Wednesday’s Yellow Pages at Conference 2017

Each year the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Left Futures and Labour Briefing (the magazine of the Labour Briefing Co-operative), produces a guide to conference called Yellow Pages. This guide aims to help delegates understand conference goings-on and point out which motions to support in order to best support Jeremy Corbyn and the policies he supports.

Wednesday’s version of Yellow Pages can be downloaded here.

  1. Congratulation to Islington North CLP delegate, Cllr Gary “reference back” Heather for being so on the ball. It was argued in these columns that it was important for Labour Party democracy to send a signal to the National Policy Forun and its Policy Commissions that low quality policy work would no longer be tolerated. We said that to send that signal one or more of the appalingly bad Policy Commission reports should be referred back. In the event three of the eight reports were subject to references back.

    This is very good news for Labour. We will see what Jeremy Corbyn has to say later on today about making the party more democratic but to have conference refusing to pass inadequate policy docunents on the nod is surely a good start.

    The NPF and its Policy Commissions clearly need to be revitalised. The old guard have been sitting on their hands hoping Jeremy Corbyn would go away. The left members of the Policy Commissions have not, for the most part, made any serious attempt to fight their corner. In fact one might even suggest that in detailed policy matters some of them don’t even know what their corner is.

    Some on the left dream of the old days of policy making through Annual Conference alone, without properly constitued bodies working on proposals throughout the year. Given the detailed work required that is simply unviable. What we require, however, is that those bodies do the work they are charged to do in a thorough and professional manner. No one who has followed their work closely over recent years could believe that they even vaguely approximate to that.

    What Conference has done this year, nevertheless, is to show in embryonic form how things could and should work.

    The NPF and the Commissions should be far more active, do far more research and should call on the expertise of party members where it is on offer. It is, for example, disgaceful that Labour’s affiliate the Socialist Educational Association, despite years of asking, still does not have a representative on the Early Years, Education & Skills Commission.

    Party menbers should be informed about Commission meetings, their agendas and materials to be considered. And high quality draft policy documents, including where appropriate, infomaton about altrnative ideas, should be put to the members in time for informed debate to take place.

    And then the final docments for Conference should be thoroughly discussed so that Conference is able to keep an alert, watchful and informed eye on the result.

    All of this requires great commitment and a lot of effort but no one who takes democracy seriously has ever thought that it was easy.

    • Great news indeed on the three references back ! I knew about the work, pensions… one. Which were the other two ? Has the NPF ever had their poor stuff referred back before ?

      • It’s in the Yellow Pages:

        Following Monday’s successful reference back on social security, yesterday Conference again asked the NPF to reconsider sections of its report, this time on health and education. Conference’s new power to “refer back” is proving to be a significant improvement to party democracy.

        That’s my only information so far.

        • Important as is it the reference back consists of just a paragraph or so. It would be worth storing this fact when we find criticism in the future. Paragraph references which are clear and show an obvious omission can get noticed by a massive ‘clumsily organised audience. In the case of the Education Report, I understand the reference back relates to the absence of reference to a Labour Government intending to take schools back to Local Authority control. It is symbolic and serves well in reminding the members of the appropriate committee that at least some Party members will notice when they try to get away with saying nothing or little. That symbolic value will serve a good purpose for the future, but we do need to ensure that its members start to believe they are making a contributions that will go somewhere rather than thinking that they are trying to find a least offensive construction and will await those in more powerful positions determining what we go go forward with.

      • I forgot to say in my response above that this IS a first time there has been a reference back of anything in an NPF Annual Report. A crack has appeared in the moronically monolithic and entirely manipulated policy process. We need to make of much of that as we can. The references back are a toe-hold for progress and not a guarantee that it will happen.

        • David, do you think it could be worth trying to get CLPs to pass motions to this effect? I reckon Momentum is strong enough here in Oxford to get something like that through if it wanted to.

    • The perceived need for a throughout-the-year body working on detailed policy is no reason not to restore the policymaking primacy of Labour Party Annual Conference. The two should not be conflated. They are not mutually exclusive, unless one is unduly conservative about party structures.

      Nor should one hark back to a golden age that never was. In the 1980s, true: Conference decided policy. But the reality of the situation was that the right-wing NEC used to be in complete control of policymaking regardless of Conference decisions. This was done through the ruse of its lengthy policy statements, which it always held to prevail over any incompatible composite resolutions.

      It should be possible to devise a rolling programme which is worked upon from autumn to late spring then published, so that CLPs and affiliated organisations can make amendments to it, which can be composited, debated and voted upon at LPAC. One would need to devote most of Conference to this task. The resulting document, as amended, would be the definitive programme of policy, until superseded at the next LPAC.

      Detailed policy development and the primacy of Conference would thereby be combined.

      The status quo by contrast is a flop. There isn’t a magic human being tree which will repopulate the National Policy Forum with better people. More importantly there isn’t much sense of ownership of policy. It is all rather distant. At present some decent policies are materialising, but are too much the gift of the party leader of the day, liable to disappear when he goes. These difficulties can only be remedied by a Conference devoted overwhelmingly to policymaking on the rolling programme model.

      • In my opinion considerable work needs to be done on how conference is organised on the debates itself. Also in clarity in Chairing and limit capacity to ensure adequate debate is held. So many people loose their way in a grasp of what is at stake and is being discussed. Still so much depends upon the random selection of the ‘three’ people to speak. If the three most decisive contributors do not get through all can be lost. It is probably for this reason that other reference backs did not happen – three ‘light’ contributors made it to the rostrum. We need to give thought as to how during a debate we can get over the randomness of electing speakers as a result of the ‘wild waiving’ of Corbyn football scarves and the display of blown up parrotts. Something more effective than relying on a shortsighted Chair with a wondering finger picking the women with the ‘flowery dress’ half way back on this side would make an improvement. 1200 hundred delegates baying for attention as at a football chorus will not serve the best of outcomes. The ‘Ancient Greek’ style of debate may be not be sufficient as the conference becomes too massive for due consideration. Depth and due consideration can be minimised by those wanting to ‘showboat’ and talk about how great their own constituency efforts have been or whether they are the oldest/youngest ‘first time’ speaker to have ever appeared at conference with the obligatory and constant ’20 seconds’ of wasted applause time along with the ’30 seconds’ off their three minutes of lost time as the ‘flowery dress’ even gets to the rostrum. It all good fun and human but it has a cost in policy outcomes.

        Is it for this reason that parliament has three readings along with committee stages, I wonder?

        • I would have thought a radical reorientation of Conference towards policymaking would lend itself to the abolition of the three speakers maximum.

    • Yes, excellent news! 3 out of 8 isn’t bad at all, especially given how little discussion there was of the NPF documents. It will be interesting to see how the NPF reacts.

  2. Yes working groups of 20 could be elected by the party OMOV and it doesn’t have to be at Conference (with each candidate having to write a 100 word statement – only committed, passionate and organised people need apply!) and the group could consist of experts and experts by experience ie housing – 5 academics, 5 housing workers/campaigners/3 social housing tenants/3 owner-occupiers/3 private renters/1 lease holder) and meet monthly for 6 months (and engage in discussions on-line in between) producing a report by March which goes to NEC then out to CLPs April/May to discuss and send amendments to Conference and if they wished the CLPs could have a public community conference on the draft for Labour members and voters/possible voters/people passionately interested in the issues.
    It could be done with the will, effective chairs, and organisation.