The "People’s Policy Forum" is symbolic of a change in the culture of the Labour Party

We will not treat the British people like fools - we want to hear what everyone has to say, says Angela Eagle.

This Saturday, Ed Miliband and Labour’s shadow cabinet will join nearly two thousand members of the public in Birmingham. The "People’s Policy Forum" is one of many opportunities for members of the public to shape Labour’s offer to the British people in 2015. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on the other hand have spent recent weekends addressing party faithful at spring conferences. While they are concerned with resolving internal disputes, Labour is united and looking outwards, talking to the public rather than talking to itself.

With just over two years to go until the election, people want to know what One Nation Labour offers as an alternative to this unfair and incompetent government.

While it would be tempting to satisfy that demand by drawing up a list of easy promises on the back of an envelope, the reality is that that would be wrong and counterproductive. The process of writing the next manifesto must be considered and reflective. It must encourage deliberation and debate. People must feel that they can have their say. We have to listen and analyse before we can provide the right answers with certainty. The next manifesto won’t be built on the whims of politicians on the TV show couch, but on the ideas, hopes and dreams of the British public.

Saturday’s People’s Policy Forum is symbolic of a change in the culture of the Labour Party. We have transformed how we make policy to ensure that it is formed in the reality of people’s lives, in their words and on their terms. At the heart of our new conversation is our policy website. Members of the public, organisations, charities and members of political parties are all joining together in debate and discussion on the site, and their ideas will feed directly in to the policy process.

We have a clear timetable and a transparent process for the creation of our manifesto in 2015. We have already made significant strides, one concrete example being the ten policy documents on issues ranging from engaging young people in politics to the NHS, tax havens and childcare that will be launched at the People’s Policy Forum. These will all be put on to Your Britain in the coming days for further discussion and debate.

Labour’s approach has always been different to the top down process pursued by other political parties, but we need to go further. As chair of our renewed policy process, I am determined that we change.

Our politics today is more about the sound bite than it is about the debate. We must have the courage to shake that consensus. We should not be ashamed that our answer to the question ‘What would you do?’ is that we will take our time to get it right, we will not make promises we can’t keep, we will not treat the British people like fools. We need a new way of doing politics, and Labour is taking the first steps.

Angela Eagle MP is the chair of Labour’s policy process and shadow leader of the House of Commons

Signs displayed during the recent Eastleigh by-election. Photograph: Getty Images
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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.