Tribute to Vladimir Derer

Vladimir Derer

Vladimir Derer – Labour left loses inspiring leader

Vladimir Derer, who fought to democratise the British Labour Party, died on 10 June, having been a consistent campaigner at the party’s heart for more than forty years.

Derer successfully led the struggle, through the 1970s and 80s, that reformed Labour’s internal regime to give trade unions and party members some influence over publicly elected representatives and the party leadership.

He played an indispensable role in bringing about this accountability through the mechanism of ‘re-selection’ of MPs and creating an ‘electoral college’ to elect the party leader – previously just elected by MPs. Five years of campaigning achieved ‘mandatory reselection’ of MPs at the party’s 1979 conference. Then in 1981 a Special Conference widened the franchise for electing the leader to include unions and party members. A BBC film about these battles can be seen here.

The key instrument in these battles was the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. CLPD was set up in June 1973 and Vladimir Derer, its Secretary, was its principal strategist.

Under Derer’s leadership CLPD also helped ensure Labour became more representative of society. Allied with women campaigners it won the demand for a woman on every parliamentary shortlist by 1988 and later won ‘All Women Shortlists’. These transformed the situation from only 11 women Labour MPs in 1980 to the 81 in 2010. Similarly he fought alongside Black Sections activists to achieve Black self-organisation within Labour, which led to 16 Black Labour MPs in 2010, none having been elected prior to 1987.

Vladimir Derer contributed much to all these victories, deploying a necessary tactical flexibility in complex political battlefields.

Derer, a committed socialist, was a life long campaigner for public ownership. His Golders Green home with Vera Derer was a well-known centre for left-wing activity.

The left within the Labour Party, and more broadly, has lost an outstanding and effective leader.