How does Labour make its policy? Different factions and frontbenchers are quarrelling about a number of issues such as Trident and action in Syria, but a common theme in each dispute is whose word actually represents official policy. Currently the party has a plethora of different stances on everything.
Maria Eagle is having to explain that a Scottish Labour conference vote does not change the party’s official policy on Trident, while her Shadow Cabinet colleague Diane Abbott is explaining that it’s something the UK-wide party really should follow.
Hilary Benn is having to explain that Labour won’t consult Stop the War on British involvement in action against so-called Islamic State in Syria (a point that he didn’t make, perhaps because he is too polite, is that the clue as to what Stop the War may think about British military involvement in action against Isis in Syria may be in the name ‘Stop the War’), and that when Catherine West told a STW meeting last night that the party would consult the group, she was actually speaking to the Syrians in the room. Jeremy Corbyn used today’s story about David Cameron possibly dropping his plans for a vote in the Commons on the matter to call for a review of British involvement in Iraq, too, which Benn’s spokesman has also had to respond to, arguing that the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s ‘judgement remains the same as it did when Parliament overwhelmingly voted and Labour MPs overwhelmingly voted, to agree to the request for assistance from the Iraqi government to resist the invasion by Isil’.
What is interesting about both issues is that they show the difficulty that Labour will have in coming to a settled position on key policies with its current frontbench in place. Many of its talented former frontbenchers are trying to help their colleagues who stayed in the tent by attending a lot of Commons debates and asking questions to make sure the government is really well-scrutinised. But while this is a noble aim, it doesn’t address the fact that Corbynites will spend the next few years filling the party architecture so that when Labour does start to nail down policies, it will be difficult firstly for the moderates to get much of a hearing and secondly for those frontbenchers like Benn and Eagle to stay in their jobs if, as appears increasingly to be the case, the party decides to oppose Trident, for instance.
But for the time being, there seems to be very little discussion even between those frontbenchers who are supposed to be presenting the party line on policies and the leadership, which means that everyone is able to have their own stance. But that confusion can't continue, especially on matters that demand a party stance so that it can actually vote on something in the Commons.