This blog is by Martina Weitsch. These are Martina’s personal views, to get us started.

 

 

 

 

What is the process for making policy now?

 

First, let me remind us of how we do this: there is a very useful presentation on the members’ website which explains this. You can find it here. I won’t repeat what it says. But there are three essential points:

  1. We have several documents which together make up our policy: the philosophical basis, our values, the Policies for a Sustainable Society (PfSS) and the Record of Policy Statements (RoPS). Policy decision-making happens at conference generally addresses these last twoand amends them.
  2. Policy motions come to conference and can do the following:
    1. Put forward the proposal to amend something in the Policies for a Sustainable Society
    2. Put forward the proposal to review/revise a whole chapter or section of Policies for a Sustainable Society
    3. Put forward a revised chapter or section of Policies for a Sustainable Society
    4. There are also emergency motions – they tend to be statements to go into Record of Policy Statements as they tend to be matters of current issues.
  3. Policy motions can come from either a group of individuals, a local party, or a policy forum/working group.

My own experience of the process – having attended 3 out of the last 6 conferences – is this. Most of the time and unless the motions are about something I already know something about, the real reason for putting them forward and/or the impact they will have on the GPEWs ability to win votes is not clear.

Recently, there has been an attempt to improve this by developing something called an accredited motion. That is a very welcome step in principle because a motion, to get accreditation, has to have a broader discussion before getting on the agenda. That said, the last two conferences didn’t have any accredited motions.

The likelihood of a motion being discussed at conference and decided upon depends on where on the agenda it comes within each section. We hold a prioritisation ballot to decide this. The participation in that ballot is very low (in the hundreds recently, rather than thousands). Therefore a relatively small number of members can influence whether something is discussed or not. That is not a good way of deciding whether something needs to be talked about.

Finally, of the motions that do get debated, very few indeed fall. They are far more likely to be referred back to the proposer.

Does this mean that we are unable, collectively, to say no?

Who makes the decisions?

As indicated above, conference is where policy is made.  Because we don’t have a delegate conference, the people who make the decisions are the people who come to conference because they are elected to some role in the party.  Or people who come to conference because they enjoy it, can afford it, live close by, and don’t have other pressing commitments – such as childcare.  It’s only people who are comfortable with the type of process a party conference is.

Attendance at conference varies. During the Green Surge we had huge numbers. But for the Spring Conference this year only about 500 members were registered. The fact that a lot of us couldn’t get there because of the weather is another matter.

Another problem can be that the date and venue of conferences is often announced relatively late in the day. That means that some people who might have gone have other things scheduled for the relevant time.

Local parties – in my experience – have little involvement in discussing the agenda, briefing those of their members who are planning to go, or hearing detailed reports on the outcomes.

Information to members more widely is practically non-existent. For the Holistic Review, I tried to access the agenda and outcomes of the last seven conferences and had some considerable difficulty in getting these. They are not all on the website and even those that are have to be found!

Why do we have policy?

The Green Party is a political party. We want to get elected, locally, nationally, and at all other levels of government available, to achieve our aims.  That means we have to have something relevant to say to the people who might vote for us. Our policy is there to provide us with the content of what we might want to say.

But, we need to put that into the relevant context.

The other day, I heard some interviews with people on the doorstep in the local election campaigns. The interviewer asked them what mattered to them in these elections and the answers were: potholes and parking!

What I’m trying to say is this:  we need to meet people where they are. What are their concerns? Why do they elect someone onto their local council? And that will change from place to place and from time to time. For us to be relevant, we need to:

  • Analyse the context – what are the issues for people in this place in this election at this time?
  • Take the most important of these issues (from our point of view, clearly) and formulate a response: what would we do to make the situation better if we were elected: specific, contextualised, relevant, now.
  • That’s the basis for the local manifesto – or more likely – leaflet; that’s the basis for what our candidates will talk about at hustings; that’s the basis of what people will talk about on the doorstep.

The same applies for elections at the regional level (say, regional mayors, regional assemblies, PCCs, etc) and at national level. The context is different; the responses to the context have to relevant; and the wider the geographic remit of the election, the more coordination there has to be of the message we want to get across.

National policy should provide a framework for this process. It needs to be broad, and it needs to be clear regarding how it might apply in a specific context. It should not be something that will trip us up either because it is so long and detailed that we can’t hope to know it or because it is so specific and out-dated that the media can make it an obstacle for us.

So, here’s one idea that might work (and it is my idea presented here as a basis for discussion and disagreement!):

  • We need a ‘template’ manifesto – that gives us both the style and the approach; it should also identify the broad policy areas we would want to address – although it should leave room for local/regional parties to choose from a menu to make it relevant.
  • We need a well-designed presentation of our core values: what we stand for. The ’10 commandments’ as it were. Something we would all agree with. This can be agreed by conference and reviewed by conference every 5 years or so.
  • A party decision-making body is set up in good time before elections to do the analysis of the context and to come up with the key points that need to be in our ‘manifesto’. This could be a working group of the local party if it’s local authority elections. It could be a working group of relevant local parties if it goes wider than one local authority or one party’s geographical remit. For general elections it should and must be a national level body including our key players: those that are in the public eye and who have to be able to work with the manifesto. None of this can be done at conference.

But policy isn’t all about written down stuff

We need to learn to talk about policy. We need to get nimble at answering difficult questions. That goes for the people who canvass on the doorstep; the people who do stalls on street corners; the people who talk to the media; people who do our social media and for candidates who speak at hustings.

So we need somewhere where we can do this and practice this and get good at this. And of course, people join a political party because they are interested in this stuff and so having somewhere to have those discussions could be interesting and fun.

Instead of a 2nd conference each year, we could hold regional training and debating events. Regional, because they would happen in more than one place (not necessarily 10 each year!) so that more people can attend and at lesser cost – they could be events that people can attend as day participants, for example.

These would focus on:

  • Open policy debate – without the intention of making binding decisions (those would be left to the national conference)
  • Training sessions – giving our members the confidence to do the things that need to be done well and giving those who are already expert/skilled at them the opportunity to share their skills
  • Panel discussions on topics of interest – members could suggest subjects, which could be submitted to an online poll well in advance of the event – and the two most popular would happen. This gives an opportunity for:
    • Exploring issues and an opportunity for members to speak in a public arena.
    • Vital training for hustings and for elections – not to speak of talking to the media.
    • Opportunities for all of us to hear of the good work that our elected Greens are doing.
    • To give a platform to the many members who have significant expertise in policy areas we care about.

The emphasis should be on having a good time, meeting like-minded people, getting a sense of cohesion and building trust.

One of the things that could emerge from this is a well-developed decentralised network of spokespeople who are expert in their field and who can be called upon to respond to issues as they come up. We could have a national spokesperson for each area with a team of regional spokespeople to support them and to support each other.

So what about CONFERENCE?

This would still leave conference for the actual decision-making for when we need to make or change policy at that broad, core value level. And to hold those who work for us (committees, elected Greens and staff) to account for the much valued and tremendous work they do. An opportunity to applaud them, to support them and – at times – to ask the odd awkward question! But above all, to show that we trust them to do what they do in the best interest of their constituents (in the case of elected Greens) and the party.

 

 

Categories: Updates

11 Comments

David McKechnie · May 8, 2018 at 6:52 pm

That sounds a very positive approach. I would ask though how could an individual raise, and get some action on, a subject thought suitable for a Green Party campaign e.g. the rush to install 5G by the corporatocracy, who manipulate, control and finance the politicians, despite the physical mental and environmental harm (tree felling in Sheffield,17500 trees, Manchester, Birmingham, Swansea and British Rail, 10 million+ trees), plus the surveillance capacity that empowers GCHQ and the Tories, via the new company that Cambridge Analytica has shape shifted to, that this will do: or the corrupt upper layers of the police, combined with MPs, senior civil servants and the House of Lords to discredit and shut down all the paedophilia investigations of the self same police, MPs, senior civil servants and the House of Lords. I have tried via the Campaigns Group and got no response.

nicole haydock · May 9, 2018 at 1:08 am

Four comments , very briefly for now:

1. Conference business is not just about adopting policies ; it is also also about approving reports from various key bodies of the GPEW ( GPRC, GPEX, Finance, Disciplinary and Dispute resolution Committee, SOC etc… as well as from working groups established by Conference)

2. The suggestion of 10 regional conferences followed by one annual conference – no more than 2 days please ! – is a good idea, It is inspired by the 3rd solutions proposed by the Reform Conference Voting working group – BUT WITH ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE which is that that is where motions ought to come from rather than them being just talking shops or from training purposes. Crucially, what you are proposing here will do nothing to address our profoundly unhealthy democratic deficit. If we want to see local parties take an interest in developing policies and have a real say in decision making generally, they have to be empowered to do so. If members at local party level can see that their own motion going to a regional conference can make it to the Annual Conference , the and only then will they feel their voices matter. Ever since 1983 when the GP was created, local parties have been disenfranchised from the decision making process because there is no direct link between them and Conference. What has not helped either is the ridiculously arcane system of how motions are drafted, submitted and prioritised. And the accreditation of motions has made the process even more opaque. There must be a simple road map to enable local parties to feel they are at the heart of the decision making process. If the HRC fails to produce such a map, nothing much will change and the same 40 or so active members who know how to play the rules will continue to make all the decisions.

3. There is a great need for something like a Summer Camp for all those members who want to take part in serious for discussions in greater depth than we can manage in 30 minutes slots between Plenary, as well as facilitate better networking. Such an event could possibly be a new source of much needed additional income.

Peter Hamilton · May 9, 2018 at 12:19 pm

I am a relatively new member, and one of my current concerns is that the Green Party should be seen to be part of the active alliance seeking to either stop Brexit or ensure that it is so soft that it can easily be reversed by the next generations of our citizens. But I am not clear how best to set about achieving that end.

Our decision-making and policy-making processes should be such that those who want to get the party to adopt a particular policy or campaign have a clearly defined and understood means of being heard.

But it is impracticable to get everyone in the party involved in any particular issue. It follows that there should be a body in the party which is readily accessible by all members and local parties whose responsibility it is to consider all suggestions made to it, and to recommend to our leaders what should or should not be done. That body should be able to act quickly in response to issues arising. The touchstone of its recommendations should be whether that recommendation is consistent with a holistic Green Party view of the world.

Kouin Kevin Quinn · May 26, 2018 at 5:54 am

First day as a member of a political party! I vote Green and have never worried about who wins-just stay true to being green not Green.

Ken Barker · May 31, 2018 at 4:34 pm

I’m an active member locally and in Wales – an autonomous Region. Our Region / nation is an important focus for making policy and policy development, especially on devolved matters. I don’t know whether the 2 GPEW conferences differ in purpose from each other, but I think that there should be 1 main policy conference in each year (in the Autumn?), the other being organised around party development & review, and inclusive participation. And Regional conferences could be used to facilitate GPEW decision-making, perhaps prioritising too.

    Robert Magowan · June 20, 2018 at 12:50 am

    Hi Brian,

    [FYI for others I am currently in the role of Policy Development Coordinator as a job share with Ronald Stewart, but write here in an entirely personal capacity – like others I am just trying to stimulate more conversation on this vital issue].

    Really appreciate seeing your views based on so much experience with the policy process, so thank you (and to Martina).

    I am doing a great deal of thinking about the policy process since joining PDC last Autumn and much of it has been along the lines you detail below, however I have the following points and questions I would appreciate your and others’ views on:

    – The last 3 chapter rewrites in PSS have all seen reductions to 1000 words (as opposed to the 18 chapters which currently have more than 4000 words), which would imply we are heading the right direction on removing unnecessary levels of detail from binding policy. Do you see the continuation of this (or perhaps acceleration, e.g. under a PDC empowered to get chapters reviewed and shortened, with more open and active PWGs and support from a policy staffer) as having the potential to make PSS become that high level / statement of intent / principles document you envisage?

