What Labour can learn from the Liberal Democrats

November 15, 2010 10:04 am

Lib dem logoBy Emma Burnell / @scarletstand

The Labour Party are in the long running process of reviewing it’s Partnership into Power process, the way in which policy is decided by the party as a whole, by the National Policy Forum and by members. This will be a long and exhaustive process, and at the end of it, we will need to have a robust process where policy is discussed and debated and that we see our ability to do so as a credit to us, not a discomfiture to the leadership.

Many Lib Dems I know are rightly pleased with their internal policy making process, feeling a real democratic buy in. Sadly this is now being stretched to the limit by the difference between Lib Dem policy, and the actions taken by Lib Dem ministers and MPs in government. There seems to be little point in having policies you won’t enact. The public simply won’t believe you if you campaign on them having done the opposite in government.

So Labour need to find a way to square these tensions. That way cannot be the top down policy imposition of the past, but neither can it be the case that policy cannot change as circumstances do. We need to learn both the positive and negative from the Lib Dems current circumstances.

My own idea would involve both expanding and strengthening the National Policy Forum (disclosure: I have recently been elected for the first time to the NPF). At present, I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that the NPF is not taken very seriously by the party machine, and this needs to change. It is the voice of the members in policy making and needs to be given the status that deserves.

But the NPF needs to be a more able body to make that kind of policy. It needs far greater representation from all parts of the party and debates need to be facilitated online between the sporadic meetings. There ought to be special conferences of the NPF called when the leadership feel the need to change policy from the decided course and – like the coalition agreement was to the Lib Dem members – the membership must decide if it is the right course. I have a great deal of faith in our current leadership to be persuasive if a change is required.

I want us to be an attractive party for both former Lib Dem voters and activists (we can teach them how bar charts work), and in order to do so, we need to give them what they thought they had in the Lib Dems until sold out by their leadership.

More than this though, I want us to be a mass membership party with a voice in every community. We won’t do this until the voices we have are being heard at all levels of the party.

Emma Burnell also blogs here.

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