An early start of 6.45am was shown to be well worth the effort after hearing the intelligent and articulate discussion at the first day of the National Policy Forum (NPF) conference.
The initial debate over whether the chair election should be held that day was lively and unexpected. It has been presented in a way designed to cause division, but I felt united with the majority of NPF members that it was not the focus of our meeting. The conversations that followed were the purpose of our trip to Leeds.
I’ve been a member of the NPF for three years, but this is only my second conference. Attending this weekend I did exactly what I was elected to do: contribute; represent the views of those I was elected by; listen and take on board the ideas of others; ensure the concerns of trade union members were considered. Hard-working cleaners, caterers, health care assistants, nurses and porters have strong feelings about policy direction, particularly within the NHS, and I wanted to make sure the trade union members within my CLP had a voice.
The work pensions and equality commission held the first policy session I took part in, addressing in-work poverty and working age inequalities. The debate was well-attended and featured a wide range of views; attendants’ submissions showed why Labour should be in power. It is only the Labour Party that allows the electorate to shape policy making to this extent.
Debbie Abrahams and Diana Holland expertly chaired the session and were conscious that the policy area overlapped with many others. All delegates were aware that Brexit would have an impact on the economy going forward and expressed concerns about its potential effects. We know Labour policy in this area has got to get it right. The feeling was unanimous – we have to stop paying private contractors who don’t deliver.
Jeremy Corbyn then used his speech to set out his vision of Labour councils that put people first, prioritising decent homes, safer communities, secure jobs, a real living wage and social care funding. As with every leader’s speech I’ve attended, it was extremely well-received. Jeremy taps into what we all see day in, day out; he goes straight to the heart of the issue and says what we need to do to address it. As a policy forum member, that’s exactly what I want to hear.
The next policy session was held by the justice and home affairs team. Expertly led by shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, Alice Perry chaired and West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson provided insider knowledge from a local perspective. Discussion centred around the ways in which the system is failing people from the Black community and how private providers are failing to deliver. Looking at the policies that could improve the system, we agreed it was important to find an alternative to imprisoning people for being poor.
Coming from a county that’s getting rid of all PCSOs, I was pleased to hear more about Labour’s commitment to community policing. We also tackled difficult subjects including what should be done with those returning to Europe after fighting in places like Syria. We did not all agree on a solution, but we weren’t afraid to enter rigorous debate.
Saturday’s final policy session was on the NHS and social care and how we can address inequalities in heath. This is the issue about which I’m most passionate, and I was heartened to hear the contributions from the delegates. Each one committed to pursue Nye Bevan’s vision. As always, the session overran. Many delegates were, as I was, attempting to articulate all the views of those they represent, which is impossible to do in three minutes (although I tried). The essential role of trade unions ran through all policy discussions and I was reassured to hear it.
After the high standards set by yesterday’s contributions, I am looking forward to the sessions on Sunday.
Jo Rust is a NPF CLP delegate.