Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Labour's Future

The Labour Party has published its final set of policy documents for consultation and amendment before they are adopted to shape its General Election Manifesto.

Produced by its National Policy Forum (NPF) following Labour’s policy review process, the eight papers are available on the party’s Your Britain website .

The individual documents can be accessed directly from these links:

1. Stability and Prosperity Policy  : on the economy — from growth and the economic recovery, to public spending, taxation and how to reduce the deficit in a fair way.
2. Work and Business : on how the UK can compete in a global economy, including support for business, rights at work, fair pay and the future of pensions.
3. Living Standards and Sustainability : issues affecting the quality of life in Britain, the cost of living, and our environment. Key topics include energy, climate change, food, rural affairs and transport.
4. Stronger, Safer Communities : how we rebuild our communities and create a society in which everyone plays their part — including community safety, housing, local government and immigration.
5. Education and Children : childcare plans, and thinking on young people’s wellbeing and learning — from early years through to further and higher education and apprenticeships.
6. Health and Care : plans for the NHS, health and social care — and how to bring about a new focus on whole person care.
7. Better Politics : how to build a new form of politics — looking at engagement, equality, civil society and the change of our political system.
8. Britain’s Global Role : Britain’s role within the global community — including foreign policy, international development and defence.

These policy documents can be read online, or downloaded in pdf format.

Included in these are proposals on (1) tackling climate change, (2) re-distribution from the wealthy to the poor, (3) overcoming energy price rips offs, (4) providing decent housing and other communal facilities, (5) educational openings for under-achievers (including second chance education), (6) an integrated health service, (7) devolution, (8) improving electoral registration to tackle the missing six and a half million voters, (9) third world aid and development, including international pressures for the use of the Robin Hood Tax, and (10) – Len McCluskey please note – what could be called a ten point Trade Union Charter in a section of the document “Work and Business”.

I am not claiming that these proposals (and those surrounding them) are perfect. But they do open up avenues for clarification and development. It is a different agenda from anything we got in the Blair-Brown years. What is needed is that it should all be pushed to the front of the political agenda. It will be difficult to start gaining support for a mainly unheard of programme just in the four weeks run-up to a General Election.

Individual members of the Labour Party can put forward their own proposals via the above website. See here to trace my own recent submission dated 4th April.

Every Constituency Labour Party is entitled to propose up to 10 textual amendments before the deadline on 13 June, NPF members will then choose which proposals to adopt at a meeting in July. It is, therefore,  a good idea to hold a constituency meeting soon with a NPF representative present and press them to pursue the Constituency's  proposals.

The final papers drawn from the consultations will then be debated and adopted by Labour’s annual conference in September, and will shape official party policy for the 2015 general election.

Some of my favourite extracts from the eight consultative documents are given below. They are proposals which need to be defended and extended.

1. Stability and Prosperity

Page 6, lines 29 to 31 and page 4, lines 4 to 16. “Labour is committed to tackling climate change...(we) will take advantage of the opportunities that have arisen from the low-carbon economy and green industries”... “the next Labour Government will break up the banks so that ordinary retail banking is completely separate from riskier investment banking...will also tackle excessive pay in our banking system...Labour has proposed a repeat of the bank bonus tax, using funds raised to provide a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee for young people. Labour will also require banks to publish the numbers of employees earning more than £1 million...we also need a legally enforced Code of Conduct for bankers so that those who act recklessly can be struck off.”

2. Work and Business

Page 6, lines 27 to 30 and page 7, lines 1 and 2, plus 13 to 15. “Labour will protect working people from their wages being undermined by strengthening the National Minimum Wage. The minimum wage should rise in real terms to at least catch up the ground it has lost under this Government and Labour will investigate whether certain sectors can afford to pay more...giving a tax rebate to those companies that sign up to become Living Wage employers in the first year of the next Parliament...Labour will increase transparency on pay, by requiring companies to publish the ratio of the pay of their top earner compared to the average employee, and the pay packages of the ten highest employees outside the boardroom...we will ensure that there is an employee representative on remuneration committees...”

3. Living Standards and Sustainability

Page 7, lines 21 to 40. “Labour will break the stranglehold of the 'Big Six' energy companies by ring-fencing their generation and supply businesses, and forcing them to buy and sell their energy through an open exchange. We will also require energy companies to open up their books and provide information on their trading activities and their retail and generation businesses. This will make the market more transparent and competitive, and will open it up to alternative forms of ownership and generation, such as community energy...we will freeze energy prices until 2017, saving the average household £120...Labour will support community energy, and explore the huge potential for individuals and communities to create and save energy through community ownership and collective consumer action.”

4. Stronger, Safer Communities

Page 4, lines 20 to 40 and page 5, lines 43 and 46. “The next Labour Government will build at least 200,000 homes a year by 2020, initially focusing in developing brownfield sites...We will support local authorities who want to build social homes, and encourage those who are not building to do so...Labour will set about building the next generation of new towns and garden cities.”... “Many letting agents adopt unscrupulous methods...Labour will change this by regulating letting agents and bring an end to rip-off fees and charges”.

