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Radical shake-up of Labour’s policy-making proposed

Suggested changes to the Labour Party Rulebook are being circulated to all Constituency Labour Parties this week which offer a radical shake up of Labour’s policy-making machinery.

All the leadership candidates have to some extent recognised the need to revive the party membership, and understand that active campaigning wins votes but requires two-way communication and a sense of ownership by the membership in what the party stands for. The “command and control” model of party organisation established under Tony Blair and preserved by Gordon Brown has failed – we lost. Structures that rely on consensus, for all the talk of listening and empowering, fool no-one anymore. Members want a say and a vote and representative structures are the only way to genuinely involve party and union members in decision-making.

The principal structural change made by Tony Blair was to strip the party conference (at which all constituency parties as well as trade unions can be represented alongside MPs, MEPs, councillors and so on) and the National Executive (a majority of whose members were elected by constituencies and unions) of any real policy function. Conference merely rubber stamped policy statements from the National Policy Forum (NPF).

The NPF was originally billed as a body that could have a meaningful role in making detailed policy, but that never materialised. Its membership was heavily weighted against constituency parties and unions, party officials were heavily involved in ensuring that only leadership-approved candidates were elected, and consensus decision-making meant that nothing could be agreed without ministerial approval. Most of the work is done by Policy Commissions, about 16 people who are carefully selected by the Leadership from amongst NPF members.

As a concession, Blair did permit conference to consider a very small number of “contemporary motions” prioritised for debate by unions and constituency parties, but Gordon Brown ended even this practice, by replacing “contemporary motions” with “contemporary issues” – essentially just subject headings, ensuring that conference couldn’t give any indication of its preference even on subjects it prioritised for debate.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, which promoted last year’s crucial switch to all-member voting for constituency representatives on the NPF, this year makes various proposals which would restore to party conference the ability to vote on policy.

The proposed changes are:

  1. To allow conference to reject parts of any policy statement with which it disagrees, and refer it back to the National Policy Forum rather than to have just one vote on lengthy documents on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
  2. To allow conference to consider “minority positions” on “annexe reports” from the National Policy Forum. Conference already considers “minority positions” on main reports from the NPF (namely minority positions which get the support of about 20% of the membership). “Annexe reports” are those which the NPF make on any policy issues referred to it by conference. This would end the ludicrous situation where issues are simply batted back and forth year after year without any resolution.
  3. To allow conference once again to consider motions “on matters of concern” from trade unions and constituency parties, rather than just “contemporary issue” subject headings.  The NEC has promised that this year’s conference will have a vote on restoring motions but this proposal would enact that as a rule change.
  4. Finally, in those years in which the NPF brings its final stage reports to conference, to allow trade unions and constituency parties each to submit one amendment to that document, which would the be composited in order to give conference clear choices.

Other rule changes include one relating to Members’ rights to select Labour candidates already discussed on Left Futures, the number of policy issues which are prioritised for debate, and ending the one year before rule changes are considered.

The closing date for the submission of rule changes is 30 July 2010.

The full text of the rull changes can be downloaded here:  Rule changes 2010.

3 Comments

  1. Mick Hills says:

    I am as left wing as you are but to say that Labour officials involved them selves in who was on the NPF is just wrong. I worked for the Labour Party for eight years as a Regional Organiser and yes we did attempt to get agreed Labour policy through at Conference (as the trade Unions tried to get theirs) but I never once witnessed anyone from the Labour Party trying to influence the choice of who was on the NPF. The issue was never ever mentioned in all the time I worked in Regional Office or by my friends who ended up working in the London headquarters. Stop being paranoid about the Labour professional staff, many like me believe in policies such as re-nationalisation of all utilities and ending austerity measures which are simply a mechanism by the right to pay of the bankers debts. One member one vote is so very right but members must use the policy making process as should CLP’s who in the main are consumed by the wishes of would be or sitting Councillors to ensure their election or re-selection and abandon real politics. That is the real worry concerning the Party.

  2. swatantra says:

    Mick is right in that CLPs rarely get the oportunity to discuss ‘policy’ because of over dominance by local cllrs on other purely local issues. Thats why very few CLPs send in their ideas. Most policy ideas are sent in by individuals. OMOV is so very right, in that members and CLPs must take back ownership of their Party from the apparachiks that command and control is at the moment. CLPD’s proposals are reasonable and should be accepted. But it will require greater efforts and greater involvment from members, as suggested in Ray Collins interim Report. Lets hope the 2014 Spring Conference results in the much needed changes in the way the Party is run.

  3. PETER WILLSMAN says:

    In each region only one fto is given the job of influencing delegates, in direct contravention of the NECs Code of Conduct.So far we have found 6 regions where delegates were illegitimately spoken to re. the recent CAC and NCC elections.It is likely that the final tally will be more regions than 6.Mick seems to admit that all ftos worked against the TUs at Confce.,which is also out of order.The TUs pay a big chunk of ftos wages and have the right to expect the ftos to act like impartial civil servants.

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