The Labour Party in Blackpool: Financial troubles force policy forum slim-down

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AILING finances have forced the Labour Party to slim down and slow down its plans to put policy making largely in the hands of a new National Policy Forum.

The forum's planned membership - which includes MPs and councillors as well as union and party members - has been cut from more than 200 to about 80.

It will be set up only in interim form next year. And policy development will be steered by a new 16-strong Joint Policy Committee made up of equal numbers of national executive and Shadow Cabinet members, making formal the links between the two which produced the post-1987 policy review.

Plans that the forum, on which 20 trade unionists will have an individual, not a block vote, would handle policy amendments from constituencies and unions ahead of the annual conference have been delayed.

John Smith sees the forum as crucial in providing a broader base for policy making, allowing more consultation with ordinary members. But it came under fire from the left at conference yesterday. They argued the Joint Policy Committee, to which commissions on particular policy areas will report, will concentrate power in Shadow Cabinet and NEC hands, reducing annual conference's ability to make policy.

Issa Ghanzi, from Nottingham South, said: 'Policy making is to be transferred from conference to the Labour establishment.'

Clare Short, for the national executive, argued that the opposite was true. Conference would be able to amend policy documents - not just pass resolutions. It was an enhancement of party democracy and policy making and 'to describe it any other way is false'.

Hector McKenzie, general secretary of the health union Cohse, said the way conference worked at present often produced conflicting policy decisions. 'If we are to be taken seriously as a government in waiting, our policy work must amount to more than 30-second sound bites. We cannot just leave it to a lottery'.

As the party debated its values, some delegates argued that clause IV, the nationalisation and public ownership part of the party's constitution, was 'central' to its philosophy.

Teresa Pearce from Erith and Crayford said the party had forgotten what it believed in. It had been taken over by image makers, 'middle-class graduates who have learned their socialism from market research and opinion polls'.

People did not trust Labour because 'we don't trust ourselves. We don't believe what we are saying'.

The resolution, which declared the party had ridden roughshod over 'the deeply held convictions and feelings of ordinary members' and had become a 'pale imitation of the Tories', was defeated by more than three to one on a card vote, however.