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Beware Liam Byrne’s policy review

At the recent Labour Party National Policy Forum in Wrexham, much of the discussion focused on internal organisational issues and the ‘Refounding Labour’ consultation, and rightly so. But it is also vital that the Left focuses fully now on the detail of the policy developments now taking place, and particularly Liam Byrne’s ‘interim’ report on the way forward for Labour Party policy, A Better Future for Britain.  It is planned that a further document, taking into account expert working groups that are meeting over the summer, will be put to Annual Conference this year.

In Wrexham, although Liam Byrne was very receptive to comments made about his document in the workshops and plenaries, the content is nonetheless of some considerable concern. The findings had already been heavily trailed to the press, presented as part of the current flirtation with the so-called ‘Blue Labour’ agenda.

Many people in Wrexham criticised the fact that the document explicitly panders to a ‘Daily Mail’ agenda on immigration and housing especially. Liam Byrne is right to highlight that we must be ‘in touch’ with the electorate, and be careful to have a systematic re-think. However the point was made that, as a democratic socialist party we should not be slavishly following a ‘vox pop’ based strategy, but instead be helping to shape and lead public opinion in a progressive direction in line with our core principles. In the sessions in Wrexham, Liam Byrne made some welcome commitments doing just that, re-affirming convincingly, for example, that the Party should always fight for full employment and good quality, affordable, childcare.

On immigration, the document states that ‘we were too relaxed about the economic consequences of Eastern European migration…’. In fact the evidence shows, as highlighted by IPPR and Atul Hatwal amongst others (see http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2011/04/22/the-real-labour-lie-on-immigration), that there have been no negative economic consequences overall, and that many original migrants have since returned to their countries of origin. More importantly, the message sent by making such an ill-informed statement in the first place is not one that is compatible with Labour Party values of equality, fairness and internationalism.

Liam’s Byrne’s document was said to be based on 80 events and 20,000 ‘submissions’, including letters, emails and online comments. There was a strong call in Wrexham for the material relied upon to be collated and made available in its entirety to the extent possible, and subjected to independent scrutiny and analysis. This would definitely be a good idea, but whatever happens, it is essential that anything presented to Conference this year has a much wider and more compelling basis for support than ‘A Better Future for Britain’.

Lucy Anderson represents the London Regional Party on the National Policy Forum and was formerly deputy leader of the London Borough of Camden Labour group.

2 Comments

  1. Peter Kenyon says:

    Dear Lucy

    Thanks for raising this. We are just 10-1/2 weeks away from the start of Labour Party Conference 2011. Under current rules, I worry that members whether through their CLPs or affiliated TUs and socialist societies have no effective means of ensuring an open and frank discussion about either policy or the future structure of the Party.

    The NEC meets next Tuesday.

    Don’t we need a resolution to propose to the Conference Arrangements Committee that the Contemporary Motions Rule is suspended, and that at least 4 resolutions prioritised by affiliates and 4 resolutions selected by CLPs should be on the Conference 2011 agenda?

    I hope your call for publication of submissions is successful. The same should apply to Refounding Labour.

  2. I read A Better Future for Britain and it is pretty weak on the NHS. There’s nothing there about the mistake of New Labour to privatise parts of it (ISTCs, social enterprises in community health, Darzi centres and the growth of primary care corporations). There was very little about the government’s privatisation other than they were making “a mess” of it.

    I went to a NPF meeting in the West Midlands and a Refounding Labour meeting. The NHS was high on the agenda at both. In fact, in the NPF meeting the majority of the responses were about the NHS. Labour needs to understand that the NHS will be an important issue (maybe the most important issue) and it is not good enough simply to continue on from the policies of 2010.

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