NATIONAL POLICY FORUM Update
for Welsh Labour party members
End of year report 2012By
Annabelle Harle, Darren Williams, Nick Davies and Donna Hutton (Welsh CLP delegates to the NPF)
This bulletin gives an update on our activities as representatives of Welsh Labour members on the National Policy Forum (NPF), the party’s principal policy-making body, since our re-election in the summer, along with significant recent developments like the launch of
Agenda 2015 and the ‘Your Britain’ policy hub (www.yourbritain.org.uk). We are available to discuss any of these issues with party members in Wales and welcome invitations to speak at party meetings.
Welsh party members re-elect sitting policy reps
We are grateful to Welsh Labour members for the vote of confidence they gave us in the elections to the constituency section of the NPF that were held in the summer. Wales has four CLP reps, plus one additional youth rep, on the Forum, in common with every UK region. This was the second time that the election has been conducted by an all-member ballot and three of us who were first elected in 2010 (Annabelle, Nick and Darren) all won a second term, standing once again on the Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) slate, alongside Donna Hutton, taking over from Gail Giles, who is now a cabinet member on Newport City Council. Donna is well-known to many Welsh Labour members as a Welsh Executive rep for North Wales, a full-time Unison official and a former parliamentary candidate. The four of us overcame competition from five other candidates (four of them backed by ‘Progress’, the self-styled ‘New Labour pressure group’). The youth place was secured, unopposed, by first-time candidate, Pearleen Sangha from Swansea West.
We see the result as an endorsement of the platform set out clearly in our individual election statements and in our joint literature, namely:
that the party nationally should make a decisive break with the market-driven policies it adopted during the ‘New Labour’ period – and, in so doing, it should look to the positive experience of Welsh Labour’s record in devolved areas like health and education;
that Labour’s policy development and decision-making should become more open and accountable – and we aim to practise what we preach in this respect, by circulating detailed reports of our activities on the NPF and making ourselves available to give verbal reports.
We have also worked closely with Mark Whitcutt, who was re-elected unopposed at Welsh Labour conference in February, as one of the two ‘regional’ NPF reps who are delegated by conference to represent the whole Welsh party (his fellow regional rep is now Diane Green of Unite, taking over from Stella Matthews).
PF Birmingham meeting – June 2012
The weekend of 16/17 June saw a two-day session of the NPF at Aston University in Birmingham – the third and last meeting of the 2010-12 term, coming (rather oddly) after the ballot had closed for the 2012-14 term but before the results were declared. It was the first meeting for a year (notwithstanding a couple of telephone conferences). Annabelle, Darren and Mark went along, as did Stella, attending her final meeting before her term ended. In an important sense, however, it was more like the first meeting of a ‘new’ NPF than the last of the old Forum, since the body is ‘under new management’. Peter Hain has been replaced by Angela Eagle as NPF chair, while Jon Cruddas is now leading the policy review, taking over from Liam Byrne. (Harriet Harman described Cruddas and Eagle as ‘resolutely rooted in the party’ and added that if Labour had listened more to the party when in government, ‘we would have done things differently’.) There were indications that we were going to see a more transparent and inclusive approach to policy-making, and this has been borne out, to some extent.
When most of us attended our first NPF meeting in November 2010, Ed Miliband had recently been elected leader and there was a lot of emphasis on the need for the party to learn from recent mistakes – both in relation to its substantive policies and to the process of policy formation, known as ‘Partnership into Power’ (PiP). When NPF members highlighted problems with PiP, such as the lack of feedback given to party units on their submissions and the lack of a clearly-defined role for most NPF members in policy-making, assurances were given that these issues would be addressed. Yet, despite a further meeting six months later and two telephone conferences, at which the same complaints were made, there was little evidence of any progress until the change of NPF leadership. One immediate tangible improvement at the June meeting was that the main discussion papers were circulated in good time and NPF members were even given online access to the submissions received in response to the previous set of consultation papers (although not sufficiently far in advance of the meeting as to allow reps time to read the hundreds of pages of text). Spreading the meeting over two days allowed a change of plan on the second day, making reps feel that progress was indeed being made, and afforded us more opportunity for discussion with reps from other regions.
The meeting included policy workshops on each of the party’s six key policy areas, additional European-themed workshops organised by an organisation called the Foundation for European Progressive Studies
(which, it seems, had provided much of the funding for the weekend) and four major plenary sessions. Of the latter, one focused on Ed Miliband’s keynote speech, one was on Europe while the other two dealt with the progress of the party’s policy review and reform of the ‘Partnership into Power’ process.
