Over two hundred members of the extended Labour family came together over three days to pore over documents, argue about values and spending priorities, agonise over wording, and, ultimately, set out the vision for Labour’s policy platform as it seeks to prepare to govern.
The backdrop was a quite incredible week of by-elections, which really could not have been more helpful for Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves – the very real taste of an election triumph epitomised by the record-breaking victory in true blue Selby and Ainsty. Yet the perfect note of caution from Uxbridge – ‘still a long way to go’, ‘this is what happens when you don’t get the policy right’, ‘still got to convince people we are on their side and can be trusted’. These were the refrains that echoed round the hall, as defeated candidate Danny Beales was paraded on the platform at the start of the weekend as an almost ghostly warning of how Labour members and candidates will feel the morning after the next election if they do not stay focused and disciplined at this policy weekend.
The National Policy Forum process works for the entirety of an election cycle and is a complex, democratic process by which all the parts of the Labour Party ecosystem get to help shape and influence the party’s policy agenda. Party members are elected by their regions as representatives, Trade Unions have delegates, affiliated societies such as the Fabians, Disability and LGBT groups, and the Co-Operative Party all have their representatives.
Policy submissions are accepted over the course of the year, committees meet and debate them and then a draft document is produced for this National Policy Forum weekend which is meant to set out the basis of a manifesto document. Delegates can submit amendments which are then discussed at this summit and either agreed, withdrawn or an alternative text approved. If no agreement is thrashed out over the three days of workshops, plenaries, side meetings and debates, then a vote is taken of the whole forum. Only a handful of amendments got to this stage this year and they were all roundly defeated by a hall which was determined to support the leadership and demonstrate the party is serious about winning and to prove itself ready to govern.
That’s not to say there weren’t strong disagreements throughout the weekend. The missive from the Shadow Treasury team that there be no uncosted spending commitments meant that there was genuine disappointment amongst the membership and Trade Unions that proposals such as scrapping the ‘two child limit’ on welfare and universal free school meals weren’t accepted.
There were long debates and amendments on how we progress to Net Zero while protecting jobs and the cost of living. And perhaps the most passionate discussion was around workers rights, with the Unite union ultimately walking out of the process and refusing to sign up to the document at all.
This will not necessarily be seen as a disappointment to Keir Starmer and his team though, who will have been keen to show the public the party has changed, that they are building a manifesto in the public interest and with strict fiscal discipline, and that they are not reliant on the unions.
In all, Labour’s top team will feel very satisfied with the weekend. They have got through a potential minefield with their proposals pretty much intact, no major concessions having been made and sending a clear signal of a party which is committed to fiscal discipline and with a clear determination to win.
The next obstacle will be Labour conference in October when the amended document will be published and debated. This will then be a foundation document, building on the five missions that Keir Starmer has set out, that will form the basis of the manifesto – one which the party is now really starting to believe – will be a manifesto for an incoming Labour government.