Why I’m running for Labour’s NPF
I have decided to stand for a place on 184 member strong Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF), and if I get the necessary endorsements from my and other Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), I’ll be asking, nay, begging for your vote in May/June.
My election manifesto is simple enough: I would like to see the NPF abolished. If elected to the NPF I will campaign for its end within a two year period. I encourage other candidates to stand on the same manifesto.
I have previously set out my reasoning for the abolition of the NPF, and simply provide a somewhat abridged version here:
1. Good intentions do not lead to effective policy making, or member involvement in policy making, and the party needs simply to accept that what we have now does not work for the vast majority of members, who feel alienated from the whole policy making process. Relatively few people in the labour movement understand the NPF, and probably even fewer trust it to deliver ‘effective policy’ (even this term is contestable).
2. The party needs to accept that there are limits to the effectiveness of the kind of deliberative/semi-democratic NPF structure now in place, and Labour – if it really is to engage more members and non-members – needs to embrace the messy, but creative dynamics of contested power, scrutiny of and challenge to authority.
3. First of all, the often lengthy NPF process is simply unsuited to the demands of modern government and opposition. The public, through the media, demands on-the-spot policy responses from those at the top of the national party hierarchy, and media statements about policy inevitably become that policy. It is pointless to pretend that it can be otherwise.
4. More fundamentally, the current NPF process lacks accountability. There is no-one within the process to whom ordinary members can go and ask about what happened to their or their branch’s policy submission, whether it was accepted, why it was rejected, and what’s going to happen now.
5. Ultimately, the problem is that structure has been developed as a way of disguising power asymmetry in the party. To tackle this, we need the complete abolition of current process in favour of one which acknowledges that power is (and should) always contested and contestable, and which puts accountability of senior party people at the heart of the process, rather than allowing them to use a complex ‘deliberative’ NPF structure as shield.
6. We need to build accountability back into the process . The best way to do this, having abolished the NPF, is to invest both authority and accountability in the place where most members of the party see it invested anyway, and where they have a real and meaningful point of contact.
7. This is the local MP (and MEPs), or the local PPC in places where there is no Labour MP.
8. To replace the failed NPF we need to establish a process – indeed culture – whereby branches/CLPs/affiliate groups, and perhaps also individual members, can make legitimate policy demands of their MP/PPC, asking them to promote their policy proposals and ideas.
9. The parameters for this process should not be set out from ‘on high’ as they are at the moment (with pre-defined policy areas), and the power to raise policy ideas/concerns should fit squarely with local parties. It should then be the job of the MP/PPC to feed these policy ideas directly towards the Parliamentary Party hierarchy (and European Labour Party) and to report back directly to local parties on what steps, with what level of success, they have taken.
10. This whole process should be part of a wider configuration of the MP/prospective MP role, whereby s/he should become answerable to the local party. Local MPs should start to see themselves as akin to the CEO of a charity, in which the members elect Trustees (in the form of CLP officers) to oversee theMP/CEO, and the MP/CEO presents, say, an annual business plan to the ‘trustees’ for approval of business expenditure) and regular monitoring.
11. Where policy matters are expressed in local terms by local parties, it should be up to the MP to extrapolate as need be to develop wider policy recommendations for submission to the Cabinet/NEC, in conjunction with other MPs as s/he feels necessary/useful.
12. This will create a much more dynamic structure for the policy making process, with accountability back to members built in as part of an MP’s performance by which s/he is judged when it comes around to selection trigger points etc..