Ed Miliband’s speech
Ed began by thanking everyone who had contributed to Labour’s success in the local elections, before turning to the political picture. Among the points made were:
the public economy and private economy are mutually dependent and should not be divided
the Leveson revelations were a symbol of what was wrong with politics - the Murdoch empire should be broken up
Austerity isn’t working at home or abroad - the Tories are standing up for the wrong people, governing with the wrong ideas.
Reward should be related to effort - we can’t continue to have bosses paid 100 or 1000 times what their lowest-paid employee gets.
We must be seen in the future as the first generation to ‘get’ climate change, not the last generation
not to get it.
We have to raise people’s expectations about politics, and show that we’re not ‘all the same’.
We don’t stand for the rich and powerful but for ordinary people. We have to look like the country we seek to represent – we can’t rest until 50% of MPs are women and we have addressed the lack of working-class representation.
It’s not enough to deliver competent government; we have to offer a vision of a different kind of society, based on responsibility, solidarity and community – the values of the British people, which are not reflected by this government.
In the subsequent plenary, Annabelle asked Ed to be aware of the potential implications for Welsh Labour of heavy UK Labour involvement in the "Better Together" campaign in the Scottish independence referendum campaign. He made it clear that he recognised the sensitivities involved.
There were initial policy workshops on the Saturday – one for each of the six policy areas covered by a commission. The discussion in each of these sessions was based on a short document summarising the main issues that the party needs to consider in drawing up its manifesto. In a novel development (and one that had not been possible at previous one-day meetings), two specific items within each policy-area that seemed, on the first day, worthy of detailed further discussion were given a stand-alone session the following day.
Of the initial workshops, we were able to cover the following:
the Health workshop with Andy Burnham: the key themes here were the need to start from a ‘whole person’ approach to health and social care and to develop a system fit for the 21st century, not the twentieth, recognising that a changing reality was putting the system to the test and exposing the cracks between health, social care and mental health services. Darren pointed out that healthcare was much more integrated in Wales than in England, due to Welsh Labour’s rejection of the internal market.
the Education & skills workshop with Stephen Twigg and Sharon Hodgson, which touched on a wide spectrum of educational issues from childcare to schooling to further education. Concerns were expressed about the present government’s cuts in Surestart and its loan system which jeopardises the future of adult education. When the discussion turned to special educational needs, Mark highlighted the Welsh approach, including the shift to additional learning needs, the integration of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Welsh government policy and the all-Wales autism strategy. Annabelle added that Wales was following its own path on education, had a sound comprehensive system and had retained the EMA. Stephen Twigg said that England should have followed the Welsh approach on 14-19 education.
the ‘Britain in the World’ workshop, which was attended by a number of shadow foreign and defence ministers. Points were raised on aid to developing countries, the Millennium Development Goals, the European Union and Iran’s nuclear programme (the latter two raised by Darren). But the main discussion was on the issue of Trident replacement, which was strongly opposed, for a variety of reasons, by most of those who contributed to the discussion - including Annabelle - but doggedly championed by John Spellar, impervious to opposition.
the Crime, Justice, Citizenship and Communities workshop with Chris Bryant and David Hanson, which did not excite as much concern about anti-social behaviour as its discussion paper anticipated. Mention was made of the police commissioner elections and of alcohol-related crime. Annabelle raised alcohol as a health issue as well as a crime-related one, costing the country a great deal of money, and called for measures to discourage excess drinking, citing the success of anti-smoking moves. She also asked for attention to the plight of asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work. There was concern that the relaxation of employment law, allowing "no-fault" sackings, could become a racist charter.
The specific items chosen to be covered in more depth were:
Britain in the World: Making the Case for Europe; & 21
st Century Defence Capabilities;
Crime, Justice, Citizenship & Equalities: Anti-Social Behaviour; & Police & Crime Commissioners
Education & Skills: Schools More Accountable to their Local Communities; & Routes from School to Work
Health: An Integrated Approach to Care; and Future Funding of Social Care
Prosperity & Work: Regional Industrial Strategy; & Employment Rights
Sustainable Communities: Sustainability & Accessibility of Transport; and Housing in the Private & Social Rented Sectors.
Of these, we covered:
st Century Defence Capabilities, which was almost exclusively about Trident – this had been identified by many reps as a key issue of the weekend; they attended in strength and delivered an even more emphatic rejection of renewal than the previous day. The chair of the session, Ellie Reeves, acknowledged the opposition to Trident but said that this was not necessarily representative of opinion in the party as a whole and that there had to be a wider debate.