5. Education and Children

Page 5, lines 24 to 26 and page 6, lines 12 to 14. “Labour will ensure that all young people continue English and Maths to18 and...we will introduce a new gold standard Technical Baccalaureate for young people, acting as a stepping stone into an apprenticeship, further study or Technical Education...Labour...will deliver a radical devolution of power from Whitehall...(to) empower local communities to have a greater say about education in their area”. Page 9. lines 14 to 18. “Labour also believes in second chances for those who could not complete their education the first time round. Changes to tuition fees have led to a sharp fall in university applications from part-time and mature students. The economic downturn is a reminder that many people need support to manage economic and labour market change, and it is vital that we ensure there are retraining and lifelong learning options for those who need them”

6. Health and Care

Page 5, lines 14 to 23. “the next Labour Government will integrate health and social care services into a system of 'whole person care'. This approach will bring together three separate, fragmented services into a single service co-ordinating all of a person's needs – physical, mental and social – with preventing illness and promoting good health at its heart. Whole-person care will enable us to put people of all ages at the centre of the health and care system in a way that has never been done before; seeing the whole person, and organising services around the needs of people and their communities. The concept of whole-person care has relevance across all stages of life, from the child with complex needs, the working age adult with disabilities through to the older person. For example, from the very start, our maternity services, health visitors and children's centres can work closely together to improve the outcomes for children and parents, particularly those from disadvantaged groups.”

7. Better Politics

Page 1, lines 22 and 23; page 7, lines 42 to 44 and lines 6 and 7. “By handing power and responsibility down from Whitehall to communities, we can empower people to solve problems themselves...There is a huge well of talent, ability, ideas and passion in every community. Devolution is the best way to unleash these things in the interests of the places we cherish...Labour will examine further reform of the devolved settlements across the UK”.

Page 4, lines 12 and 13; page 6, lines 38 and 39. “Labour will give a voice to young people by lowering the voting age to 16 for all UK elections. While we improve citizenship and political education, we will give young people the opportunity to engage in democracy...When the franchise is extended to 16 year olds, schools, as well as colleges and universities, could handle voter registration.”

8. Britain's Global Role

Page 45, line 36. “Labour believes that Britain's national interest lies in remaining at the heart of a reformed EU.” Page 8, lines 15 to 18, and 44 and 45. “Labour will deliver reform from within the EU, not exit from it. We want to see tough new budget discipline with stronger independent audit, a balanced growth plan, a new Growth Commissioner and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy...and will ensure the UK does not opt out of its Social Europe obligations”. Page 10, line 25 to 34. “With the deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals expiring in 2015 ...Labour is committed to supporting a post-2015 development agenda that seeks to eradicate global poverty, promote sustainability, and end aid dependency by 2030. We believe that this can only be achieved through a rights-based agenda...decent jobs and social protection, access to universal heath and social care, universal access to basic utilities, quality primary and secondary education, protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, basic food security and eradication of hunger, women's empowerment and gender equality, freedom from violence and fear of violence, good governance and active and responsible citizenship.” Page 11, lines 2 and 3. “Labour is in favour of an international transaction tax – one that is agreed by all the world's financial centres”.


Unknown said...

On paper these Labour policy proposals sound good and a welcome change of emphasis.

But we know, don’t we, that policy proposals without a sound economic strategy and (importantly) the political will to pursue social justice and take on the forces of capital will come to nought and end up in a repeat of the Blair and Brown failures and disillusionment. How many times have we been here and what has changed?

The problem (in my opinion) is much more fundamental and linked to Labour Party democracy or lack of it. Despite all the talk about democracy and one-member-one vote being at the heart of Labours’ policy development and in the selection of prospective Parliamentary candidates, the reality is something completely different and much more in tune with Tammany Hall and a political machine that is utterly corrupt, partisan and shameless.

This process is typified by news in today's Independent newspaper that Euan Blair is about to be parachuted into a safe Labour seat to represent a constituency of people who he knows nothing about and who are about to be used simply to further Blair’s career ambitions.

Nepotism, not democracy, rules in Ed Miliband’s Labour Party which sometimes talks the language of change with its ‘One Nation Labour’ philosophy but has a shadow cabinet teeming with unrepentant Blairites and neoliberals who support free market economic, the establishment and the status quo and with a record when in government that was shockingly regressive, unbalanced and socially unfair. Remember the Blairite song “Things can only get better”. Well they did for the rich, for the establishment and for the forces of capital but for the working class is was something entirely different.

While many MP’s might have good intentions, at least when they enter Parliament, the manner of their selection is problematic and their commitment and loyalty to the goals of social justice and change soon seems to quickly dissipates in the wake of machine politics, personal ambitions and threats from the whips office together with nods and winks from the Labour establishment about loyalty and acceptable behaviour.

Under the Blair and Brown governments’ inequality, poverty, homelessness and food banks grew exponentially. Labour administrations that embraced the free market, neoliberal, horror story and wasted billions on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on weapons of mass destruction, cutting the public sector, on outsourcing and privatising community services. And which failed to regulate the banks and financial services and when things went badly wrong, did nothing to bring those responsible to account.

