As the extended period of consultation about Refounding Labour reaches its conclusion tomorrow, it has become clear that the determination to democratise decision-making extends across the party and its affiliates, and across the political spectrum. It cannot be stopped by the desire of the Leader’s advisers to force trade unions to give up yet more of the influence they have in the party they founded and continue to fund.
At the Labour conference in Liverpool last September, the Refounding Labour debate excluded the central element — the policy-making process — because the Leader’s key advisors wanted to make democracy conditional on the trade unions agreeing to a reduction in their share of the votes at conference. They already have fewer than 50% of conference votes since their section includes socialist societies and, now, registered supporters, and they have fewer than 25% of the votes in the national policy forum. Their unwillingness to accept a further reduction in their influence is why there is a further consultation and final decisions were postponed to the Manchester conference next September. That unwillingness to concede remains — strengthened by the recent total lack of consultation about the party’s new commitment to support the government’s intention to force down public sector pay in real terms.
Last week, the details of the trade unions’ submission to the Refounding Labour consultation emerged. It involves a new annual policy cycle in which constituency parties and affiliates would consider amendments to 6 to 8 policy documents between October and March each year. Any policy positions that attracted at least 25% support within the policy forum each June would go to the September conference for final decision. The detailed proposals are set out below.
In addition, proposals submitted jointly on behalf of constituency party representatives on the national policy forum have emerged, and are also set out below. These were drawn up by their five representatives on the Joint Policy Commission (Simon Burgess, Deb Gardiner, Jamie Hanley, Joanne Milligan and Stella Matthews), all elected on the right-wing Sainsbury-funded Progress slate, but their proposals (with the exception of less frequent re-election) have been well received across the spectrum – a level of agreement which may reflect the fact that they are all currently up for re-election. Few of them require and rule changes and could therefore be introduced immediately by decision of the own Chair (Peter Hain) and the Joint Policy Commission.
They chime well with the TULO proposals and deal almost entirely with the inner workings of the national policy forum, providing for better organisation, and greater involvement by “ordinary” members of the policy forum in policy commissions, at workshops and in plenary sessions, but still leading to the presentation of choices to conference for final decision. They would require greater involvement (but less speech-making) by Labour’s front bench.
With trade unions and constituency representatives across the political spectrum moving in the same direction, it is difficult to see how the proposals can be resisted. Some don’t require conference decision. The only way that conference could be prevented from agreeing this approach would be the manipulation of the agenda to prevent the discussion. However, as last year’s appointment of the party general secretary demonstrated, the national executive is no longer willing to be bullied by the leader’s staff.
The trade union (TULO) proposal
Rolling Policy Programme
- 6 – 8 policy documents would form the Party Programme. Those documents could only be changed through an amendment from a party unit (constituency, trade union, etc).
- Each party unit (constituency, trade union, etc) would be entitled to submit a limited number of amendments to the Policy Commissions.
- Submitted amendments would be accepted or rejected by the policy commission. Where there was a division of opinion, the commission would submit majority / minority options to the National Policy Forum within its report.
National Policy Forum
- Policy Commission reports would be presented to an annual meeting of the National Policy Forum. Where options were presented, the National Policy Forum would decide which course to take through a simple majority vote.
- Where an option is defeated, but receives more than 25% support, it would be presented to Conference as an alternative position.
- Alternative positions would be presented to Conference as part of the National Policy Forum report. Conference remains the sovereign policy making body.
- Conference retains a strengthened resolution based process, which integrates with the NPF process.
The NPF constituency party representatives’ proposal
- NPF representatives should be elected for a general election cycle so that all NPF members can develop their knowledge and expertise enabling them to work in true partnership with shadow ministers.
- Current NPF meetings are unsatisfactory. Long speeches by shadow cabinet members in plenary sessions, and long replies by them in workshops, dominate events and leave very little time for discussions that should ensure input from all NPF representatives. The annual NPF timetable should be predictable and easily understood by party units so that it becomes a regularly timetabled part of local party and affiliate activity.
