Ann Black – my favourite NEC member – emailed me (and many others) ahead of the first National Policy Forum in two years. As a former member – who served two two-year terms – I would have been gutted if it had not met for 2 years; it’s a good weekend for a political hack.
You could argue that the NPF has never seemed more important. Labour has basically been policy-less for the whole period it has not met. But, of course, that is not true. Instead, I am beginning to wonder whether Labour should abandon the whole sham.
That you can play a part in making policy in the Labour Party is hugely important for most of its activists. The structure of democratic accountability from party conference through to councillors attending their monthly ward meetings matters to these people. And these are the people that the Labour Party depends on.
People don’t join the Labour Party to make policy. Seyd and Whiteley’s seminal studies show that people join the Labour Party to get rid of the Tories. And the majority of the party membership never gets involved in policymaking.
Some do get involved, but they don’t actually make Labour Party policy. It’s a sham that enables both sides to get terribly upset when ‘the leadership sells us out’ but otherwise show total disregard for each other.
It is a sham that could continue uninterrupted. And that might avoid a fight.
But it is democratically offensive that you can pay £25 (or whatever it is now) to join the party and therefore have a voice in what a government does. Particularly when you are part of a small sect of >200,000. If Labour policymaking meant anything, a well-organised group would have tried infiltration in the last 25 years. That it hasn’t ought to be of huge embarrassment to the party’s membership marketing; it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.
It’s also expensive. The Labour Party is broke and has better things to be doing. It’s time-consuming – time that would better be spent on campaigning and talking to voters. And mostly it’s dull. The party doesn’t invest enough for it to be informative, deliberative and engage with the public.
Labour policymaking could be meaningful, profound and an incentive for recruitnment. It could hear evidence, have solutions framed, hear from public servants and specialists, and be run by well-resourced people. It isn’t – and it is never likely to be.
Instead, why don’t we focus on doing what we do best and why people join the Labour Party?