Partnership Made Easy – Labour’s Policy-Making Process 2006 / 2009
The National Policy Forum (NPF) has 184 members (55 elected by constituency delegates at annual conference; 22 elected by regional boards/conferences; 30 from the unions; 9 MPs; 6 MEPs; 8 ministers; 3 from socialist societies; 3 from the Co-op Party; 4 from the Black Socialist Society; 9 from local government; 2 members of the House of Lords; 1 Labour Student; and the 32 members of the National Executive Committee). It meets two or three times a year.
Between meetings all work is carried out by six policy commissions, listed below with their e-mail addresses. They can also be contacted by post at the Policy Unit at national headquarters.
Britain in the World (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Creating Sustainable Communities – housing, environment, local government, transport, the regions, culture, media, sport (email@example.com)
Crime, Justice, Citizenship and Equalities (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Education and Skills (email@example.com)
Prosperity and Work – combines the former economy and trade and industry commissions (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The commissions have between 16 and 22 members, with about half from the Forum and the rest split between NEC members and relevant ministers. NEC members act as co-convenors and represent the NEC on the Joint Policy Committee, which also includes Forum and government members. The JPC decides how the Forum operates, agrees policy recommendations, and signs off final documents.
Under Partnership in Power all policies are reviewed during a parliament, and the results should underpin the next manifesto. This cycle began in 2006 with an over-arching document, followed in 2007 by the second-stage papers which outlined emerging policy choices. Final papers covering all policy areas will be agreed at Warwick-style Forum meetings in July 2008. As before, the Forum will decide whether to offer any choices to annual conference, with thirty-six votes needed for an alternative position. Only a handful ever reach this threshold. While constituencies cannot directly shape the conference agenda, they will now be able to submit formal amendments at the final stage, but will rely on their regional representatives, including constituency NEC members, to pursue them at the Forum. The draft final documents will be circulated early in May 2008, with a deadline of 20 June 2008 for amendments to reach Forum members.
Throughout the process, papers are drafted by ministers and party staff, agreed by policy commissions, considered by the Forum and revised by the commissions. They are then distributed for discussion at local forums, constituencies and branches and published on the web. As before, documents will go to annual conference for approval without amendment, except where the Forum allows a vote on alternative positions. Constituencies may submit contemporary issues to conference only on matters not covered in reports from the Forum, the policy commissions and the NEC, which are published in late summer. (After decisions at conference 2007, resolutions are no longer accepted.)
The commissions are also responsible for day-to-day dialogue with the party, and this cycle promised better feedback, more information on the web, and interactive discussions. There is more emphasis on current issues, and commissions will publish their priorities in annual work plans. However members should feel free to write about anything, whether or not it is in the workplans. Remember, Forum members do not see submissions – please send copies to them directly, so they know what you think.
Finally, many obstacles face ordinary members trying to get elected to the Forum. The Partnership in Power co-ordinators network is much more accessible. It offers special briefings and the opportunity to feed in members’ views, and could provide a bridge between the grassroots and the centre – contact myself or the Policy Unit at party headquarters for information how to join.