“Our members are our greatest asset – based in their communities & in touch with voters in their families, workplaces, educational institutions & voluntary groups.”CLPD
The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy team write on why and how Labour members should participate in Policy Development Review
The Labour Party published its long-awaited consultation into the future of its policy-making process just before Christmas, with a deadline of 3 February.
CLPD (Campaign for Labour Party Democracy) has produced a model response (see here and below) for CLPs to use to engage with the important issues raised. This is the first stage of a two-part review starting with a series of open questions and going on to proposals being circulated in April.
The findings by the 2018 Democracy Review that the National Policy Forum was not fit for purpose were unfortunately not acted upon by the NEC. Nevertheless, CLPD highlight the positive steps that were taken and promote the view that amendments to the Party’s policy-making process under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership have been positive for members and CLPs and these should be retained. The removal of the restrictive word ‘contemporary’ in submitting motions to Annual Conference, an increase in the number of topics debated to 20, the right to ‘refer back’ parts of National Policy Forum reports at Conference, and the right of Women’s Conference to submit two motions to Annual Conference (to be followed by similar rights for the forthcoming BAME, Disabled and Youth Conferences) are amongst these improvements.
CLPD make further suggestions to further improve the responsiveness of the current process. They support a fundamental reform of the National Policy Forum, if it is to be retained, with more seats for grassroots CLP and TU members. They suggest that submissions from CLPs and affiliates should be guaranteed a response from the appropriate Policy Commission and that the current unwieldy ‘phase one’ of the consultation process (where anyone can comment – not just party members and affiliates) has not been a success and should be pruned.
CLPD suggest that the existing Policy Forum section of the Party website should be improved with the inclusion of ‘CLP’ and ‘Affiliates’ categories as the source of submissions to better identify considered collective rather than individual responses.
CLPs are invited to respond to the consultation here before 3 February and are encouraged to do so, to have the best chance of ensuring the review genuinely takes on board the views of Party members and the inadequacies of the National Policy Forum. CLPD’s model response may be found here,
APPENDIX: CLPD’s Draft response to Policy Development Review:
[NOTE: If submitting this to the Party website as an attachment, do not forget to add the name of your organisation to this document and to the relevant fields on the website. Alternatively, you can paste each response into the relevant Question. The deadline for submissions is 3 February.]
- What constitutes a successful policy-making system for our party and what do we expect from our policy-making process?
A successful policy-making system is one in which all members and affiliates are able to genuinely influence Party policy and know how to do so. Knowing that they will be able to have a meaningful input into the Labour Party’s policy making is one of the reasons for which people join the Labour Party. Central to any future policy-making system is our sovereign Annual Conference as our supreme policy-making body at which all CLPs and affiliates are democratically represented. Motions passed by more than a two-thirds majority must be included in the Party’s programme as specified in the rulebook, and eligible for inclusion in the manifesto.
The National Policy Forum needs serious reform if it is to engage and represent our diverse membership. For example:
- Membership should be much more representative of grassroots members, and those elected should have genuine input into NPF Reports and be supported to be accountable to those who elect them;
- Annual conference should have the opportunity to amend NPF reports, and the mechanism to have sections referred back should be retained in the future with some fine-tuning to enable delegates to more easily respond to and follow proceedings on the floor of Conference;
- CLPs and affiliates should have the opportunity to influence the topics for policy consultation by submitting their priorities, which could be voted on by annual conference;
- There should be a clearer role for the CLP policy officer within the policy-making process, as a conduit between the Party locally, regionally and nationally.
- How can we ensure that the Party’s policy making process oversees genuine and meaningful policy development
The current ‘twin-track’ system must be improved. As well as each CLP and affiliate being permitted to submit at least one policy motion to Annual Conference, there should be the re-introduction of the ability to submit one amendment to a motion, as well as the right to submit an additional constitutional amendment. The timetable for Annual Conference deadlines should reflect this process. Submissions should then be composited where appropriate so that each organisation can see the result of its submission, before being debated at Conference. It should be clear to all stakeholders that any motions passed at Annual Conference are Party policy. The implementation can then be considered by Policy Commissions and Shadow Cabinet.
Policy submissions from CLPs and affiliates submitted direct to the National Policy Forum should receive a meaningful response from the appropriate policy commission.
- How can we make our policy making process more inclusive?
Allowing submissions from the whole electorate during phase one of the current process has proved impractical in enabling NPF members to prioritise looking at submissions from Party units, as well as raising issues of representative-ness. Only Party units not individuals should be able to make submissions to the process to enable a genuinely bottom-up process. However, this should include women’s, BAME, and disabled members branches which should be supported and encouraged to engage with the policy consultation process. As stated in Q2, responses from affiliates and CLPs (and other party units) should be guaranteed a meaningful response to their submission(s) from the appropriate policy commission. The opportunity for motions from Women’s Conference to be considered by Annual Conference has been a major step forward for inclusivity, and similar mechanisms should be introduced for BAME and Disability structures, as well as for Young Labour.
