National Policy Forum, 14/15 July 2007

Gordon Brown opened the Forum, meeting at Heathrow, with an impressive speech. His priorities were better financial support for students, individual tuition for children falling behind, improving youth services, helping the economically-inactive into work, convenient access to GPs, cleanliness and personal attention in hospitals, and more housing, with a greater role for councils. Iraq was still a sensitive issue, but troop numbers were down from 44,000 to 5,500 and would fall further as control was handed to local forces. Deputy leader Harriet Harman outlined her commitment to promoting work-life balance, tackling domestic violence, and empowering women from ethnic minorities.

The Forum then discussed the second-year policy documents. Below are a few comments, and I hope you will contribute more when they are published for consultation:

Britain in the World – good that fighting world poverty and disease is upfront. Should give greater weight to European alliances.

Creating Sustainable Communities – tackle excess packaging as well as more recycling. Sort out confusion over free bus travel for over-60s The Lyons review concluded that “council tax is not broken” – is this true?

Crime, Justice, Citizenship and Equalities – should we emphasise more prison places, or effective alternatives for low-risk offenders? Public attitudes on asylum and immigration are polarised – how to deal with this, without playing into the hands of the far right?

Education and Skills – differences persist on academies, faith and specialist schools, and ending the 11-plus.

Health – problems of unlimited demand but finite resources, with NICE recommendations on drugs such as herceptin overturned by the courts and the media. Recognise that choice implies over-capacity.

Prosperity and Work – welcome support for carers and flexible working. Need to improve take-up of pension credit and simplify tax credits. Is personal debt a genuine problem? Should “choice” extend to parents caring for their own children, as well as childcare for those working outside the home?

The Forum also discussed Gordon Brown’s plans for party reform, and agreed that policy forums were pointless if no-one in power was listening. Feedback to members was essential. Contemporary motions to conference should be retained until satisfactory alternatives were in place, and until the new right for constituencies to submit amendments directly to the final-stage NPF had been evaluated. There was little support for a one-member-one-vote ballot on the policy documents, because of cost, and the dangers of low turnout and an underwhelming Yes vote.

Finally, Ian McCartney stepped down as Chair to a standing ovation, with Pat McFadden nominated as his successor. And on Saturday evening the NPF travelled en masse to Ealing Southall, to help Virendra Sharma to by-election victory.