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Conference report: Housing and transport

Before launching into a report of the Housing and Transport policy debates held on the morning of the 24th of September, two issues of Party democracy which arose before them should be mentioned.

As usual the establishment Candidates swept the board in the Conference Arrangements Committee elections. The victors include Heidi Alexander and Tom Blenkinsop MPs supported by Progress. The three excellent candidates from the centre-left : Pete Willsman, Katy Clark MP and Gary Heather were unsuccessful despite having waged strong campaigns. It appears that Party staff and their agents are still able to intervene in this electoral process in gross breach of party rules.

Having started her Party Treasurer’s Report by saying that she was extremely proud of Labour’s Trade Union Link Diana Holland indicated support fro the leader’s proposed reforms of it. Those who support these reforms like Angela Eagle MP have claimed that private and small donations will increase to compensate for the loss of union money under the proposed scheme. However Holland went on to reveal that these small donations and membership contributions totalled only £8 million last year. That is less than the £9 million that the GMB have announced they will not be paying the Party next year. The proposed union ‘divorce’ looks increasingly like a recipe for Party bankruptcy.

There followed a debate on proposed Party rule changes submitted by CLPs in which only one rule change was debated. Others were to be voted on without debate later in the day. That’s hardly democracy!

The first debate of the morning was on Local Government and was introduce by the Shadow Minister Hilary Benn. There seems to be a desire in the Party now to re-empower local government after decades of disempowerment under first the Tories and then New Labour. Just before the debate we were informed that there are now 6,842 Labour Councillors in the UK. They are the heart of the Party and its local community leaders.

Hilary Benn declared: “Passing Down Power is the answer to so many problems that the UK population has.” He criticised Michael Gove for “patronising food bank users by accusing them of financial mismanagement when we he should be helping them.” He lambasted Ian Duncan Smith for “the unfair and immoral bedroom tax in which he was supported by the Lib Dems. He announced that a Labour Government will end the bedroom tax and build rented homes for those in need. These promises were endorsed by Ed Miliband later in the day. Hilary Benn stated that the Con Dems have cut the Affordable Housing Budget by 60% since they came to power. Labour Councils are now building new homes fro rent in many parts of the country e.g. in Liverpool, Leeds and Ipswich. The next Labour government will revive the practice of Real Labour Governments by establishing more New Towns . Hilary Benn ended; “ If we are to win the People’s Trust then we must trust the people.”

He was asked to covey the good wishes of Conference to his father Tony Benn who is in hospital. One floor CLP delegate (James Handy from Warwick and Leamington) was then allowed to move a contemporary resolution calling for the provision of more social rented housing, particularly to stem the rise in homelessness which was 5% last year in Britain. Also many young people are living in squalid rented accommodation. He called for a national register of private landlords to control their bad practices. New ham Labour controlled council already has such a register. The motion was only formally seconded.

Next Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle introduced the transport debate. At the outset this morning a delegate raised a point of order complaining that Conference Arrangements Committee had refused to allow debate on re-nationalisation of the railways despite 43 organisations having submitted such resolutions. Needles to say Maria Eagle did not raise this topic in her speech!

She did lambast the private train companies and called for them to voluntarily cap rail fares as from next January as the Government has refused to do so. She also criticised the companies fro extending peak time as a means of charging more peak fares. Ms Eagle called for David Cameron to “Get a grip on the budget fro the High Speed Train 2 and on that project as a whole.” She did actually express disgust at the government’s privatisation of the East Coast line which is in progress. She also complained that foreign governments are allowed to own Britain’s train companies when the British Government is not allowed to do so.

There followed a debate on both main topics in which two delegates (one union and one CLP) were allowed to speak. The UNISON delegate, Merv. Butler, pointed out that 407,000 local government jobs have been lost since May 2010. Staff are now at breaking point due to low staffing. Home care workers have been particularly hard hit. This is documented in UNISON’s booklet “Time to Care”. Kath Phillips, from Walsall CLP, spoke with feeling about the need to get rid of the bedroom tax.

Two delegates from UCATT spoke of the need to build many more council houses: not just because they are required but also to create more construction jobs. We need a Labour Government to represent 99% of the people not just the 1% represented by the current Government.

Included in this debate for unknown reasons, but nevertheless very important, was a contribution fro Ivan Monckton from the Agricultural Workers section of UNITE . He justly complained that the Con Dem Government had abolished the Agricultural Wages Board in England and Wales after a consultation period of only four weeks in which 75% of the respondents objected to abolition. The Government did not allow a Commons debate on the subject but the Labour opposition made time for one. He rightly described the Government’s action as a “vindictive act of class war”

No delegates from the floor were called to speak about transport policy. The shortage of floor speakers allowed seems to get greater each year and makes a mockery of Party democracy.

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