches with only one delegate end up selecting men. The new rule 50 is inadequate as it does not provide a mechanism for dealing with either problem, and doesn’t indicate a consequence if the 60% gender balance is not met.

In addition, there is a very minor change which adds a requirement for a Youth Liaison Officer to be co-opted onto the LEC. Nothing controversial there.

 

 

At the end of the day, I think many of the bureaucratic problems faced by branches and LECs are cultural problems of their own creation. While the proposed rule changes may provide some with a good reason to re-evaluate what they’re doing, I suspect many will be stuck in their old ways. Already around the country there are some great branches and LECs who are doing new and exciting things within the existing framework. I’d be more interested about hearing about those, and getting the message out to people that we don’t always require constitutional changes, just a willingness to be open and try new things.

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4 Comments on “Labour’s Organisational Review – Electorates and Branches”

  1. Eric Goddard says:

    Good overall analysis Patrick. However I think you underestimate the difficulty of implementing cultural change -without- explicit rule changes. I don’t think it’s good enough to ignore bureaucratic branches because they’re facing ‘a problem of their own creation’. We owe more to new and current members in those areas.

    Currently Labour Party culture is focussed around monthly meetings. I strongly suspect this was a requirement in previous versions (days of yore type stuff) of the constitution.

    The primary surviving references deal with selection procedures and Rule 246(b)(i) rules that and LEC loses one of it’s delegates to the selection panel if it has not “held at least six (6) quorate meetings in the twelve (12) months prior to the calling of nominations”.

    This indicates a requirement of 6 meetings – at least in the year prior to a selection (not always easy to judge with 100% accuracy).

    Rule 247(a) indicates even more strongly that 12 meetings is (or was) expected: “each representative [..] shall demonstrate [..] attendance at six (6) of the twelve (12) monthly meetings prior to the calling of nominations.”

    There are no references to branch meeting requirements, as you point out. But with presumptions like those above – without meeting requirements being purposefully defined – it’s easy to see why branches feel the need to meet monthly. Also the lack of empowerment for branches to form an executive (which LECs may do under rule 58) makes it more difficult for them to operate otherwise.

    I think the addition of a distinction between formal and informal meetings also allows more opportunity to participate for a theoretical member who does not want to attend monthly ‘social’ meetings, but does not want to miss out on important votes – like election of delegates and a say on the branch stance on policy remits. Currently these could happen at any meeting, with no prior warning.

    I agree with most of the rest though I haven’t stuck my nose into the gender equity issues you raise. Unfortunately the Labour constitution is all too full of ‘gender equity’ requirements that are toothless and ignored :(

  2. Luke C says:

    I think this brings up an interesting point that we need more information sharing between branches and LEC’s about what works and what doesn’t. The only was this happens is largely informally while drinking at conferences! Would be good to have somewhere where people could share ideas about the sort of things they are doing to sort out their branch/LEC. May only be used by a few people at first, however if a few members wanted to reform they way their organization worked they would have a good reference point.
    Also be interested to hear your thoughts about branches vs LEC’s, and if we really need both in many electorates. The review shifts towards more branches, which seems unusual to me. The usefulness of the structure is hugely influenced by geography. In Palmerston North silly to have separate bodies for both due to being around one urban area, with no strong boundaries between different areas. So therefore branch is defunct. Many geographic branches in urban areas end up being silly little fiefdoms if they do exist, which aren’t healthy for new members to enter in. So therefore would rather stuck with earlier proposals to take away power from many geographic branches, maybe allowing exemptions for property owning branches, and a few other strong branches. However thats based on my experience with several different electorates. Those where branches work well (where?) may have a different opinion.

  3. labanon says:

    Political parties tend to treat other institutions of civil society as competition for energy and members, when it would be a much better use of time and resource to actually equip and resource members to engage in the issues that interest them and affect the people they regularly interact with.

    Any solution that thinks more meetings is the answer doesn’t get that people are already meeting-d out and that the formal meeting structure alienates people, especially younger people.

    I think people really want to feel like their leaders listen to them and understand their problems. I think the best way to do that is for the Labour Party to go out from the electorate offices and sit around people’s tables (literal and figurative) with them – more branch meetings won’t achieve that, even if it may end up being a result of it.

  4. Eric Goddard says:

    Having looked at the LEC gender issue you raise I think you’ve misread slightly.

    The 60% requirement is for the ‘officers’ of the LEC: “Chairperson, Vice- Chairperson and a Secretary-Treasurer or a Secretary and a Treasurer and such other officers as the Labour Electorate Committee may from time to time decide” (new rule #49).

    This makes it pretty easy to meet the requirements though interestingly -despite still explicitly allowing it – the rules seem to have precluded the popular option of a 3 officer LEC, where the poor secretary has been prevailed upon to be treasurer as well. Unless an LEC is lucky enough to sport a delegate of the third gender, there’s no way to avoid having over 60% of one.

    This is partly because the new rules leave room for some confusion as the Women’s Liaison and Youth positions are named ‘officers’ but not listed in new rule #49. It’s hard to know what to do here, as including them among the stated officers would preclude them holding their roles concurrent with the Chair or other position. Also it could water down the intention of the change as you could end up with Women’s Liaison Officer and only one other female position among 5 officers.


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