National Policy Forum meeting, Loughborough
Report by Jo Rust, Labour East NPF rep
The NPF conference, which took place on the same weekend as Eastern Region Conference,
was the first I'd experienced. It was reassuring to see all the front bench shadow cabinet
there and to see them listen to the suggestions put to them over the course of the
Jeremy Corbyn spent some time talking to us on Saturday and was then happy to take
questions following his talk. As he'd made mention of an integrated health and social care
system I pointed out the need to distinguish between health, which is free, and social care,
which is paid for. If Labour wants them fully integrated then we need to ensure we have the
systems in place to retain totally free healthcare that works alongside a social care that's
charged for. Either that or we find a way to make social care free too.
The policy seminars were interesting. I attended the Early Years Education and Skills seminar
first; led by Angela Rayner. I believe that what the majority of those in attendance wanted
was exactly what Labour governments have provided when in power. Everything delegates
spoke about were issues I remember being provided by Labour in the past: good quality
wrap around child care, sure start children's centres, a joined up school system, a lifelong
learning offer, good further education and apprenticeships that offered real training and
learning. There was much that was discussed and I felt strongly that everything we spoke of
was exactly what I'd benefited from when Labour was in control. Including a networked
childminding system that I'd been part of many years ago.
We heard from Ben page of Ipsos Mori. He was an engaging speaker whose use of statistics
clarified a picture blurred by a biased media 64% of those who identified as Labour voters,
voted to remain. He also pointed out that while the government can't (or won't) parliament
what our stance is regarding our exit from the EU, Boris could tell a Czech newspaper.
Delegates heard from Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer about Brexit and our relationship
with the rest of the world, trade deals and tariffs as well as the impact our vote to leave has
had on countries like Rwanda; whose aid is paid in pounds. The fall in its value has affected
them as they can get less with the funds now. Keir and Emily wrote a letter and asked 170
questions about Brexit, but David Davis said he wasn't going to answer any of them
I heard from Rachel Maskell about labour and EU citizens, employment rights and an EU
trade deal. We spoke of consumer and environment protections and the repatriation of
legislation. We learnt that the Times of India had written an article that said "you want our
business but you don't want our people". Until we know what shape Brexit is we won't
know what our international deal will look like. Barry Gardiner was clear though, that under
a Labour Government we would protect employment rights.
I attended the Health and Social Care seminar and spoke about STPs and the impact they'd
have on the way we access our health care and the future implications for our health service
in general, including the changes those who work in the NHS could face. I was pleased that
Jonathan Ashworth wanted to know more.
I attended the Housing, Local Government and Transport seminar where speakers repeated
the need to municipalise bus services. While rail naturally features high on the agenda
everyone is waking up to the fact most of our journeys are done by bus and without a
decent, reliable, affordable, accessible, joined up system our transport is never going to
meet the needs of the population.
It was good to meet fellow NPF members, hear from and understand the concerns those
they represented had and to agree our priorities going forward. There's a series of stages to
forming our manifesto in preparation for a General Election and confident that whenever
that might be Labour will be able to satisfy our voters as well as winning over the
undecided, swing voters. I also feel certain that we can persuade those who have not voted
for years that it's worth leaving the house the put a cross in the Labour box.
Labour Party National Policy Forum Report
Rachel Garnham, Eastern Region CLPs National Policy Forum Representative
Loughborough, 19-20 November 2016
I was very pleased to finally attend my first full meeting of the National Policy Forum, having been
elected by members in the Eastern Region as one of our CLP representatives in September 2015.
Although I have been attending meetings of the Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission
since my election, the first full NPF meeting had been due in July to agree documents for Annual
Conference but had been cancelled because of the attempted leadership coup. This meant that this
November meeting was slightly out of cycle and therefore policy discussions were very broad and
looking towards the next cycle of discussion, although at the same time we were encouraged to
ensure discussions were framed with the possibility of a general election in 2017. The cornerstone of
the discussions would be the 10 pledges agreed at annual conference, which were the basis of
Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader.
