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Did the two Eds last week expose Labour’s policy process as a sham?

Ed Miliband at PPF 2Last week the two Eds made speeches which deal with key aspects of Labour’s economic strategy. There may have been differing views within the party of the content of these speeches including on Left Futures, not least because they have been spun in different ways to different audiences.  But that isn’t the only aspect which will concern party members.

How can such important aspects of party policy be simply announced with so little reference to the party? Ed Ball’s speech in particular, defining where he stands on austerity and Keysianism, the shadow chancellor’s most important speech since that to Bloomberg, was made without any discussion whatsoever within the party’s formal policy structure or amongst MPs. Even the shadow cabinet, received only scant information in advance of the speech about its content.

On the very day that Ed Balls made his speech last week, there was a joint meeting of the three Labour policy commissions that deal with aspects of the economy, but the macroeconomic stance of the next Labour government was not on the agenda. Nor has it been on any policy commission agenda since 2010. Indeed, the topics for discussion by Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) this year were deliberately designed to exclude such “controversial” subjects.

Unfortunately, the fact that the two Eds have failed even to consult with NPF members, never mind involve them in decision-making, shows a contempt for the party’s internal democracy. They just don’t trust the members. Nor even their MPs. Members can therefore be forgiven for thinking that Labour’s policy process is a sham. But is that right?

It is enormously disappointing that Ed Miliband’s commitment to “a living breathing party” in which members had “more say in policy making” has been abandoned, or, amounting to the same, applies only to matters of his choosing and excluding the most important. But as long as the process survives, it is up to party members to use it and to demand that it make decisions on matters of our choosing.

The commitment of our leaders to internal democracy has been exposed as a sham. But the democratic process itself will only be a sham if we allow it to be so.


  1. Chris says:

    If we want to make the leadership more accountable, I’d suggest having the party leader be elected for a fixed term. If he wants to carry on longer he should stand for re-election. Blair being leader for 13 years based on one election in 1994 was a complete farce.

  2. Patrick Coates says:

    No one can wait for a meeting: we live in an instant world, people talk in tweets now, look at TV no one finishes a sentance anymore.
    Look at Eastenders, 3 tweets and your off.
    Suggest make an 3 sec advert and show it for the next 2 years.

  3. Mike says:

    A very welcome declaration of disappointment in Ed Miliband’s contempt for party democracy.

    Because the Labour left desperately wants to believe that Ed is worth supporting and giving the benefit of the doubt to, the usual line is to claim that when he says or does something that is objectionable, he is the ‘prisoner’ of Blairite colleagues, or the victim of Progress plotting.

    Such self-deception is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.

    Ed was a key player in the Brownite camp when Blair was PM. He plotted, briefed, and did all he could to ensure that Brown would become Labour’s worst ever Prime Minister. The inherent elitism and contempt for the Party that this involved is deeply rooted and, clearly, central to how Ed operates when it comes to making key strategic decisions.

    It is time to move on. In place of hoping that any leader will move the party to left, it is time to step-up the campaign for a democratic party regardless of who is in the leaders office.

  4. John says:

    Mike although I agree with your second point, has Ed really said ,privately, I Assum,that he’s had to do this due. To Progress plotting , Actually by Nick brown and Frank Field seem sceptical

  5. Rob says:

    Brown and Blair and a few others did deals to ensure who would be leader, and for how long.

    Miliband was a bit player, but when the Union asked him to stand promised him the backing he did and only to keep his brother David out.

    Does not matter really what disappointed me more was the words and the policies, it’s perfectly New Labour and Blair is back…

  6. Syzygy says:

    According to Mark Seddon in Tribune, Mandelson/Adonis et al wanted to form a new centre party with the LDs, excluding the left. I imagine that they would not want a Labour landslide in 2015 so that their dream could be fulfilled.

    I can’t help but wonder how much influence Mandelson had in persuading the Eds that (at a point where Osborne’s austerity is becoming discredited) they should declare a determination to hold to Osborne’s spending limits in a bid for ‘credibility’.

    I find it bizarre that Balls should talk as if the UK ‘has no money’. He of all politicians knows perfectly well that the UK cannot ‘run out’ of money, and that the scare about the deficit/debt is all a big con. This was Gordon Brown’s approach in 2008 before he was strong-armed by Harriet Harman, Jowell and the right into a ‘sop’ to neoclassical economics (neoliberal mythology).

    It makes sense that the right/Progress would want to undercut a left wing agenda… but where do the Eds really stand?

  7. David Pavett says:

    I have tried to follow Labour’s policy processes closely for the last two years. What I found was that (1) the great majority of Party members, even very active ones, have little idea about the processes, (2) very few participate, and (3) the process of adoption of policies by the Annual conference is a farce.

    Jon is right: the root and branch reconsideration of Party policy set in train by Ed Miliband shortly after becoming Party leader has turned out to be a sham. First Liam Byrne sat on the Policy Review for 18 months ensuring that it did nothing. The Jon Cruddas took over declaring that the process would be opened out and that all Party members would be encouraged to participate. That to has turned out to be a sham. The Your Britain website is poorly designed and so badly conceived that all it creates is a babble with no clear direction.

    Information previously available on such things as the membership of the Policy Commissions has disappeared while information was ported to the Your Britain website. Most (all?) of the Commissions have always failed to publish their meeting dates, agendas, papers considered and decisions made.

    On top of that I have found that when one writes to Shadow Cabinet members asking for policy information the standard answer is total silence.

    Real policy gets made completely apart from the NPF, the NEC, the JPG, and even the Policy Commissions. This was made clear by the Balls and Miliband speeches. Next week Steven Twigg is to make a keynote speech outlining Labour’s educational policies. There has been no prior issuing of discussion papers. The Your Britain website has nothing on our school system (even after three years of Gove rampaging through the system). Labour’s policies are announced by its leaders and that’s an end of it.

    Labour’s official policy processes are, as Jon says, treated with contempt. Unless the NPF makes a big fuss about this and asserts its rights the farce will continue. That doesn’t bear thinking about.

  8. John says:

    Syzygy. Maybe progress dont want th Eds to promise I achievable things on pensions, but they haven’t got the power to influence the Eds and I dont think they’re the ones who convinced the Eds anyway, regarding Mandleson and co, not wanting a labour landslide so EU can re align Lqbour with the line and distance the unions, the bit about t he unions isn’t true, and I don’t think a landslides going to happen,

    Why do you think Harman had any influence on Gordon, and Gordon didnt stop spending, he increased borrowing

    David how do you now that Byrne did nothing on the policy review he’s the one with the welfare ideas now, and he passed a lot of info o Cruddas,

    Whatever mark Sedona has said is sceptical too,

  9. Rob says:

    Progress may not have the power, I suspect the MP’s that follow it do, which of course is many of the New labour Byrne Murphy, Blair Mandy and the rest.

    I think New Labour are up and alive with no intention of allowing Ed either of them to go anywhere near the left, and I think the public will decide to stick with what they have, and I would not blame them.

  10. John says:

    Rob, are you really saying hat Byrne who’s been a M.P 8 years, not backed by any major part of the party, or Co-op, Fabians unions, or has a clique, somehow is making Ed keep him in the shadow cabinet and suggesting welfa reform ideas,against Eds will?

  11. Rob says:

    Me I say nothing, being disabled I see no difference between Cameron Osborne Miliband Balls Byrne or anyone of them, Middle of the road new labour.

    I must be evil I now get placed into moderation…

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