How should Labour make policy? How can members become more involved? How do we reflect the views and values from across the party and wider labour movement? How can you harness the expertise and interests of members, local government, the Parliamentary Labour Party, socialist societies and trade unions? Is Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) the answer – and if it isn’t, what is?
Labour’s democracy review has been considering how to improve the party policy-making process. This ongoing work led the national executive committee (NEC) to postpone this year’s NPF elections. The leadership elections and Covid-19 pandemic have paused some of the democracy review work, but they have not reduced the appetite for members to get involved in deciding party policy.
There has always been some cynicism about the NPF. When I was elected as a London Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representative in 2012, I remember sharing the news with my fellow councillor Gary Doolan. He laughed heartily at what he always referred to as the “national powerless forum”, of which he was also a member. The NPF meeting in Milton Keynes in 2014 was a particularly surreal experience, and probably not the best way to make policy. Even then, there were some fantastic policies put forward by CLP reps that did make it into the 2015 manifesto.
When it comes to improving or replacing the NPF, a key part of the challenge is finding a structure that reflects the views of our entire labour movement. The current NPF structure successfully represents this breadth, with a careful balance of reps from CLPs, trade unions, affiliates, the NEC, the PLP, the shadow cabinet and local government. NPF members are listed on the policy forum website.
The NPF plays a key role in drafting policy documents for conference to debate and vote on. This in turn contributes to Labour’s manifesto, agreed by the Clause V meeting. Policy voted on by conference does not necessarily make it into the manifesto, and policy resets itself after each general election. This means that the policies in previous manifestos are not automatically party policy now, and we are at the beginning of a new process to produce our next general election manifesto.
As part of this new process, Labour has launched the 2020 policy consultations. The NPF is divided into eight policy commissions:
- Economy, business and trade:
- Health and social care;
- Early years, education and skills;
- Justice and home affairs;
- Housing, local government and transport;
- Work, pensions and equality; and
- Environment, energy and culture.
There is a lot more that could be done to improve the NPF. We could hold full NPF meetings more regularly – and elect a chair! For many years people have been calling for more online meetings and events to make the NPF more accessible. People have also called for more transparency, including what happens to submissions. And I’ve asked for us to live stream non-confidential parts of meetings, and plan to do this for a future justice and home affairs meeting.
In the meantime, the consultation runs until June 30th. You can find out more about how to get involved, online events and how to make a submission here.