Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Members Matter - How The Labour Party Should Develop Its Policies

Every morning I spend a happy time tweet-chasing, scanning down my twitter-feed, following the likely-looking links.
Today, in the swirling chaos of the (not-always destructive) debate which is the current Labour Party…

Swirling chaos?

Yes, swirling chaos! The Labour Party as I write is not just divided between ‘right’ and ‘left’. It is a maelstrom of competing economic, social and political theories from right-of-Tory to Marxist revolutionary with every shade of prejudice in between. EVERYBODY ‘has a theory’. People are threatening to resign ‘left, right and centre’ – a ‘rightist’ blogger named Luke Bozier HAS recently done so, ironically just as Ed Balls took a massive lurch to the right ... a move which in its turn has provoked a similar threat by Len McClusky.

How The Labour Party Is Developing Its Policies
In all this swirling chaos, then, one article today caught my eye. It is by Simon Carr and entitled: Labour lost in thought (and time, and space).
It is a fascinating account of how ‘a group of Labour MPs, pamphlet writers, Stewart Wood and other interested parties met in a Commons committee room on Monday afternoon to discuss how to get the party out of opposition and into government’.
Then it goes on to describe what they all said.

Two things, of different importance, struck me about this article.

The first was how utterly aimless it was. The author (who I am sure is a nice man) fluttered from one opinion to the other, indulging in a bit of bitchiness here, irony there, in a register of detached academic amusement. There was no fire, no urgency – and above all no answer … just an ‘interesting’ mix of competing, unrelated statements, justifications and theories. Mr Carr was intellectually stimulated – enough to inspire his article – but all his involvement (and indeed the whole meeting) achieved was to add to the swirling chaos.

My second observation, however, is even more important. Because, reading this article, I got for the first time some idea as to how this Labour leadership is forming its ideas and its policies.
As an complete rank-and-file Labour member – I am not even a CLP officer, never mind of regional or national status – I have been utterly bewildered by the recent policy announcements.
To tell you the truth, I was delighted to see the two Eds united in their message. I even agreed with a lot of what they said. But I could not understand how they were making these seismic policy announcements, not only without running any consultation or even communication process through the Party, but before even the end of the consultation with members about what their role in policy-making should be.

In his article, Len McClusky exhibited the same bewilderment: ‘No effort was made by Labour to consult with trade unions before making the shift, notwithstanding that it impacts on millions of our members’.
Us too, Len, us too! No effort was made by Labour to consult with its own members before making the shift, notwithstanding that it is we who will have to campaign on this platform.

And this not just at member level. According to Peter Kenyon (and others) there have been virtually no meetings for years of the National Policy Forum, which has clearly fallen moribund.

So whence – since 2008 – has policy been emanating?
Well Mr Carr has given us an insight; from by-invitation-only focus groups of academics, journalists and MPs. And out of that rarefied, isolated, privileged elite are coming the policies that ordinary Labour members like you and I are then expected loyally (and that is the word advanced) to accept.

The Labour Party has become an oligarchy ruled by the intellectualensia.
There is no wonder things are going awry.
The is no wonder that Labour policy has degenerated from a pragmatic, agreed platform to a blue-skies debating society of ideas.

Labour Must Start To Consult Its Members
The solution is simple and I am by no means the first, only, or most important person to say so: THE LABOUR PARTY MUST START BY RECONNECTING TO ITS MEMBERS.

I have three ideas about this:

Firstly, there are soon to be elections for the NEC. Before you agree to support any candidate, tweet them to get an absolute assurance that – once elected – they will support member-consultations about policy, and a re-empowerment of the National Policy Forums. (And get them to promise that they won’t forget their promise when they, too, become by election members of the apparatchiki.)

Secondly, you are probably unaware that there is a consultation underway (final date 31 January, so you don’t have much time) asking members how the Party might better involve members in policy-making. You MUST complete at least the first question in this consultation (‘How do we ensure that members feel closer to the policy making process and more able to participate?’).
I would be delighted if somewhere also you could support my proposal for the Party to develop and send ‘discussion briefing-sheets’ direct to Branch Secretaries so that members at Branch level might debate and comment on Party policy and proposals … preferably before they are formally launched to the nation. At least that would help the leadership to make their wording less inflammatory, even if they ignored members’ wishes about the actual policies.

And thirdly, do you think there is any point in lobbying your MP? The Parliamentary Labour Party is quite as opaque as the Labour leadership, but one or two things I have been hearing have led me to suspect that they, too, feel excluded and bypassed. So perhaps they, too, could be recruited to campaign for greater democracy within the Party.

At the moment, the Labour leadership is making pronouncements based on academic analyses of the polls; it MUST learn also that it needs also to find out what its rank-and-file are thinking.

Or NO ONE will vote for them in 2015.


  1. I think that only MPs should elect the Leader of our Party that then gets rid out the over represented focus groups and advisers who have no idea of every day life MPs would ensure that the Leader had what it takes to lead in Parliament where it matters not by Unions and CLPs

  2. I think it is a case of organisation. The simplest way to do this (sorry talking about policy)is to hold regular policy discussion at ward level and make sure it is fed into the Policy Forum. Also dont forget individuals can have some input. At this time I am so pleased the issue of capitalism is on the menu. We should not miss the chance of weighing in and saying a. How we think the shoddy and shaddy practise can be brought under control. The Party has to understand, because they don't it seems, that trickle down wealth does not work and WILL NOT be supported by Labour members.There are lots of ideas for reform but we are letting Cameron come up with them.Is it for instance time to call for a form of the Glass Steagle Act brought in in America after the banks turned bad (destroyed by Ragan)

  3. And for comparison: http://labourlist.org/2012/01/the-politics-of-the-seminar-room-is-costing-labour

  4. Jon Lansman hits the nail on the head: http://www.leftfutures.org/2012/01/the-real-divisions-in-the-labour-party-and-what-ed-should-do-about-it/