Warning - for anoraks only!
I'm something a veteran of Labour's National Policy Forum, having not just been there for Warwick One (something akin in recent Labour mythology to Manchester Free Trade Hall, June '76 - although actually top spot probably goes to the Royal Festival Hall May 1997: "a new dawn has broken, has it not" and so on), but also at the previous finales at Exeter and Durham.
Have just got back from Warwick Two, which went far more smoothly than the previous NPFs, although there still weren't many members of the Party's staff who actually got any sleep on Friday or Saturday. Decisions are made, discussions had, and deals done well into the night - which means that staff then have to stay up until the early dawn producing yet another paper mountain of endorsed and undendorsed amendments.
For those unfamiliar with the NPF, it's composed of the following: 5 constituency reps elected from each region/ nation, plus 2 elected by regional conferences: so that's 77 ordinary party members (of which I used to be one, from 1998 till 2005). Trade unions have 30 places, and there are a few places for local government, the Co-op party, the socialist societies. There are, I think, 8 places for MPs, 3 for MEPs and a couple for peers. Labour's National Executive Committee are all members of the NPF, and then there are some Government places.
There's a rolling process (called 'Partnership in Power') over a couple of years, during which 6 policy documents are discussed by the party (and in year one, by outside interests too). At the end of the process NPF members get to submit amendments based on those discussions, and we all get together over a weekend to debate, decide and then vote on them. There were 4000+ amendments this time round. Obviously we can't get through all 4000 in the weekend, so the first step is for the Joint Policy Committee (basically consisting of some reps from each section of the NPF) gives its seal of approval to all the non-contentious wording.
Then there are discussions at the NPF itself on what's left, between the movers of the amendments and a Minister (or Ministers - my first one was on academies, which was grouped with several others on the same topic; we ended up with 20 of us in a room that would have comfortably held 8, with Jim Knight, Andrew Adonis and Ed Balls - who didn't even get a seat. Good discussion though). By Friday night a lot of amendments have been sorted, with 'consensus wording' agreed. But there are still a lot of outstanding issues; as Saturday goes on it's quite fun to sit back in the lounge bar and watch spads running back and forth, trying to find members and ministers so they can be locked into a non-smoke-filled room to hammer out a consensus.
Incidentally, the Sunday Times has a stupid speculative report today about Miliband Senior being seen - shock, horror! - talking to two trade union leaders in the bar. Well he did, but not for very long - and every single member of the Cabinet was at Warwick (except possibly Andy Burnham and Paul Murphy; I didn't see them). They almost certainly all spoke to trade union leaders too. That's what we do at such gatherings; talk to each other. And some people even have a drink too.
Anyway, that's part one of how the NPF works.... will do a separate post on what happens next, as this one is going on a bit...