By Dean Duke – Senior Account Director

The Labour Party’s manifesto-writing process quietly cranked into gear once again this week. The party has launched eight wide-ranging consultations on everything from health and education, to in-work poverty and the future of work.

Labour was caught off-guard by last year’s snap general election. The party used Ed Miliband’s 2015 platform as a baseline for its manifesto, with a more left-wing populist tinge added in by the leadership. Unions and shadow cabinet members scrambled to add their pet policies to the mix. For a document that was hurriedly put together, it went down well with the country.

This week sees a return to the more traditional (and drawn-out) manifesto drafting process.

The process (on paper):

  1. The National Policy Forum’s (NPF) policy commissions hold their own consultations and meetings to consider proposals for their respective areas. Policy commissions are co-chaired by shadow cabinet members and representatives from the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).
  2. Their output feeds into the NPF’s annual report, which is produced each summer. The NPF has around 200 representatives drawn from constituency parties, unions and ‘socialist societies’ (e.g. Labour Students, BAME Labour).
  3. The NPF annual report is debated and voted on by the party’s annual conference in the autumn.
  4. Closer to an election, Corbyn’s key advisers will draw down on the party’s body of policies to compose a manifesto. Key people in this process could be Andrew Fisher, Karie Murphy, James Schnider and – of course- Seumas Milne.
  5. The party then holds what is known as a ‘Clause V’ meeting of the NEC and shadow cabinet to sign off on the final manifesto document.

What you need to understand (the reality):

Kremlinology aside, what do corporates and influencers need to understand about this process in reality?

  • Now is the time to start engaging with Labour’s policy development. Leaving it closer to an election, when the process shrinks back to the leader’s office, will be too late.
  • On paper, the process is both bureaucratic and democratic. In reality, it’s fluid and there is plenty of scope for policies to get picked up or binned along the way. This makes it important to consistently engage with process.
  • Labour is not just a party – it’s a movement with different players and dispersed centres of power. This offers more routes in to promote or shape policies. With the left wing having completed its takeover of the party machine, there will be more scope to take advantage of the tensions between the different camps as it becomes less important for them to keep up a united front. We have seen this in the last few weeks with the contest to appoint the party’s new general secretary.
  • In particular, the unions are too often overlooked by external influencers. Unions are well-staffed, including by policy officers, and well-experienced in shaping Labour’s agenda from within. While not a formally set out part of the process, Labour’s unions make full submissions to the manifesto process – as we saw with the leaking of the draft manifesto last year. Some unions are more moderate than others, so it’s important to be clear about who you are targeting and how well your proposals align with a union’s agenda.

With another election not due until 2022, this will be a marathon and not a sprint. For most corporates it is too early to start pushing new policies or pushing back against less helpful proposals. But now is the time to begin strategising and engaging to ensure a Labour government is favourable to your needs.