The first task of the NPF was to elect a new Chair and Vice-Chairs. Ann Cryer, former MP and CLP
representative for Yorkshire and Humberside, was elected unopposed as Chair. Mick Whelan, ASLEF
General Secretary, and Shabana Mahmood MP were also elected unopposed as Vice-Chairs to
represent the affiliates section and the elected representatives and Lords section. Two candidates
were nominated as Vice-Chairs for the CLP and Regions section – George McManus (Yorkshire and
Humberside) and Katrina Murray (Scotland) and therefore there was an election. There was a great
deal of confusion about who was eligible to vote in this election, which it turned out was all
members of the NPF, not just CLP and regional representatives as had been implied and would have
made sense. I asked a member of the Joint Policy Committee, who had apparently made this ruling,
where this rule was written down but it was not available. The Trade Union Liaison Organisation
(TULO) had agreed prior to the NPF meeting that they should not be able to vote in this section and
would therefore abstain. Unfortunately some unions stuck to this agreement and others didn’t
resulting in further confusion and a somewhat tainted election of Katrina Murray. I voted for George
McManus because of his outstanding record of promoting the right of ordinary party members to
have a say in policy-making and his support for the current leadership’s policy framework.
Keynote speech and Q&A with Jeremy Corbyn MP
An excellent speech with positive priorities for the next manifesto and exposing Tory incompetence
over Brexit and horrendous record on the economy and public services. This was followed by a range
of questions from the floor, covering Brexit, local government and the NHS and Social Care from my
fellow East of England rep Jo Rust, which Jeremy answered in great detail. Sadly I was sitting in a
different part of the hall from my fellow East of Englanders so missed the group photo!
The main business of the weekend was to look at next priorities in the areas covered by the eight
policy commissions. I attended sessions covering Economy, Business and Trade; Early years,
Education and Skills; and International. There was an excellent turnout from the shadow cabinet so
in all sessions we were able to engage with those leading for the Party in these areas.
The session on Early Years, Education and Skills led by Angela Rayner demonstrated the extent of
the challenge faced by Labour in holding back regressive Tory policies and preparing to turnaround
the backward education policies of the current government. I asked a question about the latest on
grammar schools and raised the issues of assessment in schools, accountability in academies, the
decline in student numbers in part-time higher education and threats posed by the current HE bill.
Barry Gardiner, Clive Lewis and Rebecca Long-Bailey presented useful introductions to Labour
priorities on Economy, Business and Trade and talked about the challenges of building a new
economic model, including tackling unfairness in the tax system, and an industrial strategy, including
investment in renewables, that will shape the growth of the economy. I raised the issues of
investment in social infrastructure, in particular childcare, which would have a disproportionate
impact on women and stop skills being lost to the economy. I also raised a point about higher
education, skills and apprenticeships being important to productivity and a point about investment
being needed beyond the major cities and particularly in some of our coastal towns.
Emily Thornberry, Kate Osamor and Nia Griffith gave excellent introductions to the International
session supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s 10th pledge of putting peace and justice at the heart of foreign
policy. Kate also flagged the effect of the drop in the pound on our international aid. I raised the
importance of the pledge’s commitment to ‘end support for aggressive wars of intervention and
back effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis’ and flagged up the high volume of NPF
submissions opposing Trident renewal. Emily agreed that the issue had not gone away.
Exiting the EU
This was a plenary session led by Keir Starmer with Ben Page from MORI and the Deputy Secretary of
the Party of European Socialists. Keir Starmer laid bare the ‘confused and confusing’ government
position and made it clear that Labour would fight hard against ‘extreme’ Brexit if it meant coming
out of the single market. Ben Page went through some interesting polling figures from the
referendum, including that voters prioritise access to the single market. There were some good
group discussions and interesting use of technology to get us ‘real-time’ voting on priorities. The
table I was on all felt Labour had failed to make a positive case for migration over many years and it
was neither right nor electorally helpful to try to move into UKIP territory on immigration.
The final plenary session led by Rebecca Long-Bailey again set out the scale of the challenge to turn
around the government’s woeful economic policy. Again this was based around small group
discussion and real-time voting. The need for a massive increase in investment to grow the economy
was repeatedly flagged up, as was the potentially huge damage still to be inflicted by Brexit.
A useful opportunity to discuss policy with a great diversity of Party activists and representatives. It
was good to talk to other Eastern Region reps but I remain unconvinced that the NPF provides an
adequate voice for members in policy-making. It was great to be able to draw on the views of
members in the region from the very useful policy forums organised by the Regional Office and
submitted online but a lot more work is needed to encourage CLPs to use the website at
www.policyforum.labour.org.uk and more importantly to systematically take account of these views