By Peter RowlandsAlthough it has not been particularly commented on the publication of eight documents from Labour’s Policy Commissions marks a further step down the road to the manifesto. Amendments are invited, although the deadline for these of June 13th doesn't give much time, partly because of the EU and local elections on May 22nd.
The documents should be read alongside the shadow cabinet documents, and it comes as no surprise to note that the key wording in each is identical. This is not to say that there has been no consultation, and the policy commission documents are full of quotes from submissions to them, but while this is certainly an improvement on the past, democracy over this and other matters would appear to have some way to go.
What then should the left propose by way of amendments? Or is it all signed and sealed? While the broad outlines of the manifesto would appear to be taking shape, it is important that the left fights for an expansionary budget and for other commitments, rather than say very little which is what the Blairites would prefer.
What is Labour offering, and what needs changing? To begin with, and most important of all, Labour has signed up to Con-Dem spending plans for 2015-16, which are likely to be more severe than any so far implemented and bring crisis to many hospitals and local authorities. As Polly Toynbee said in the Guardian on Feb 7th, it is doubtful whether Osborne himself could implement these.
So the most important change of policy needed is an emergency budget following the election. This should impose a moratorium on cuts for local authorities, education and health for a year and draw up a new budget based on significant tax increases for the better off and a renewed drive against tax avoidance.
At the same time, a huge investment should take place, mainly in green energy and housing, of the order of £50 bn. This is affordable. No-one suggested that HS2, at comparable cost, was not, although this should now be put on ice.
If the Con-Dem cuts in the March 2015 budget are maintained by Labour then all the other positive features of the manifesto will be nullified. Even if there is substantial investment in housing the cuts would loom large and would be highly perplexing – why are we sacking social workers but taking on bricklayers? It is vital that this change in policy is made, as current Labour policy is far more draconian than the Darling policy which envisaged cuts at about half the level currently being imposed.
Having said that, the policies and commitments in the various reports differ in terms of what the left would see as priorities, but in some areas they are very positive. Below I have tried to summarise the main proposals along with key omissions, from a left viewpoint, which amendments should seek to cover.
On banking, to a British Investment Bank and a Green Investment Bank, with big banks to be broken up to promote competition and regional banking, limit overall market share and separate retail and investment banking, unless this has been done. (The commitment here is rather ambiguous, but of supreme importance.) Long termism will be supported, and a 25 year strategy implemented for improving infrastructure.
On workplace/employment rights, to reinforce the minimum wage and to give incentives to adopt the living wage, including tax rebates and procurement contracts. Action against zero hours contracts, protection for agency workers, but no commitment to restore TU rights lost under the Con-Dems, let alone Thatcher/Major.
On housing, 200,000 houses a year by 2020, with council houses, new towns and anti – land hoarding powers for LAs, the regulation of letting agents but only the encouragement of long term lets and reduced rents, rather than compulsion. The bedroom tax to be repealed.
On tax, action on tax havens and tax avoidance, the restoration of the 50p rate at £150k pa,
No further cutting of corporation tax, a reduction in pension tax relief, a mansion tax. However, no mention of the ‘Tobin’ tax or a general avoidance principle.
On benefits, a compulsory 25 hours pw guarantee, and the end of the ATOS contract, but nothing on safeguarding disability benefits.
On education, very little, except a new vocational award (TechBac) with few details. Nothing on scrapping all selection, free schools, academies, reinstating EMAs, local authorities as main administrators of education and guaranteeing nationwide pay and conditions of service for teachers.
On transport, an integrated network with elected transport authorities, bus regulation as in London, retaining the East Coast Main Line in public hands, capping fare increases, safer cycling. No mention of rail renationalisation.
On energy, a price freeze, dividing energy and supply, opening the companies’ books, cost effective green energy schemes.
On health, the repeal of the 2012 Act, the linking of physical mental and social care into one service, tackling the A and E crisis, seeking a consensus on residential care, tackling health inequalities and promoting public health. No mention of free personal care, abolition of prescription charges, dental and optical care.
On ‘better politics’, lowering the voting age to 16, democratic reform of the House of Lords, defending the Human Rights Act.
There isn't much time, so get amending right away!
Postcript: some suggested model amendments to Labour's eight Policy Commission documentsThis is intended as a brief guide to the sorts of amendments that those on the left might want to move, noting the most welcome features of each document as well as their main omissions. The individual comments/amendments were published on the Your Britain website on March 7th.
1) STABILITY AND PROSPERITYThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- Sustainable long term growth
- Improved living standards
- Breaking up the big banks if necessary
- A British Investment Bank
- A freeze on energy prices
- The restoration of the 50p top rate of tax.
However, we oppose continuing with Con-Dem spending plans in 2015-16. We favour:
- An emergency budget that will emphasise growth, the only way to generate the revenue needed to reduce the deficit.
- A sustained crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion.
- A more progressive tax system through reforms at personal and corporate levels.
2) STRONGER, SAFER, COMMUNITIESThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- Build 200,000 houses a year by 2020
- Build council houses and new towns
- Anti hoarding (by building firms) powers for councils.
- More neighbourhood policing.
However, we favour further measures for housing:
In the public sector:
- The suspension of the right to buy while waiting lists remain.
- An increase in the housing target to 300,000.
- Rent controls and greater security for tenants.
- The loss of tax relief for buy-to-let purchases.
3) LIVING STANDARDS AND SUSTAINABILITYThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- A freeze on energy prices
- An integrated transport network
- Greater energy efficiency
- Maintaining carbon emission targets
However, we favour:
- The complete renationalisation of the railways.
4) WORK AND BUSINESSThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- End the ATOS contract
- Abolish the ‘Bedroom Tax’
- End abuses via ‘zero hours’ contracts
- The protection of agency workers
- The reinforcement of the minimum wage
- The extension of childcare provisions.
However, we favour:
- The restoration of all trade union rights lost under this government.
- A commission to establish a new framework for employment rights.
- A campaign in conjunction with our affiliated unions to improve wages and conditions for low paid workers in the private sector.
- The adoption of the living wage as a minimum wage by 2017.
5) HEALTH AND CAREThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- The repeal of the 2012 Act
- The integration of social and mental care with health care
- Tackling health inequality
However, we additionally favour:
- Free personal care for all those in care homes
- No private practice in the NHS
- Free prescriptions for all
- An end to PFI in the NHS
- A commitment to free optical and dental care when resources permit
6) EDUCATIONThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- Extend free childcare from 15 to 25 hours.
- Provide ‘wraparound’ care from 8am to 6pm
However we additionally favour:
- The restoration of local authorities to their proper role of local co-ordinators of all school provision
- The abolition of Academies and Free Schools
- The abolition of selection at 11+
- The restoration of EMAs.
7) BRITAIN’S GLOBAL ROLEThis (BLP/CLP etc.) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- Remaining in the EU and keeping the ‘Social Chapter’
- Co-operating on fighting crime and controlling the arms trade
- A political settlement in Palestine
- A renewal of the 0.7% target for international aid.
However, we additionally favour:
- No replacement of Trident.
8) BETTER POLITICSThis (BLP/CLP etc ) notes this document. We particularly welcome the commitments to:
- Lowering the voting age to 16
- Democratic reform of the House of Lords
- A register of parliamentary lobbyists
- An extension of the Freedom of Information Act
- Further protection for LGBT, BAME and disabled minorities
- The abolition of the ‘Gagging Law’.
The first part of this article originally appeared on the Left Futures website.