Vladimir Derer: Campaign for Labour Party Democracy co-founder who helped modernise the party and make it more electable


Vladimir Derer escaped to Britain from Czechoslovakia when the Second World War broke out and remained to play a significant role in making the Labour Party more democratic. He led the way in introducing constitutional changes that helped turn it into a modern party, making its leaders more answerable to its membership at large and the party more electable.

Along with his wife Vera, Derer created the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy which for some 40 years has fought to make the party more representable. The CLPD became a thorn in the side of the Party establishment, year after year submitting what became a model resolution to the annual conference, calling for the constitution to be amended. The introduction of the electoral college and the mandatory reselection of MPs were just two of the major changes to the Labour Party for which the Derers were largely responsible.

Dame Margaret Beckett MP, Labour’s former Deputy Leader, said: “Vladimir Derer and, indeed, Vera, achieved a position of immense influence. He was a constant factor in long campaigns to make the Labour Party more democratic than it had been and was a key element in the driving force behind constitutional changes many now take for granted.”

Derer was born in Czechoslovakia. His father Ivan, a lawyer, was a Social Democrat Minister who served in various governments up to the 1938 Munich pact. Involved in the anti-fascist resistance in Prague, Ivan was sent to Theresienstadt; he survived the war to be arrested and imprisoned by the Communist Party, after becoming chair of the Czechoslovakian Labour Party. Vladimir, a Trotskyist sympathiser at the time, escaped to Britain at the age of 19 just before the war; using his father’s contacts he was able to obtain a visa allowing him to stay. Those who had travelled with him, including his Jewish girlfriend, were denied visas and she, like most of the others, perished.

He worked in an armaments factory before joining the army, serving as an interpreter in prisoner of war camps. Following the war he worked as a tourist guide, leading tours to eastern Europe, while studying at the London School of Economics.

It was there he met Vera, a psychiatric social worker and later a lecturer in sociology whom he married in 1951. They joined the Labour Party in 1964. Having given up life as a tourist guide, Derer acted as house husband while Vera continued as the main breadwinner.

Together they became a formidable team, gradually building up the CLPD, which they had founded in 1973, disillusioned by the way the Labour government under Harold Wilson had operated, angry at the way that Wilson had rejected a policy document drawn up by the Party’s National Executive which called for the state to take a controlling interest in 25 major companies. Derer launched a campaign to amend the Party’s constitution making the annual conference the ruling body and requiring that Labour MPs should become more accountable by facing reselection once during each parliament.

They worked closely with Tony Benn, though Derer was not afraid of disagreeing with him, pointing out that Benn was sometimes a victim of believing his own propaganda. It was thanks to their campaigning that the electoral college was set up, giving trade unions, the membership and its branches the chance to elect their new leaders. The system still operates – under its auspices Ed Miliband beat his brother to become Party Leader.

The CLPD reached out to all members of the Party, attracting not only those on the Left but also other factions who were concerned at the lack of democracy. “There was,” Beckett pointed out, “a downside to this enthusiasm for encouraging the voices for all to be heard. Even the Tribune meetings of the old days, with a substantial platform of speakers, were often exceeded by the CLPD, whose platforms were often immense and whose gatherings went on for many hours so people could drift in and out from other commitments.’

In the early 1980s, when there were only 10 women MPs, and none at all from ethnic minorities, the CLPD became the first organisation on Labour’s Left to call for more representation of women and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities within the Party, and as candidates for public office. It was thanks to long-term campaigning that the rules were eventually amended to allow women-only lists and the addition of BAME candidates to lists.

A pragmatic man, Derer was willing to compromise if a majority of members believed in a different line and if it made the party more electable, even if this led to arguments with more strident CLPD followers. In the CLPD bulletin of January 1986 he criticised other Left groupings, saying: “they do not attempt to win the support of the majority [and]... the methods they choose to adopt to pursue their basic aims ensure they are not realised.”

Beckett recalled: “Vladimir was an honest, solid, down-to-earth labour activist. Perhaps the old cliché is appropriate – if he had not existed, you would have had to have invented him.” In later years he became a full-time carer to Vera, who survives him.


Vladimir Derer, political activist: born Bratislava, Czechoslovakia 6 November 1919; married Vera; died London 10 June 2014.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit