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Unions Apprehensive Ahead Of Labour Clause V Manifesto Meeting

Keir Starmer (PA Images / Alamy)

5 min read

Affiliated trade unions are apprehensive about the detail of the “new deal for working people” policy ahead of the party’s so-called ‘Clause V’ manifesto meeting on Friday, PoliticsHome understands.

The “new deal”, also titled “Labour’s plan to make work pay”, is a package of proposals aiming to boost workers’ rights. Internal critics say policies were watered down at Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) last year and made weaker again last month.

“The again revised New Deal for Working People has more holes in it than Swiss cheese,” Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said in May.

Changes since the package was first unveiled in 2021 include the promise to create a single tier status of worker replaced with a consultation, and the introduction of collective bargaining now potentially applying to adult social care rather than throughout the economy.

Sources say that, ahead of the crunch meeting to sign off Labour’s manifesto, unions are concerned about the wording. It states Labour will “implement in full” the new deal, which is considered by some to be “too vague” and giving the party “a lot of wiggle room”.

They acknowledged that the wording was agreed at a recent meeting, however. The key point unions will be focused on is whether there is any further rollback from the NPF wording.

"We agreed the document last week and are committed to it," a Labour Party spokesperson said.

Around 80 stakeholders will arrive at 10am on Friday at a venue in central London, to be revealed to them at 6.30am that morning. On arrival, they will hand in their electronic devices – to ensure no leaks – and be given numbered copies of the manifesto. They have two hours to read the manifesto before the meeting begins at noon.

Unlike the Conservatives, who have a small group of officials drawing up and signing off their manifesto, the job of creating Labour’s manifesto is an elaborate one – and a party constitutional requirement. Its name, Clause V, is taken from the section of the rulebook outlining the process.

Participants include the leader and deputy leader, the Scottish and Welsh Labour leaders, shadow cabinet members, the parliamentary committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party, senior trade union representatives and all 39 members of Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee.

Before Friday, shadow cabinet members will have seen only the sections of the manifesto relevant to their briefs. Trade unions were given the opportunity to read hard copies of the document on Wednesday, having handed in mobiles beforehand.

The ‘Clause V’ meeting was more than eight hours long in 2019. Amid expectations of a slimmed-down manifesto and tightly controlled meeting, Labour sources are hopeful that the gathering will be shorter on Friday.

“I attended the Clause V meetings in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and each meeting ran slightly differently. Each time it was exciting to be in the room as the occasion felt momentous,” former Labour NEC chair Alice Perry told PoliticsHome.

“2017 and 2019 resulted from snap elections so things were more frenetic and policy positions had to be negotiated quickly.

“Labour has learned from recent experience and came into 2024 well pre-prepared in terms of policy development, so I’d expect Friday’s Clause V to be more like 2015, which felt like more of a formality with an outward focus on the wider election campaign.”

Andrew Fisher, who was Labour’s director of policy under Jeremy Corbyn, is often described as the author of the 2017 and 2019 manifestos but rejects the description.

“Manifestos don't really have authors as such. They have project managers, I suppose, editors, or chief negotiators as well, all rolled into one,” he told PoliticsHome.

Fisher put together a structure for the document, worked out what they wanted to prioritise and the narrative running through it, then gave shadow cabinet teams a brief of word length, style and format so they could draft their section.

Policy debates are supposed to be held over the course of shadow cabinet discussions and the National Policy Forum, then trade unions are consulted to ensure key battles are resolved ahead of Clause V. Throughout the process, copies are kept to a minimum to guard against leaks.

At the meeting, chaired by the leader and NEC chair, the manifesto is looked at, section by section, and participants have the opportunity to make comments and move amendments.

“There would normally be an introduction from the leader and shadow chancellor, one to emphasise the overall consensus on policy and the direction of the manifesto and give a brief update on the campaign so far,” Fisher explained.

“The shadow chancellor really just says, ‘Look, we're not going to do any more funding commitments, what's in there is in there, so don’t move it about too much’. That’s basically the subtext of what they say.”

He added: “In my experience, there are no votes. If there are disputes and things need to be hammered out, there tends to be a little sidebar as the meeting goes on where a relevant shadow cabinet minister and the person who objects might go and have a quick discussion to resolve that.

“Generally people don't push things to a vote because they know the numbers in the room aren't going to support it and nobody wants any reports of splits last minute.”

Fisher described the Clause V process as “painstaking” but “useful” for picking up typos, policies overlooked and presentational points.

“You have to do on-screen amendments that night, go back to Labour HQ, work with the proof-readers to type up and finalise the final text, and then it goes off to the printers. Obviously you need some lead-in time for the turnaround on that as well so you’ve got hard copies at the launch.”

Labour’s manifesto launch is expected to be held on Thursday 13 June, when it will be unveiled to the public.

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