At the end of July, the Labour Party held it’s final National Policy forum, I didn’t attend but from the reports I read, I found aspects of this extremely disappointing, although I wrote about it on this blog, in an article called the Gestation of a Manifesto. I am extremely disappointed by the lack of democracy on the day, the failure to report back, the failure to involve members, both in their localities and on the internet. I was disappointed by the results and the undue influence of members of Labour’s front bench. I am also disappointed by what seems to be the current “consensus” and struggle to see how it can be seen as one, when the fiscal and economic policy, policy on renationalising the utilities and railways and on renewing Trident are demonstrably so far from where the weight of opinion in the Labour Party is. Also the policy on Housing and Education and frankly Social Security is still unclear.
Jon Lansman tells the story at Left Futures, making the point that what seems to be consensus is based on coercion and that the role played by the elected members of the NPF is less than that of the shadow front bench or their special advisors, most of whom are chosen for their press and presentation skills rather than their policy expertise.
During the run up to the NPF meeting, within the Party, in our constituencies, we were asked to discuss the proposals for the programme and propose amendments. These then needed to be forwarded by NPF delegates who were limited in the number they could propose. When we were discussing which policies we wanted to propose, and see debated; one comrade stated that it was a waste of time since it would be ignored. In Lewisham Deptford, we discussed and voted on Trident replacement, which we opposed and Housing and Digital Liberty which we supported. I have been trying to see what happened to our proposals. I have received a mail from the Regional Office telling us that the reps met to agree their proposals, and if I wanted to know more I should write to them. This I have done and the great new labour bit bucket has consumed my correspondence, except for Sam Gurney, who can’t even publicise his email address properly and so I get a mail bounce from him. It would seem that the individual who suggested it would be ignored was right.
Perry’s and Baxter’s reports show the trap we are all in; if we criticise the process, and criticise the results we allegedly weaken the Party’s appeal to the electorate. Somehow inventing policies such as top up tuition fees, Trident renewal, privatising the royal mail and meeting the Tories welfare spending budget without a mandate doesn’t do this.
One of the things that has got lost on the competing nexus of the theories of the Overton Window and Triangulation is that politicians need to give people a reason to vote for us, both in terms of programme and conviction.
On top of this there was no formal report back to members, no publication of the programme, the wag who suggested “Your Britain” would allow the front bench to ignore the members at webscale was also proven right. There’s very little conversation going on at “Your Britain”. It is in fact a bit shit, like the National Policy Forum. I am unclear if this failure to talk to each other is based on a need to own the faction, or a result of the scorched earth policies adopted by New Labour and its successors, but the intellect and generosity committed to Labour’s policy making needs to be much greater.
I thought hard about whether to finish and publish this, and express how disappointed I felt. These notes were written/coalesced just before conference in 2014; so it’s taken my 18 months to publish it as at the date I originally wrote it. It’s part of my personal truth and reconciliation process. Perhaps I should have been much louder, but the right and triangulation had won. I had played by the rules, and lost. One problem in leaving it so long, is that the sadness and foreboding has been erased from the writing. They seem to forget, we can always leave.