Read more for suggested Contemporary Issues for submission to the 2009 Annual Conference. Contemporary Issues must be 10 words or less and be recieved by the the Labour Party before the deadline of 12 noon on Friday 18 September.
‘Hands off our NHS! Keep our public services public!’
August has seen the Conservatives insult our NHS. Many Conservatives clearly favour the ‘Pay-up-or-go-without’ healthcare strategy favoured by the US insurance industry. Others are encouraging what they euphemistically called ‘new providers;, i.e. non-public companies which will compete against the NHS, while continuing to rely on NHS-trained staff and NHS facilities wherever it suits them.
August has also seen published research from Edinburgh University which shows the disadvantages of involving the private sector in the provision of our health service. This research shows that PFI financing eats up 8.3% of a hospital’s budget as against 5.8% for conventionally financed hospitals, and that more than half of the larger PFI hospitals are in financial difficulties, compared with just a quarter of non-PFI hospitals.
Our Government needs to be reminded that opening up vital public services to the private sector means that less taxpayers’ money is spent directly on providing the services, and more on subsidising financiers, accountants, lawyers, PR consultants and private shareholders.
Our Labour Party conference has been committed for many years to reviewing PFI and to implementing a moratorium on the involvement of the private sector.
Our government must now implement our own conference’s policies.
In matters concerning the NHS – as with matters concerning our railways and our Royal Mail – the Government must be reminded to keep our public services public.
Keeping them fully public is not just economically efficient; it is also what the majority of voters want.
‘Take control of banks to revive economy and lower unemployment’
In August the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of unemployed people had risen to 2.4 million and the Bank of England reported that lending to British businesses continues to fall. With economic output to June down a record 5.6% over the year, it is evident that increased government intervention is required to ensure economic recovery.
It is urgent that bank lending is increased in order to counter the economic downturn and in turn halt the current collapse of government revenues.
All British banks today exist only due to taxpayer subsidy. Hundreds of billions of pounds has been put into the banking system, but instead of lending increasing, money is being used to increase profits. Economic policy must be determined by the interests of the population as a whole not just the small number of people who own the banks. The government should take control and direct the banks to lend.
Additionally direct government intervention is urgently required to reverse the 30% collapse of investment in the housing sector and 35% drop in investment in transport.
Failure to intervene sufficiently to revive the economy now can only assist the Conservatives in their bid for power.
‘To stop the BNP’s advance, Labour will robustly combat racism’
On 24 August the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued county court proceedings against the British National Party (BNP) over its racist constitution and ‘whites only’ membership rules.
In June 2009 the BNP had made the biggest breakthrough by a fascist party in British political history, with two MEPs elected in the North West and Yorkshire regions. This latest advance is part of a steady trend of rising electoral support for the BNP over the past ten plus years.
The political cutting edge of the BNP’s current political campaign is racism and Islamophobia; prejudices that the BNP both feeds upon and promotes. Where ministers, mainstream politicians or the media make concessions to racism or Islamophobia, it helps legitimise the BNP.
To halt the BNP’s rise, the bigotry and racist myths it makes use of need to be challenged. Labour, both in government and as a party, must step up its campaigning against racism and in opposition to all forms of bigotry, to help reverse the BNP’s electoral advance.
‘Ministers should examine the case for a high pay commission’
On 17 August Brendan Barber (TUC), Billy Hayes (CWU) and some 100 other campaigners called for the creation of a High Pay Commission. This would mirror the work of the Low Pay Commission and make recommendations for what would be a more socially just pay structure for the highest paid. For example, the commission could make proposals for restricting excessive pay through the application of maximum wage ratios (i.e. laying down the maximum multiple that there could be in an organisation between the highest and lowest paid). It could also make proposals in relation to excessive bonuses.
It has generally been recognised that the out-of-control bonus culture was a factor in the recklessness of banks which precipitated their collapse. Only gigantic handouts from the taxpayer have saved the banks from destruction. The public has the right to insist that there should be some regulation and caps on greed in the future. Brendan Barber et al have estimated that an employee working a 40-hour week, earning the minimum wage, would have to work for around 226 years to receive the same remuneration as that paid in one year, on average, to the Chief Executives of Britain’s top companies. And, of course, this grotesque inequality between high and low pay has been greatly increasing over recent years.
At a time when the taxpayer is shelling out hundreds of billions to shore up the economy, a High Pay Commission would bring an element of much needed social justice.
‘Deliver sustainable future for council housing to meet need’
On 3 August the National Housing Federation called upon the Government to
‘ensure we build the right numbers of homes for social rent now, so that housing supply meets demand.’ These comments were made in light of research forecasting five million people on housing waiting lists by 2010.
We share the NHF’s concern that the Government’s affordable housing strategy is failing to deliver on a scale or with a level of urgency appropriate to need.
The recent funding announcements, whilst welcome, will deliver only a small proportion of the housing needs of 1.8 million households currently on waiting lists. Furthermore diversion of Decent Home Funding to support this programme will deprive many tenants of the promised improvements to sub-standard homes.
The announcement of reform to the Housing Revenue Account is also welcome but the controversial debt redistribution proposals, and the need for further consultation and primary legislation, could seriously inhibit progress towards the building and maintenance of council homes.
We are also concerned that the lack of compulsion on councils to address their local affordable housing needs and to ring fence future housing receipts will allow some to neglect their responsibilities to their communities. A neglect already evidenced by some Tory council’s such as Hammersmith and Fulham.
In light of the above we call upon the Government to make the development of policies that will deliver a sustainable future for council housing an urgent priority.
‘The Government should withdraw British troops from Afghanistan’
Despite intensive media coverage supporting the war in Afghanistan, the latest opinion polls indicate that a majority (58%) of the public believe that the war is unwinnable and 52% want the British troops withdrawn immediately (Independent, 28 July).
In August the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan reached 200. Hundreds have been seriously wounded. Thousands of Afghan civilians have been slaughtered, their homes and land destroyed. The use of drones is highly questionable and there are credible reports of the use of phosphorus in bombing raids.
General Sir David Richards has admitted that there is no hope of an end to this war for 40 years. Eight years on, and at a cost of many lives and billions of pounds, the resistance is growing, with short-term gains soon recovered. Military intervention in the region has now de-stabilised nuclear-armed Pakistan resulting in an escalation of the conflict.
In Afghanistan, life expectancy has fallen to 43.1 years, women have less freedom, death in childbirth is rising and only a third of girls are in education. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in four of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan. There is no justification for this brutal war.
Rather than keeping terror from the streets of Britain, the war is fuelling hatred and increasing the possibility of future attacks. Afghanistan must be guaranteed a future without the threat of war and foreign domination. Our Government should bring the British troops home immediately.
Issue also supported by Labour CND
‘We should cancel Trident and any plans to replace it’
Conference welcomes South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s call on 15 August 2009 for talks with North Korea aimed at ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.
Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons and our determination to upgrade them totally undermines our position when attempting to lecture countries like Iran and North Korea about their own nuclear ambitions.
In this context, and with pressing demands on public expenditure in the coming years, there is no case for replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system.
The Government has now delayed the next stage of the Trident replacement process, acknowledging that serious steps towards multilateral disarmament may be agreed at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in May. Now is the time to ensure this process leads to a thorough rethink of Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons.
The Government’s commitment to multilateral disarmament is welcome. The Government, in recognition of this commitment, should cancel preparations to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system and start the process of dismantling the existing system.
The Guardian/ICM poll of 14 July 2009 showed that 54% want Britain to rid itself of nuclear weapons.
The threats and problems we face today cannot be solved by nuclear weapons, designed to take out entire cities.
The Government should pursue multilateral negotiations with a view to concluding a Nuclear Weapons Convention by the year 2020 to ensure the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide.
Issue also supported by Labour CND
‘First past the post should be retained for the Commons’
Recently there has been some pressure from politicians and from sections of the media to change the election system for the House of Commons from First-past-the-post to some form of proportional representation (PR). But far from restoring confidence in politics, PR could well have the opposite effect. Most PR systems would not have single member constituencies and thus the vital direct link between MPs and their voters would be lost.
PR almost always produces coalition governments which are often unstable. In other words, they produce governments which no one has voted for. And these coalitions are usually stitched together through backroom deals between party leaders with no reference to their party members, let alone the voters. And many PR systems are list systems with the list centrally controlled by the leadership and not by the members.
Above all, PR would mean the end of majority Labour governments, which is the main reason why our Party was formed in the first place and is the main reason why the Party continues as an effective political force with the support of the Unions and millions of voters. We should firmly resist the Siren Voices!