Now, more than ever, the Labour Party needs mediation

Bob Bollen

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Now, more than ever, the Labour Party needs mediation skills at all levels of the party. Recently mediation offers from the trade unions have been spurned. Hopefully there will be offers at this level again, and eventually taken up.

It seems clear to me that the Labour Party won’t ever regain power – given its humbling in Scotland, the strength of feeling against its European position, the current struggle for its leadership, and the expected boundary changes – unless both sides unite after the leadership election.

Feeling runs deep in many constituency parties. As a practising community mediator, I both fear the antagonism that’s surfacing in my local party, and know that another way is possible.

Yes, constituency meetings are temporarily suspended; but they’ll be back soon enough – whether for hustings – or after the leadership result.

Community mediation has a number of ground rules and practices. The key ones in this context are:

  • Each party must treat the other with respect
  • Both parties must assert that they want to find a mutually acceptable solution
  • Both parties must recognise that it is their responsibility to negotiate a solution, not that of the mediator
  • Each party has a period of uninterrupted time to state their view of the situation, the impact it has had, and the kind of outcome they want
  • After each period of uninterrupted time, the mediator summaries in neutral words the key points of what has been said – so that they’ve been heard and acknowledged
  • Their then follows a period of respectful exchanges on the topics raised under guidance from the mediator
  • After some period, tentative agreements emerge to some of the topics, with others perhaps seeming unreconcilable
  • Frequently, the mediator will initiate a discussion on how the parties will communicate in the event of future issues arising between them
  • The mediator discusses and summarises the agreements in a way that is mutually acceptable and records them

In Ealing, where I volunteer, over 90% of the cases that progressed to mediation (i.e. met the ground rules) reached agreement.

Why couldn’t the hustings for leader in each constituency be organised with a similar set of principles? Why couldn’t other contentious topics be discussed in this way – rather than using the tired old method of having speakers for and against? Mightn’t this be a way to start rebuilding trust? Mightn’t this be a real way to a new, kinder kind of politics?

There are community mediation organisations all around London and around the UK.

If you’d like to talk more about turning this into reality, do write to me at

Topics discussed:

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  1. Posted by angela pinter

    All very good but there are incompatible elements with incompatible political objectives.
    This agonised debate will achieve nothing because Labour has no future. There will never again be a majority Labour government.

  2. Posted by Martin Childs

    That is why Labour should commit itself to proportional representation for elections to the House of Commons asap. It could be a vote winner as PR is currently supported by 74% of public opinion. Then with PR in place, Labour together or in parts will get a fair vote. Under FPTP it stands to disappear as it suffers from the tipping point factor where votes are not just not enough to gain many seats at all. But does Labour have the imagination to make this change and put voting reform in their manifesto. Or is it still as crusty, tribal and boring as most people believe?

    • Posted by Lawanda

      – Of course that is why plus, he's guilty and he is going to avoid any place that may have a polygraph set up. He probably gave his mother a fake story and of course she bought it and told her attorney or whoever is reitnseerpng them they didn't want to go on.

  3. Posted by Bob Bollen

    Angela & Martin, thank you! Martin: I don’t disagree with you – PR might be one of the things to emerge from meditation. And Angela: oh dear, so what should we do? Pull the covers over our heads and never come up?