Ed Miliband stated his ambition to give members a 'proper voice' last month at the Labour Party's Annual Conference. If I were asked where to start, what would I advise? 'Sacking' Pat McFadden MP as the chair of the National Policy Forum is not where I would have started. Don't get me wrong, I am not shedding any tears for Pat himself. But the Party's whole policy-making process is so seriously flawed that there are some members would like to scrap it and return to formulating resolutions. That would be a mistake IMHO.
Some serious thought was given to the process by the unofficial LabOUR Commission in the wake of the 2005 General Election. Primary research was undertaken resulting in two LabOUR/YouGov polls in 2006 - the findings can still be downloaded from here . An Interim Report was published after the 2007 local elections and can be downloaded here.
The specific recommendations on policy making were:
6.16. Proposed reforms:
a) The NPF should be reconstituted as an openly elected body on a one member one vote (OMOV) principle from relevant constituent parts. Constituency section members should be elected by OMOV,
probably on a regional basis.
b) The Party should aim to make sure that the final policy document is fully reflected in the Labour Party manifesto in according with the Rules and Constitution.
c) Democratic participatory policy formulation will require a new Secretariat at arm's length from the Party in Government with a transparency protocol for the NPF and NEC.
d) The chair of each policy commission should be an NPF member elected by the NPF.
e) The JPC should be reconstituted as an elected organisational body to ensure effective coordination of policy making in a timely fashion. It should not have powers to alter NPF policy recommendations. Its members should be elected from within the NPF by the NPF.
f) The JPC should establish a clear timetable for the rolling programme set for each parliamentary cycle. This should be communicated to all CLPs, Branches, Labour Groups and posted on the web.
g) Consultative reports should be despatched to all Party units with an invitation to respond and a (suggested) template for responses allowing time for proper consideration of the proposals.
h) All Branches – either individually, grouped or through a CLP all members’ forum as considered appropriate locally – should be encouraged to have a special meeting to consider policy documents. There should also be a one page summary and briefing sheet for Branch Chairs/Political Education Officers (PEOs).
i) The contact details of all NPF members should be available so they can be invited to speak at the local policy forums.
j) Publication of all submissions on the Party website so other parties, members and affiliates can access submissions and cross fertilise ideas.
k) All parties sending submissions should receive an (electronic) acknowledgement and link to where it is posted within a month. After the closing date, an independent analysis of all submissions
should be posted on the website and, together with the response and actions of both the Policy Commission and NPF, circulated to parties submitting. Thus there is a clear audit trail.
l) When a PiP dialogue focuses on contemporary issues (e.g. the decision to invade Iraq), CLPs should continue to make formal submissions and send resolutions as they feel fit, but these should
be acknowledged, published and – on key issues – analysed. Branches should be encouraged to conduct the dialogue through their CLP in a collective democratic endeavour, which incidentally
would make the process more manageable.
m) Individual members and Branches who make submissions on policy issues electronically or in writing should always be acknowledged and provided with a response where possible. They should also be advised that if they are dissatisfied with the response that they can ask their Constituency Party to make a formal submission.
n) In the event of policy differences at the NPF, minority reports should be drawn up for debate at Annual Conference and/or CLPs and affiliated bodies should have the right of amendment to NPF
documents by resolution to Conference.
o) In the event of policy differences between the Party in Government and Conference, a new mechanism is required to enable the NEC to appoint a special working party comprising representatives of government, and the NPF to secure resolution within a limited time period after Annual Conference.
As of today, over three and a half years later, the NEC has yet to agree procedures for nomination and election to any Joint Policy Committee, National Policy Forum or Policy Commission positions. Nor has it embraced readily available web-based techniques to provide an audit trail for submissions. An example of how transparency might be achieved can be seen here.
Peter Hain, MP who is Ed Miliband's nominee to replace Pat McFaddan as chair of the National Policy Forum and possible joint convenor of the Joint Policy Committee will, if elected, face an uphill struggle to restore members' confidence in the party's policy-making process.
If I were him, I would be making sure that that the new Leader was seized of the need to put a plausible nomination and election procedure in place well before the NPF meets on 27 November. That is easier said than done as there is no National Executive Committee meeting until the following Tuesday, 30 November. Sorting this pdq would send a clear message to the party that policy making will be overseen by Labour people with democratic legitamacy, willing to be held to account.