Democracy, not another shift right: only Labour conference should “review” policy

A “policy review” clearly means an attempt to shift things even further right, through top-down decision making by the Leader’s Office and other cliques.

By Mohan Sen

“Keir Starmer is expected to reshuffle his top team and kick off a policy review”, reports the Guardian, “as he seeks to reassert his leadership after a string of embarrassing losses…”

“A senior party source [said]: ‘We have got to change, and that has got to be much harder and faster than we anticipated six months ago,’ they said, adding: ‘We have got to look at the policy platform across the board, post-pandemic.'”

Ex-Blairite MP Alan Milburn, who ran a “Social Mobility Commission” for the Tories under Cameron, has been doing the rounds saying Labour policy needs to be changed.

What policy?

With local elections across the country, the party said nothing about the virtual destruction of local government which the Tories are still pushing forward. Not even a promise of more money for councils, let alone a timetable for reversing all the cuts or any proposals to lead a fightback.

After the disasters of the last year, it said nothing about sick pay or about social care. There was a lame attempt to make to election about NHS pay – presumably in order to avoid having a policy on council funding – foundered and was abandoned when it became clear that people wanted to know what Labour was actually advocating (and it certainly wasn’t healthworkers’ demand of 15%). Nothing about the NHS in general – after the last year!

Although it is somewhat hard to see how, a “policy review” clearly means an attempt to shift things even further right, through top-down decision making by the Leader’s Office and other cliques.

Starmer’s ministerial reshuffles certainly point in that direction.

The argument coming from the Labour right seems to be that to progress the party needs to ditch Corbyn-era policies – when in reality it has already ditched them, and that is in fact part (only part) of the problem.

Polling in Hartlepool commissioned by the Communication Workers’ Union showed strong support for “Corbynite” Labour policies – including for instance free broadband.

A big problem problem under Corbyn was that left-wing policies were neither developed democratically nor campaigned for consistently. Ditching left policies, rather than campaigning for them, has predictably made Labour’s disarray even worse.

Labour and trade union activists and officers should insist that policy is “reviewed” by Labour Party conference, the democratic-decision making body representing party members and affiliates.

Labour conference has already passed a stock of policies which, whatever their inadequacies (and of course the last conference was in 2019), would have been a lot more useful and made much more of an impact in the elections than Starmer’s vacuous pitch. And we have another conference coming up, in only four months.

Conference should “review” and decide Labour’s policies and then the party develop its message on that basis.

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