Everybody else has their say while Labour members are left out in the cold….
Douglas Alexander chose this morning to chirp-up, once again, about the economy. He says that Labour must ‘do more’ to be considered credible on the economy. It must talk more about the deficit and debt, Mr Alexander says. Obviously, regular readers of this blog will know I don’t agree with this approach at all. However, I want to raise a different point and that is the way this Party is being bounced into policy commitments without a full and proper democratic discussion.
We have heard alot about the economy from Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and other high-up figures within the Party. We have even heard from trade union leaders and while I am often in sympathy with what is said by the likes of Len McCluskey, for example, his voice is but one and he is advocating on behalf of Unite members, not the Labour Party. No matter how much I feel he represents the views of many within Labour, his opinion is no substitute for the voice of the Party being heard in the proper and democratic way.
The appropriate forum to have this discussion is the National Policy Forum. However, this body has not met for two years. Laughably, Peter Hain said at the last meeting of the NEC, that it would meet in June/July “if an affordable venue could be found.” I know the Labour Party is a bit on the poor side but is this not taking the mick a little. I am sure if asked nicely somebody, a trade union maybe, would have facilities it would provide at the very least at cost price. Indeed, the Labour Democratic Network has offered to put-up the money for a meeting and find a venue.
While we are on the subject of lame excuses; I was a spectator on a Twitter exchange between Luke Akehurst and Peter Kenyon last night. Luke’s basic point was that we couldn’t have an NPF meeting because it would detract from campaigning, specifically Ken Livingstone’s campaign for the London Mayoralty. I would say firstly that since we are a large political party there is always the chance that a meeting will take activists away from some campaign somewhere whenever it is held. Of course, the London Mayoral election is a big election but to comrades and colleagues across the country their campaigns are just as big. I am sure nobody would begrudge their NPF rep one day off if it meant improving our democracy.
In my neck of the woods, despite their being a big set of local elections in May with huge potential for Labour, I know branches are still holding their AGM’s in the upcoming weeks. Various bodies are still meeting as normal and this will be the case at least until the advent of the ‘short-campaign’ and I am sure in many instances will continue to be the case even then. Indeed, i’d personally rather they did because it aids campaigning and helps reach out to get others involved. Furthermore, I agree with Peter Kenyon:
Just because there are elections in less than 100 days time does not mean elected representatives should not be discussing and debating policy. On the contrary, I would argue the opposite. Given the need to persuade the electorate that Labour values matter, what better way to get key messages to members – you matter, and voters – we understand your needs and have better ways of addressing them, than having open discussion?
So, Luke’s counterposition between campaigning and an NPF meeting, which at worst will take a full-day, is a false one. The fact is that it is starting to look awkwardly like this leadership is not as committed to improving our democracy as it said it would be; it obviously prefers to make a series of major policy announcements on-the-hoof with zero-sum input from Labour members. This is obviously totally unacceptable. Is it not about time Labour members had their say on the economy and other big issues like everybody else has?