Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

How does a winning party make policy?

Ahead of tonight’s Progress event in Coventry, speaker at that event Ruth Smeeth writes: In the words of one of my favourite NEC members, Luke Akehurst, the simple answer to the question is ‘not the way we have been’.

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I don’t want to repeat Luke’s piece on this issue, although I do broadly agree with it, especially with regard to the role of the wider movement and affiliated societies in the formation of policy. But rather I think it is as important that we also consider the role of the general public.

The Labour party, our policies and any manifesto, whether it be local or national, should reflect the hopes, fears and aspirations of not just our party and our movement but also of the country. When we return to government it will be not only be because the general public want to punish the Tory-led government, but also because we have a policy platform that will inspire faith in politicians and hope for the future of the country.

In the run up to the last general election I was privileged to be our parliamentary candidate for Burton in the west Midlands. As a candidate, and for that matter as a local party activist, your role is to articulate the policies of the party and make them relevant locally. In itself this task is far from straightforward and it isn’t made any easier if you didn’t have any input into the policy programme. It is made even harder, though, if you are talking at the electorate about your policies, rather than to, or with, them.

For most of the activists I know, their ideas for practical policies come directly from conversations on the doorstep, at community events and with local organisations, be they charities, businesses or trade unions. The reality is that our policy proposals emerge, informally at least, from within our communities and from the general public. The question should therefore be whether we should make this a more formal part of our policy development.

Tony’s Big Conversation and Gordon’s National Debate went some way in ensuring that a dialogue occurred with the electorate, but we all know that this was for our benefit rather than those who participated. In order to win again we will need more than a series of informal chats with members of the general public who broadly speaking already agree with us.

In Burton we ran a series of ‘Ruth Responds’ events across the constituency, during the year in the run-up to the election. In addition to our weekly doorknocking, this enabled people to take some ownership of both the campaign and me as a candidate. It is this type of forum that I would want us to have up and down the country which would create a formal dialogue between the local party and the community the main proposals of which could then be fed into a national party structure which have been re-energised! By doing this we will ensure that our local parties are responding to the needs of the local community, as they have placed themselves at the heart of it. And our national party policy reflects the needs and demands of our electorate.

We must not only acknowledge, but actively embrace, the fact that the policies that we choose to implement affect people’s daily lives, so we shouldn’t assume that they aren’t interested.

Photo: Dominic Campbell

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Ruth Smeeth MP

is member of parliament for Stoke-on-Trent North


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