The following is a report back by DAN CHAPMAN, DEB GARDINER, SIMON BURGESS, KAREN LANDLES and MARTIN PHILLIPS – SE CLP representatives on the National Policy Forum
When he became leader of the party, Ed Miliband announced the Refounding Labour consultation to review the way the party works. The consultation received over 3,000 individual responses and over 150 from local parties. We took part in debates in local parties and regional events and many of you also contacted us with your views. A draft report was produced in August and a final report was debated at Conference. We wanted to report back on that debate and the outcome, as there are some important changes in the ways local parties work – and there are also some outstanding issues that haven’t been resolved yet, such as possible changes in the role of Conference and voting at Conference.
As we are sure you will have read in the media, the final document debated at Conference was only issued a couple of days before the debate. Together with NPF colleagues across the country, we made it very clear that this was totally unacceptable – but the whole process since the closing of the consultation has been slow because of negotiations between the leadership, PLP, NEC and unions. Despite those discussions, the most controversial issues were not agreed at all and so the report does say “further discussion will be needed” on several matters, included the policy-making process. We also passed on the views yet again that we heard from almost all CLPs ad members we talked to – that the continued debate over party structures means we are not starting the vital work in developing the policies we will take into the next election. We need to resolve the remaining structural issues quickly so that we can produce winning policies for our campaigns.
REFOUNDING LABOUR DECISIONS ON PARTY STRUCTURE
The party should be community-based and campaigning
New Clause I that mentions community campaigning
New objectives for CLPs and branches
Training for members
Let local parties organise the way that suits them
Local Government Committees to be replaced by Local Campaign Forums that meet to plan campaigns
Party to become a mass movement
Registered supporters who should be invited to some meetings and socials (at least one policy discussion a year), and asked to help in campaigns
Registers supporters to get a vote at Conference – between 3% and 9%, depending on numbers, to come equally from LP, union and PLP sections
Strengthened commitment to equal opportunities
Work with unions to have more joint activities
Use our campaigning methods to help community campaigns
Invite national organisations (charities, pressure groups and voluntary groups) who share some aims and views with us to commit to long-term dialogue with the party. How this will happen is not yet clear.
A party we can be proud of
Leader and deputy to have rights and duties set out
Leader appoints shadow cabinet
Rights and duties of MPs set out
Contracts for candidate at all levels
More engagement of councillors in party discussions
Local party AGMs not held in run up to elections, so moved to Summer
CLPs to have development plans approved by regional boards
Regional Boards to have strategic function
New distribution of subs – CLPs no longer charged for Contact Creator, Election Insurance and Euro elections. They will get a flat annual fee + amount per member. Plus new local joining rate of £15
Councillors to pay a levy from allowances (2%) instead of ALC subscription
Please let us know your views on these changes.
The review of policy making did produce some recommendations, and we are pleased that there appears to be progress on concerns that you (and we) have raised again and again.
Most members support the retention of the NPF model, which allows debate of an enormous range of subjects in depth. However, this review must also be the last chance to get the NPF process right. The leadership have acknowledged that members feel disengaged from and suspicious of the NPF. What happens to submissions is opaque; there are no reports back to the party between annual conferences; shadow cabinet teams discuss policy ideas in isolation; and, as the leadership now recognise, party members have sometimes been right on issues such as council housing and PFI when those in Westminster have been wrong.
The report on policy making at Conference was an interim report – there will be further consultation until the end of January, although as NPF reps we believe that final decisions could have been made by now. Peter Hain recently sent an email to party members about this consultation. We would like as many members and local parties to contribute as possible, as it will help us make the case for your views to be heard. The link to the party website page for the consultation is here.
Some changes that we have put forward after consultation with local parties have been agreed:
More involvement for party members:
We need to explain the process and how people can get involved
There should be more local debates (many parties do not have any at all)
It should be easier for people to send in submissions
Make it transparent:
Have an online tracking system for submissions, so that those sending submissions can see what is happening
NPF commission members must give more detailed feedback on submissions, including the results of discussions
Use technology to hold debates
Reach out to the public:
Engage outside organisations and speakers at debates
Invite registered supporters to discussions
Topical issues – relevant policy commissions will deal with these
Too few of them and discussions are not always meaningful
Allow socialist societies to attend, to add their expertise to debates
NPF reps to have a job description and contract
New intranet to allow NPF members to communicate with each other
Need to report back
Take evidence from experts, not just party and union members
All reps to be able to attend meetings
Votes as now
Minority positions from NPF can be discussed at Conference if they achieve sufficient NPF support
Debates need to be linked to documents, not just free-for-all
As reps our greatest frustration is that our biggest complaint has still not been resolved. We are elected by party members to be representatives and yet we still have no official access to mailing lists of those we are supposed to represent. You are reading this report because we have your email address, but many SE members never see our reports. This must change.
We also agree with the vast majority of members we speak to – it is time that we should be debating policy, not how we have our discussions. It is 18 months since the general election and although the next general election could be 3 ½ years away, elections are not won in 6 weeks. We have elections for councils and in London next year, county elections in 2013 and euro elections in 2014. The public want to know what we stand for and what we would do if elected. So as NPF reps, we are constantly pushing the shadow cabinet to start looking at the biggest issues in detail. Already we have sent our own consultations to SE parties and members about some issues, and we will do more of these – we hope that you will be able to use our surveys to hold your own debates in your local parties. As we know from council housing, PFI and other issues, party members often recognise problems before those in Westminster, and we can use the NPF process to highlight problems where we need policies.
So we urge you to hold policy discussions locally, and please ask us along to take part, so we know our views.
You can always contact us through our website www.npf-se.org.uk and there is also more information on party policy-making and the policies of our opponents on the site too.