Labour’s National Policy Forum may be flawed, but it needs to be reformed, not abolished, argues HUGO RADICE.
At its meeting on 17 July the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee’s discussion of the party’s ongoing democracy review appears to have favoured the abolition of its National Policy Forum (see reports of the meeting by Sienna Rodgers, Luke Akehurst and Ann Black).
While all are agreed that the NPF has been a pretty ineffective and opaque body, I think it would be a grave mistake to abolish it.
Richmond (Yorks) CLP submitted proposals to the democracy review for transforming the NPF into a transparent, accessible and democratic platform that would enable the membership at large to participate actively in Labour’s policy-making.
We made four specific proposals:
- Constituency Labour parties (CLPS) should ensure that policy discussions are a central part of the political life of CLPs and branches, to be organised by their education officers.
- Local and regional policy forums should be established, as intended when the NPF was set up in 1992, focused on developing and implementing party policies within local authorities, as well as participating in NPF debates.
- The NPF should maintain a permanent rolling consultation on the party’s policies, building on their 2018 initiative in calling for advice on specific policy issues.
- The party should establish an online college of Labour, drawing on the resources of knowledge and experience across the membership and among sympathetic academic researchers.
To win the next election we need a policy platform that is rooted in the knowledge and experience of the membership at large, and closely linked through local discussions to the specific circumstances of each constituency. There is very wide support for the 2017 general election manifesto, but as soon as you look at any policy topic, you can see how much work is needed to develop it into a meaningful and effective programme.
The NPF’s consultation exercise this spring at last offered a glimpse of something better. Richmond CLP’s three branches responded enthusiastically to this initiative.
Five submissions were direct responses based on branch discussions of the ‘key issues’ set out by the NPF commissions. A further four submissions were briefings that CLP members had written for Branch meetings on topics of local concern; these were on homelessness, the NHS crisis and affordable housing.
A further briefing on academies, written by a Selby CLP member, was submitted by the North Yorkshire local campaign forum. That work has led the LCF to set up a county-wide education network, which could serve as a pilot project for a local policy forum.
For substantive, deliberative democracy
If there are no structures that allow members to connect to the party’s policy-making in this fashion, and we go back to being treated simply as an electoral machine, then one thing is certain: all the work that has been done here in the last six months will have been a waste of time.
If democracy means nothing more than being able to vote people on to committees, and to slug it out over resolutions on the floor of conference once a year, it is barely worth having. Our democracy needs to be substantive and deliberative if we are to develop a truly transformative politics.
The opportunity we currently have to build a democratic socialist party, and to achieve real change in our country, may not come again. The proposals that Richmond CLP submitted to the democracy review offer a means of connecting the membership to our elected representatives and party leadership, to form a powerful collective consciousness half a million strong.
The proposals would also help us to address the party’s deep divides, by allowing us to find common ground in political practice across our communities.
Richmond CLP discussed and unanimously approved at its meeting on 26 July 2018 the following emergency resolution, which has been sent to the National Executive Committee:
“Richmond CLP notes with concern reports that the National Executive Committee intends to propose the abolition of the National Policy Forum, and its replacement by a Policy Committee operating under the NEC.
“To win the next election we need a policy platform that is rooted in the knowledge and experience of the membership at large, and closely linked through local discussions to the specific circumstances of each constituency.
“Our CLP’s submission to Phase 3 of the Democracy Review addressed the well-known deficiencies of the NPF, and made a series of practical proposals designed to place policy discussion at the heart of CLP and Branch activities; to restore the NPF’s original form through the establishment of Regional and Local Policy Forums; to develop this year’s consultation initiative into a permanent rolling process fully accessible to the membership at large; and to establish an online College of Labour to draw on policy thinking among academics and progressive researchers.
“We urge the NEC to propose not the abolition of the NPF, but its transformation along these lines.”
Feel free to post this resolution on other websites. Supporting resolutions from other CLPs would also be very welcome – please copy to me at email@example.com.
Hugo Radice is vice chair of Richmondshire branch, Richmond (Yorks) CLP, and secretary of the North Yorkshire local campaign forum.
The rationale for the proposals is set out in full in ‘Transforming Labour’s National Policy Forum’.