Returning from the Labour conference, I mainly want in the next blogs to look at what happens next for Britain, starting with Brexit. First, a few small notes:
- Full Corbyn speech
The media reports on Corbyn’s speech were reasonably friendly, apart from the Mail and other usual suspects, but not really representative of the very detailed set of proposals that he was setting out. Proposals on investment, education, retraining, the self-employed and housing are important even if you don’t vote Labour, because democracy only really works if people are aware of both sides of the arguments. If you’d like to see it, the BBC link is here:
If you want to skip the introductory pleasantries (thanks to staff etc.), I suggest starting at 8 minutes in. If you only have time for a quick glance, this isn’t bad:
2. Animal welfare package launched
I had a satisfying launch of the 14-page animal welfare policy package that I co-authored – this consultation was announced by the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment in the Conference and launched to 100 delegates at a special event. We based it on consultation with 11 animal welfare groups from the RSPCA and Animal Aid to Cats Protection and it’s the most comprehensive set of proposals on the political scene for the last 30 years. If you’d like to see an electronic copy, let me know.
3. Red Cross viola request
Aside from the political disputes about refugees and the emergency work around the world, one of the things the Red Cross does is the practical job of trying to help those who come here to integrate and develop their talents: being a refugee is traumatic, and getting past it isn’t just a matter of tents and rations. I’ve been asked to highlight an unusual request in case any of you have musical links:
“As you may know, the Red Cross’ Young Refugee Service ran a project for young refugees this summer in association with Music Action International, an organisation which aims to transform lives destroyed by conflict, and connect communities through music. We had an incredible response, and it enabled many young people to learn how to sing, play instruments and find new ways of creative expression. We also had a successful performance at the Southbank Centre.
One of our participants, Ahmed, learned to play the viola, showing particular musical talent. Unfortunately, Ahmed can no longer practice as he doesn’t have his own instrument. So… we were hoping that you or any of your friends or family, or friends of friends, (or anyone really!) may have a viola at home, that they would be willing to donate.”
If you can help (I don’t suppose they’d refuse a contribution to the cost if you don’t actually have a viola), please get in touch with Valeria Ragni on 07538641255 or firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Brexit – what next?
One of the most curious aspects of this turbulent year is that we had an extraordinarily intense debate and referendum on a complete change in Britain’s position, since when we’ve heard almost nothing about what will the Government would like to happen next. Theresa May made the tactically clever move of appointing three Brexit supporters to negotiate the deal, but they appear neither to agree with each other nor with her on what we should be negotiating. One of the most-debated subjects at the Labour conference was what we should as a country be concentrating on.
The best-known elements of this are the trade-off between free movement and free access to the EU market. There isn’t any doubt that worries about free movement were an important part of the Brexit vote, and equally no doubt that it will be a serious blow to the economy if we don’t have unhampered access to the EU market.
The latter isn’t going to be a problem for manufacturing – access for goods is already pretty easy even for non-members. The difficulty is access to the service market, which is absolutely crucial for the financial sector. The EU position is basically that we have to choose – we can’t block free movement of people and demand free movement for services.
It would be self-defeating if we really tried to block migration – the NHS, for one, is very heavily dependent on recruiting specialist, doctors, nurses and other staff internationally. But I don’t think that we can just shrug off the concerns about free movement – as Corbyn said, we can’t patronise and neglect people who voted for Brexit. An important part of Labour’s position is to address the non-racist worries, by restoring the Impact Fund for high-migration areas that the Government bafflingly abolished, with ring-fencing visa fees and an increase in citizenship fees to increase funding for it. A second element is to reduce the dependence on low-wage agency work (which is very strongly based on low-cost migrant labour). A third element is to link benefits more strongly to length of contributions. That isn’t in reality a big driver of migration (most people come here to fill jobs) but it’s a major factor in what people worry about. If we can successfully attack the worries about migration, we have a reasonable chance of a deal that isn’t centred on blocking off the staff that we actually need.
We should, however, be careful that the Government doesn’t take the opportunity of Brexit to undermine the positive guarantees for individuals in an increasingly corporate world. From equal pay for equal work to guaranteed holidays to protection in the workplace, it’s not generally recognised that many of the things we take for granted originate in European legislation, and it would be possible for a Conservative government to chip away at them as part of the Brexit deal. Where possible, we should take the opportunity to improve our society beyond what the need for EU unanimity made possible. I wasn’t in favour of withdrawal, but if we’re withdrawing we need to maximise the positive opportunities, and not treat it only as a defensive minimisation of damage.
5. Personal update
I’ve been writing more for Labour blogs (notably Labour List) on policy and after moving back up to Nottingham in a couple of weeks I hope to be more involved again locally as well. Thank you to everyone who has been encouraging me – it’ll be good to be back.