    – As detail leaves PSS, or if it is retired as you proposed, or becomes non-binding / private as others have suggested, how do we ensure that we deliver member-based policy-making for other policy? You call this short-term policy, but I think it is more appropriate to call it policy of detail (e.g. we may not immediately wish to implement big ‘ambitious’ policies – four day week, basic income, carbon neutral – but we must have more than a top line principle on each if we are to put them to the electorate). Yes, policy formats like manifestos, background papers and proposals on specific issues are not suitable for our current Conference model (they cannot be picked apart without risking their overall integrity, for example, and I think we’re agreed the latter two cannot be indefinitely nor entirely binding, due to their length), yet they are too important to exempt from democratic decision-making altogether. It looks like this type of more functional policy-making is going to be increasingly crucial, and while it may not be a job of Conference, I’m interested in how you and others see it still being a job of members (including through existing/improved structures such as PWGs, as well as new possible routes such as some kind of electronic voting). Note: we know that once something is said, it’s said, so there is no point giving members the right to recall policies they don’t agree with – there has to be a process that inspires openness, consensus and confidence before changes are made (albeit still with a fast track option as is available now). It might seem like designing this is one step too far ahead but I think it’s vital to have an idea of what this will look like, in order to have any chance of persuading Conference to give up its grasp on detail.

Brian Heatley · June 14, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Martina

As someone who has had considerable experience of Green Party policy making over the last 17 years (Policy Coordinator 2004-9, maybe another 5 years altogether on Policy Committee, co-author of the 2010 and 2015 manifestos, proposer of several motions over the period, now struggling with presenting a tax Voting Paper from the Tax and Fiscal Policy Group, and attendee of pretty much every policy plenary over the period) I thought I’d better offer something following your blog.

First, there was nothing in your analysis I disagreed with, especially the problems you bring up. And I’d add a few more problems

– we don’t distinguish enough between politics and policy. Policy is some sort of comprehensive account of what you would do if you were in that fairy tale world of being in government – a vision for a green future. Politics is what you emphasize here and now, and also what you tend to hide, based on your political strategy (including things like your attitude to a progressive alliance) and target audience. We are poor at making the second step explicitly and often confuse policy and politics.
– Martina’s account emphasized that policy should start from where people are now, especially in the local context. I appreciate the importance of this in getting people elected, but that decision is a political decision not a policy one. An important part of our policy is evangelical, convincing people of the need for and desirability of a different world. It’s a political decision how much of that you emphasize, and how much you respond to people’s immediate concerns but it is our policy whatever way that decision is taken. If like me you think that influencing the other political parties and decision makers is as important as getting people elected, especially with our current electoral system, you will include in you offer things that are actually quite a long way from where people currently are.
– we have far far too much policy, far too detailed and much of it out of date in the PSS and our vast body of accrued and effectively eternal policy statements. Martina points out that this means we don’t in practice actually know our own policy, and that the media can find out-dated material in it to trip us up. Our method of making policy encourages this as most proposals are in fact additions to policy and conference as you have pointed out doesn’t like to say no – though where conference says no nicely by referring a motion back, the motions mostly never do in fact return. Everyone agrees we have too much policy, except of course for the particular bit of policy they personally consider important.
– one result is that much of the time at conference plenaries on policy is time wasted on completely unnecessary and usually forgotten detail.
– the most active policy makers are at any one time a very small group and tend to be male, there’s an imbalance. And we rarely really engage many people in subsequent discussion.
– the manifesto process can work quite well, but as a co-author in 2010 and 2015 I was astonished by how loosely we were supervised. The process is ad hoc, there’s no standing machinery, and in 2015 in lieu of anything else I suggested how it should be done. That’s not right, I should have been told.
– given the importance of local government to us, we badly neglect bits of policy that could help us locally. There are things to be said about parking, dog poo and waste collection, and AGC is great at spreading good practice. I like Martina’s suggestion of policy templates.
– we have an almost complete divorce between spokespeople and policy groups and others who bring policy to conference. And I was very struck when I came to consult the various spokespeople on the draft 2015 manifesto that maybe a third were really helpful (Caroline Russell especially was brilliant) but many of the rest offered nothing.
– and the leader/s reflect this in having a rather ambiguous position. In respect of any other political party it’s assumed part of being leader is laying down the line on policy within broad limits if an issue arises, and sacking other senior people when things go wrong. Our leader/s aren’t supposed to do either of these, and I’m surprised they’ve never been found out by the media and then judged weak when they fail to act. Behind the scenes they do influence General Election Manifestos and day to day political responses, but it all happens behind closed doors.
– until very recently we had no working system for making day to day policy, responding to political events. This is in theory better now, but it is something the system has to do.
– we are not good at using the expertise of our members, and respond too much to people with an axe to grind. Policy Groups can easily become lobby groups for a particular policy or approach, not a forum for open debate.

