The NPF does not share the NEC’s long history. It was established in 1997 to be the cornerstone of Tony Blair’s ‘Partnership in Power’ reforms, created to ensure that all the major party stakeholders had a voice in Labour’s internal policy processes.
Today, the NPF comprises 186 members, some of whom are elected, and some of whom are appointed by the party leadership. The entire body meets several times a year to debate the findings of Labour’s six policy commissions- another ‘Partnership in Power’ innovation- and make recommendations that are then taken to the Joint Policy Committee and NEC.
The Forum champions the principles of representation and inclusion, allowing all members- ordinary, affiliated, young and old alike- to input into party policy through their elected members. Labour spokespersons claimed that the founding of the NPF was “one of the biggest ever extensions of democracy within the party”, permitting ordinary members a real say in the policies they would then go on to vote for in General Elections.
Roughly a third of NPF members are CLP representatives, elected on a regional basis, and the local link is strengthened by the addition of members from local policy forums and regional conferences. These members ensure that Labour supporters wield real influence over the party’s manifesto ideas.
However, other party stakeholders are conspicuously underrepresented in the Forum. Union members make up only 30 of the 186 seats, despite the fact that their financial and personnel contributions to the party are on a par with that of CLPs and ordinary members. Socialist societies, such as the Fabians, are also sidelined, with only three members in total represented on the NPF.
The reasons behind the somewhat uneven distribution of seats may have something to do with New Labour’s desire to reduce the influence of Trade Unions and far-left elements in the party, and so avoid the ideological extremism of the 1980s.
However, because the NPF conducts a ‘rolling’ two-year policy process, representatives from all the groups united under the Labour banner have the right to be continually involved throughout. This constant participation must be seen as an improvement on the old system whereby policy consultation was largely concentrated around the annual conference.
The NPF also has an impressive record on liberation, boasting representatives for disabled, LGBT, and BAME Labour members and interest groups. These members ensure Labour’s policy proposals are sensitive to the needs of all Britons and help promote the creation of a tolerant, understanding society.
Yet the NPF could still do with improving its transparency and internal procedures. The report ‘Refounding Labour to Win’ recommends the party reviews the mechanisms by which ordinary members contact their representatives, and suggests that the minutes of NPF meetings be made more accessible. Such changes could allow card-carrying supporters to keep tabs on what their NPF representatives get up to at meetings, and permit proper scrutiny of NPF procedures to take place without having to resort to the confusing array of blogs and comment pieces that take the place of formalised reports.
The incoming NPF representatives will have a lot on their plate when they take up their seats. Besides helping shape Labour’s next manifesto, they will also be under pressure to implement reforms to their own internal procedures too. For Labour’s sake, let’s hope they’re up to the challenge.
Louie Woodall is Assistant Editor of the Young Fabians Blog