As a General Election kicks off and “normal” business in Parliament is suspended what can policy advocates do during the next six weeks of hectic campaigning? Is it still possible to influence the manifestos that are due to be launched imminently?
Generally if you are asking this question for the first time it means your are thinking too little, too late about engagement. Really this is a conversation you need to have started months ago. But for those who like to leave their homework to the last minute, the Atlas team sets out the manifesto process for each of three national parties.
At this point a manifesto ask would need to have a really clear consumer benefit and be fully costed – so that it can be simply dropped in to the respective parties existing documents. So, unless you have something ready to go, we wouldn’t recommend approaching manifesto teams within each of the parties just for the sake of engagement alone.
The three national parties all have different policy processes for their manifestos – which we’ve attempted to very briefly summarise below – but each requires a bespoke approach and ideally for you to have some advocates from within their ranks already briefed on your area of expertise and your policy recommendations.
With a historically top down policy approach, The Conservatives have the least accessible manifesto process. Most of the drafting has already been done by former think tankers Rachel Woolf and Munira Mirza, Director of the Number Ten Policy Unit. However, before publication (currently expected w/c 18th November) it will receive input from Ministers, the 1922 Committee and the Conservative Policy Forum designed to engage with backbencher MPs.
The melee that ensues between these groups for a say in the party positioning is likely to be the softest point of influence for outsiders. A supportive MP is your best bet if they are willing to fly your flag, but competing with the noise will not be easy. This manifesto process is the least open and collaborative of the major parties.
Beyond the recent announcements at their September Conference, the 2017 manifesto will give you a good starting point for where Labour is policy-wise.
Officially (and brace yourselves for an extensive list), Labour party rules state that “When not in Government the NEC, the Shadow Cabinet, the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Parties, the Chair and three vice Chairs of the NPF and eight Trade Union members of the TULO Group shall decide which items from the party programme will be included in the manifesto that shall be issued by the NEC”.
Ultimately the manifesto is decided by the NEC - which has now been captured by Corbyn allies. The NEC will have a meeting on the manifesto but we don’t yet know when this is scheduled, nor do we know why Keith Vaz still retains his seat on it - but that’s another matter entirely. Again via a friendly MP you could consider getting in touch with a member of the NEC, to share your ask.
The Lib Dem manifesto is 90% done and some may ask whether there is any point trying to get your policies into it anyway. We’d argue yes. Our electoral map is being redrawn to account for new political identities of ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ which pollsters tell us remain deeply entrenched. There are many Tories in remain voting constituencies looking worriedly over their shoulders at energised Lib Dem opponents, which makes the policy debate worth having. In a future hung Parliament or minority administration, Jo Swinson could make or break cross-party policy efforts. There’s also a precedent for good policies that belong to opposition parties being adopted by the Government, for example independence of the Bank of England and the energy price cap plan.
So how can you squeeze into that spare 10% the Lib Dems have left? The party’s policy positions are largely governed through democratic votes, which take place at their conferences. However, as Jo only took over in the summer and didn’t have time to bring her own agenda to the seaside shindig in September, she will be sprinkling her own priorities through the document. Lord Newby and Chuka Umunna MP are leading on the drafting but you can also contact the Liberal Democrat policy team supporting that process directly, using the subject heading ‘Policy’ and email email@example.com in HQ. Obviously setting out how the ask liberal in nature and supports the building of “a brighter future”!