Don't take my word for it. I have just caught up with Ann Black's latest NEC report. This is available in parts (for easier reading) on the Labour Democratic Network website.
On policy making she wrote:
Policy-making seems to have moved not only beyond the NEC but beyond the national policy forum and conference. Near the end I discovered four glossy booklets entitled “Towards a new economy”, “Britain’s role in the world”, “Restoring responsibility, strengthening our communities” and “Fulfilling the promise of Britain”. Maybe the papers came from the elusive shadow cabinet working groups. They appear hastily compiled, with inconsistencies, identical quotes attributed to different people, and repeated paragraphs, but they make interesting reading.
This begs a critical question. Why should any CLP bother to send delegates to Conference? As for hapless National Policy Forum delegates, what is the point?
There are remedies. The NEC could reshape Conference and make it a deliberative assembly. Until CLPs organise, nothing will change. Except of course the number of CLPs sending delegates to Conference will probably continue to decline. Just like membership.
Did the Labour Party 2011 Conference have the power to change its Rule Book in the manner in which did in Liverpool?
That is a question posed by former-MP Harry Barnes commenting on my previous blog proposing a constituency labour party (CLP) boycott of next year's event in Manchester, unless the national executive committee agrees to a radical change in the format to enable proper debate.
I can't see in the old or new rules where the NEC has the authority to put these changes to Conference in the way that it did - and without the proposals being circulated in advance to CLPs and affiliated bodies for proper consideration. The method of changing the rules seems to me to be a violation of the natural rights of the membership and are probably in conflict with Human Rights legislation. Furthermore, I do not remember us being informed at the time that the endorsement of the conclusions to the Refounding Labour exercise (which was itself untaken in a entirely undemocratic way) would immediately be crowned by rule changes. We could do with a sympathetic Labour Lawyer looking into these matters.
Ed Miliband's election as Labour Party leader a year ago was hailed by Neil Kinnock with the words, "We've got our Party back". Well how wrong can you be? Party head office (HO) took nearly six months to set out its thinking about the future of the Party. My own advice to Peter Hain MP , the apponted elected chair of the National Policy Forum was to look at the recommendations of the LabOUR Commission set out in an interim report in 2007, and the request to HO to access internal data to look more closely at the state of the Party on the Ground. He ignored the work of the 16 Labour Party members involved, and the evidence based approach adopted.
Two particular questions would have been posed in an audit of membership and organisational data:
1. How many electoral wards in the UK are there no Labour Party members
2. How many electoral wards in the UK has the Labour Party got an established branch that matches those boundaries?
At the time I don't think that anyone could have answered the first question, though I'm happy to be corrected. But I do know that today a report can be generated from Member Centre by any e-literate CLP officer to show in which electoral wards the Labour Party has members and how many.
Labour's electoral success increasingly depends on being able to optimise the vote whereever it is - in parliamentary, devolved assembly, or regional government elections with a PR component. That ought to have underpinned Refounding Labour with data provided by HO to help provide essential reality checks to that debate.
Instead both our new Leader, Ed Miliband and his chosen henchman,Peter Hain who replaced Pat McFadden MP as NPF chair, have allowed themselves to be sidetracked by vested interests. Not I hasten to add in the trade union movement, but in the Parliamentary Labour Party, and the Association of Labour Councillors aided by the siren call of community organisers such as the recently ennobled Maurice Glasman, and the Movement for Change, together with comforting reassurance from Labour First's John Spellar and its secretary and NEC constituency representative, Luke Akehurst.
To the extent that there is anything worth salvaging from the proposals as set out are the sections on Party Finances, and the easing of the HO stranglehold over Young Labour. At least there is a recognition of something completely rotten in the way in which HO has dealt with both membership subscriptions and YL for a long time.
But there is no strategy for rebuilding the party using the resources it has from the electoral ward up. That is/ought to be the basic building block for party organisation and financial strategy. If Party officials haven't got their brains round that in the light of the proposed reduction in parliamentary seat and reviews every parliament, then they should and very quickly. Far too much stress has been placed on CLPs many of which are likely to be wiped out before the next General Election. Too little attention has been paid to organisational/accountability issues for local government. Refounding Labour has simply caved in to representations from leading sitting councillors to abolish Local Government Committees.
For any inquisitive journalist wanting to dig a little deeper into the harsh realities of this bungled consultation, there are delicate questions about who controls the levies currently paid, for example, by Labour local councillors - the incumbents ie sitting councillors, the LGC or local parties? No prizes for guessing.
The national Labour Party as proposed under Refounding Labour will be a stronger agent for the Leader, incumbent elected representatives and those who aspire to follow in their footsteps. I have come to the view that they are getting the services of volunteer members on the cheap. Members are in effect being asked to help the careers of their elected representative without even getting an on going say in the policies of the party, nationally, regionally or in many cases locally. The proposed levies on the elected representatives need, arguably, to be far higher given the model of party organisation proposed.
Peter Hain in his covering letter sent to all e-literate members yesterday said:
We want to open up our process of making policy, both to give party members greater say and to enable supporters and voters to feed in their ideas, so that the party leadership keeps in much closer touch with public opinion.
Well, I'm sorry, Peter, you had your chance with the Refounding Labour consultation and you failed. Why should we believe you? Inquisitive journalists might want to ask him whether any open and transparent consultation systems were proposed at the outset, and why they were refused, not just once but repeatedly through from October 2010 until the present. We even have the unedifying spectacle of Ed Miliband promising on Twitter on 16 July 2011 that Refounding Labour submissions where possible should be published. We are still waiting with less than 72 hours to go before the proposed soviet-style vote on the Refounding Labour package
At this very late stage in the process, there are few options open to those with doubts. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is circulating an Emergency Resolution calling for the vote to be deferred to end of Conference. My own view is that a Resolution from Bridgend calling for a Special Conference made more sense. Though in the absence of publication of submissions (still), my own branch (City of London) took the view next Spring would be better to allow adequate time for reflection.
Of course, no reasonable loyal member of the Labour Party want to see its Leader publicly humiliated at Conference. Equally, no reasonable loyal member of the Labour Party wants to sacrifice the Party again to save a Leader's face. If we have not learned that from the Blair/Brown era, I fear we are doomed to be out of office for a while longer.
So who's the Party's 'national treasure' who will step up to the rostrum in Liverpool on Sunday afternoon to move remittence of the proposals? If Ed wants to regain the initiative, he could do it himself or be a ready seconder.