Schools More Accountable to their Communities: there was some recognition that the last Labour government had bent the stick too far, in English education policy, towards empowering schools – especially Academies – to manage their own affairs, at the expense of overall democratic accountability and that this had enabled the Con-Dems to give schools even greater freedom. Stephen Twigg seemed to want to restore some of the political responsibility
that used to rest with LEAs in England (and still does in Wales) but without being seen to undermine ‘parental choice’. Annabelle argued that LEAs are the best way to plan, ensure consistency, pool services, etc. and talked about Cardiff comprehensive schools that enable every child to fulfil their potential and celebrate every talent.
‘Jobs Growth in Europe’ was a discussion of the Eurozone crisis and its likely outcome by a panel consisting of an academic, a shadow Treasury minister, a Dutch MP and a business lobbyist, chaired by the economist and Labour peer, Stewart Wood. The panellists provided useful insights into the unfolding drama but they seemed to share a somewhat top-down, technocratic approach to the crisis, based on the assumption that the preservation of the Euro, and economic stability generally, were more important than social justice.
In ‘How can the Left win again?’, Douglas Alexander, Peter Kellner, a leading official of the Australian Labor Party, and a Swedish MP discussed how social-democratic parties can present an electoral platform true to their fundamental values while also appealing to voters. Alexander observed that centre-left parties’ period of relative success beginning in the late 1990s had come to an end after the economic crash and also acknowledged that Labour had, in the past, wrongly presented globalisation and European integration as unalloyed good things. Again, this was a fascinating discussion, and the international aspect very welcome, but there were few concrete suggestions as to the way forward.
Prior to the plenary session on PiP Reform, NPF reps had already received two documents on improving the policy process: an ‘official’ one (presumably written by the Joint Policy Committee – the ‘executive’ of the NPF) and one from the Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO), the umbrella body for affiliated unions. The official paper included welcome commitments to make policy-making ‘
more transparent, accountable and responsive’, with ‘shorter consultation documents produced each year, focussing on top political priorities – including options and choices where appropriate – with new guidance on how to get involved’. The proposals as to how reform would be delivered were, however, rather hazy or tentative (e.g. ‘consideration’ would be given to allowing NPF members not elected to Policy Commissions to attend their meetings, while an ‘online policy forum to host debate’ would be an ‘aspiration’, ‘pending available resources’.) The TULO paper was a bit more concrete, its main thrust being the need for year-on-year continuity of the policy papers, which could not be amended other than by party units or affiliates, who would send their amendments directly to the relevant Policy Commissions, with the latter putting these to the full NPF if they could not agree. TULO also wanted greater clarity and consistency about putting alternative (majority & minority) positions to party conference.
In the plenary session, Angela Eagle invited suggestions as to how the process could be improved. The following comments were among those that seemed to command broad support, and which she appeared to take on board (although it was unclear how far she was making a definite executive decision to adopt certain proposals, and how far she was simply acknowledging those that fitted broadly with the vague commitments in the paper mentioned above):
that all NPF members should be on policy commissions
that there should be greater reflection of the experience of Wales and Scotland (Annabelle & Mark)
that alternative policy positions should be put to conference (based on the TULO submission)
that the party needs to be in better position to engage our allies in discussion
that the NPF needs a separate web platform (as promised by Peter Hain)
that NPF members need to have access to the submissions to the policy process made by individuals, party units/affiliates and other organisations
that each policy commission should publish a newsletter giving an update on its work (every six months or so, it was suggested)
that ordinary party members need to believe that they can propose policy and have it adopted.
In the plenary session on the Policy Review, Jon Cruddas set out his thoughts about the general approach that he felt the party should be taking. He described the present political situation as a historical turning-point, which represents a major opportunity for Labour, if we are ‘up for it’. He pointed out that on previous occasions when the party had lost power (1931, 1951 and 1979) it had gone on to tear itself apart, whereas, fortunately, that hadn’t happened in 2010. Labour now needed to do what it had succeeded in doing on those occasions when it had won big electoral victories in the past (1945, 1964, 1997) and successfully contested the ‘national story’. We should be saying that the Tories are simply managing decline, whereas Labour is about rebuilding. Cruddas admitted that there had been problems with the ‘PiP’ process in the past but was keen to learn from NPF reps’ views and experiences as to how the review should move forward. In the session that followed, a large number of disparate points were raised, to which Cruddas responded with evident interest and enthusiasm. He also said that 29 policy groups had been established to examine policy in detail, each led by shadow cabinet member. It was unclear, however, how their work would be synchronised with that of the NPF itself. In the weeks following the Birmingham meeting, this point was underscored by significant policy announcements – by Stephen Twigg and Jim Murphy on ‘military schools’ and by Ed Miliband on banking reform – that had not even been discussed by the NPF.
