I joined the Labour Party in 1999, when it became clear that Helen Clark meant to honour Labour’s election promises (a shocking new development in politics at the time). I went to my first Conference in 2000 and observed the policy making process. I vowed never to get involved. With all respect for those who put heaps of thought and energy into remits, the process looked to me like a shambles that the Parliamentary wing of the Party didn’t take seriously. Actual Labour policy seemed to come out of nowhere, and while most of it was good, there was often little or no connection to remits. Nothing since that time has changed my view, or made me want to get involved.
After last weekend’s Conference a lot of media attention has focused on the constitutional changes relating to leadership (part of the shallow and lazy fascination with personalities and the political circus). But other constitutional changes were even more important. From now on Party members will have more say on policy, and that policy will be binding on MPs – it is the policy that will be taken to the electorate.
The central focus for this new system will be the “policy platform” – a definitive statement of Labour’s values and policies (in accessible language and format – not too long!). The process for developing the platform will be inclusive and evidence based. This will be a living, evolving document, but “policy proposals” (which replace remits) should be modifications of the existing platform rather than appearing out of nowhere. (There’s more too it than that, but the policy platform will be the main focus.) There’s a paragraph about it on Labour’s web site here:
Policy Platform (permanent statement of policy) to be established by the end of Conference 2013; policy and the Election Manifesto to be based on and consistent with that Platform. The Policy Platform is binding on all Labour Party members elected as such to public office, MPs, NZCouncil and Policy Council.
Annual conferences will focus on different parts of the platform in successive years, with a limited number of proposals considered, to allow time at Conference for proper debate and informed decisions. Once again – the platform so developed will be binding on the Parliamentary wing. The plan is to have policy finalised earlier in the electoral cycle, in an accessible format, to allow time to take the message to the electorate.
There it is folks – a chance for members to be involved in a meaningful policy development process. A Party finds its voice. Like the new rules for selecting the leader, it is both an opportunity and a risk. It will be up to us to make sure that it’s a success. Irish Bill’s post yesterday was dead right – there has never been a better time to join the Labour Party. You can sign up here…
Thanks to Jordan Carter for an interesting talk in Dunedin last night, and to the Policy Council and others who worked so hard to get the internal review and constitutional changes done. Great work people.