“Party conference shall decide from time to time what specific proposals of legislative, financial or administrative reform shall be included in the Party programme. This shall be based on the rolling programme of work of the National Policy Forum.” (Emphasis added)
The results of that “rolling programme of work” emerge at this time of the year giving members a few weeks to read and discuss them and to get their party branches and CLP to respond. It’s a tight timetable and there is room to doubt the value of the consultation that this purports to be.
There are eight draft policy documents all of which are available on the Labour Policy Forum website in the form of a document from each of the eight policy commissions. The following links are to all the drafts (1) Work, Pensions and Equality, (2) Justice and Home Affairs, (3) International Affairs, (4) Early Years, Education and Skills, (5) Business, Economy and Trade, (6) Housing, Local Government and Transport, (7) Environment, Energy and Culture, and (8) Health and Social Care.
The average length of main text of the documents is 1,345 words. The are padded out with lots of spacing and also with suggested questions most of which are of no value. For ease of access I have made a document of the full text of each of the drafts without the fancy formatting and the daft questions. It is an eight-page document obtainable here (pdf) or here (Word).
Left Futures hopes to publish analyses of as many of the reports as possible. If you would like to contribute, then please contact the editor. What follows is a brief overview of all eight documents.
Each document starts with a section called Labour’s vision. This leads to a statement of the Issues considered this year followed by brief sections expanding on each of the named issues.
(1) Work, Pensions and Equality
Labour’s vision claims astonishingly that Labour “will guarantee a decent job for all”. Someone has evidently found a way of achieving this within a capitalist framework. We must hope that the secret will be revealed before Labour’s Annual Conference. As for inequality, we are assured that Labour will take the “bold action” that is needed to reduce it.
The issues for this year are poverty and inequality, social security and equalities.
Tackling poverty and inequality. In light of the news that Labour is going to guarantee a decent job for all the details on this would seem to be not all that important.
Social security and pensions for all. We are told “social security needs to work for people of all ages and backgrounds” which sounds fair enough and the section concludes with “We want to see Britain’s system of social security made fairer..” which doesn’t give much guidance on how it will be done.
Equalities. Labour will “continue to champion and strengthen the Equality Act, the Equality and Human Rights Commission …”. It will also “close disparities of income and wealth”. Unfortunately there are no suggestions as to how this will be done.
(2) Justice and Home Affairs
Labour’s vision tells us that the rule of law is great and that we want everyone to have access to justice regardless of their means. Labour “will develop an effective probation service” and it wants to see “fair and reasonable management of migration”. Large-scale immigration is said to “bring challenges” but there is, according to the document, “a trade-off between restrictions on the movement of people and securing full single market access”. If you think this sounds confused you may not be alone.
Issues. Immigration, prisons and access to justice.
Immigration. This section continues the confusion just described without resolving anything.
Prisons. “Labour’s task is to device a new approach to prisons”. Isn’t that what the Policy Commission was supposed to be doing?
Access to Justice. We are proud, apparently, that “our legal system” has been replicated all over the world (except, of course, where other systems have been adopted). The Conservative Government is said to have made access to justice unaffordable for many people. Labour’s task is to “look at how we ensure that access to justice is not just a privilege reserved for those who have the means to pay for it …”. That doesn’t sound much like the result of months of work by the commission.
Victims’s Rights: “we must develop policies that guarantee better treatment of victims”.
(3) International Affairs
Labour’s vision. “Labour’s foreign policy has always been guided by our values”, apparently. That foreign policy is said to rest on “twin pillars” one of which is our close relationship with the US. The national interest is treated as one thing, something that serves the interests of all. The idea of competing class interests is one that hasn’t yet got as far as the International Commission.
Issues. Relations with Europe and the US, international development, conflict resolution.
Relations with the EU. We need to protect employment rights and environment standards as developed in the EU.
Relations with the US. The US-UK partnership is re-emphasised as “a key pillar of British foreign policy”. It is said to be based on shared values of “respect for the rights of women and minorities and a strong commitment to democracy, freedom of the press and the rule of law”.
International development. “Labour made the UK a world leader in global development, saving millions of lives whilst enhancing Britain’s security and influence on the world stage”. Iraq? Lots of terrible problems of poverty, climate change and insecurity round the world are listed leading to the conclusion that “The UK must now lead the way” in solving the problems.
(4) Early Years, Education and Skills
Labour’s vision. “Labour believes that the purpose of education” is to give everyone the chance to “reach their full potential and live a good life”. Which political party says otherwise. Labour also believes in “Good quality early education” and that “Building a strong education system is essential for our country’s future economic health”.
Issues. Building a modern education system, developing a 21st century school system, modernising further education and improving children’s social care and safeguarding.
A modern early years system. “Labour is the party of social justice and it is our aim to build a sustainable universal early years system …”.
A school system for the 21st century. Extending selection and grammar schools are condemned but without committing to end them. Tory measures are condemned but without a mention of academisation or free schools or the ripping of schools out of the framework of local democracy. The section ends with “We are looking at how we can build a world-class education system …”.
Improving access to further education and adult skills. FE is said to be reaching a funding crisis point and it is said that we “need to create more apprenticeships”. Nothing more specific.
Children’s social care and safeguarding. Lots of criticisms of Tory policies and cuts but no hint of what Labour proposes.
(5) Business, Economy and Trade
Labour’s vision. “Labour wants to create a society that is fundamentally fairer, more equal and more democratic … where prosperity is shared by all”. After a listing of current ills the section concludes with “It is for the Labour Party to produce a credible economic alternative …”. Do tell.
Issues. Building a productive economy, industrial strategy, workplaces and work practice of the future.
