It’s very easy to be cynical about the Labour Party’s policy making process. My God is it easy.
In fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s not just easy, but the rational thing to do. If we take Einstein’s definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. “ then cynicism as Labour launch their latest way of involving members in the policy making process is probably the sanest mindset possible.
But here’s the problem. If those who – like me – have urged the Party for years to open up our policy making processes, to trust members and to allow an open and frank conversation to take place approach this latest initiative with disengaged cynicism it will fail – but this time, it will be our fault.
I spend a great deal of my time talking about how the Party must open up policy making to members. Having been given a preview of the Your Britain website last week as a member of the National Policy Forum; and having talked to the policy team whose job it is to shepherd the website into existence and then develop it as it grows organically, I believe that the Party is making a genuine attempt to do just that.
There is a new spirit of transparency in the air at Brewers Green that I’ve not encountered before. It must be all those windows. There’s also a sense of adventure that is new and tangible; A can-do, let’s-give-it-a-whirl attitude that is about doing and learning from doing, not about over-cautious not doing. The feeling I got, is that the staff are up for it.
That presents cynics like me with a challenge. We’re being given a real chance to prove ourselves. We’ve got a real chance to give Party members a voice. But it will need champions.
It is so much harder to be a champion than a cynic. You have to encourage people through the lean beginnings when there isn’t much content. You have to take part, put yourself out there and get involved. If we want to convince our leaders there is an appetite for policy discussion in the Party, we need to start by getting involved in that discussion, and getting others involved too.
If we don’t; if we start by believing it won’t work so why bother, we prove those who don’t trust us with the policy process right. We’ll have nothing to show for our lack of efforts except the truth that this time we will have failed our Party – not the other way around.
Let’s not let that happen. Let’s go out to our Constituency and Branch meetings armed with publically published policy papers for discussion. Let’s note those discussions and feed them back into the process through the website (where you can post as a branch or Constituency if you so choose). Let’s comment on each other’s ideas. Let’s encourage others to comment on ours.
The first few weeks of the website will be a precarious time. As the Labour Party is being completely open, they are open to abuse. With anyone allowed to comment, at first anyone will. People who exist only to be unpleasant will have a field day. If those of us who are enthusiastic about member engagement don’t get involved in equal measure, we abandon the field to them. That’s no way to win a campaign.
If we can garner genuine member enthusiasm – the way we did with some of the responses to the Refounding Labour process – and couple that with the genuine desire of the staff and of the Chair of the NPF Angela Eagle to make this work, this has a chance. If we can make this the go to place for Labour policy discussion, the Shadow Cabinet will have little choice but to engage. They need to know what’s going on after all.
Things happen in the Labour Party all too frequently that activate my over-developed cynicism gland. But I’ll be damned if I let that natural reaction lose me the chance to champion the one thing I’ve been urging the Party to develop right from the start: an open, interactive policy process.
Three cheers say I, until I am proved otherwise.