- How can we make our policy making process more transparent, democratic and engaging?
Starting with Annual Conference procedures, the majority of time available should be allocated to debate involving elected delegates. The increase in the number of motion-based topics discussed and the removal of arbitrary criteria has been a welcome step forward in enabling conference to discuss the key issues prioritised by CLPs and affiliates. A system must be found for selecting speakers for debates which is both fairer and more transparent than previously, possibly through the use of ‘speaker slips’. It will assist the democracy and coherence of proceedings if motions / topics and Constitutional Amendments are debated and voted on separately, not bundled together in packages.
If policy commissions are to be retained, there should be much greater transparency about how they operate – who is involved, what impact they have, decisions made, when and how often they meet etc – and how submissions have impacted on policy documents.
As mentioned above, the National Policy Forum, or any replacement democratically elected body tasked with continuous policy development and engagement, should be much more representative of the grassroots members with a higher proportion of the membership allocated to CLP and trade union representatives.
- How can we ensure that our policy making process addresses the fundamental challenges of the future, while also responding effectively to the immediate policy changes that we are facing now?
An ongoing ‘Rolling Programme’ of policy, subject to amendments by Conference, should form the basis of Labour’s Manifesto. The final version should continue to be considered by a ‘Clause V’ meeting. Immediate policy announcements should be based on a framework agreed by Annual Conference and subject to discussion at, and held to account by, regular meetings attended by CLP and trade union representatives such the NEC, Regional Executive Committees, Policy Commission meetings or similarly democratically elected bodies.
- How can we use our policy making process to ensure that Labour reflects the values and priorities of the country and of the communities we serve?
The role and function of political parties is to show leadership and to provide solutions and responses to existing and future political priorities and options. Of course, this has to be balanced with the perspective of serving communities and gaining majority support for our programme and Manifesto.
Our members are our greatest asset – based in their communities and in touch with voters in their families, workplaces, educational institutions and voluntary groups. Any future policy-making process must recognise the important role of a mass membership from across our diverse communities. This must be valued and nurtured, with CLPs and their democratically elected officers given support to function as hubs of political discussion, campaigning and voluntary activity, enabling them to play an active role in the policy-making process.
“The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism … The argument is about power … because only by the possession of power can you get the priorities correct.”
Nye Bevan – speech at Labour Party Conference, Blackpool, 8 June 1949.
- How can we best use the expertise of our members and affiliates to develop policy?
If the existing National Policy Forum continues to exist, its make-up should be reformed to reflect the wider Party more closely, with the vast majority of places being shared equally between representatives of regions / nations on the one hand and representatives of affiliated organisations on the other.
The proceedings of the NPF should not be dominated by front-benchers.
If NPF members are to have any manageable role, they would need a very significant increase in support-staff.
The NPF should continue to be able to produce Minority Reports (and be encouraged to do so on an annual basis, not just in the final year) in order to give Conference more options.
- How can we ensure our policy development process delivers a manifesto that can win elections so that we can transform the country in line with our values?
See Q 6.
- How can we best engage with external organisations, communities, businesses and the wider public at a local and national level?
Formal engagement with external organisations, particularly national ones should be the responsibility of the Leader/Shadow Cabinet/Front Bench/PLP. It is not appropriate for ordinary members to respond on behalf of the Party within a Party setting. CLPs should also be encouraged to engage with local organisations and support local policy-based campaigns.
- How can we best use technology to reach a bigger audience in a more meaningful way?
The current Policy Forum website has not been used to its optimum utility with submissions not receiving responses (either via the appropriate Policy Commission or from (volunteer) NPF members) due to their volume and to many being hostile to the Labour Party’s principles and philosophy. Classification is too narrow. As previously stated there should be categories for CLPs and affiliates to record their submissions so that these can be easily identified and considered by the appropriate Policy Commission. Overall the current site is very unsatisfactory for ordinary members as what they say appears to vanish into a void, and there is no social dimension. Technology should be better used to enable online discussion but within the Party only, not external for all to see and participate.
- Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The Joint Policy Committee should be replaced by a sub-committee of the NEC with similar membership, including greater representation from CLPs and unions.
A potential role for the NPF would be to ensure that Labour’s front bench is kept fully accountable between Party Conferences, for example by monitoring shadow ministers’ statements, or when in power the implementation of policy.
Virtual meetings have been essential during the pandemic but also have the virtue of enabling more members of Policy Commissions to participate without having to travel long distances for a two-hour meeting in London. This option should be considered the norm in future. However, we do not consider virtual (or hybrid) meetings are practical for large gatherings such as the National Policy Forum.