By Martyn Cook
Below is a report on some the work I and others have been taking part in as part of the National Policy Forum (NPF).
Firstly, it is worth flagging up that a full meeting of the NPF did not take place in advance of Conference. One was scheduled for July in Nottingham, but as a result of the leadership contest that took up most of the party’s focus this summer, a full NPF was unable to meet as planned.
Smaller working groups had met throughout the year to discuss priority areas, but the final policy documents put to Conference had not been scrutinised as normal. This was actually highlighted at Conference itself on the Sunday morning, where Sim Elliot, an NPF representative for South East CLPs, advised that he had read every submission to the Britain’s Defence and Security Priorities section, and noted his disappointment that the final policy document did not reflect the fact that the majority of party members who submitted policy suggestions were opposed to the renewal of Trident and had called for a change in party policy on this matter.
As you will remember, Scottish Party Conference also voted overwhelmingly to oppose the renewal of Trident, and the agreement was that we would submit a recommendation to the UK Party that this was our position. The final NPF reports record which organisations have made submissions: Scottish Labour is absent from the list of organisations. Regardless of whether you support or oppose this position, I find it concerning that the Scottish Party’s democratic decision making process was not incorporated in to the UK Party’s process.
I will therefore be writing to both the General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party and the chair of the National Policy Forum to clarify what happened to the submission.
The NPF is split in to seven policy areas, and within them they each had a priority area to look at. I was placed on the Communities Policy Commission, and our priority area within that was Housing.
At Conference, reports from each Policy Commission and their priority topic were put to Conference to debate and vote on. There were obviously too many contributions and details to fully include in this report, so I thought I would provide some brief summaries of the key points, and contributions from Scottish Delegates.
• Communities. Susan Carstairs from Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch CLP spoke on the need for environmental issues to be at the heart of all our policy areas, citing the work of Sarah Boyack and Claudia Beamish in Scotland. Susan called for more governmental intervention to prevent the failings of the free market, and for sustainable resources to be put at the centre of all we do.
On housing, Cllr Frank McAveety spoke about the achievements of Glasgow City Council, and the historic struggle of the labour movement in winning better housing for workers; from Mary Barbour and John Wheatley through to the present day, and our need to challenge the SNP on their record on this topic.
• Transport. There was no Scottish delegates speaking on this paper, but it was clear from the range of contributions at Conference that there was strong support for re-nationalisation of the railways and municipal ownership of local buses.
• Economy. Marc Winsland of Dundee East CLP seconded a composite motion on improving pensions. Marc spoke personally about the experience of his own grandmother and the difficulty she had in obtaining support from the DWP after years of work. The motion supported introducing flexibility to retirement ages depending on the retiree’s sector of work or personal health issues.
• Health and Care. Although a devolved matter in Scotland, it was encouraging to see that the party is now taking steps to ensure that mental health is given parity of esteem with physical health issues. Several delegates spoke very emotionally about their own experiences and health problems, and the support they received from the NHS or other support services.
• International. Jackie Baillie MSP contributed to the debate on defence and security, stating that she was a multi-literalist and therefore supported the renewal of Trident, as a means of protecting jobs in her constituency. Other contributions to the debate focussed on the on-going conflict in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the fall out form the EU referendum
• Children and Education. Again, this is a mostly devolved area, so the focus for Conference was understandably centred on the Tory’s plans to re-introduce grammar schools in England and Wales, which was opposed by all the trade union and CLP delegates who spoke.
• Home Affairs. I was pleased to see a motion on providing increased support to refugees carry unanimously. With racist attacks on the increase across the UK, and some extremely xenophobic headlines appearing in the press, it is important that Labour is seen to be leading on this issue, and providing support and protection for those who need it.
Finally, and although not strictly a part of the current NPF process, it was agreed that Women’s Conference would now be given a formal role in shaping party policy. This development is a welcome step forward.
With the leadership matter now settled, this will hopefully now result in the entire party concentrating on making one of the largest political parties in Western Europe able to enter government; be that after a snap General Election or in 2020.
Members – new and old – will of course be vital to this. Not just by knocking doors or delivering leaflets, but in shaping the very manifesto we take to the country.
The whole NPF process and structure is under review, and the Party has launched a new website for members and supporters to make contributions. This has replaced the older Your Britain website and Twitter, and the details are:
The NPF has now been rescheduled to meet on the 19th and 20th of November in Loughborough. If there are any issues you want me to raise or questions you’d like to ask then please don’t hesitate to contact me:
Mobile: 07827 962 960