A Guide to the Mysteries of Labour’s Policy Processes

The mysterious way Labour makes policy is a constant puzzle for Party Members. A key Jeremy Corbyn promise was to make the policy process more open. Many expected a new and revitalized approach to policy debate, perhaps utilising the power of online technology, but the door remains firmly closed to most members.

So, what official policy process remains and how might it develop? Over the coming months Progressive Politics will explore not only how policy is made but how we might reinvent our policy process, something that we believe is crucial if we are truly to build on the desire for a ‘new politics’.

In this article, Trudie McGuinness, an elected rep from the West Midlands, explains the mechanisms and the membership of the Forum and what she sees as her role on the National processes for policy making. Readers are invited to contribute to an ongoing debate on how well policy is made in the Labour Party to follow up Trudie’s article.



What is the National Policy Forum?

Before I was elected to the National Policy Forum in September 2015, I asked myself this very question. As a long standing Labour Party member I had heard of the Policy Forum but I didn’t really understand what it was. I knew that years ago, when I lived in Leek and was a member of Staffordshire Moorlands CLP, that I used to participate in branch meeting policy discussions which would be fed into the National Policy Forum. But our ideas may as well have gone into a black hole for all I knew. No one ever said what would happen next. Perhaps they didn’t know.

When I heard about the election to the National Policy Forum, I set about finding out more – but I shall be honest and say that most of my learning has been on the job. The NPF is the Labour Party’s official policy-making body. It has around 200 members, which include elected members from CLPs, affiliated union representatives and members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, including Shadow Cabinet members. The breadth and depth of policy-making is huge, so the work of the NPF is divided into a number of areas. In 2016, there were seven policy areas of focus; this year there are eight, which are:

Early Years, Education and Skills
Economy, Business and Trade
Environment, Energy and Culture
Health and Social Care
Housing, Local Government and Transport
Justice and Home Affairs
Work, Pensions and Equality

I myself sit on the International Policy Commission. Last year we met monthly in London from February-June. For those who can’t make the meeting in London there is a dial-in conference call option. The IPC focuses on defence and security, foreign policy and international development and is very ably chaired by Cath Speight, the GMB’s National Political Officer.

Lest the discussions grow so wide-ranging that they become unwieldy, there is some guidance from the leadership as the particular focus that each Policy Commission should have in each cycle. The goal is for each Policy Commission to produce a draft policy update that will then go to the NPF’s Joint Policy Committee for review in the summer. The JPC acts as an adjudicator of sorts regarding the policy detail emerging from the Policy Commissions. Policy with JPC backing goes to the National Executive Committee for approval, after which it then goes to Conference for final debate and ratification by delegates. The expectation remains that the next general election will be in 2020, therefore we are still at the early stages of revising and developing party policy.

No one gave me a job description for the role of NPF representative. In the absence of such, I asked myself how I as a member would have liked to have been engaged within our democratic party in seeking to bring our values to life in policies that will resonate with the electorate. As a member, I would have liked to have known sooner how the policy-making process works. I would have liked to know who my elected regional NPF and union reps were and would have liked to know that if I shared ideas with them that they would find a fair way to feed our discussions into the policy-making process. I then would have liked feedback on how policy was shaping up.

This self-knowledge, as well as feedback from members across the country, has helped to shape the way I carry out my role as an NPF rep. As one of five West Midlands NPF reps elected from CLPs, I work with the others – Cllr Jacqueline Taylor, Cllr Miriam Khan, Cllr Christopher Bloore (who also sits on the Joint Policy Committee) and Jeevan Jones as regional youth representative – to ensure that we visit as many CLPs as possible to hear members’ views and feed those into the Policy Commissions on which we sit as well as the wider annual NPF meeting, which last year took place mid-November (delayed from its usual July scheduling).

As your regional reps, we agreed between us early on that in order to try to do justice to fellow members in our region that we would each be the key link person for a designated group of CLPs. I myself am the contact person for the twelve Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CLPs. Since elected eighteen months ago, I have remained in regular contact with those CLPs in particular and have already been guest speaker (or guest listener, as I prefer to call it) at all but two of those CLPs, as well as joining Chris Bloore and Jackie Taylor in their respective patches in Worcestershire and West Bromwich. In addition, all of the West Midlands reps have been engaged in member feedback events held at the regional HQ in West Bromwich. This year marks the start of my second round of CLP visits.

The main item on our International Policy Commission agenda from now until June, when our draft policy document goes to the Joint Policy Commission, is Brexit.  No surprises there. But that’s where the predictable ends. How do we as Labour propose that we get the very best deal for Britain post-Brexit? How will we craft a foreign policy that recognises the crucial importance of NATO alongside the challenges posed to geopolitics by a Trump presidency and a resurgent Russia? What role should we play in the Middle East and in dealing with the ensuing refugee crisis? And what price is too high to pay for workers’ rights in order to secure international trade deals?