- NPF agendas and papers are issued too late. Workshops are little more than members giving long lists of problems, with no discussion on details or relative priorities.
- Future NPF meetings should have more time for workshops, with detailed discussions of key issues. The outcome of any workshop should be for a commission to have an outline of policy or a list of key issues to debate on the subject.
- Future ‘Warwick’ style meetings of the NPF should continue to adopt policy that is agreed by the majority and policy proposals that receive at least 25% support but less than a majority should be forwarded to annual conference. However, in addition the NPF should decide by ballot at the ‘Warwick’ style meeting four policy issues that have received majority support but should nevertheless be forwarded to annual conference for debate and decision.
- There should be an NPF meeting based at Annual Conference – on the Saturday. Each policy commission should meet at annual conference.
- all NPF reps to be full members of a commission, if not then all NPF reps should at least be linked to a commission and be allowed to attend and substitute on their commission in the absence of others. These larger commissions should then break into sub-groups acting more like select committees to consider priority subjects in more detail (taking evidence from outside experts and organisations, as well as party and affiliates).
- All work does not need to be undertaken by over-stretched party staff. Reps can and should do more work – submissions could be shared out, with each rep reading some submissions, summarising, listing any actions to be taken, and being responsible for their submissions through the cycle. However, more ‘short’ money should be devoted to supporting the process to ensure party officers can act in accordance with the wishes of elected NPF representatives as expressed at NPF, JPC and policy commission meetings.
- Commissions should prioritise key issues based on surveys of members and conference/NEC decisions.
- Commissions should work on highest priority issues first and try to come to outline decisions earlier. Details and costings would come later in the cycle, so subjects discussed earlier should be aiming to produce statements of principles.
- All submissions to a commission to be held online in secure directories and links sent to commission members, so all members see submissions monthly.
- Each commission to have a tracking system for submissions, so that each submission is considered and actioned, as well as responses sent to the submitters
Reporting, technology and infrastructure
- The party must enable CLP and Regional NPF to have each have the ability to send reports by email to all the groups they represent (CLP reps to be able to report to CLPs, regional reps to CLPs and affiliates).
- Each commission should report 2 or 3 times a year to the JPC on work done
- Discussion documents need to be more accessible and engaging. Instead of long documents repeating things we all agree with or listing things we have done, they should be more brief and focused: problem, ideas and thoughts on the problem (in outline) and questions for members . More detailed policy statements and historical information should be held on-line for easy access by party members.
- We should use online surveys and votes to gather views of members and supporters on behalf of commissions
- Regularly organised regional debates. These do not need to be grand events at expensive venues, and could be organised at local venues in association with local CLPs. Events should be held in a variety of seats from Labour held seats to our most challenging areas.
- Commissions should not just meet in London in private. All commissions should hold some meetings like the Prosperity & Work commission meeting in Birmingham with party members.
- Policy events should not have long speeches from key speakers or long answers by shadow cabinet/MPs. Emphasis should be on listening rather than preaching to the converted
- Policy seminars at Annual Conference are well received by members and being in private, discussions are more productive. There should be consideration of expanding these.
Relationship with PLP, NEC & Shadow Cabinet
- Shadow ministers and all other members of the JPC have a duty to regularly attend its meetings. The agenda and minutes (including reports to the JPC from policy commissions) of JPC meetings must be available to all NPF members so that they are well informed and can seek to influence its actions. The JPC must ensure regular newsletters and briefings get out to all NPF reps and annually to all party members.
- In recent years there has been some confusion as to who makes decisions with regards to the operation of PiP (between NEC and JPC). In future the assumption will be that the JPC makes such decisions, by doing so it will be strengthened which will encourage better attendance across its membership. There will be more emphasis on the JPC having oversight of the PiP process setting its direction and overseeing the performance of policy commissions.
- Shadow cabinet groups, PLP groups and similar who are discussing policy should feed in their workings and evidence taken to the JPC and NPF – this will help reduce suspicion but also prevent duplication of work.