'An insult to democracy': The City Party

Brighton and Hove District Labour Party held its first citywide meeting in January 2012.

Following Brighton and Hove Independent's exclusive disclosure that the Labour Party has suspended the local branch party in one of its staunchest strongholds, the spotlight is on Brighton and Hove District Labour Party.

Brighton and Hove District Labour Party - which currently has about 1,400 members - held its first citywide meeting in January 2012.

Previously, Labour Party members were organised into three separate constituency parties: Hove, Brighton Pavilion, and Brighton Kemptown. Each party was run by a general committee on which sat representatives of local branches and affiliated trade unions; each was responsible, within national Labour Party rules, for its own finances, policies, and procedures; each was accountable directly to a relatively small number of branches.

For campaigning purposes connected with city council elections - rather than parliamentary elections - branch delegates were elected to a local government committee.

All this changed in the aftermath of the May 2011 council elections, when a poor result meant Labour became the smallest party on Brighton and Hove City Council. Currently, the Labour Party has 14 councillors; the Green Party has 20; ands the Conservative Party has 18. Two are independent: Councillor Ben Duncan and Councillor Christina Summers, both formerly of the Green Party.

Since the hasty creation of the Brighton and Hove District Labour Party - commonly referred to as the City Party - the day-to-day running of the party has been in the clenched hands of a 10-member executive committee (EC), with additional places reserved for Warren Morgan, the leader of the Labour Group and the three parliamentary candidates. Trade unions have no automatic representation.

In what is now one of the biggest Labour Party units in the country – serviced by three paid officers and with three separate offices for its parliamentary candidates - all-member meetings are held only every two or three months.

In contravention of party rules, agendas are not sent out to all members at least seven days before all-member meetings. At these meetings - the next of which is on Saturday, September 6 - motions from branches are discouraged as “divisive”; debates are condemned as “a turn-off”; membership reports are infrequent; finance reports are even rarer.

Unsurprisingly, attendance is poor; rarely does the number of attendees exceed 60 or 70; even annual meetings, which directly elect the EC, attract no more than 130. At annual meetings, the names of people who nominate themselves for election to the EC are not circulated in advance; the number of votes cast for each candidate is not announced.

With 54 council seats up for grabs in 21 wards, the City Party comprises 18 local branches: five in Hove; seven in Brighton Pavilion; six in Brighton Kemptown (including Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, along with "Meridian", encompassing East Saltdean, Telscombe, and Peachaven - outside the city council boundaries).

Significantly, some of Labour's safest seats have some of the smallest branch parties: Moulsecoomb and Bevendean branch has only about 30 members - of whom only 15 were eligible to vote in the recent selection of ward candidates, according to Harris Fitch, a failed Labour hopeful.

Some branches meet only rarely, including East Brighton - currently represented by Cllr Warren Morgan and Councillor Gill Mitchell, the Labour Group whip.

Even branches such as Preston Park, the biggest in the city, now meets only occasionally and perfunctorily. At best, membership figures for many branches have either stagnated or are suffering a chronic decline; it is not uncommon for little more than a handful of members to attend branch meetings.

As a result, it is easy for the EC to manipulate procedures and policies to suit their own electoral ends.

With many grassroots members reduced to footsoldiers - repeatedly urged by email to deliver leaflets in which they have no input, to canvass by telephone or door-to-door to identify possible supporters, and to raise funds - the all-powerful EC is increasingly regarded by many (not just in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean) as a secretive and undemocratic "politburo".

In the eyes of such critics, a small group of largely-unaccountable officers is interested mainly in ensuring their favoured "approved" candidates are selected in the party's most winnable seats. Even if that means over-riding the wishes of rank-and-file branch members, such as those in the now-disenfranchised Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

For articles related to the Labour controversy, visit:

The City Party;

Officer of suspended Labour Party branch speaks out;

‘An insult to democracy’ – Labour Party suspends local branch party;

Labour members stand by Councillor Leigh Farrow;

Labour’s ‘witch-hunt’ against party veteran;

Councillor Mo Marsh wins Labour selection run-off;

War of words in Labour selection re-run;

Furore over Labour's botched attempt to 'fix' safe seat.

External links:

The Argus (August 16): Labour deny suspension of Leigh Farrow from Brighton and Hove City Council;

Brighton and Hove News (August 16): Grassroots party members stand by suspended Labour councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (August 14): Labour members in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean urged to join discussion on suspended councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (August 2): Labour suspends Brighton and Hove councillor;

Brighton and Hove News (April 9): Brighton councillor wins selection run-off;

Brighton and Hove News (March 27): Potential Brighton Labour candidate accused of sending misleading email;

Brighton and Hove News (March 21): Furore over Labour’s botched attempt to ‘fix’ safe Brighton seat;

Brighton and Hove News (March 14): Former Albion chief to stand for Labour in Brighton and Hove council elections.