Fabian Society New Year Conference 2013: LIVE BLOG

Ed Wallis

1717: The final session sees our New Year Conference audience vote for their favourite manifesto pledge submitted by Fabian members. For those of you who have followed this live blog all day, a special treat. You can vote for your favourite from our shortlist below.

Which of these pledges do you think Labour should commit to?

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1650: James Morris says spending debate can’t just be about the macro economic picture. There are specific spending programmes that the public will never be able to get behind regardless of the fiscal situation. Labour needs to talk economics in a way that makes sense to people.

1645: Polly Toynbee is talking about universal benefits, whether we should means test free TV licences, winter fuel allowance etc, and says its financially insignificant and is an ‘ideological question’. Not too sure about that – there’s strong data to suggest universal welfare systems help the poorest most.

1638: Polly Toynbee is answering a question about working with the Lib Dems. Though Labour are angry with them, if we are hard headed and there was a left of centre leader, it wouldn’t be that bad. The last Labour government could have been better with Lib Dem involvement.

Stephen Twigg is asked about where Labour should put its resources at the next election. Labour is competitive across the country and although there are regional policy differences, the big issues are the same. It shouldn’t be about carving up the country – the same policy priorities that will win back Harlow will win back Carlisle as well.

1620: James Morris says that although the Tories failed to de-toxify, the electoral situation is very difficult for Labour. What will winning take? A clear positive offer on core Labour areas like housing.

Morris says at a focus group with black voters in Edmonton, 2 former Labour voters said they were considering voting BNP because of immigration. This highlights the depth of concern about immigration and Labour really needs to deal with this. Immigration and the deficit are the 2 key issues for Labour.

The debate is not so much about race – it’s about contribution and work. Silence is not an option on this.

1615: The one thing Labour needed to do in opposition was prove it could be trusted with tax payers money again – it hasn’t done that. Labour is still overwhelmingly blamed for the crash. Labour has not de-toxified on the deficit and this is going to be a central issue at the next election. Labour will have to accept George Osborne’s spending ‘envelope’ and replace Ed Balls. Having David Miliband or Alistair Darling would be reassuring.

Coalition failure is probably going to be enough to get Labour close to the line or just over it – but Labour needs to come to terms with the deficit. It needs to level with the people and say how it will deal with the public spending or it is very vulnerable to the Tory tax bombshell campaign that is coming its way.

1610: Tim Montgomerie says he keeps getting invited to Fabian conferences because he is pessimistic about Tory electoral chances. There are huge structural challenges for the Tories – the failure of the boundary changes, the rise of UKIP for example. But there is almost no enthusiasm for Labour out there and Labour should be worried. The Tories should be 20 points behind now – 10 per cent isn’t much. If the economy recovers, when Fleet street trains its guns on Ed Miliband, a Tory 1992 style tax bombshell campaign, a new Lib Dem leader, immigration and welfare hits from the Tories, a Green party surge, an in our EU referendum – all could eradicate that lead.

1605: Polly Toynbee thinks that if Cameron couldn’t win the last election, with a fair political wind – unpopular Labour government, financial crash etc – then how the hell is he going to win the next one? Since then they have become much nastier – she highlights the recent welfare debate where the Tories thought they were setting Labour a clever political trap, but has gone too far and misjudged the public mood when so many are struggling. Labour shouldn’t be ‘frit’ says Toynbee.

1600: ‘Silence is not an option’ says our afternoon plenary if Labour is going to win the next election. The panel are discussing the ‘roadblocks to the next majority’. Speakers are: Tim Montgomerie (Conservative:Home), James Morris(Pollster, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research),  Polly Toynbee (The Guardian) Stephen Twigg MP and Marcus Roberts (Deputy General Secretary, Fabian Society) (Chair).

1530: Andy Harrop has written a piece for the Guardian on Labour’s new policy agenda. Read it here.

1512: Worth saying that local government is often seen as an unsexy topic, but the room here is absolutely packed. Signs that Labour’s centralising instinct is on the wane? Or perhaps also an interest in what Labour can do when it is out of office nationally?

1510: Benn says the current austerity is forcing councils to think creatively. That is the upside. Communities can say they aren’t helpless against loan sharks by forming a credit union. People have the means in their communities to change people’s lives for the better by working together.

1505: Hilary Benn points out political parties tend to be localisers in opposition and centralisers in government. We need to think now what we want decided centrally and what we want to devolve. The political pressure on central government to make sure things happen locally leads to the situation of the last government where there were 12000 local performance indicators.

The question about letting go is: what is right and proper for an elected central government to ensure what happens across the government? What should be the national standards? And what happens when things go wrong? Benn says in preparing the next manifesto that is what Labour needs to get clear.

