Keir Starmer announced last week that there would be a new policy review led by the newly appointed party chair, Anneliese Dodds. No details of this review are available yet, but at the weekend the Labour leader announced that it would not start from existing policy in recent manifestos. It is a blank slate review. As Bernard in Yes Minister might say: “You can’t review a blank slate; there’s nothing on it.”
This week, Labour’s national policy forum (NPF) is due to launch a series of consultation papers on policies from the economy to education, the environment to health, home affairs to foreign affairs, and so on. Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) were told on April 23rd to expect the consultation to run from late May until June 30th. The consultation would lead to policy statements submitted to conference in September.
If this suggests a lack of joined-up thinking, there is also another review well underway. This one reviews the way in which the Labour Party makes policy and was launched with a questionnaire to all members in December last year. The first stage of the policy development review is now complete and a new consultation paper was distributed last month with a deadline for contributions by June 24th.
This last consultation includes a wide range of questions on the approach to policy making, the functioning of and the relationships between the NPF, the joint policy committee, annual conference and the shadow cabinet. In none of its 54 questions did the policy development review ask whether members would prefer a top-down policy review led by the shadow cabinet.
Pity the CLP policy officers, NPF reps and members who want to be involved in making party policy. Local parties across the country have been organising meetings to discuss the NPF papers and the policy development review. My CLP is Labour International, made up of 3,000 party members across many countries around the world, and we too have been meeting to engage members in all of these consultations. (We were well versed in Zoom even before the pandemic.)
Like many CLPs, we responded to some of the eight “interim reports” issued by the NPF at the end of last year. We organised special meetings, invited speakers, nominated members to do the drafting and approved submissions at general committee meetings. The new reports are expected to develop on this consultation and we are again preparing special meetings for the next two months.
I understand that the reports have been drafted, mainly by the shadow ministers’ offices, but may be delayed due to the reshuffle. Without these consultation papers, there will be no NPF policy statements to present to annual conference in September. Perhaps there will just be activity reports with no policy content – it has been done before.
My CLP has already organised three special meetings on the review of the policy process with another planned. We have submitted our views and have a second submission in drafting. This review, too, is expected to report to annual conference.
Now we have a muddle. Will all of our work be ditched by Keir Starmer’s policy review? What will be in the annual conference agenda? How can we review the policy process when it can be overturned by an ad-hoc decision taken during a stressful weekend in May? The truth is that we have no lack of processes for making policy, just a lack of policy. Perhaps Labour’s national executive committee could set up a review of all the policy reviews and reviews of policy reviews. In the meantime, let’s give the party some policy at Brighton in September.