Labour’s final NPF report, September 2023

Download the pdf, and read some initial comments

Read online here

Here are some quick personal comments from one LLI supporter. Probably they miss some important inclusions and omissions in the report, so please add further comments.

The “final” National Policy Forum report going to Labour Party conference in Liverpool, 8-11 October 2023, is mostly 112 pages of warm words evading clear commitments.

The conference Delegates’ Briefing says that the usual facility to “refer back” items from the NPF report will not be available, because this is a “final” report and so there is nowhere to “refer back” to. The only ways to remonstrate will be to vote against sections of the report, and to pass motions stating clear commitments or contradicting the report.

The sharper language in the report is mostly about commitments to big business.

It is “non-negotiable”, the document says, that “Labour will not borrow to fund day-to-day spending, and we will reduce national debt as a share of the economy”. There will be “no return to freedom of movement”, i.e. immigrant workers will depend on employer goodwill for visas. “Labour will not return to the [EU] single market or customs union”.

The supposedly razor-sharp fiscal rules are fortunately not as sharp as they seem. The gist, however, is that the Labour leaders plan neither to raise taxes on the rich (bar closing the “non-domiciled” loophole and a couple of others – tax exemptions for private schools, “carried interest”) nor to raise borrowing to cover such tasks as restoring the NHS. And not to cut military spending, either. So, almost no cash for public services other than possible tax revenues from hoped-for “growth”.

The clearest things remaining are:

• ramp up public capital investment into the green economy to £28 billion a year in the second half of the Parliament at the latest

• more than double onshore wind capacity, triple solar capacity and quadruple offshore wind capacity

• upgrading every home that needs it to EPC (energy efficiency) standard C within a decade

• bring railways into public ownership as contracts with existing operators expire or are broken

• repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and the Minimum Service law; allow electronic balloting for disputes.

There is a hint of legislation to decriminalise abortion, in presumably studiedly vague words: “Labour believes that abortion is an essential part of health care which is highly regulated and should not be subjected to custodial sanctions”.

For the NHS there is really only warm words. The document makes much of better preventive medicine, which could indeed reduce the burden on acute medical care, but scarcely promises new resources.

The document commits to a “Fair Pay Agreement in the adult social care sector, empowering workers and the trade unions that represent them to negotiate fair pay and conditions… underpinned by rights for trade unions to access workplaces”. (That is about all that remains of the talk of new legislation to force bosses into collective bargaining, touted as a better alternative to the policy repeatedly reaffirmed by Labour and TUC conferences, of repealing the Thatcher anti-union laws. The talk wasn’t good anyway: Australia has laws forcing employers to negotiate with unions, but also anti-strike laws sharper than the UK’s, so union density has fallen to 12%).

Beyond that, the talk of a National Care Service lacks specifics.

Many of the items from New Deal for Working People now have softer language. The document does promise “basic individual rights from day one for all workers”, but only to “strengthenmove towards a single status of worker” (covering gig-economy people), to “ban exploitative zero hours contracts”. It does talk of “ensuring everyone has the right to a contract that reflects the number of hours they regularly work, based on a twelve-week reference period”.

In a welcome specific, presumably a sop to the GMB union, the document promises a review into the jailing of Cammell Laird workers (after the 1984 shipyard occupation in which Lol Duffy, a longstanding Marxist and Labour candidate in Wallasey in 1987, played a big part).

Supposedly “Labour will reform the water industry so that it delivers for consumers and the natural environment by using regulatory powers”. No comment to take utilities, or Royal Mail, back into public ownership, let alone to take the whole energy industry (extraction, generation, wholesale, retail) into public ownership to enable planning and to harness for social spending the ultra-profits made by better-placed energy companies from recent retail price rises.

Instead of committing to repeal the Illegal Migration Act, the Police Act, and the Public Order Act, the document notes only that “measures in the Public Order Act like suspicionless stop and search and the offence of being equipped to lock on and argued they should be removed by the government. In government, Labour would seek to change these provisions”. Only “seek to”?

There is a heading in the document about “legal routes” for asylum-seekers, but under that heading no indication of how those “legal routes” for reaching the UK will be established. Mostly, the document just promises to process asylum applications faster.

The document promises “the biggest wave of insourcing of public services in a generation”, but without specifics. It notes that councils have been crushed by Tory cuts, but promises only that “as Labour grows our economy and improves our public finances, we will ensure that councils are enabled”.

Nothing much beyond warm words is offered on benefits. Outside the document, Labour leaders have said that they plan to continue the Tory two-child benefit cap which they previously denounced.

Instead of pledging to end the “Right to Buy” scam which is still depleting council housing faster than new units are built, the document says “Labour will seek to decrease the number of social homes being rapidly sold off through right to buy without like-for-like new social housing being built to replace them”.

The document promises (as the Tories have already promised) to “abolish ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions” of private renters, and a “Renter’s Charter”, but drops previous talk of legally limiting rent rises.

It says that “Labour has defended the triple lock [on pensions] when the Conservatives have sought to break their promises”, but since the document was published Labour leaders have made clear that they make no commitment to stick by the triple lock either.

The document promises to “end discrimination against trans people, non-binary and gender diverse people, and ensure they are treated with respect and dignity in society” and says that “the current process of gender recognition is intrusive, outdated, and humiliating”, but follows up with nothing more specific than that Labour will “modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law”. That replaces previous talk of gender recognition by “self-identification” (as already in place in eleven countries in Europe, and in Argentina, Colombia, etc., without bad results), and Labour leaders have indicated a process involving only one doctor instead of two.

The document says nothing about transgender health care, where provision is thin and waiting lists are enormous and getting longer.

The document promises to “end the system of headline grades” from Ofsted, but not to return academies and free schools to democratic local authority control, nor to reverse cuts, nor to end the destructive “exam factory” orientation of schooling.

It says “Labour will fix the current broken tuition fees and loans structure”, but nothing is clear here except that we know from other sources that the Labour leaders intend to scrap Labour’s previous commitment to abolish tuition fees.

In 2021 Labour conference voted to “refer back” a section of the NPF report because the document said nothing about neurodiversity. This final text still says nothing, not even vague warm words.

There are warm words about adopting the “social model” rather than the “medical model” of disability, but neurodiversity is not disability.

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