1500: Wilson highlights the different approaches of the 2 councils being discussed today – Islington, which has the more abstact approach to equality of its Fairness Commission and the strong sense of place offered by Oldham. Catherine West agrees people’s sense of place is important – and McMahon says both councils are showing the limits of Labour’s ‘one size fits all’ approach to services and the next Labour government needs to make sure the hancuffs aren’t there, and trust the local councils who know the area, and don’t wrap councils up in red tape. The Labour government was far too rigid.

1454: Catherine West talks about the ongoing difficulty of the financial settlement that councils will face – councils can’t let their idealism get ahead of reality.

Labour lost control of Oldham council in 2008 despite huge amounts of money coming in from central government, good service delivery and new schemes. Why asks Jim McMahon? People got disconnected because this was a ton hall council imposing centrally driven schemes on a public it wasn’t designed for. Oldham now has a ‘beyond the town hall’ programme which is aimed at connecting government with the people that actually live there. In April the cuts are really going to whack people – but the council has been speaking to the people affected by cuts about where the money goes, what it gets spent on and how the council can help. The result is a focus on campaigns on energy bills and bus fares, reducing what people have to spend, and have had the result of putting more money back in the household than benefit cuts will take out.

1437: Ed Miliband made localism a clear priority for the next Labour government in his speech earlier, which obviously endeared him to many in the room today. Steve Reed used to lead Lambeth council before recently becoming an MP so is well placed to talk about the relationship between the centre and the local. He highlight how services have failed to engage those who use public services – closer collaboration between provider and user will improve services he says. This requires new models and structures to enable co-operation and bring all sides together. This can bring about more sensitive services – and a more relational state.

Jon Wilson asks how that translates to a one nation agenda. Reed says its about fairness – it gives people power and allows their own life choices and aspirations to lead their use of public services.

1430: I’m at the break out session on localism which is discussing some of the themes of the aforementioned Fabian pamphlet ‘Letting Go’ by Jon Wilson, who’s also chairing this session. The full panel is:

Hilary Benn MP (Shadow Secretary of State for DCLG), Cllr Jim McMahon (Oldham)Steve Reed MP (former leader of Lambeth Council), Cllr Catherine West (Islington) and Jon Wilson (author, Letting Go) (Chair).

1315: Interesting pre-game on Ed M’s speech from Mark Ferguson over at Labour List which mentions Jon Wilson’s Fabian pamphlet ‘Letting Go’.

1300: For those at the conference, Polly Toynbee and David Walker are signing copies and discussing their book ’Dogma and Disarray: Cameron at Half-Time’ in Clarke Hall in half an hour (1330).

Featuring: Polly Toynbee (The Guardian), David Walker (journalist and former managing director at the Audit Commission)of her book

1255: Here is a full list of all the various breakout sessions that are being covered on twitter at #fab13:

Pre Distribution: Can Government change markets? Location:Logan  Hall /  Main Stage

Featuring Lord Adonis (Labour’s Industrial Policy Lead), Will Hutton(Observer), Vicky Pryce (Former BiS economist), Sonia Sodha (Dartington Social Research Unit) and Karin Christiansen (General Secretary, Co-operative Party) (Chair).

Spending Tax Payers Money: Can Labour choose wisely? Location:Drama Studio

Featuring Jeremy Cliffe (The Economist), Dan Corry (Former Economic Adviser to Gordon Brown), Margaret Hodge MP (Chair, Public Accounts Committee), Michael Izza (Chief Executive, ICAEW), Ben Page(Pollster, Ipsos-Mori) and Anna Smee (Director, Ventures Team).

Brussels in Britain: Our European State. Location: Jeffrey Hall

Featuring Chris Bryant MPJoe Twyman (YouGov), Emma Reynolds MP (Shadow Minister for Europe), Ernst Stetter (Secretary General, FEPS) and Cllr Sally Prentice (Lambeth) (Chair)

Making ‘One Nation Labour’ Work for Women. Location: Elvin Hall

Featuring Ivana Bartoletti (Editor, Fabiana), Ceri Goddard (chief executive, Fawcett Society), Sarah Hutchinson (Fabian Women’s Network), Dr. Rupa Huq, Deborah Mattinson (Britain Thinks), Cllr Matthew Pennycook (Resolution Foundation) and Yvonne Roberts(Observer) (Chair)

1250: Fabian general secretary wrote for the New Statesman about the conference and what Labour needs to do to rebalance the economy – you can read it here

1236: Ok, morning plenary done, now into what they call breakout sessions. These will covered extensively by our team of tweeters at the hashtag fab13 I’ll be covering some of the sessions.

