Friday, 26 February 1988


Triibune's response to the Labour policy review by Phil Kelly and Paul Anderson

Britain and the world are changing fast. Some people in the Labour Party want us to ignore this change, and go back to the sort of right-wing policies operated by previous Labour governments. Things were certainly better under Wilson and Callaghan than under Thatcher, but the disillusion caused by Labour's failures in office led to the Labour Party adopting its most radical policy agenda ever.

The image of incompetence lives on: constant media distortion of the actions of the Labour Party, the unions and Labour councils has been fed by the Labour right. They accept the media's agenda, which believes that all Labour's problems are caused by the left. In their anxiety to marginalise the left, and return to the Croslamd/Gaitskell era, they feed a debate which is only about how best to bash the left. They have made the major contribution to Labour's appearance as a divided party.

The right have seized on the inability of some of Labour's left, and the unwillingness of a tiny handful, to make socialist ideas relevant. But they want to throw the collectivist baby out with the dogmatic bathwater.

The right doesn't like activists, and wants them occupied doing other things while they put the clock back. The soft left wants activists to campaign outside the party, which reflects the level of frustration about a choice between the resurgent right and the risibly rigid hard left. The hard left don't want their theories cluttered up with facts, so they aren't playing.

Behind Labour Listens, it's business as usual for most party members. This is a pity, since such a campaign, properly organised to involve them rather than to reform them, could be a real strength.

The main purpose, however, is to improve the party's media image. The policy review groups have titles with vague, advertising-agency-invented names which correspond neither to existing government departments (where the policies will have to be implemented) nor to the way ordinary people think about their world.

The points and questions suggested by the party for discussion at Labour Listens meetings read more like a sales brochure than a vision of what Labour could do to transform Britain. Many constituency parties will no doubt want to mount genuine, rather than PR, Labour Listens events. PAUL ANDERSON and PHIL KELLY, with help from other Tribune staff members, have prepared an alternative set of discussion points which deal with the awkward questions missed out by the official version.

Tribune would be interested to have reports of local Labour Listens events, and copies of suggestions and ideas sent to the policy review groups; and if you're not sure that you're getting through to them, at least you can get your experiences across to other members of the party through Tribune.


• North Sea oil has kept Britain going for the past few years, but now it is running out. Thatcherite policies have led to a run-down of Britain's manufacturing industries and to failure to adapt to developments in information technologies. How should Labour re-establish British manufacturing industry and increase British competitivity in world markets?

• British research and development policy has been a disaster. Britain spends less than other industrial nations on research and development, and most of what it does spend is on military projects, which have few benefits for the economy as a whole. How should Labour transfer resources from military to civilian research and increase overall research expenditure?

• The interests of workers and companies can never coincide completely under capitalism. But the balance of power between labour and capital can be changed. What should Labour do to empower workers and their representatives at workplace, company and national levels?

• How can Labour extend democratic control over the economy and limit the damage done by "market forces"? How large should be the increase of social ownership? What are the best ways of avoiding the undemocratic structures of traditional nationalisation? Is the solution a radical extension of the co-operative sector? What could local councils do to create jobs, providing services and making things that people really need?


• Under Margaret Thatcher, Britain has become an increasingly polarised society. A majority of workers has done well since she came to power, but a growing minority has been condemned to "underclass" poverty — through unemployment or the growth of part-time and casual working. How should we tackle mass unemployment and redistribute wealth to eliminate low pay?

• The Tories' housing policy has been one of subsidising home-owners and home-buyers at the expense of tenants in the public and private sectors (who tend to be poorer). How should Labour redress the imbalance without penalising those who have bought homes?

• Women tend to be poorer than men, and black people poorer than white. What policies are needed to counter race discrimination in the labour market?

• The Tories have cut back on welfare benefits available to everyone in favour of insurance-based and private-sector provision, which tend to benefit the better-off. How should Labour re-establish the principle that we all have equal rights to decent health care, pensions, education and benefits?


• The welfare state is crumbling under the Tories. How can Labour rescue and then improve the health, education and social services? How can we give users more control over how the services?

• Private sector health and education are not open to all and their existence undermines the quality of public sector provision. Should Labour get rid of the tax privileges now enjoyed by private sector health and education?

• Some public services are best provided locally, but the Tories have slashed the role of local authorities. How should Labour re-establish democratic local control of public services? Should the NHS be brought under local control?

• Consumers are inadequately protected. How should Labour act to ensure that strict standards are enforced on everything from additives in food and drink to unsafe goods?


• How can rights at work, to belong to a trade union, to strike, to decent health and safety conditions, to holidays, to maternity leave and so on, be extended?

• The Tories have given individual union members new rights in their unions, but not against their employers. How should Labour redress the balance?

• How can Labour best encourage workers' self-management and reductions in working hours?

• How can Labour improve standards of management generally? How should we train people to manage public services so as to be responsive to their users?

• A Labour government would not want to control inflation by high unemployment as the Tories have done. Putting more people back to work will inevitably lead to greater spending and faster price rises. Should a Labour government let inflation rise, control prices and wages by law (and thus risk offending millions of workers) or seek some other way of doing it?


• Britain is a medium-sized European power, yet many aspects of its foreign and defence policies are based on the assumption that it is a great power — the so-called "independent nuclear deterrent", the cost and size of Britain's armed forces (particularly the Navy), the maintenance of a few far-flung colonies and so on. How can we best act to change the assumptions on which British foreign and defence policy is based?

• Relations between Europe and America are undergoing profound changes, and the North Atlantic alliance is suffering from extreme strain as the military and political consensus on which it was originally based evaporates. The military bloc system that divides Europe into two hostile camps is increasingly seen by the people of Europe as unnecessary. How should Britain change its "special relationship" with America and help to fashion a demilitarised, bloc-free Europe? Could the Soviet union regard an invasion of Western Europe as being in its own interests? If not, should we withdraw from NATO?

• The EEC is a bureaucratic nightmare and many of its policies are wasteful but some see it as a possible basis for radical change. Should Britain withdraw from the EEC? Should it retain the option to do so? What should our stance be on the growth of military co-operation among West European states?

• East Europe and the Soviet Union are in a state of flux. What Ostpolitik should Labour adopt to encourage detente and moves towards democratisation of the Soviet bloc?

• What should Labour be doing to encourage unification by consent of Ireland? Or should British troops be withdrawn anyway?

• How can Britain contribute to global disarmament? How can we best prevent arms sales by. British companies to warring and dictatorial countries?

• Apartheid in South Africa is a vicious and inhuman system, and British companies are some of the major investors there. How should a Labour government enforce and-apartheid sanctions and encourage the downfall of the racist regime?

• What should Labour do about commercial banks and international finance organisations which are forcing much of the Third World deeper and deeper into poverty?

• How should we respond to the crises in the Middle East (particularly over Palestine, where Britain must take some measure of responsibility for the current mess)?


• Nuclear power is an economically inefficient and environmentally dangerous way of meeting demand for energy. How quickly should Labour phase it out, and what alternative energysources should be promoted?

• Britain's record on industrial emissions is the worst in Europe. What controls should be introduced to reduce pollution?

• British governments have failed to adopt transport policies that encourage energy-efficient and environmentally sound movement of people and goods in cities and around the country. How do we encourage a shift away from the private motor car and the juggernaut towards safe and reliable buses, rail and water transport?

• Britain's inner cities are falling apart socially and physically. How should resources be redistributed from rich parts of the country to poor parts? How should the shortage of low-cost housing in the inner city — and the resulting homelessness and overcrowding — be rectified? How can we all best gain control of our housing and neighbourhoods? How can the urban planning disasters of the sixties and seventies be put right and avoided in future?


• Britain has an unelected upper legislative chamber and an unaccountable monarchy. The civil service, the police, the armed forces and the security services all escape adequate democratic scrutiny because of official secrecy. The security services, it is alleged, have even plotted against democratically elected governments. Are all these institutions necessary? Do we need a House of Lords or an MI5? And how do we make those institutions we do need answerable to the British people?

• How can Labour help people in Scotland and Wales, and in the English regions win more control over their affairs?

• British law does not define rights — to freedom of belief, expression, organisation and assembly, to privacy and so on. The judiciary is socially unrepresentative, and democratically unaccountable. How should it be reformed? Do we need a Bill of Rights? What sort of freedom of information legislation do we need?

• How could Labour reduce the prison population and reform our prisons? How can the community stop young people from becoming persistent offenders?

• Black people are disadvantaged in employment, housing education and other services. How should Labour counter racism? What equal opportunities and immigration policies should we adopt?

• How could a Labour government expand women's rights and reduce sexual discrimination?

• Black people, the young and the poor have a less positive impression of the police than white people, older people and the better-off. How can Labour make the police respond to the wishes and priorities of the whole community? Which crimes are the most serious: those against people or those akainat property?