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The centre-left Grassroots Alliance is a group of elected members on the British Labour Party National Executive Committee, founded in 1998. They represent members from a broad spectrum of the Labour membership, ranging from centrists to left wingers. The elected members are a minority in a Committee that is otherwise dominated by appointed representatives of trades unions, the Parliamentary Labour Party and others. The Committee has recently (March 2006) become prominent again as the body responsible for demanding that party fund-raising no longer be managed outside the control of the Party executive after a scandal over loans to the Party about which, it would seem, the Party's Treasurer had insufficient knowledge.
The Alliance's founding groups were originally Labour Reform, a centrist democratic group within the Party, and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the left wing democratic grouping, who subsequently brought in other more Left groupings from within the Labour Party. Private talks with trades union representatives to build a broader base had failed on union demands and this initiated the inclusion of a much broader Left group from the grassroots, including Labour Left Briefing and the Editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon. Successful efforts were also made to include the Scottish Left.
The first Co-ordinator [one term only] was Tim Pendry who was Deputy Chair of Labour Reform and the Alliance originally restricted itself to issues of party democracy, resisting attempts to put in place a left policy platform in order to be inclusive of constituency feeling from the centre ground.
The first election resulted in four of the six available constituency seats going to the Alliance and was notable for getting the editorial backing of the Guardian. The Alliance has moved to the Left since the initial Election but the slate continues to support the mainstream Labour Reform candidate, Ann Black, who has been committed from the beginning to reporting back to ordinary members on the business of the National Executive Committee.
Despite the popularity of Ann Black, Labour Reform itself was weakened by the refusal of the Party administration and leadership to concede any ground on democracy but it has stayed loyal to the original Alliance, giving much needed centre-ground support for what has become an essentially left-wing movement within the Party.
Since its inception, the Alliance has tended to speak for around half, sometimes more, of the Party membership with a loose group of candidates supported by the Party leadership speaking for the other half. The Partnership in Power "reforms" of 1995/6, part of the "modernisation" process introduced by Tony Blair, have severely limited the ability of ordinary members to influence policy-making so that the elections to the NEC are one of the few barometers of sentiment left about a membership which is in decline.
The current policy of the Grassroots Alliance is broadly left-wing. They want greater powers for Constituency Labour Parties and individual members in the National Policy Forum; to maintain the power of the party conference; to resist privatisation in the NHS; to nationalise the railways and to increase powers for local government.
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At the 2006 NEC elections for the Constituency Labour Parties contingent on the committee, the Grassroots Alliance stood six candidates to fill the six spaces allocated to CLPs.
The candidates must be nominated by at least three Constituency Labour Parties, including their own. However, all candidates will try to get more nominations to improve their chances across the nation. In this division of the NEC elections, each party member has the ability to vote.
In 2006 the six candidates were Mohammed Azam, Ann Black, Gaye Johnston, Christine Shawcroft, Pete Willsman and Walter Wolfgang. Christine Shawcroft was at the time vice-chair of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).
The selection of Wolfgang, following his high-profile ejection from Labour Party Conference in 2005, may be a sign of a left-wing backlash against the New Labour leadership of the party. These candidates are also supported and endorsed by the Labour Representation Committee, the Socialist Campaign group of Labour MPs, Save the Labour Party, the Labour Black Representation Committee and the Scottish Campaign for Socialism.
It was announced on August 3 that four members of the Grassroots Alliance were elected to the National Executive Committee. These were Christine Shawcroft, Walter Wolfgang, Ann Black and Peter Willsman. This means that Grassroots Alliance controls 4 out of 6 of the CLP division places on the NEC.
- Grassroots Alliance website
- Campaign for Labour Party Democracy website
- Labour Representation Committee
- LRC newsletter Feb/Mar 06, pdf
- NEC nominations for 06, pdf