After this weekend, we have the policies – now let’s win the election

21st July, 2014 11:10 am

“What’s the point of the National Policy Forum?” A question I have been asked many times since I was elected to represent party members in my region on Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF).

“Why would you want to join the National Powerless Forum anyway? It’s a waste of time” I was told.

npf

Returning home from this weekend’s NPF meeting in Milton Keynes, it did not feel like a waste of time, and as a constituency party representative, I did not feel powerless. Together, the representatives of party members from around the country made our voices heard and secured commitments for progressive policies that will help win us the general election.

A list was put together of improvements delivered by the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and regional representatives on the NPF. A snapshot of some of these includes:

Stronger Safer Communities

  • Replacing each council house sold under right to buy by with a new council house in the same local area.
  • Building at least 200,000 homes a year.
  • Removal of the cap on Housing Revenue Account for councils to allow more building.
  • Stop retaliatory evictions and reinforce tenants’ rights in the private rented sector.
  • An accessible and fair system of legal aid.

Health and Care

  • Increased support for carers and the role of local authorities.
  • Enhanced powers for democratic Health and Wellbeing Boards.
  • Properly resourced mental health care for children.
  • More effective regulation of care providers.

Britain’s Global Role

  • Protect public services from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and reform of investor-state dispute settlement.
  • Increased support for human rights (including women’s rights and LGBT rights).
  • Cross-departmental working in international development.
  • Creation of an Armed Forces credit union.

Education and Children

  • Improved citizenship education.
  • Duty to provide a youth service.
  • Commitments around Sure Start and free school meals.

All these policies were put forward by party members around the country, taken up by the constituency and regional reps and are now in the policy documents heading for the manifesto.

Some of the improvements were easy to achieve. I proposed an amendment from Walthamstow CLP seeking to improve women’s rights internationally. Unsurprisingly, I was knocking at an open door (although this popular and uncontroversial amendment would not have been included if party members in Walthamstow had not taken the initiative and put it forward).

Other amendments were more controversial and involved a lot of negotiating. It was clear that there would be no unfunded spending commitments and so compromises had to be reached. Despite this, what has emerged from the weekend is a very strong set of policies that show that Labour is listening to its members and the communities around the country that they come from.

More important than the individual policies themselves, Labour is developing a strong overarching narrative, based on our core values, which link these policies together.

A common complaint, heard many times on the doorstep around the country that all politicians are the same and there is no difference between the mainstream parties. The policies discussed this weekend show there is a real, distinct difference between a Labour and Conservative government. If we are successful next year, our Labour government will transform Britain, dramatically improving life for millions of ordinary working people. We have the policies. Now we just need to go out and win the election.

Alice Perry is a Labour Councillor for St Peter’s Ward, Islington and she represents London members on the NPF

 

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  • PeterKenyon

    Dear Alice

    Many thanks for the rapid feedback. How did you vote on the widely reported amendment tabled by George McManus? Any feedback on why so few delegates supported him would be much appreciated.

    Yours opposed to continuing with Tory austerity

    Peter Kenyon
    chair, City of London Labour Party

    • treborc1

      I thought you had gone missing your blog has been slow of late…

      Not to many Labour people around these days they all cannot see beyond the austerity agenda. I bet if you walked in to shake hands with MIliband he’d say no thank your old labour we are the One Nation.

    • PoundInYourPocket

      If you haven’t already read it , there’s a good article on LeftFutures by Jon Lansman on this issue.

    • Lloyd Jones

      Dear Peter

      Whilst I agree with the spirit of the amendment, I’m relieved
      that it was rejected by such a margin.

      Our biggest challenge ahead of the General Election is to regain
      people’s trust on the economy. If we announce a manifesto based on ending
      austerity through widespread spending commitments, we risk yielding the centre ground to the Tories, and with it our chances of winning the next election.

      I’m inclined to agree with Ed Balls that, with Gilt rates at historic
      lows, we’re missing an opportunity to use debt to grow our way out of economic trouble through widespread infrastructure investment. The problem is, when putting our policies to the public, it is hard to distinguish clearly between that kind of ‘investment’ spending, which it is perfectly to appropriate to borrow to finance, and the sort of unsustainable debt-backed current account spending that we were guilty of during the final years of our last spell in power.

      This fact, coupled with the improving economy, makes
      expansionary fiscal policy a difficult sell on the doorstep, at least to the
      floating voters who will ultimately decide the election.

      To counteract this, I would rather see us champion a policy of:

      (a) smaller-scale, regionally-based, spending commitments, focusing on those parts of the country which have not benefited from the current, grossly London-centric, upturn; and

      (b) targeted legislation, including increasing the minimum wage to £7.50 an hour, cutting employers’ national insurance, and cutting corporation tax for companies with a turnover of less than £3m.