All this begins to look pretty grim. But I don’t actually think it is nearly as bad as that because there is a very important list of good things:

– most important we remain the only party where the membership do have quite a lot of practical democratic control over policy. OK there’s loads wrong with conference as you have detailed, but the point is that we don’t on the whole make significant policy (not political decisions like progressive alliance) behind closed doors. There’s a commitment to democratic policy making, and while ordinary members might not always appreciate it, what is said at conference (in distinction to what is passed or not passed) affects leader/s, councilors, candidates, campaigners and manifesto writers as they go about their business. It’s a huge but rather ineffective exercise in political education and mutual support, and we mustn’t lose that. Many of the tax group are conference novices, and they are getting bored with me saying ‘conference won’t like that,’ but democracy isn’t just voting, it’s the whole process and it’s wider effects.
– on the whole our policy documents and manifestos are more straightforward and simply more honest than the other parties. We must retain that.
– we have enviable policy stability, partly because it’s quite hard to change policy. This contrasts with the other parties, where the changing fortunes of the leadership mean they flit about. It means people have a rough idea of what we consistently stand for, and our campaigners and activists are not forever having to do an about face.
– I agree with Martina that we need a simpler shorter statement of our main policy principles. I’m pretty convinced too that we have a central core of basic policies that the overwhelming majority of our leaders, activists and members agree upon. It consists of long term propositions at a middle level of generality that are more specific than the Philosophical Basis (which I consider pretty empty), sufficiently precise to be different from the other parties, but far more general than the very specific policies you tend to find in the PSS. Some examples off the top of my head:

– we need a far more vigorous response to the ecological crisis, and that that concern is more important than economic growth, or the ‘burden of regulation’
– within that the major crisis is climate change, and we need to make the UK carbon free in the next 15 years
– we oppose nuclear power
– we need to secure much greater equality of income and wealth, and at least to reverse the polarisation since the late 1970s
– we believe in providing decent properly resourced public services, especially education and health, and will expand public spending financed by increased taxation to provide them
– we believe in a generally mixed economy, with some large concerns in public ownership, more mutuals and coops, and some private enterprise.

Etc etc. The point is not the exact drafting but hitting the right level – agreed on the whole between us, but not all agreed by all of the wider political scene.

So what is to be done? Here’s some suggestions, first where I think we might end up and second on how we might get there.

First is to decide what policy documents we want.

I think I am finally convinced we should retire the PSS – though up until a few years ago I defended it and the process of its creation and amendment. That means that in future it sits there, is not changed any further, but can be used as a persuasive but not conclusive quarry. It would not be official policy as such. We should instead have a short (maybe 5000 words) statement of long term policy principles, drafted at the intermediate level I’ve identified above; I guess before we decided to do this we’d need some comfort that such a project was possible, though some other Green parties seem to have some such document. It should include not just the policy conclusions but also some broad justification of them, so it can be read as a persuasive overall statement of where we are both by members and the general public.

Control of this document will ultimately rest with an annual conference (which for all sorts of reasons must become a delegate conference, see below.) Every conference would review one section of the say 5 section document, so the document overall would be reviewed over five years. One section may be about local government. But the process of review would be managed by a Policy Committee. It would ask members and relevant policy groups and spokespeople what they wanted changed and select the most supported and necessary changes, and also propose changes of their own. Conference would be presented with a list of potential amendments drafted by Policy Committee with some care and attention, so that for example all necessary consequentials have been considered, and the overall length and style of the document is not compromised. Amendments would be accompanied by background material, including possible transitional policies and costings where relevant. This would be quite a departure in our policy making, and Policy Committee would have to inspire a high level of trust and impartiality for it to work. And I think there would need to be some direct democratic fallback of allowing amendments to the policy document direct from some high number of members (100?) without Policy Committee intervention.

