How The Local Labour Parties Work
The Labour Party can be confusing. It’s probably easiest to start locally, going to a few meetings and seeing how things work and then asking questions to people who seem to know what they’re doing.
The basic building block of the Labour Party is the Branch Labour Party (BLP). There is one of these for each ward (wards are the electoral unit for council elections). There are 21 wards in Hackney each with their own BLP. Most of them meet on the first Thursday of each month at 7:30pm. Some are very active with largish meetings of over 20 people, some seem to rarely meet and/or get only a few people when they do. Some branches meet jointly (London Fields and Dalston, Hoxton West and Haggerston). If you’re not sure whether your BLP is active you should contact your branch secretary. If you are not getting emails from them, then you should contact your constituency secretary:
Hackney South and Shoreditch: Vicki Chapman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hackney North and Stoke Newington: Lisa Calderwood: email@example.com
Branch meetings vary in style but they are generally small and a good place to meet people locally who care about politics and to get your voice heard. If you don’t like how your BLP meetings work, then tell the Chair or Secretary what you’d like to see (and you could offer to help organise a meeting). You can also stand for a post in your branch at the AGM in June. The key posts are: Chair, Secretary, Vice Chair, Ward Organiser and Treasurer. But many branches also have other posts such as Women’s Officer or Political Education Officer. Lots of branches have more posts than people who want them so this is a relatively easy route to getting involved. As most of Hackney’s councillors are Labour, BLP meetings are also a good way to get to know your councillors and to raise issues with them.
Hackney’s 21 BLPs divide up into two CLPs – Constituency Labour Parties. These match with the parliamentary constituencies: Hackney North and Stoke Newington, with Diane Abbott as MP, and Hackney South and Shoreditch with Meg Hillier as MP. Each constituency has two key bodies: the Executive Committee and the General Meeting (sometimes called General Committee). The Executive Committee meet on the second Thursday of every month. Their role is to make the CLP function by organising meetings, developing strategy etc. They do not decide policy as this is the role of the GM. There are five key officers: Chair, Secretary, Vice Chair Campaigns, Vice Chair Membership and Treasurer, alongside other posts. Coordinators for areas such as Disabilities, Events/Fundraising etc are non-voting members of the EC. Branch secretaries can attend EC meetings. In Hackney North, they are full members of the EC. In Hackney South, they are non-voting members. The members of the EC are elected by the General Meeting at their AGM in June and are accountable to them.
Each GM meets on the fourth Thursday of the month. This is where a lot of important votes happen including the election of National Conference delegates and voting on motions to decide CLP policy. There are also reports from the mayor and the MP and a chance to question them. Hackney North and South use two different systems for organising their GM meetings. Hackney South have all-member meetings. This means that anyone who is a Labour Party member in the constituency can attend the GM and vote at it. Hackney North have delegate meetings. This means that each BLP and any affiliates such as trade unions elect a number of delegates (depending on their size) and it is these delegates who make up the GM. Each group of delegates must contain at least 50% women. Although other members can attend as observers, they can’t vote. The idea is that delegates represent their branch members, voting to reflect a collective not an individual view. These delegates should then report back on their votes to their branches. In practice, this is not happening in Hackney North at the moment. For example, nomination meetings open to all members in 2015 and 2016 produced clear victories for Jeremy Corbyn who carried over 60% of the vote, but GM votes this year have repeatedly gone against candidates who are supportive of Corbyn. Getting involved at branch level is a critical way of changing this so that you can vote for and/or stand as branch GM delegates.
There is also a Local Campaign Forum which coordinates election issues and operates across the two CLPs with representatives from each and from the Labour Group of councillors.