Sunday, June 28, 2009

Learning the lessons from the local elections

Ann Black sent round an e-mail to Labour Party members with five questions which she will feed back at Labour's next National Executive meeting. It's a discussion which I hope as many members as possible will contribute to, but also might be of interest to Labour supporters who aren't members. So here's the questions and my answers - do reply to Ann's e-mail or leave your own thoughts in the comments and I'll pass them on:

> 1) reasons for Labour losses, both local and European, and
> reasons for any good results against the overall trend;

Apart from the obvious comical and ridiculous national nonsense, the main problem is that in most areas we haven't developed our local campaigning to be able to persuade people about why it is important to elect local Labour councillors even if they don't think much of the national party. As a result, local councillors who got elected because of the efforts of the national party in 2001 and 2005 were unable to win when the elections were not on the same day as a General Election. We need to put a lot more effort into developing the ability of local parties to campaign and do well rather than being tied to the fortunes of what happens at Westminster. There are plenty of councillors who didn't knock on a single door between 2005 and 2009, and that was a much bigger reason why we lost so many councillors than Hazel Blears.

Obviously, an example of how to do this is Oxford. "Where we work, we win".

> 2) what the party leadership can do to rebuild towards the
> general election, organisationally and politically;

Stop doing stupid stuff, and remember that they've still got a healthy majority and nearly a year in power and pick 2 or 3 things which would help make Britain fairer and more equal and do them.

> 3) how members’ views can be taken into account in policy-
> making. The national policy forum “Warwick” agreement dates
> back to last July, before the recession, and needs reviewing, but
> time and resources do not allow another full-scale forum with
> thousands of direct amendments. Are members and local parties
> happy to work through their NPF representatives, and if not, what
> is the alternative within the Partnership in Power framework?

The NPF and Partnership in Power are a load of old nonsense. But the process doesn't matter as much as the outcomes. There's abundant evidence about members' views, from NPF amendments to opinion polling etc. In the medium term, we need to get a different way of making policy, which makes use of the knowledge and experience of Labour members and supporters, rather than just a small clique at the top of the party.

But in the short term, there are any number of obvious policies which a majority of members would support which the government could just get on and do, e.g. :

- build council houses
- scrap ID cards
- reduce child poverty
- not privatise the post office
- cut taxes for lower earners and raise them for the rich

> 4) what policies represent “Labour values”?

As above.

> 5) whether conference should return to resolutions or stay with
> the experiment on “contemporary issues” introduced in 2007;

Resolutions are better than the experiment on contemporary issues, but the aim should be to give people a chance to help shape Labour Party makes policy, and neither does this very well.


At 10:37 am , Blogger Hughes Views said...

I broadly agree with you on points 1&2 and your point in 3 that the "process doesn't matter" hits the spot.

Real policy is far too difficult for members. Listing a wish list as you've done is quite easy. But building wishes into coherent policy is mighty complex.

We could become Lib Dems or Greens and not worry 'bout the "coherent" bit but, unlike them, we aspire to government so it's probably best to leave policy to a relatively small group of smart people who should be asked to keep the many wish list topics in their minds.

(For example "build council houses" - would that be at the expense, say, of the housing stock refurbishment budget or should we dip into education or that fine old standby defence?).

4. Motherhood and apple pie.

5. The only useful thing about conference resolutions was that they gave some delegates the chance to exercise their egos on a biggish stage and to go home with a nice warm glow in their hearts. As a way of moving humanity forward they were of no use. The contemporary issues process at least acknowledges that building policy is about more than mouthing platitudes in Manchester or at the seaside...

No wonder Ann didn't mail me!

At 12:36 pm , Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

The original blog post is completely brilliant and Hughes Views is quite wrong.

Conference resolutions gave us all women shortlists and the minimum wage. More recently they facilitated pushing issues of pensions and then housing up the political agenda.

This "small group of smart people" completely failed to see the disaster that was the government's attitude, in its early period, to pension policy which cost us dear in, for example, the local elections of 1999. Barbara Castle and conference delegates had a mechanism to tell the government it was wrong, and she was vindicated. Meanwhile these "smart people" were busy giving us the Iraq war and PPP for the London Underground.

I understand that while Clause 4 was replaced, Clause 5 wasn't. So it isn't a matter of the composited resolutions being simply re-printed and becoming a manifesto and it never has been. Its about party members being able to participate in a democratic party, setting the agenda. It would have put us in a better position now.

At 5:47 pm , Anonymous Oliver said...

Looking back to your five policy suggestions in point 3) - it looks like the government has decided to go ahead with three of them. Maybe they've been reading your blog.


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