Thu, 18 July 2024

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The House Live All
By Ben Guerin
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Labour party facing 'existential' crisis under Jeremy Corbyn, claims former top official

3 min read

Labour faces an "existential crisis" and must decide whether it wants to be a party of protest or government, one of its former top officials has claimed.

John Stolliday, who was Labour's head of governance and legal, said moves by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters to change the party's rules represented "a tyranny of a majority" over those who it was founded to represent.

Mr Stolliday - who also headed up the Labour compliance unit dealing with disciplinary issues, was among a number of senior officials who quit their jobs earlier this year ahead of Jennie Formby's appointment as the party's general secretary.

A review of Labour party democracy was launched by Mr Corbyn last year, and is expected to publish its finding shortly.

Among the proposed reforms are moves to reduce the number of MPs needed to nominate a leadership contender and increase the influence of trade unions and Labour members.

Speaking at an event in London, Mr Stolliday took aim at those who want to give greater power to the party's membership - which has expanded massively under Mr Corbyn's leadership - warning that it could leave Labour in permanent opposition.

He said: "Simplistic opposition for its own sake is an easy path to take, but it is one that ends in the overgrown wilderness. The Labour party might have brought into its ranks those many people in the country who are disaffected, who want to oppose, who were previously attracted to the political fringes. 

"But by choosing this path they ignore the great majority out there who put Labour into government three times in the past 25 years and are waiting for a credible alternative to what we have now."

Mr Stolliday added: "The Labour party is a delicate coalition of its elected representatives, its affiliates and its members. The party’s rule book gives some powers - but crucially not absolute power - to each of those groups. 

"For years that delicate balance has kept in check the ambitions of any one of those groups who tried to assume too much control. 

"If you start to change that balance,  by scrapping the policy process or fundamentally changing the party’s rules, it will lead to the most fundamental realignment within the party since its formation. 

"It is not mass democracy to subordinate the will of the Parliamentary Labour Party or Labour groups in local government or Labour’s affiliates - it is a tyranny of a majority over those who this party was founded to represent.

"It speaks to an existential crisis for Labour - is it a party of opposition and protest, or is it a credible party of leadership in the national interest to better the lives of millions of working people?

"It was Dora Gaitskell who told her husband Hugh in 1962 that the problem with his policy is that 'all the wrong people are cheering'. I love the Labour party and want it to do well more than anything. But I’m afraid right now all the wrong people are cheering."

A Labour party source said: "Labour is a mass democratic movement that last year put on our biggest increase in vote share since 1945, destroyed Theresa May's majority and is ready to fundamentally transform our society so it at last works for the many not the few."

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