NPF Reportback shows extent of Starmer’s rollback – and need for unified fightback


“We know the policies we are pushing for are overwhelmingly popular, but most importantly they are absolutely necessary.”

Jess Barnard, Labour National Executive Committee (NEC)

An inside-look at Labour’s National Policy Forum showed some of the struggles ahead writes Logan Williams, Arise Festival.

The ‘What’s in & out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back‘ meeting hosted by Arise and supported by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Assembly against Austerity, Momentum and Labour Hub saw hundreds of activists come together to hear about what really happened at the National Policy Forum (NPF) and, the Left’s response.

WATCH: What’s in & out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back

Chairing the meeting, Momentum Co-Chair Kate Dove established the framework for the discussion by setting out the Left’s role in lobbying NPF members to support real Labour values which came through the demand for “Starmer to abandon the Tories heinous two child cap, elsewhere we campaigned for free school meals alongside the campaign led by the mirror and comrades in the NEU, against NHS privatisation and, for public ownership funded by wealth taxes”.

Co-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Rachel Garnham, reflected both on the history of the NPF and the challenges faced by the Left to support transformative policies in the current period. Garnham highlighted that the “NPF was designed to take key policy decisions out of conference to ensure they can be watered down without the influence of unions and grassroots members.”

Garnham outlined some of the obstacles the Left faced at the NPF, including Keir Starmer and the Front Bench turning their backs on implementing “tax reforms which previously Starmer had agreed to support.” She went on to emphasise that “Left comrades, in often hard circumstances, worked to improve the policy offer from the Front bench”. She ended her contribution by arguing that the next few months reflect a “battle for the future of the Labour Party and what it does in government” and that the Left need to be ready for the coming fights.

Jonathan Farr, of Disability Labour, discussed how NPF members “went into the process with our hands tied behind our backs with any motion including spending commitments being ruled out.” Despite this, Jonathan was proud to announce that thanks to the efforts of Disability Labour and Ellen Morrison, the disabled members representative on the NEC, the party were now committed to “the social model of disability, cross policy formation across departments with the inclusion of disabled people and, committed to awarding access to work awards in practice which is a good step forward.”

Despite these gains in terms of policy, Jonathan recognised that “we now need to work to make sure these policies are put into practice in Government.”

Mish Rahman, members’ representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), argued that “the NPF was meant to be so that members could have a say on where the Party stands on economics, health and education” but instead we saw popular policies such as “public ownership and the £15 per hour minimum wage ruled out before we even got to the conference.”

He argued that these popular policies were refused by “a macho, culty, thin-skinned and control freak leadership which empowered shadow ministers to refuse any motions which committed the Party to spending.” Despite these barriers, Mish was proud to report that there were marginal gains in terms of policy including establishing the Party’s ambition for the GB Energy provider.

Former Chair of Young Labour and current NEC representative, Jess Barnard, agreed that most of the media coverage of the NPF was “dominated by Keir’s headline of fiscal rules” but argued that without the “efforts of socialists in the run up and throughout the conference to keep the pressure up” the policy offer would have been significantly worse.

Jess highlighted key areas of policy that the Left attempted to alter such as housing which would see positives through the Party recognising the failure of the private rental sector. She recognised that some commitments were won such as the Renters Charter and the need for social and genuinely affordable homes at the heart of plans to tackle the housing crisis.

However, the Party failed to “commit to any meaningful figure of social and council homes to be developed and, it did fail to make spending commitments on housing,” alongside this the policy failed to scrap right to buy or establish rent controls.

Jess went on to discuss how the policies now supported by Labour following the NPF “fail to appropriately recognise the scale of transphobia we are seeing, and how we want Labour to respond to it.”

She finished her speech with a rallying call to the Labour Left where she argued “we have to stand really firm on our policies, as we know the policies we are pushing for are overwhelmingly popular, but most importantly they are absolutely necessary, and we have to keep up the fight to win these arguments.”

Andrew Fisher, former Executive Director of Policy under Corbyn, began his speech by highlighting that “not just socialist but even mildly social democratic policies have been rejected such as universal free school meals, scrapping the two-child cap and, even putting money into Sure Start have all been abandoned” in the leaderships desire to strictly observe the so-called fiscal rules.

Andrew argued that the Party leadership have followed these meek policies because “they are terrified of debate and of making a political argument on how they would make Britain better.” He finished his speech by arguing that the Left within the party “have to try and force them to be more radical in the run up to the election and, whilst in government through working with external forces like the unions” to ensure they create the policies we need to tackle the crises we face.

The event then heard from one of the Left NPF representatives Jack Ballingham who had been working, in the run up and throughout the weekend, to ensure that Labour followed a semi-progressive international foreign policy. Thanks to Jack’s efforts, we saw progress on many parts of Labour’s international development agenda most notably on debt cancellation which will now see the “Party explore debt relief for the global south thanks in no small part to socialist voices in the room making the argument to front benchers.”

Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), began her speech by highlighting that the policy announcements pushed by the leadership as a result of the weekend “goes to show how shortsighted the leadership are at the moment.” Sarah did point out that Labour’s policy to tackle non-dom status is a good start to bringing in money from the uber-rich but asked “where are their other ideas for bringing in money by taxing obscene wealth, wealth that they are never going to spend in their lifetimes let alone their children’s life times [as] all the while our kids are forced to starve?”

The Bakers Union leader highlighted how “the New Deal for Workers had lots of amazing policies and we need to know if they have survived the NPF,” before finishing her speech by stating “Whether you are inside the Labour Party or outside, collectively together, we’ve got to build pressure for a radical alternative that delivers for our members, our communities and our generations to come”.

The final speaker of the meeting was John McDonnell MP, Former Shadow Chancellor, who began his speech by highlighting that “Labour was founded on compassion and hope and these are the foundations of our policy programs which we use to inspire our supporters but, at the weekend it is clear that compassion is in limited supply… and that there has been a curtailment of hope of a transformative change” led by the Labour Party.

John went on to argue that unless the incoming Labour government quickly goes to work on a transformative agenda “enthusiasm for the government will begin to wane”. He explained that it is up to the Left to mobilise and save the incoming Labour government from itself, arguing that we can do this by “maximising the mobilising links between civil society single issue campaigns… all of which are capable of creating a climate of supporting change” which we can use to pressurise the Labour government to enact transformative change, in addition to opposing reactionary policies both now and then.

This is a key part of our task ahead, as we organise to not only resist the ruling-class offensive, but to popularise socialist solutions to the crises we face.

LISTEN: What’s in & out of Labour’s Agenda? National Policy Forum Report-back

Featured image: Labour for Labour rally at the World Transformed September 24th, 2022. Photo credit: Labour Outlook

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