On the face of it, Labour’s new all-singing all-dancing policy process is open for business. We’re pleased but it’s got a long way to go before we’ll see if it will make a difference. Will policy-making really become less top down? Will party members, constituency parties, and affiliates really have some influence or will the tracking system (which I haven’t yet located) merely trace the path of their views into the abyss? Will more than the geekiest amongst us really engage with it and how will we engage the rest?
We shall see. But in the meantime, there’s another more old-fashioned method of injecting new life into the process. An election. For the Joint Policy Commission (JPC) which oversees the process (unless it’s snatched away by the Leader and his policy review supremo). Until now, it has consisted mainly of yes-men (some women but this is, uniquely in the party, a body with no gender balance requirements). Most of whom don’t turn up. Now there’s a election, and a real chance of the odd critical friend emerging.
The structure of the JPC is a bit of a mystery, even to longstanding NPF members. The Your Britain User Guide which was published last week to help understand the whole process only says:
Strategic oversight of policy development is undertaken by the Joint Policy Committee (JPC). Chaired by the Prime Minister (surely some mistake – Ed?), the JPC is made up of members of government (ditto), the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the NPF. It provides a link with all sections of the party, steering the NPF’s work and setting priorities and debates.
The rules about how they’re elected are not public; and nor was its membership published in recent NEC or NPF reports. I understand that the invitation for the last meeting was extended to at least two members who are no longer on the NPF (Michael Cashman and Joanne Milligan), and one person at the meeting no longer qualifies (Kate Green was a representative of the PLP (i.e. backbenchers) but is now a shadow minister. Small matters between comrades, you might say. They can be put right.
So what of the election: The seventy-seven constituency party and regional representatives on the 199-strong NPF get four representatives plus a vice-chair (though not necessarily by right). Last time around, these were all people who had been elected on (or were associated with) Progress. The post of vice-chair is to be elected when the NPF meets in June.
Only one of the remaining four remains on the NPF – Deborah Gardiner from the Isle of Wight – who was narrowly elected last time, three votes ahead of Darren Williams, a trade union official from Cardiff, who was elected again this time on a centre-left ticket and is standing for the JPC again. The are two other Progress candidates, Mark Glover from Gedling in the East Midlands and Emma Hoddinott from Rotherham. Maria Fyfe, former Glasgow MP and Alon Orbach, a longstanding “independent” from London are the remaining candidates.
The outcome is guaranteed to be more progressive than before.
There is also an election in the elected representatives section with four candidates for two places: Dave Watts is a newcomer to the NPF as the new Cair of the PLP; Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East & Saddleworth, also represents the PLP backbenchers although she is now a PPS; and two councillors, Angela Cornforth, deputy mayor of Greenwich, and Roger Laurence, leader of Wolverhampton.
If you would like to see any of these people elected, you might want to make representations to members of the NPF who have a vote.
But please also have a look at the “challenge” statements already on the Your Britain website. They’re organised in policy areas – the number of policy commissions has increased from six to eight under four headings: