After attending a South East Region Labour Party event on Thursday 17th January in Hastings, I was keen to find out more. Why does the Labour Party hold these working lunch consultation gatherings? Thursday’s event focused on Health and Social Care but was it just an empty exercise? What was going on?
Jeremy Corbyn often tells us “I keep being asked what will be in the new manifesto. I don’t know. I know what I’d like to be in it”. He answers this way because Labour is a democratic party. There is room for improvement but as it stands today, let’s take a closer look at how our party works. I’ll sketch out the basics. A bit dry? Yes, though I hope it is useful information. But first, here’s some feedback on Thursday’s consultation.
Last week in Hastings around 300 Labour Party and Union members attended a working lunchtime discussion and consultation on Health and Social Care. These Informal, friendly gatherings take place regularly all over the country as part of our policy making process. Members receive invitations to these events throughout the year. Many of us who attended had also attended Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at St Marys in the Castle in the morning.
After a sandwich lunch we worked together at our round tables, discussing some of the issues and setting out our proposals for change. A scribe was assigned to take notes that would later be submitted to the Health and Social Care Policy Commission via the Labour Policy Forum website.
Whilst we were working Jeremy Corbyn joined us to listen to the discussions and chat to us. He had just returned from visiting the Conquest Hospital but before joining our discussions Jeremy met with many other Labour Party members in the overflow room. The overflow. This is a regular occurrence now for events where Jeremy Corbyn is present. The venues are often not big enough to accommodate all those who wish to attend. Did you get an “Event Full” notice after you hit the “Yes I’m Coming” button on your invitation?
Before the table top discussions we heard speeches from local Labour activists:-
- Lily Cooper from Egg Tooth Charity, a specialist Therapy Service that offers long term treatment via a self-development course. Lily spoke about her personal story of becoming depressed due to the side effects of acne treatment at age 13. By chance she found out about the Egg Tooth which she is convinced saved her life. We then heard from Laura Dunton Clarke, Director of Egg Tooth, who told us about other services the charity, offers. She spoke about the funding crisis leading to youth people falling through the cracks as they struggle to access the right help. CAMHS is being run down, Egg Tooth receiving no core funding. “For human being to heal, we need time”. Long term therapeutic services such as Egg Tooth is a must. There used to be a good long term therapeutic service (Lavender) in Eastbourne but it is now closed.
- Rossana Leal from the Refugee Buddy Project that provides buddying for 50 newly arriving families. She spoke of their “dehumanising experience of Amber Rudd’s and Theresa May’s hostile environment” and the high likelihood of refugees being held in indefinite detention. She is proud that Hastings Council has signed as a Community of Sanctuary and is refusing to collaborate with the hostile environment.
- Antonia Berelson is a nurse and Hastings Borough Councillor. “In the face of neoliberalism, caring for others becomes a revolutionary act”. She spoke about the NHS. The 50,000 nursing shortage; bursaries being scrapped; cut back after cut back; the increase of for profit organisations; Social Services and Health Services arguing over who will fund the care for the dying; 15 minute care windows and the fact nurses are not being paid enough to live on. The Labour Party will bring back the bursaries and commit to protecting the NHS.
It was after these speeches that we broke out for the consultation time. What are the biggest local issues? Ideas for improvements? The issues our table discussed included:- the increase in youth mental health problems (with head teachers now naming this as a major concern); the need for more carers support; the difficulties for disabled people with Universal Credit and more. (I’m a bit deaf so I couldn’t hear it all with all the background noise).
With the discussions completed we next heard a speech from Jeremy Corbyn, followed by a group photo.
All the notes from our discussions will be fed into the policy making process.
The next part of this write up is to sketch out the basics of Labour Party policy making.
☆ ☆ How Does The Labour Party Work? ☆ ☆
From local Labour teams, right up to the National Executive Committee, Labour is a volunteer-led organisation. There are different teams within Labour and each can contribute to making policy.
Our local Labour team
The Labour Party is made up of smaller networks operating in all the different regions of the country. Through them, we can get involved with the party in our local area.
Constituency Labour Party (CLP)
Our CLP is our local party based on our constituency and it’s a hub of activity and community organising. Through our CLP, we can choose the members from our area to represent us at Annual Conference which is the final stage of policy making process.
We can help select our parliamentary candidate via the CLP.
