Former Labour MP Harry Barnes has called for the party’s policy-making process to be overhauled to give all its members and supporters a chance to participate.
“This is not a criticism of the work undertaken by Labour’s National Policy Forums,” writes Barnes on his blog, “nor of those who feed material into their deliberations.
“But we must seek to draw all the people who are part of the Labour Party – as associate, registered or individual members – into its policy-making procedures. This has not been happening.
“Only eight constituency Labour Parties and one branch have made submissions to the eight Policy Forum Groups whose work is to be examined at the coming Labour Party conference.”
Barnes goes on to criticise the party’s past practice in relation to policy forums in particular.
“When Policy Forum reports are endorsed by conference, the Labour Party in the past has made totally inadequate use of these,” he says.
“For instance, Labour campaigned in the European Union elections in May 2014 with little or no reference made to the policy positions it had by then endorsed. Nor did it draw from the progressive policy programme which was adopted by the Party of European Socialists (PES). Yet we are one of the PES’s 32 political parties from right across the EU, who are supposed to be our comrades.
“Another chance to push our programme was seriously missed during the Scottish referendum, which was held just days before our 2014 annual conference. By then our National Policy Forum Report for 2014 was only awaiting conference’s rubber stamp.
“This programme could have been used in Scotland. It could have had an impact on the Scottish general election results, saving us from the full disaster of what happened.
“Even after conference endorsed the 2014 Policy Forum Report, those at the centre of Labour’s campaign still dithered. The membership needed to be alerted to our policies, so they could press its general principles when dealing with the electorate. Indeed, if our members had been enthused by Labour’s proposals, it would have further enlightened and directed their efforts. It would have added a cutting edge to the considerable work that was undertaken.
“But even though Labour used its Policy Forum policies late in 2014 to publish a pre-manifesto entitled ‘Changing Britain Together’, little campaigning use was ever made of this key document.
“We had to wait until the general election was upon us before Labour’s manifesto was issued. It was then far too late for Labour activists to do their own research to absorb what we stood for.
“How we determine policy and then disseminate what we determine, now needs to be at the top of our agenda,” he concludes. “If members are fully absorbed into the policy-making process, then they can more easily pick up its outcomes. Yet we also need to publicise policies as soon as we decide upon them – and then keep on about them.”
Harry Barnes is the former Labour MP for North Derbyshire. He blogs at ‘Three Score Years and Ten’.