Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on 24 September, Jeremy Corbyn argued to make Labour conference the party’s basic decision-making body.
Corbyn: “What is so exciting now is that as we start putting more details into our policies – social policies, housing, transport, health and so on – is the number of people who want to be involved and have something very positive and constructive to say. That’s something that is pretty new in British politics – policy-making in the open, in the open air.”
Marr: “And you have promised this morning that this conference will be allowed to make policy – Labour Party members, unlike members of some other parties, will actually be allowed to decide policy?”
Corbyn: “What I put forward to the National Executive earlier this week – it was endorsed again on Friday with more detail to it – is that we’re having a Democracy Commission in the party, we’re expanding the size of the National Executive, and we’re looking at how can we open the party up much more and make conference the final decider of policy. There have to be some structural issues addressed in the party, but that’s fine, and I have to say it went through the National Executive with no opposition.”
Marr: “So party members will be allowed to decide what happens…”
Corbyn: “After all they’re the ones who have got to go and deliver it on the doorstep.”
This is very encouraging. To make it real:
• We need to push for the kind of democratic rule changes which, unfortunately, were remitted at this year’s conference. We also need a fundamental reassessment of the role of the National Policy Forum, which in practice functions largely to stymie democratic decision-making.
• More immediately, the Conference Arrangements Committee needs to introduce procedural changes to make the conference function in a basically democratic way, eg an end to ruling out motions on thin pretexts, publishing motions in advance, debates around particular motions rather than sessions covering all sorts of issues.
• Perhaps most importantly: everyone in the party, including its leadership, needs to start taking policies passed by conference seriously and start talking about it. At the moment that is emphatically not the case: strong policies passed in the last few years on eg the NHS and the right to strike are being largely ignored. There also needs to be an end to avoiding clarity on issues, eg the determined refusal to clarify whether a “National Care Service” means a free, publicly funded and provided service or not. (To say nothing of the lack of debate on Brexit!) We need much more clear and honest debate around policy, both formally and more informally throughout the movement.
As part of this, more organisations and activists on the left need to start taking debating policy and getting motions submitted to conference more seriously.
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