Blair is wrong, as Deputy Leader I’ll build a party with 1 million members
As Deputy Leader, I am committing not only to retaining and galvanising our 500,000 plus members - but to grow our membership to hit one million members
In a speech marking the Labour Party's 120th anniversary, Tony Blair warned that Labour’s membership was ‘unrealistic’ and must be replaced. Dismissing so many members who joined after Jeremy Corbyn became leader as the “sectarian far-left”, Blair declared “they are not an asset, I’m afraid.”
As on so much else, Blair couldn’t be more wrong. The membership surges over the last few years are a huge asset to the party. Many members will be quite rightly offended by these slurs. Though many will have heard it all before - including when MPs tried to launch a coup against Jeremy Corbyn in 2016 in opposition to the membership’s wishes.
The fact that the Labour Party is one of the biggest political parties in Europe is something to be celebrated and a key resource as we seek to rebuild. So as Deputy Leader I am committing not only to retaining and galvanising our 500,000 plus members - but to grow our membership to hit one million members.
Some will scoff at this. I predict in advance it’s the very same people who never believed that we would get the huge surge to over 500,000 members under Jeremy.
And those same cynics don’t know their own history. Labour has had more than one million members in its past, peaking in the aftermath of the great post-war reforming Attlee government.
If every Labour member felt empowered and enthused to recruit one friend to the party, we would hit a million members. So, I will investing both in our CLPs and organising departments to make this happen.
Tony Blair thrived on using the membership without giving them a voice, controlling things from the centre. He should have listened more to them. Members were right on Iraq and right on PFI. In ignoring them, Blair sowed the seeds of his own - and Labour’s - unpopularity.
Members should not be treated as the unpaid postal workers of the Labour movement delivering leaflets but with no say on the policies which end up on them. Labour members are the lifeblood of our party and should be respected as such.
Unlike the top-down control of the Blair years, my commitment is to open up the party even further to them. My three key pledges as Deputy Leader are all about giving Labour members more say and ensuring our elected politicians are accountable.
I am the only candidate to support Open Selections to democratise our party further by letting members select their candidates for each and every election. If we want Labour candidates to be in touch with the realities of their local areas then surely local members are the best judge of who that should be?
My new Clause IV pledge will hardwire public ownership of rail, mail and water into Labour's constitution so that these hard-won demands of members can’t be rolled back easily by any leader. I’ve also called for not a single policy of our recent manifestos to be ditched without the express support of members.
It’s regrettable that all the other Deputy Leadership candidates have spoken out against this proposal for a new Clause IV. But it will be for the members to decide.
And my plans for a Labour Party Peace Pledge will allow members to decide their Party’s own position on any proposed military action that doesn’t have United Nations backing or isn’t a genuine national emergency.
This will be about the Party expressing its own view as it did in relation to David Cameron’s plan to bomb Syria in 2015. Individual Labour MPs will still be able to vote to bomb countries if they so desire, but they will do so knowing whether their party is against this and that they can be held to account by their members. Again, I am the only Deputy Leadership candidate to support the members having this right.
Both the collapse in Scotland and the “Red Wall” show the fallacy of treating areas as “safe Labour seats”. Too often the grassroots are taken for granted and ignored. That is why I have promised to visit every seat Labour lost in the first month of taking office, and every seat we need to win back to form a majority in the first three months in office. As part of these visits, I’ll be listening to members about what went wrong but also discussing fundraising and membership drives in each CLP to help them grow and build in their communities.
I have said I will be a campaigning Deputy Leader, in the mould of John Prescott, building a Labour Party rooted in every community. If we are serious about achieving that then we can be confident that we can double our membership to one million members.
Richard Burgon is the Labour Member of Parliament for Leeds East and Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice.