Chair’s report – The Labour Party policy-making machine – A simplified general structure.
Constituency Party (CLP)——–Officers/Executive Committee/From Branches.
Regional Labour Party—–Full time Officers/elected members.
Regional and National Policy Forums.
National Executive Committee (NEC)—-consists of General Sec and full-time officers plus elected members and trade unions. Oversees Annual Conference policies between Annual Conference.
Annual Conference—–Policy making body—-for a week?
The Parliamentary Party (PLP).
Role of Party MPs
In opposition—–should MPs simply follow Party policy as defined by Annual Conference if a given political situation changes? If not, how do we strengthen the relationship between Branches, CLPs and the general membership?
If in power—–Role of Cabinet. Cabinet members faced by senior civil servants and advisers. Also House of Lords. How should they deal?
When in power as is clear from past experience, the Cabinet does not always follow Party policy and on many occasions has ignored both MPs as well as Annual Conference policy. How do we counter such a situation if decisions are intended to come from below?
As I have said before at branch meetings, politics is very much the organisation of conflict, and even more so today within the Labour Party. But at its root for change is our Leader’s political perception of changing the way that we ‘do’ politics in the Labour Party. The question that flows from such a position is, how will it be achieved? It will certainly not be easy, and if members are to achieve a greater say what changes will be required in the way Labour Party policy is not only arrived at, but carried through? In facing up to such a question we must firstly look as to how the Party is organised at present, and the roles played by the different structures that exist in today’s Labour Party.
For example, at a local level we have the membership. They attend their local Branch which has its own elected officers. Then there is the local Constituency Party organisation, again with officers elected by the branches, which in turn is overseen by a Regional Office of the Labour Party. The Regional Office is staffed by full-time officers and elected members. Its role is to ensure that the rules of the Party are upheld, and deal with any issues within Regional Branches that may arise, as well as overseeing any nominations for individual members who wish to stand as either an MP or Councillor. Also at a local level we have fringe groupings such as Momentum, and affiliated Trade Unions who add pressure to arrive at Party policy, both locally and nationally.
In terms of building National Labour Party policy, it requires in the first instance for a local branch to put together a branch proposition which is then discussed at a Constituency Party (CLP) meeting prior to Annual Conference. A vote is then taken by those attending the CLP meeting and a decision arrived at. The CLP proposition then goes forward for consideration to the Labour Party Annual Conference. But there is also a process whereby an individual Branch can make its position known on a particular issue by writing directly to the NEC. The present system allows for an individual Branch to make its feelings known, but it is difficult if not impossible to know if such an action has any effect on a given policy outcome. Of course this is not the end of the policy making process. Branches and CLPs must accept that policy decisions are also taken at both National and Regional Policy Forums whose decisions may run counter to a particular Constituency Party or Branch position.
And so through this process, individual members are distanced from any final policy decision. The question posed is, if decisions in the future are driven from below, how can local members be more directly involved in policy decisions? It also asks the question, does a CLP have a role in the future? And what is the role of the CLP? What is the role of the Branch? What is the role of the Regional Party? I doubt if these questions have even been addressed by the Party given its complexity and challenging nature. However, as I hope I have made clear, the above is a simplification of the policy making process.
But what when the Party is in power? Here if we are to consider changes that directly involve the general membership and of Branches, how will they organise? That will by definition place under the microscope as to how the PLP functions in Westminster as well as the role of the Cabinet. When in opposition the main role of the Shadow Cabinet and the PLP is fairly straight forward. Their role is to challenge the presiding Government, and look to either defeat, amend or change Government policy. But when in power, we are faced with the traditional roles of both Government and Cabinet. From an historical standpoint, it is not unknown for example that a Cabinet both ignores Party policy as well as its PLP.
As to the House of Lords, its demise has been discussed since the beginning of the 20th century, but it is still there. Do we need a Second House, and if yes, should it be an elected body based on proportional representation to ensure it has the authority to challenge policies passed in the House of Commons?
Above are just a few ramblings of the Branch Chair. Its intent is to open up a debate as to how the Party organises and sets policies in the 21st century. Any comments or opinions gratefully received, as if we are to achieve a more open and honest approach to political decisions, members really need to enter into the debate in order that in the first instance the Branch can have a position. We also have to show that a new form of political engagement is the way forward. Given recent Branch debates, the Bridport and District Labour Party could be at the forefront of that debate.
Some interesting reading as to the forms of political organisation we have been subjected to, as well as the economic challenges we face in today’s global economy.
The Iron Law of Oligarchy——Michels.
Elitist theory Mosca and Pareto. Geraint Parry
A Brief History of Neoliberalism David Harvey