There was a definite feeling, among those present in Birmingham, that the post-2010 NPF was at last getting down to business, after the ‘false starts’ represented by the earlier meetings and telephone conferences. Angela Eagle’s down-to-earth and businesslike chairing and approachability was a breath of fresh air, while Jon Cruddas’ approach combined intellectual seriousness with a sensitivity towards electoral considerations. The introduction, on the second day, of more focussed discussions on particular issues was a very welcome initiative, as was the more concrete discussion than hitherto about reforming the PiP process. All three of the present writers who attended the meeting also highlighted the need for policy papers to reflect developments in Wales and Scotland if this is to be more than just an ‘English’ Policy Forum – and this point seemed to be embraced by both Eagle and Cruddas.
Within a few days of the Birmingham meeting, Angela Eagle had emailed party members with a brief summary of the event, including links to the text of Ed Miliband’s speech, the policy papers and the contact details for their local NPF reps. At about the same time, she emailed her congratulations to those of us who had been re-elected to the NPF, providing useful links and saying that the recent meeting had been ‘just the start’ of ‘the process of reinvigorating the way we make policy’. She added that ‘I know more than anyone how frustrating the Party’s policy making process has been in recent years, which is why I’m so committed to changing it. Ed and I will be setting out more detail of how we propose to take this forward in the next few months. That means we need to involve our members, trade unions and affiliates in shaping the policy process.’
Changes to PiP agreed at party conference
In September/October, the party conference agreed a package of reforms to the PiP process that had been presented by the NEC. The main elements of this are:
A new online ‘Policy Hub’ where party members and the public can read papers, make submissions, suggest amendments, etc.;
A more structured process, with a clear timetable, and NPF members having the opportunity to make decisions on the content of policy papers at annual Forum meetings – even involving voting (a rarity at present);
A reorganisation and expansion of the policy commissions, with a greater focus on economic issues, reflecting the changed political landscape following the financial crisis;
An opportunity for annual conference to choose some of the key topics that the NPF will consider in any given year, by means of a Priorities Ballot at Conference;
Better feedback for Party members who get involved, with an online audit trail for submissions and amendments.
This package involves less of a role for party conference than that proposed in the TULO paper and, in fact, a rule change motion from Bridgend CLP, which would have given conference the right to amend NPF documents, was ruled out of order on somewhat questionable grounds.
and Your Britain
The name of the new policy process is
Agenda 2015 (‘PiP’ having been dropped, after 15 years). The new ‘policy hub’ website was launched on 22 November and is open to everybody. Annabelle was able to go to a preview meeting at party HQ the previous week, where the head of Policy Development demonstrated how the website works. The site is called Your Britain (www.yourbritain.org.uk) and, although there is a link to it from the party website, it is a standalone site accessible to everybody, not just to Labour members or registered supporters. It is clearly intended to tie in with the ‘One Nation’ concept set out in Ed Miliband’s conference speech.
will be the home for the manifesto for the next Westminster general election, which will be developed under the rubric of Agenda 2015. It will be, to continue to use the jargon, a portal for submissions and a campaigning and engagement tool, and the plan is that it will be led by the NPF. On the site, one can read policy documents, make submissions, comment on other people’s submissions and vote (only Labour party members will be able to vote). There will be information and updates on the website too and a forum for NPF reps, which will not be open to the public.
The hope is that, with anyone able to use the website, there will be community engagement, as well as submissions from NPF reps and party units and, importantly, from affiliates (the unions and socialist societies), as well as external organisations. NPF members are expected to inform and enthuse other party members about the process and act as champions for the site.
There are currently ten ‘Challenge Papers’ on the website. These are concise documents on each of the priority areas chosen at conference and are intended to stimulate debate, on the basis of which a policy paper will be published in the spring, setting out options for the party to consider. They are out for consultation until
28 February 2013. The ten Challenge Papers, and the new policy commissions responsible in each case, are as follows: Stability and Prosperity Policy Commission
A British Investment Bank: making it a reality
Stability and Prosperity Policy Commission
Tax avoidance: tax havens
Work and Business Policy Commission
Protecting workers: including the role of agency workers, the living wage, and Gangmaster Licensing Authority
Work and Business Policy Commission
Vocational education, apprenticeships and the role of job guarantees in tackling youth unemployment.
Living Standards and Sustainability Policy Commission
Our buses and railways: giving communities more of a say
Education and Children Policy Commission
Childcare: what matters to parents and children?
Stronger, Safer Communities Policy Commission
The housing crisis: house building and a private rented sector that works for Britain’s families
Health and Care Policy Commission
21st Century NHS and social care: delivering integration
Better Politics Policy Commission
Young people and politics: making a fresh start
Britain's Global Role Policy Commission
Britain's role in a post-2015 development vision