The second sort of policy document would be General Election Manifestos, normally produced every five years but essentially as and when required. They will be consistent with the long term policy document, but will also contain short term and transitional material, and be written with a view to politics as well as policy. It may include material not in the long term policy document (in the same way as recent manifestos have often extended the PSS). Their writing should be supervised by a standing committee of the party, and I think a properly constituted Political Committee should carry out this role – though in practice I doubt if this would look very different from the way it was done in 2010 and 2015. I’d remove from GPRC (or any successor similar body) final signing off of the manifesto on policy grounds; it is not a task for which people selected on general grounds are well fitted.

Obviously what I say about bodies needs to fit in with whatever wider plans for reforms the Holistic Review comes up with.

It would be good to give conference some role in the manifesto, but I doubt if it can be much more than consultative. There are often big decisions to be made. But those decisions are often quite complex and inter-related especially if we want a costed manifesto which convincingly adds up. Nevertheless while I don’t think conference should make the decisions, it is odd to say the least that there is no plenary session before an election when members can have a say about what they want and where indicative votes are taken. Obviously timing may sometimes make that impossible, but for a normal anticipated Spring General Election an opportunity should be created at the preceding policy Conference for conference to express opinions for consideration.

Regional (if we need them again), specialist and local manifestos should be constructed in the same way but all done so locally of by the appropriate group. While consistency with the long term policy document should be obligatory, I don’t think there should be any more overall control.

There remains what I call short term policy. This arises at present in a number of ways:

– reactions by the leadership to day to day events. It becomes de facto policy because leaders have said it
– motions, including emergency motions passed at conference that don’t change the PSS
– policy statements by GPRC (in practice there have been very few of these)
– specialist manifestos, eg a youth manifesto issued usually during General Elections.

Apart from removing GPRC’s role, I see no reason why we should not continue with all these, but with one major change. They should cease formally being part of policy after a time limit, say one or two years, though they may be persuasive after that. The time devoted to them at conference should as now be limited, and perhaps workshop sessions shorter. They could be proposed by a minimum number of individuals, by local parties or by groups. I’d suggest that motions from local parties and groups should get some priority as they are more likely to have been discussed at a real meeting before they reach conference. We will simply treat them a great deal less seriously.

If this sort of scheme were adopted a final difficult issue is how to get to it. The main issue would be creating and them democratically legitimizing the long term policy document. I think a first principle should be that it should initially be consistent with the existing PSS and Philosophical Basis, though it may contain new material and need not obviously reproduce all the old material. But it would defuse suspicions that the change marked a major change of policy if there was that rather conservative initial approach.

It should be created by a writing team, reviewed by spokespeople and policy working groups, in a process supervised by Political Committee. The writing team would be obliged to consider issues of presentation, language and tone as well as content; the aim is to produce a persuasive long term document of quality. The Team will need creative writers, experts, drafting pedants and a gifted chair. A first draft should go to be discussed at conference using the procedures suggested above for the amendment of the eventual document. Then a following conference would make the necessary constitutional changes (but procedurally under our existing constitution) to remove the PSS, set out the procedures for changing the new document, and include its initial draft.

There are some changes to conference needed I think to go along with this.

– we probably only need one policy conference a year.
– it must be a delegate conference, the current practice of leaving decision making to those who have the time, money and inclination to turn up is simply not democratically defensible. And delegates who are answerable to someone will take their duties more seriously.
– while electronic voting in discussion forums on an indicative basis is fine, the actual votes should be taken at conference by delegates after discussion. I’ve changed my mind during conference discussions on numerous occasions, it’s a healthy part of the process which cannot be captured online.
– consequential upon that, delegates should not be tightly mandated in advance. While obviously local parties may discuss policy changes with their delegates before conference and express a view, delegates must be free to take into account the discussion they have heard.
– we should retain workshops
– spokespeople shall be required as a condition of their appointment to ensure that a policy working group meeting for their area of policy is convened (not necessarily by them) at each policy conference, and that they attend that meeting. The point of this is to do something that binds them to the Policy Working Groups, and help ensure a range of such groups exisits.
– we don’t need the structure of enabling motions and voting papers anymore. They are replaced by the rolling schedule of debate and change to the long term programme. Nor would we need accreditation, since important policy, that is amendments to the long term policy document will involve Policy Committee anyway.
– I agree with Martina that we need more time and space devoted to simply talking about policy – doing so with like minded people is one of the major reasons people join a political party anyway, not to discuss fund-raising, canvassing and leaflet rounds. So I fully support her idea for more policy focused events.

