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The People’s Policy Forum: a different sort of politics? Only if the people engage…

Mick Archer was at the People’s Policy Forum in Birmingham last Saturday.

This is the time, this is the day we’ve been waiting for...” The chorus of Shine by Shannon Noll fades and Ed Miliband strides confidently on to the stage. Around him sit 1,000 people who have braved snow and sub-zero temperatures to hear the Labour Leader speak and to ask him unscripted questions. The session will last for 90 minutes and will be broadcast live. Questions will be submitted via email and Twitter as well as from those in the hall.

We are at the final session of the People’s Policy Forum in Birmingham’s International Convention Centre. Most of those present have already spent the morning at one of three One Nation Workshops on crime, health and the economy, or pitched their own ideas to Angela Eagle, Chuku Umunna and Lord Bassam in ‘The Lion’s Den’. Others have dropped in on a range of sessions taking place simultaneously in four zones covering the Economy, Society, Politics and International issues. It is, says Miliband, “about doing politics in a different way… about giving politics back to the people to whom it is supposed to belong, which is you.”

In his introductory speech he explains what he thinks the previous Labour government got wrong: banking regulation, immigration and Iraq. He castigates the current government’s strategy of “more of the same” saying it has resigned itself to “a lost decade of national decline”. But Labour can’t rely on people supporting it just because they have lost faith in the current government. It has to work to regain people’s trust and this is part of that process.

A future Labour government would support “the many and not the few“, starting with young people. To illustrate his point he cites two news stories published on Budget Day. One reported a further sharp rise in youth unemployment. The other, a £39 million bonus pot set aside for Barclays nine top executives. Enthusiastic applause greets his pledge that Labour would tax bankers’ bonuses and guarantee a job for every young person out of work for more than a year.

His speech is followed by a Q&A session lasting over a hour. The concerns are all too familiar: soaring utility charges, unscrupulous employers, unregulated private sector rents, the difficulties faced by small businesses trying to get loans from high street banks, Europe, equal rights, votes for 16-year-olds, immigration and the need for more apprenticeships. But the loudest applause greets speakers urging Labour to fight the Welfare Reform Act, to prevent the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS and to tackle climate change. More applause follows when he says he doesn’t see grammar schools being part of a future education system.

But there are points at which the “many not the few” rhetoric seems to falter. A “really, really important” question from Julie about the cap on public sector workers’ pay and the threat to annual pay progressions only elicits the answer that the government’s actions are “pretty reprehensible” and “unfair” but that a future Labour government will have to look at the situation it inherits before doing anything about it. The loudest applause of all greets Amelia who asks why a future Labour government doesn’t just take back the privatised gas, water, electricity and transport so that people can “start living again and not just existing”. Hesitating, he says he’s not sure nationalisation is the answer, but even if it was we don’t have the money to do it. As a consolation he suggests ‘much, much tougher regulation’ of the gas and electricity companies and in the case of the railways exploring every option.

And there’s the rub. Who can disagree with doing politics in a different way if it means having a genuine dialogue with voters? The People’s Policy Forum is part of a larger initiative aimed at broadening Labour’s policy-making processes. Outside the hall Labour Party staff are showcasing Your Britain (www.yourbritain.org.uk), the new website where the public can submit ideas, comment on policy proposals and find details of other events. One staff member tells me there have been 900 submissions since its launch in the autumn of last year. In time these suggestions will go to the party’s national policy forum and some will even make it into future policy documents. The victims of this government need to engage with Your Britain if Labour is to have a manifesto that truly stands up for the many and not the few.

One Comment

  1. Jon Williams says:

    “The loudest applause of all greets Amelia who asks why a future Labour government doesn’t just take back the privatised gas, water, electricity and transport so that people can “start living again and not just existing”. Hesitating, he says he’s not sure nationalisation is the answer, but even if it was we don’t have the money to do it. As a consolation he suggests ‘much, much tougher regulation’ of the gas and electricity companies and in the case of the railways exploring every option.”

    Tougher regulation oh please where have we heard that before?? We don’t have the money umm – there is plenty of money in the City – bonuses are still being paid. The lack of desire to make the necessary changes is the real reason why private (German / French state) owned companies can charge what they like. We’re subsidising the rest of European energy customers…

    Daily gas and electric scare stories abound Ed should be able to formulate better answers than tougher regulation!! We should be forcing energy utilities to use profits to invest in new power stations instead asking the Government for hand outs.

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