Letter: Democratic left

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The Independent Culture
Democratic left

Sir: Your leading article of 20 February was right in drawing attention to the authoritarian way in which the Prime Minister sought to influence the choice of the Labour leader in Wales and his evident determination to deny individual members of the party in London even the right to nominate Ken Livingstone as a candidate for mayor.

But what you have overlooked is that almost all the campaigns for democracy in Britain and in the Labour Party have been led by the left.

It was the left that won the right of the British people to have a referendum on Europe in 1975, previously opposed by all the party leaders.

It was the left that extended the franchise for the election of the Labour Party leader, previously exercised by MPs only, to allow constituencies and affiliated trade unions to have a say through an electoral college, which was bitterly criticised at the time, but led to the election of Tony Blair in 1994.

And when, last week, the government whips issued instructions to Labour MPs to vote for a transitional House of Lords based entirely on patronage, the left voted against it.

By contrast, when the "New Labour" National Executive, in accordance with the Prime Minister's wishes, decided to vet all the names for the European elections, and put them in order, on a single party list, they denied the electors the right to vote for the individual candidates whom they support, which is a basic democratic right.

All candidates standing for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have also been vetted and this is how Dennis Canavan MP and Ian Davidson MP have been kept off the ballot paper.

In the next general election it is possible that the same centralised process will be used to deny some constituencies the right to select the candidates they want to represent them.

"New Labour" seems determined to squeeze democracy out of the party, and out of Parliament itself.

TONY BENN MP

(Chesterfield, Lab)

House of Commons

London SW1

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