Branch Labour Party (BLP)
Many CLPs organise themselves into smaller units called branches. Branches get to choose the local council candidates to represent their area. Note. Here in Eastbourne we have 4 branches with wards combining e.g. the Devonshire and Meads Branch. Our Branches are set up informally for functional and organisational purposes. Constitutionally we are an All Members CLP i.e. with all members having a vote at the CLP meetings (unlike the constitutional Branch arrangement were only a few Branch delegates may vote at the main CLP meeting).
The National Executive Committee (NEC)
The National Executive Committee is the governing body of the Labour Party, overseeing the overall direction of the party and the policy-making process. It sets strategic objectives on an annual basis and meets regularly to review the work of the party.
☆☆ What’s the Process. How Does The Labour Party Create Policy? ☆ ☆
There are several different ways policy is created in the Labour Party.
Local and regional Labour Policy Forums
As members we may be invited to attend local and regional policy discussions throughout the year. Informal, friendly gatherings, each discussion makes submissions to the policy commissions via the Labour Policy Forum website.
Submissions to Labour Policy Forum do not have to stem from events. Anybody can share their views and ideas throughout the year on the Labour Policy forum website.
This is what was happening in Hastings on Thursday.
National Policy Forum (NPF)
The NPF meets several times a year to make sure that the direction of our policy reflects the broad consensus in the party. Between meetings, the representatives that make up the body liaise with the members, supporters and public who submit to Labour Policy Forum.
NPF representatives will respond to submissions made, ask questions and engage in ongoing debate about the issues that matter to you, feeding them back when the NPF meets to move our policy forward.
The National Policy Forum includes representatives of CLPs and regions, Labour Councillors, affiliated trade unions and socialist societies, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) and other groups within the Party.
The next stage of work for Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) is to advance the policy framework set out in our 2017 General Election Manifesto. They want to hear our views and ideas on how we can build on the manifesto and develop Labour policies ready for the next election.
The issues and ideas coming out of the Hastings consultation will be fed into the process to help shape the next Manifesto. But you don’t need to attend a consultation event to contribute;anyone of us can make a submission. Check it out, open this link, click on the ‘Get Involved’ tab at the top then make your submission: https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/about/policy-process
Labour’s eight policy commissions are tasked with carrying out the detailed work developing our ideas within their specialist areas. They meet regularly to consider the submissions made through Labour Policy Forum and to hear evidence from experts, and are responsible for drafting the Challenge Papers and Policy Documents you will find on the Policy Forum website.
The membership of each of Labour’s policy commissions is drawn from our National Policy Forum, the Shadow Cabinet and our National Executive Committee, and reflects all parts of our movement, including grassroots Labour Party members, representatives of affiliates such as trade unions, and elected politicians.
The ultimate authority in the party, Annual Conference decides the policy framework from which the next manifesto will be drawn and sets party rules. Conference considers the policy papers prepared by the policy commissions after consulting local parties. Members choose delegates to represent them at conference – and those delegates could include you.
The Shadow Cabinet
Our Shadow Cabinet is one of the top teams at Labour, made up of the Leader of the Labour Party and their chosen team who shadow the top government roles.
☆ ☆ The 8 Policy Commissions. ☆ ☆
Economy, Business and Trade
The Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission develops Labour’s economic and business policy, including industrial strategy and international trade.
The International Policy Commission develops Labour’s international policy. It is responsible for foreign policy, international development, defence and Britain’s future relationship with Europe.
Health and Social Care
The Health and Social Care Policy Commission develops Labour policy and thinking on areas including the future of the NHS, mental health, public health and social care.
Early Years, Education and Skills
The Early Years, Education and Skills Policy Commission looks at issues relating to children’s wellbeing, development and care, as well as education training and skills from childhood through adulthood.
Justice and Home Affairs
The Justice and Home Affairs Policy Commission examine Labour thinking on issues such as policing, the justice system, immigration and asylum, and political and constitutional reform.
Housing, Local Government and Transport
The Housing, Local Government and Transport Policy Commission develops Labour policy concerning local government and devolution, housebuilding and the housing sector, and Britain’s transport infrastructure and services.
Work, Pensions and Equality
The Work, Pensions and Equality Policy Commission is charged with developing Labour’s policy on social security, poverty and equalities.
Environment, Energy and Culture
The Environment, Energy and Culture Policy Commission is tasked with leading Labour’s policy development on the environment, food and rural affairs, energy and climate change, and culture, media and sport.