Early reports from the National Policy Forum meeting in Birmingham at the weekend are encouraging not only about the review of policy itself, but also about the reform of the process. We shall bring you fuller reports by tomorrow, but in the meantime there seem to be grounds for thinking things are really getting better.
The change seems to be the result of a combination of factors: Iain McNicol as General Secretary and now at last, supported by his new Executive Board appointments, in control of the party apparatus; Angela Eagle replacing Peter Hain in the Chair; and Jon Cruddas replacing Liam Byrne as Ed’s choice to lead the policy review in parliament. The latter two changes may be simple decisions of the Leader — decisions which we may well argue should be taken by a broader group — but the reality is that any policy process will be the result of cooperation and interaction between people at all levels of the party, and positive acts by the Leader are therefore welcome.
There remain plenty of things to criticise. For at least some of the current NPF members at the last meeting in their two year term, it has all come too late – up to now, as Emma Burnell says, “those two years have been filled with little but frustration and a depressing sense of going through the motions like so much herded cattle.”
There is nothing of value from the previous period in terms of policy. The six short statements provided for discussion by the policy commissions represent only a very preliminary start; the time allowed for discussion in workshops hopelessly inadequate to cover the ground. However, significantly more flexibility was shown in adjusting the basis of workshops by the afternoon of the first day than ever before.
However, there was a very positive discussion about the future process and structure, based on a proposal from party officials. This promised real change but remain top-down and disappointing though there were some positive components such:
- future policy documents to contain “options and choices where appropriate to facilitate real debate” and which would “go forward to Annual Conference for decision“;
- “an ‘online policy forum’ to host debate … (and) an online ‘audit trail’ for amendment tracking“;
Fortunately, the TULO proposals to the party submitted in January (and which we previously summarised here) were also circulated to NPF representatives. These would be a radical reform of past practice and met with widespread support including, we understand, from the new Chair of the NPF, Angela Eagle. There was no doubt which set of proposals was preferred. Expect real change in the right direction!