      In short, I think as a party we must remember the lessons of the 80s and early 90s, and resist the temptation to lurch into the unelectable left.

      So far, I think Ed Miliband has done a remarkable job in this regard.

      Best wishes

      Lloyd Jones

      • i_bid

        Yep, he’s certainly doing a remarkable job donning the slightly-lighter shade of Tory that you and the rest of the Blairite top-brass perpetually recommend, so we can look forward to a Labour government that champions, er…small scale regional spending…tax cuts for business (already at record low, and sitting on a mountain of cash they’re not investing)…and a minimum wage that’s below the living wage.

        But still, in power! No matter if it’s simply care-taker until a newly emboldened radical Tory government comes to chop what little’s left. No lessons to learn from 13 years of nothing much, and failed neoliberal policies that constituted “the centre” – or the constant polling showing the electorate are pig-sick of it.

        Wouldn’t be surprised if the softly-softly response costs Labour the election next year – it’s not difficult to see Labour have lost all the momentum they had in first couple of years into the parliament, and their leads are looking easily surmountable these days (when they even have them).

        • Lloyd Jones

          I wouldn’t agree that it’s a lighter shade of Tory. What I’d like to see is us champion a policy of quality job growth to stem the decline in living standards among those on low and middle incomes which the Tories are happy to watch with apathy. That’s why I’ve specifically suggested tax cuts which encourage employment, rather than simply offering a windfall to shareholders.

          Ultimately, I simply don’t believe we can win with a lurch to the left, and every piece of electoral data since WW2 bears that out. Whether we like it or not, I don’t think the electorate are ready to trust us to properly manage a succession of revolutionary infrastructure projects and as such I don’t think we can win an election on that ticket.

          The decline in our momentum is also somewhat explained by the recent economic upturn, which is a boon to the incumbent government, even though it has nothing to do with their deeply flawed economic policy.

          To get us back on track, I think we need some clear, deliverable, flagship economic policies to show the people that we’re responsible, that we’re different to the Tories and most of all that we are the party of growth. Given how fragile the recovery remains outside of London, I think we have a great chance to do just that.

      • PoundInYourPocket

        Whilst I understand the reasons behind the approach being taken by Labour, one of timidity in order to ease their passage into office, isn’t there a greater concern that Labour are no longer acting as an oppossition to Tory economic policy. Agreeing with the Tories so as not to cause a fuss on the doorstep or in the media may make life a little easier but this kind of short term political expediency only favours the Tories in the longer term. What happens at future elections if we make no attempt now to champion public over private and investment over austerity ? We are agreeing with the main principles of Tory policy. That the markets should be in control and that the state should be cut back. What future for Labour now ? I think George Mcmanus was right and the case should be made even at the expense of losing a few seats at this election, for the benefit of future generations at future elections. Labour gave in too easily. Roll over and beg while the Torys rub your belly.

        • Lloyd Jones

          I think it’s pretty trite and misleading to suggest that there is no difference between Tory and Labour economic policy. What favours the Tories in the long term is ignoring what people are saying in favour of championing our own grand plans. That road is a great way to gain the support of party activists, but an even better way to lose an election.

          Were the Tories in power from 1979-1997 because their policies were so incredible? No. They stayed in power because as a party we refused to step down from our soap box and engage with the electorate, and as a result spent 18 years on the fringes, bathed in our own pomposity and irrelevance.

          While I’d like nothing better than to witness Labour romp to a huge majority by promising an end to austerity, it’s simply not realistic, and is a recipe for 5 more years of Conservative rule. Faced with that alternative, I’d rather see a much fairer, and much shorter, Labour led austerity programme.

          • PeterBarnard

            Having just looked at the figures using the ONS national accounts database, it seems to me that the main reason why the Conservatives stayed in power for all those years is simple : consumer expenditure increased from 57.1% of GDP (1978-79), to 61.7% (1996-97), and so (most) people, because they were spending more on consumables, thought that the Conservatives had “sorted” the economy.

            Actually, they had sowed the seeds of a house of cards economy, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor.

          • PoundInYourPocket

            I think what concerns me most in your post is the political method you purport; to poll the electorate for their views on the economy and set policy to suit. As an engineer perhaps I should just ask people their views on how best to build an aircraft, then assemble it. Having absolved myself of any responsibility I can just blame them when it crashes. The major hazard though is that you’re walking into a Tory trap. Once committed to balancing the books in 5 years, you’ll have to set targets towards achieving that goal. A goal that’s completely unrealistic and unecessary, the level of cuts will be completely unpalatable; cutting to a level that hasn’t been seen so far. Every 6 months you’ll be harangued for being off target, eventhough the Tories thamselves wouldn’t be able to implement such cuts. It’s madness. A madness that will give you just one cruel term in office. Better to argue the case for realistic economic policy and ensure a longer and more effective spell in office. I disagree with you as well in that I think the public are smart enough to know the difference between “reckless” and “prudent” borrowing. Even the business sector will be behind that.