We have a lot to discuss and a lot to think through. We need as many members as possible engaged in contributing to the big questions of the day, be they on Brexit or education, health, jobs and income, transport, justice, the environment or community affairs. I encourage all Labour members to have their say on the eight policy strands, which are set out for us online at  www.policyforum.org.uk. I myself am always happy to hear from members to provide updates on the work of the IPC and the wider National Policy Forum, either in writing or in person at CLP meetings. It’s your party, my party, our party. Together we need to claim the future of British  politics. We all have something to contribute. Do have your say.

Trudie McGuiness 21st February 2017

National Policy Forum Rep for the West Midlands

Twitter: @trudiemc
linkedin: Trudie McGuiness:
Facebook: Trudie McGuiness for Cannock Town Division

You can contribute online, or email ideas to policyforum@labour.org.uk.

The Progressive Alliance – first challenge

The Richmond By election before Christmas was a welcome victory but was largely a one off event. It appeared to show support for the Progressive Alliance strategy backed by Compass, but polls show less that this was an anti Tory vote than an anti-Brexit vote. Brexit is the defining issue of 2017. In Richmond, an pro Leave Tory was on a loser in a pro Remain constituency. Brexit dominates and this affects the Progressive Alliance strategy. The defining issue is not Tory V Anti Tory, but Leave V Remain. The country remains split and this is the factor that determines the political agenda.

In Richmond I would have voted Lib Dem, to defeat a Tory-UKIP backed candidate. Tim Fallon claimed the Lib Dems are back, but there are a string of Liberal by election victories back to Orpington (1962) which proved false. What it did show was that in strong Remain areas, the Lib Dem Remain stance is popular. But the other side of the coin is that in strong Leave areas both Labour and the Lib Dems – not to mention the Greens – are vulnerable to the UKIP Leave campaign, now joined by the Tories.

UKIP being second in 41 Labour seats, could pose a real challenge in Labour heartlands. And indeed the Tory Party can take Labour voters if they are successful in negotiation and Brexit remains the dominant fact of British political lie. . With a recent poll showing only 15% of Leave voters intending to voter Labour, the issue is stark. For Labour there is a real danger if the Lib Dems soak up pro Remain Labour Voters and UKIP/Tories soak up pro Leave Labour voters, lessening Labour’s core vote.

Labour failed to have by-election strategy in Richmond, linked to its lack of clarity over Brexit. However for the moment its the by election factor that needs attention. Labour can hold the line on its current position for the moment, but only if it manages to hold the Copeland by election in Cumbria. And that puts the Progressive Alliance strategy in the spotlight.

Copeland is Richmond in reverse. In Richmond a strong Remain electorate with the Greens backing the Lib Dems faced a Tory Leave Candidate backed by UKIP, and the Tories lost the seat. In Copeland a narrow Labour majority is threatened by a Leave supporting electorate. Some commentators think the Government could take the seat off the opposition for the first time since 1960. But the reality is less favourable for May, as the Leave vote is split between UKIP and Tory. I take it as read that Labour must seek to win the seat. Anti Corbyn sentiment is ludicrous, revolutionary defeatism does not work – for New Labour or the hard left.. Labour needs to lose the seat like it needs a hole in the head. And it can win, with difficulty, though the stats show the voters are moving to the right.

Elections in Copeland

2010 2015
Lab 19,699 Lab 16,750
Tory 14,186 Tory 14,186
Lib Dem 4,365 UKIP 6,148
BNP 1,474 Lib Dem 1,368
UKIP 994 Green 1,179
Green 389
Turnout % 67.6 63.8

With the BNP collapsed, the result in 2015 mirrored the Referendum vote with a slight majority of the voters in the General Election voting for Leave Parties – as the Tories must now be seen as Leave. Totals on the Big Issue of Britexit are as follows:

Leave Votes Remain Votes
Tory 15,866 Labour 16,750
UKIP 6,148 Lib Dem 1,368
Green 1,179
TOTAL 20,334 19,297

If the Tories can persuade UKIP to stand down and get their voters, with two thirds of the voters on June 23rd voting Leave, the seat is theirs. But UKIP needs to keep the pressure up on May, and the fear of a right wing victory should be worrying Greens and Lib Dems. For the Greens, there is no point in another Lost Deposit.

For Tim Fallon, life is more difficult. If the Lib Dems are serious about opposing Brexit, his party can’t afford a Brexit Victory in Copeland. Yet he is a Cumbria MP. He is trapped between supporting Labour as the Progressive candidate and his Party loyalties. This will be a test case for the Compass supported Progressive Alliance theory.

Only one thing is clear. No one on the Progressive Centre Left gains from UKIP or the Tories winning the Copeland By Election. There is no revolutionary defeatist position, whatever the New Labour Right or Hard Left may think. In Copeland, anything but a Labour win, however narrow the margin, is a major setback.

Trevor Fisher
8th January 2017