Economy. “We must build a growing economy which raises living standards for the many …”. For this productivity needs to be raised because “When people produce more at work … that can help increase the output of their employer. Through collective bargaining the workforce can then secure increases in pay and working conditions”. A Labour government “should lead the way with a programme of long-term investment” and improving workplace rights and reducing inequality. There is no hint of the work submitted by John Penny which was also published here on Left Futures.
Business. “Labour will build the productive working relationships with industry, business and trade unions to … foster the modern and positive workplace practices of the future.” It will do this with “structural and institutional change, supported by innovative business models …”.
Trade. “Labour is clear that we are pro-trade and pro-investment”. Labour will develop “a trade strategy that protects and promotes skilled jobs, human rights and workers’ rights”. When?
Industrial strategy. “Only a bold, transformative industrial strategy can fix the structural problems with our economy”. For this we must first decide “what kind of economy we want”. “Labour’s answer is that we want an economy that is prosperous and that leaves no one behind.” What an idea!
(6) Housing, Local Government and Transport
Labour’s vision. “Putting power back in the hands of local people is key for the Labour Party”. Some guidance on what this means would be helpful. And when was power “in the hands of local people”?
Untypically, this commission actually came up with some near-policy statements. Labour will introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter for private tenants’ rights …”. Labour “bring back in house our public and local council services and increase access to leisure arts and sports …”.
Issues. Devolution, council social and affordable housing, private rented sector, improving transport.
Devolution. “The challenge for Labour now is to bring forward solid proposals which support the debate about where power will sit in the future …”. So what did the commission do?
Council, social and affordable house building. This section dwells on Tory failures and then reports that “Labour is committing to building over a million new homes in five years, at least half being council homes …”. There is no attempt to explain or justify this figure which many have argued is not enough to solve the crisis even if it were to be achieved. Labour’s poor record in government is not mentioned.
The private rented sector. “Labour is committed to reforming standards, driving down costs and increasing security in the private rented sector”. Alarmingly the section concludes with “We need to understand the best ways to help improve standards in the private rented sector”.
Improving transport services. “We need a transport system that works for local communities”. Yes we do. “Labour understands … we must also look to the transport infrastructure challenges our country will face in the decades to come”. Yes we must, but where are the policies?
(7) Environment, Energy and Culture
Labour’s vision. Climate: we “need a renewed worldwide effort”. Energy: “Our energy platform must deliver for ordinary people by curbing increases in energy prices …”. Agriculture “needs coordinated government support”. Culture and the Arts: Labour “will increase access to leisure, the arts and sports”.
Issues. Climate change, agriculture and the environment post-Brexit, access to the arts.
Climate change. There is much about de-carbonisation in this section but no hint of the very detailed submissions made to the commission such an extended version of the three articles on nuclear power in Left Futures by Chris MacMackin. Instead we have generalised statements about the need for a transition to a low carbon economy ending with “A fully costed low carbon platform that includes renewables, nuclear and green gas should be developed”. So what has the commission been doing?
Post-Brexit agriculture. The problem of the withdrawal of EU funding are outlined but nothing is proposed in terms of policies to deal with this. Instead we have “Labour must put forward a platform that addresses the needs of today but one that is flexible enough to tackle the needs of the future”.
Support for culture and the arts. “Ideas should be put forward which seek to preserve and build on Labour’s record of increasing access”. Indeed they should. “Action needs to be taken to promote the take-up by those from under-represented backgrounds”. Yes, it does. Labour also “acknowledges” that physical activity is good for health and that more should participate in sport. The only clear policy is to “fully fund” the BBC and to keep Channel 4 in public ownership.
(8) Health and social care
Labour’s vision. “Labour believes in a strong and secure NHS …”. Labour also believes that “We have a duty to protect both patients and staff, and ensure that people can access the care they need …”.
Issues. Funding, social care and public health.
Funding. Funding shortfalls are decried but no policy proposals are made. It is said that “There are calls from across the pollical spectrum, and from health and care experts, to boost funding …”. So?
Social care. More details on short falls leading to the conclusion that “Action needs to be taken to protect older and vulnerable people …”.
Public health. More information is given on cuts to and pressure on services. This leads to the conclusion that “As a society it is crucial that we identify ways in which to promote preventative measures in order to improve the quality of people’s lives and to reduce the burden of ill health on our health and social care services.” For this “Developing a range of policies … is vital …”.
These eight documents reveal the near total lack of serious policy development by Labour. They are filled with statements of the obvious and of the problems to be solved rather than offering (even tentative) solutions. There is a complete lack of alternative options for consideration and a total absence of any references to research done or documents providing more detailed arguments. To cap all that the documents are stuffed with ridiculous questions which do not guide discussion on proposals made (e.g. “How can we best build a sustainable funding system for schools?”, “How do we confront the growing challenge facing many households of falling or stagnant living standards?”, “How has immigration impacted your local community?”).
I expected poor quality documents like this in the Blair/Brown/Miliband years but hoped for something better under a leader who promised to put members in charge of party policy. What are the left-wing members of the commissions doing? One is even co-chaired by a prominent left-winger.
Policy development is of the utmost importance if the left leadership of the party is to be strengthened and consolidated. If instead all its efforts go into winning positions and passing rule changes then it will ultimately fall because what it stands for never goes beyond a few abstract slogans. The first major step to reverse that situation must be to ensure that there is a vigorous response to these draft documents which proposes clear alternatives. We need articles making proposals for clear alternatives in the next two weeks. How about it?
Responses to the drafts needs to be sent to www.policyforum.labour.org.uk by Wed 31 May 2017.