Politicians who when they leave office then trot off into the welcoming arms of the city, big money and the antiquated and undemocratic House of Lords.

This then is a fundamental problem insofar as the Labour Party has become a vehicle for ambitious look-a-like Euan Blair’s who’s primary goal is their own self-serving career ambitions and maintenance of a capitalist status quo.

To my mind Labour Party nepotism and the political dynasties now being formed aka Blair, Kinnock, Straw, Prescott, et el, is truly shameful and shocking and suggests that these would be Labour Leaders (just like Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson) are arrogant and self-serving, careerist likely to be skilled in political spin and in using the Labour Party as a vehicle a for their own narrow but as agents of social change, absolutely useless.

Does anyone seriously think that there is no one living in Bootle, Aberavon, Hull, etc, with the knowledge, skills and commitment to represent working class and progressive constituents in Parliament?

Time for change don’t you think?

Harry Barnes said...

With the cards stacked against us within our political and economic structure, I feel that democratic socialists need to use what openings they can to spread and develop their ideas. For the next two months there are clear chances within (and upon) the Labour Party to press for an improvements to the eight consultative documents which have emerged out of their National Policy Forum procedures. The effort involved seems to me to be worthwhile (a) even if our inputs are rejected and (b) even if some are successful and are then completely ignored when and if Labour wins office. For the current (highly imperfect) consultative procedure offers a chance to engage with others in about the only thing open to us at the moment - an involvement in an avenue for political education. I am linked with five meetings in this area on this topic within the next month or so.

I agree with what you say about Tammany Hall, Nepotism and the general lack of democracy inside the Labour Party. So when Ed Miliband gave Jon Trickett the task of seeing how the Labour Party could get itself a more representative set of MPs (including more MPs from the working class), we got Jon to Dronfield to address us on the topic and then got him to an all members meeting at Constituency level. Of course (as far as I know) nothing that we were looking for is on Labour's agenda. But we did not expect to win - only to educate each other and push in the correct direction.

So what can we do in current circumstances? Pack up or join Left Unity? Instead I prefer to try to network with a range of democratic socialists inside and outside of the Labour Party. Then when I give it a rest, I attempt to work on bits of Labour History as a means of re-charging my batteries.

One thing that disappoints me is that there seems to be little interest within the ILP for examing and reforming Labour's consultative documents. From material I supplied to him, Matthew put an item on the web-site on 11 March. But you and I have been the only subsequent contributers on the topic in the past month.

At our Labour Party Branch Meeting on Wednesday, I asked the other eleven members to write on a card their ideas for Labour's election manifesto. I have since examined these and emailed to them all. I have quoted the nearest bits which appear in the Consultative Documents, to see what improvements they are after. For instance. someone wanted the abolition of prescription changes. There is nothing on this in any document. Yet these charges were abolished in Wales in 2007, Northern Ireland in 2010 and in Scotland in 2011. At the other end of the scale, someone else wanted the public ownership of the utilities. Of course, that is another nil return from the consultative documents! We live and learn - which is the objective.

Unknown said...


I do agree with you insofar as we have no other option but to try and influence events inside and outside of the Labour Party and to win as many friends and supporters to our point of view as we can. And while I tend to be a little less tolerant and more dogmatic than your good self and most ILPers, I do understand we cannot hope to win people over unless we listen and network with a range of democratic socialists, trade unionists and progressives, while drawing on ILP and Labour history to learn the lessons of our past and to chart our way forward in a conservative culture which is hostile and alien, in the extreme. And you are so very much better than I am at this.

Having said that, I do believe that part of the answer must be to challenge some fundamentals such as the current system of Labour Party un-democracy and our broken electoral and Parliamentary system which allows the Blair’s and Mandelson’s of this world who are able to use the Labour Party for self-serving reasons at the expense of the very people they claim to support and represent. A problem that is becoming ever more apparent, and which is no doubt why Milband has asked Jon Trickett to consider how the Labour Party might become more diverse and representative of society and the world of work.

But to my mind, putting a few tame working class people into Parliament will change nothing and will simply address the symptoms and not the fundamental problem brought about by a combination of top down party machine politics, a broken FPP electoral system and a thoroughly undemocratic Westminster Parliament and honours system which all combine to support the forces of capital, conservatism and status quo compliance, in all sort of corrupt, dishonest and immoral ways.

And, to my mind, a good first step would be to campaign in support of PR, devolution max, a system of recall and modern and cheap electronic voting where issues can be debated more widely allowing highly contentious proposals (such as the bedroom tax. Royal Mail privatisation and wars, etc) to be tested via referendum. We should try and make democracy work for us and the wider electorate.

It is highly significant that the very Parliamentarians who are so keen to force change and modernism on working people, stick tenaciously to archaic systems and rituals in their own place of work.

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : At the moment I would settle for getting the bulk of the 6.5 million people who are missing onto electoral registers and tackling very low voter turn out. You will find my proposals on this matters in evidence I submitted to a Commons Select Commitee here - http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/6239