    Robert · June 28, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    Hi Brian,

    [FYI for others I am currently in the role of Policy Development Coordinator as a job share with Ronald Stewart, but write here in an entirely personal capacity – like others I am just trying to stimulate more conversation on this vital issue].

    Really appreciate seeing your views based on so much experience with the policy process, so thank you (and to Martina and everyone else contributing).

    I’ve done a lot of thinking about the policy process since joining PDC last Autumn and much of it has been along the lines you detail below, however I have the following points and questions I would appreciate your and others’ views on:

    1) The last 3 chapter rewrites in PSS have all seen reductions to 1000 words (as opposed to the 18 chapters which currently have more than 4000 words), which would imply we are heading the right direction on removing unnecessary levels of detail from binding policy. Do you see the continuation of this (or perhaps acceleration, e.g. under a PDC empowered to get chapters reviewed and shortened, with more open and active PWGs, and support from a policy staffer) as having the potential to make PSS become that high level / statement of intent / principles document you envisage?

    2) As detail leaves PSS, or if it is retired as you proposed, or becomes non-binding / private as others have suggested, how do we ensure that we deliver member-based policy-making for other policy? You call this short-term policy, but I think it is more appropriate to call it policy of detail (e.g. we may not immediately wish to implement big ‘ambitious’ policies – four day week, basic income, carbon neutral – but we must have more than a top line principle on each if we are to put them to the electorate). Yes, policy formats like manifestos, background papers and proposals on specific issues are not suitable for our current Conference model (they cannot be picked apart without risking their overall integrity, for example, and I think we’re agreed the latter two cannot be indefinitely nor entirely binding, due to their length). But they are too important to exempt from democratic decision-making altogether. It looks like this type of more functional policy-making is going to be increasingly crucial, and while it may not be a job of Conference, I’m interested in how you and others see it still being a job of members (including through existing/improved structures such as PWGs, as well as new possible routes such as some kind of electronic voting). Note: we know that once something is said, it’s said, so there is no point giving members the right to recall policies they don’t agree with – there has to be a process that inspires openness, consensus and confidence before changes are made (albeit still with a fast track option as is available now). It might seem like designing this is one step too far ahead but I think it’s vital to have an idea of what this will look like, in order to have any chance of persuading Conference to give up its grasp on detail.

      Brian Heatley · July 3, 2018 at 8:56 am

      Robert

      The fashion for recent Voting Papers to be shorter is very recent, there’s nothing that forces it and previous experience has been that things inexorably get longer. But I agree that if people were forced to write much shorter versions of the current PSS chapters that might be a way to get to where we both want to be. But it would surely take a very long time, and depends on volunteers coming forward, and in some areas this may never happen.

      You’re right short term policy is the wrong title, most of it is detailed policy, or both short term and detailed. Looking back I think I was running out of steam when I got to that bit! It seems to me that much of this can’t easily be made by conference without sliding back into the current PSS situation, so I guess I’d have the initiative with a properly constituted political committee (note a quite distinct role from the Policy Committee role in reviewing the basic policy statement.) But I disagree when you say ‘there is no point giving members the right to recall policies they don’t agree with.’ OK it may be embarrassing if Conference subsequently overturns a policy adopted by the leadership, but the fact that that could happen should make the leadership very careful that they don’t get into that position. I’m very aware that when manifesto writing I always felt I had conference sitting on my shoulder, and I constantly asked myself would conference accept the particular policy idea we were adopting. Democracy is not just a matter of votes, it also acts by the weight of previous history.

David McKechnie · June 20, 2018 at 10:22 am

I agree that a delegate approach for conference is necessary.

The linking of spokespeople to working groups is essential; it is amazing that this has not always been the case.

Duncan Brindley · August 8, 2018 at 3:41 pm

As a relatively new member I have to say the Green Party is one of the most complex and long-winded organisations I’ve ever encountered. People join it and vote for it to save the planet. The policies and messaging must reflect this first and foremost, and be readable in less than a day ! If you can’t get your policy point over in less than 1000 words then give it to someone who can. The process to develop it must be nimble and quick and of course the spokespeople should be linked to their working groups – duh ?? Amazing as David said.

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