          • “Were the Tories in power from 1979-1997 because their policies were so incredible? No. They stayed in power because as a party we refused to step down from our soap box and engage with the electorate, and as a result spent 18 years on the fringes, bathed in our own pomposity and irrelevance.”

            The SDP split in the Labour Party was probably the biggest factor. The left can’t be blamed for that. Thatcher seemed bad at the time but it has to be remembered that unemployment only ever reached 12% at its worst. The sort of economics the present day neoliberals have in mind with their talk of balanced budgets will result in much higher levels than that. We’d be looking at 20% + just like present day Greece and Spain. If it ever happens.

            Thatcher only ever came close to balancing the budget at the height of the Lawson boom. That was a disaster for the economy and and resulted in the recession of the early 90’s. When she resigned it was up to 8% of GDP, which is higher than it is now.

            Will that ever be repaid? No it won’t because it was just issued money. Government debts create our financial assets. Its never a problem for government. It can be a problem for the economy. It can produce too much inflation. That’s the one and only problem.

      • Lloyd,

        So what you are saying is that instead of trying to explain to the electorate that the world is not flat, you’re going along with their misguided notion in order to win the election?

        • Lloyd Jones

          Peter,

          I’m familiar with the economics and agree with the need for a fiscal boost. However, with unemployment continuing to fall (albeit with many of those classed as ’employed’ being underemployed, either in terms of hours or job quality relative to their skills) and limited success stories from major governmental infrastructure projects in recent history, the fact remains it’s a hard sell on the door step.

          When polled on the subject, the vast majority of the public view debt as a bad thing, and while that view may be fundamentally flawed, it isn’t going to change over night, regardless of how much economic theory you stack behind it, and it is supremely arrogant to suggest that we can simply ‘explain’ this to the public and rake in the votes.

          That’s why I’d rather see us pursue a less ambitious, but achievable, growth agenda, on the back of smaller scale public projects and targeted tax cuts.

          If we focus on telling the public what they should want, instead of listening to what they’re saying, we’re doomed.

          • I understand the dilemma. If economic explanations cannot come from the Labour leadership then maybe the party could use its influence to get some economists on the TV to do that.

            If there’s anyone from the BBC reading this I’d suggest Prof Steve Keen at Kingston Uni in London who’s very good. Then there’s Prof Stephanie Kelton and Prof Randall Wray in the US and Prof Bill Mitchell in Australia who know exactly what needs to be done and can explain it all very well.

    • Peter,

      You might be interested to look up the concept of sector financial balances which show that both yourself and George McManus are quite right to be sceptical of austerity economics. It’s anyone who proposes a balanced budget who shouldn’t be trusted with the economy – not vice versa.

      A balanced budget is fine for an economy which is running close to full capacity, which exports and imports in equal measure, and when the inhabitants of that economy neither save nor de-save.

      But change these assumptions a little. Say the economy imports 4% of GDP more than it exports. Say the inhabitants (individuals and companies) wish to save to the extent of 3% of GDP.

      Then the Government has to run a deficit of 4% + 3% = 7% of GDP.

      Govt Deficit = Saving + External Deficit

      That’s just the way it is. Its the arithmetic of accounting.

      Any government forcing the issue of the deficit, without addressing the extent of saving, or the external deficit, will simply send the economy spiralling downwards. That’s what’s happened in the Eurozone. The equation still holds. It just means the inhabitants end up too poor to either save or buy imports.

  • gunnerbear

    “Replacing each council house sold under right to buy by with a new council house in the same local area.”

    Which presumes you’ll allow RTB to continue. What level of discounts will a Labour govt. allow and how much will a Labour CotE allow the LA / HA to keep from the sale?

    “Building at least 200,000 homes a year.”

    Where? In the expensive south-east when there are hundreds of thousands of empty homes? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to move HMG etc. out of London?

    “An accessible and fair system of legal aid.”

    Just got to ask….how much will that cost?

  • gunnerbear

    “Improved citizenship education.”

    Would the effort not be better spent in ensuring that all children can read, write and do basic maths when they leave school after 11/13 years of education.

  • robertcp

    I am increasingly bemused by people saying that Labour will transform Britain. That sort of rhetoric raises expectations with some people and alarms others. Fabian gradualism is a better approach.

  • Pingback: After this weekend, we have the policies – now let’s win the election | Cllr Alice Perry()

  • Did the NPF agree to lift the cap on Housing Revenue account? AFAIK you are the only source. Major + if true.

  • Pingback: The gestation of a manifesto | Well Red()

  • Pingback: Redbrick on borrowing to build houses | Well Red()

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