1232: Cowley asks Wood to explain the Thatcher-esque counter hegemonic nature of Ed Miliband’s project (see previous disclaimer about it being a Fabian conference). Instead of summarising his response, I’d suggest you read his introduction to the latest Fabian pamphlet, which covers it all very nicely.

1230: Equity on tax has been a big discussion – it is a Fabian conference after all – with a focus on how to actually get people to pay up. HMRC needs resources and quality staff the audience alike and this should be priority for Labour. Rachel Reeves seems to agree.

1225: Wood picks up on the cloud of suspicion the government are putting around anyone who isn’t at work. This just isn’t fair – especially in the current job market. If we had a better labour market it would help with the welfare bill. Labour needs to change the debate – and make sure it’s a one term coalition.

1220: O’Grady makes an interesting point about how it was taken as read that people didn’t care who provides services so long as they were good. This was the rational for outsourcing of services. But people are now much more distrustful of private provision and see localism and choice as code for privatisiation, as Fabian research has shown.

1215: Jason Cowley asks about inequality  - which he says went up under Labour – and what can be done on unearned income.? Jaqui Smith says that even if things are ostensibly fair they can’t always be efficiently delivered – and this is why Labour didn’t do more on a land tax for example.

Stewart Wood is responding to a question about whether Gordon Brown ‘corrupted the left’ through his centralising instincts. Wood rejects this – and not just because he used to work for Brown he says – and explains how much power Labour gave away through develoution, regional development agencies etc. But he agrees that centralising can be a vice – which Michael Gove is showing in his education policy.

1210: Rachel Reeves says its not just about reforming the state, it’s about reforming the market. She highlights the reason Labour paid out so much on tax credits was that the market didn’t pay a living wage.

1201: This panel is united on 2 things – the relational state is a good idea and it has a terrible name. Poorly monikered good ideas seems to be a Labour speciality at the moment. Nobody on the panel is suggesting any plausible alternatives as yet, but it’s early days I guess.

Frances O’Grady rightly – and popularly – highlights the litany of outsourcing disasters from A4E to G4S and calls on Labour to learn from this.

12noon: The full text of Ed Miliband’s Fabian speech can be found here

1158: Both Jaqui Smith and Stewart Wood highlight the spending challenges the next Labour government will face. Smith says this is an opportunity to reshape government. It’s not just about spending. She says there are real opportunities for a more relational approach – redistributing power, prioritising empathy. If we have targets this is what they should focus on. We need a livelier name for this than the relational state though – how about the real big society, suggests Smith?

1150: The next session is a panel debate on ‘Remaking the state: How should Labour govern?’ featuring: Frances O’Grady (General Secretary, TUC), Rachel Reeves MP (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), Jaqui Smith (Former Home Secretary), Lord Wood (Shadow Cabinet Member without Portfolio) and Jason Cowley (Editor, New Statesman) (Chair).

1140: And that’s it – Miliband is out of time and ends with a plea for people to involve themselves in Labour’s policy review.

I think the speech went someway, in a fairly short space of time, to giving us some clues about how Labour is fleshing out its one nation theme. This is a continuation of the major thrust of Ed’s leadership – indeed his pitch for the job in the first place - that Labour needs to move on from new Labour by tackling vested interests at the top and reshaping how markets work. And housing market reform is a good example of an ‘illustrative policy’ that shows how Miliband’s one nation Labour concept can actually be felt by people in practice. There was little to respond to Conservative and other critics who claim that Miliband is comfortable talking about responsibility at the top but less so at the bottom, though his vision for a cohesive society based on common British decency is presumably the prism though which this challenge will be answered in detail in the year ahead.

1135: The flexible labour market – does Miliband agree it’s helped maintain jobs? Yes we need flexibility but must understand that one person’s flexibility is another’s insecurity.

Is trident really sacrosanct? Miliband says he’s not a unilaterlaist and it’s right to wait for the government’s report on this.

Lots of private tenants don’t vote – how can we change that? Labour didn’t do enough about housing in power. Other countries have much greater security and by talking about it will mobilise tenants.

How do we get UK employers to pay a decent wage? The living wage is important here – and needs to be part of the kinds of things the next Labour government does.

What are the shadow cabinet’s ideas for delivering fair and innovative public services? Miliband says we can learn from innovative councils like Lambeth and Liverpool. Integration of health and social care is also crucial for efficiency. This isn’t only about spending money more wisely, it’s about better service.

1130: Miliband is taking questions now.

What about the banks? What is Miliband planning to do to reform the financial sector?  Miliband says Labour is totally committed to major reform and reminds the questioner of his pledge to break up the casino and retail aspects of banking at party conference.

Where is Europe in all this? One nation is an outward looking vision and are place is absolutely in Europe not out of it.  He condemns Cameron’s flirtation with exit – business is up in arms.

Responding to a question about fatty foods and health, Miliband says regulation of companies is important but so is encouraging sport and exercise.

1125: Miliband goes on to commit the next Labour government to develop power to English regions, following devolution to Scotland and Wales.

Following the announcement Miliband draws to a close. ONe nation LAbour is about people coming together. It’s different from old and New Labour and the current government. Labour has a massive responsibility to all the people in Britain who are struggling and who think we can be a different country. Take on vested interests in the economy, encouraging responsibility right through society and changing the balance of power through politics.

1120: What does one nation mean for our politics? New Labour opened up government through its democratic reforms. But once again we have to move on from. Over time New Labour didn’t do enough to change the balance of power in Britain. To many people felt Labour wasn’t open to their influence and wasn’t listening to them.

He talks about how those in power failed to accept the impact migration has on people’s lives.

Miliband commits to change this by recruiting MPs from all walks of life, seeking support across the country and not just campaigning for people to vote Labour but helping people’s lives, such as Labour’s current energy campaign.

Labour’s website one Britain has been inundated with complaints about private rented housing. Miliband is responding- specifically to a chap called John from Chatham who mentioned this on the website – by taking on rogue landlords and giving greater security to families who rent. A national register of landlords and end confusing fees and charges.

1115: Miliband recognises the spending squeeze the next Labour government will face.

Miliband is now talking about what one nation Labour means for society. New Labour talked about rights and responsibilities. It was right to do so, but was far too timid about enforcing them at the top of society and dealing with the consequences of rampant markets across the country. He singles out companies not paying taxes in Britain and the top of elite institutions like banks and newspapers who feel responsibilities don’t mean them. Responsibility must go all the way from top to bottom.

1110 Ed Miliband is explaining what a one nation economy looks like. He praises the break from old Labour and the formation of New Labour, which was a reforming government that puts the coalition to shame. The current government has returned to trickle down economics to benefit the one per cent.

But Miliband reprises his argument that New Labour didn’t do enough to tackle injustices in the market and help those failed by it. One nation Labour will do this and reform the economy from its foundations and take on the vested interests that stop support getting to small business. This means apprenticeships and promoting a living wage. He promises we’ll hear much more about this in the coming year.

1107: David Cameron this week showed he can’t lead one nation Britain. We’ve seen a disgraceful attempt to divide the country through the welfare – it’s nasty, divisive politics and we shouldn’t accept it.

This brings applause from the audience.

To be a one nation prime minster you need to be able to walk in the shoes of the people and David cameron can’t do this.

1105: Ed says the spirit of one nation is all around us – we saw it in the Olympics. All politicians try to claim this spirit – one nation Labour is about taking the common decency of the British people and making it the way we run our country.

We are currently far away from being one nation. He tells a story about a woman who is moving to Holland to go to university because she feels Britain doesn’t ahve any thing to offer.

People feel the system is rigged against them and isn’t working for them. People don’t want an easy life, they just want a chance to succeed.

1100: Ed arrives looking relaxed and tieless, this time speaking from notes rather than reprising the ‘hands free’ approach of his ‘one nation’ speech.

Ed says he wants to speak about the idea of one nation. He says it isn’t an idea rooted in Fabian pamphlets, though he is an avid reader. Nor is it rooted in Swedish social democracy. It’s rooted deep in the British way of life and the British people.

1055: You can follow live tweets at @thefabians and I’ll be covering the main events here. Following introductions from the Fabian Society’s new chair Jessica Asato and general secretary Andrew Harrop, Ed Miliband takes the stage.

1045: Fabian New Year Conferences are traditionally where the Labour Party attempts to answer the big question it will face in the year ahead. Last year Ed Balls tackled Labour’s perceived credibility gap on the economy, and public spending in particular, by committing to a public sector pay freeze. This year, Ed Miliband is keynote speaker and his challenge is to build on the success of his ‘one nation’ Labour speech at party conference in autumn and outline the big illustrative policy ideas which will explain what it means to the voting public. Advance briefing suggests this will include reform of housing’s private rented sector plus moving beyond old and new Labour.

Ed speaks shortly – in the meantime here is the full programme for the day

2 Comments:

  1. Michael Guest

    I must confess to being slightly taken-a-back, to see Fabian members voting for Nationalisation of the Railways above a National Care Service. Railways before People! Clearly an expression of what is wrong in our political and social society.

    Reply
  2. Dane Clouston

    Is Labour’s One Nation One UK Nation or One EU Nation?

    Whichever is, would it include the positive redistribution of the inheritance of wealth in each new generation?

    Does “pre-distribution” include the positive redistribution of the inheritance of wealth in each new generation?

    If not, why not?

    Reply
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