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Why has Ed initiated a policy review that by-passes the party?

Ed Miliband wants to undertake a policy review which reconnects with the lives of people with whom we lost touch to develop a programme for government. He also wantsto give party members a proper voice” in “a living breathing party of which people are proud to say they are members and proud to call their own.” He appointed Liam Byrne to do the first, and Peter Hain to do the second. It was always clear that he had not thought through how to separate those two functions. As every week passes, it becomes clearer that separating them gives absolutely the wrong signals to the party about his intentions. He needs to put that right, and fast.

Following the Shadow Cabinet elections last September, Ed Miliband appointed Liam Byrne, who with 100 votes was the lowest placed person elected, as “Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office”, not a job title that would normally be allocated to a Shadow Cabinet member. Peter Hain, who was not elected with 97 votes, was nevertheless appointed to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Welsh Secretary and was additionally to be nominated as Chair of the National Policy Forum (NPF) and to oversee the review of the party’s structure — a key appointment by a Leader committed to change and giving party members a real voice in the development of policy (which is the function of the NPF). Within days, it emerged that Liam Byrne had been asked to lead Labour’s policy review.

It was obvious from the start, including to Shadow Cabinet and NEC members and others close to Ed, that he had not thought this through. If Peter Hain was to chair the NPF, how could he not also oversee the policy review which was surely its prime function. At first it was hoped that Liam Byrne’s review would be a short sharp exercise to identify positions which could be pursued by the front bench pending the full scale review. Unfortunately, once Liam Byrne had been promoted in the wake of Alan Johnson’s departure without losing the policy review brief, that became more difficult.

Now Byrne’s review has escalated to a point which clearly sidelines the NPF. There are no fewer than 26 shadow cabinet working groups. Although they are supposed to feed into the NPF’s policy commissions, this clearly perpetuates New Labour’s record of all policy emanating from the centre. Whilst Labour members (including most members of the NPF) still have precious little say, Ed has, it seems, invited Lib Dem members to participate, something which was received badly by members of Labour’s executive and other national bodies who met with Peter Hain last week to discuss the review of party structure. Byrne’s review plans to present a report to the 2011 conference (called Modern Britain’s Ambitions), but the shadow cabinet working groups will continue into 2012, and there will be public listening — a million conversations with the public by the end of July — and a website to gather public views. Views so far, after more than two months, 396. That’s 999,604 to come.

Ed Miliband wants us to believe that he is sincere about democracy in the Labour Party. We’d like to do so. But it is still an uphill struggle to persuade party members that this latest round of listening is any more genuine than New Labour’s.

5 Comments

  1. glassfet says:

    “Why has Ed initiated a policy review that by-passes the party?”

    Because he is a numpty, which is why the party voted for his brother?

  2. Mick says:

    Maybe Ed wants to listen to all people, not just The Party. Only by listening and responding to people who would like to vote Labour but feel for some reason that they can’t at the moment will the party have the chance to adapt and be strong again. At the moment the party has no consistent and coherent line on a) whether money was wasted before the election and b) how to reduce the defecit.

  3. Len Arthur says:

    The review is very important to the LP. I’ve no problem with non members and other being conulted, locally I’m always encouraging supporters to be involved as members. They key issue is to fight to ensure that we make the LP process work and if this article is right, then we need to tackle the issue now, bottom up and networked across the branches and CLPs. Then the key issue is who will decide the final policy – this has to be conference. How do we regain control?

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for this piece, I hope he reads, sits up and takes notice. Party members are being completely ignored, despite the leader’s multiple promises. More than ever I wonder why I bother attending meetings, paying my membership, being active in my community if the top brass, which hasn’t a clue about the everyday lives of the electorate, is just going to carry on dictating to members, the very people in closest contact with the everyday lives of the electorate. He was recently in Bristol on his Fresh Ideas tour. Were the local CLPs informed? Not one. I wrote to his office to ask why. Did I hear back? Not a word. The upper echelons of the LP still show as much contempt for members as Blair in his heyday.

  5. Pat Brennan says:

    Richard may be too hasty to condemn? Perahps the Leader’s office believed that Bristol CLPs had already contributed (via the NPF?) and that ‘Fresh Ideas’ needs a different ‘gene pool’ to tap into ?

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