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Fabian Fringe at Labour Conference Sunday: LIVE BLOG

2105: And that's that. Observation: Owen Jones gets more applause at Labour conference fringe meetings than Dan Hodges. Who'd have thunk. And Polly Toynbee doesn't like events running over time. That's it for #FabLab day one. Thanks for reading and there'll be...



2105: And that’s that. Observation: Owen Jones gets more applause at Labour conference fringe meetings than Dan Hodges. Who’d have thunk. And Polly Toynbee doesn’t like events running over time.

That’s it for #FabLab day one. Thanks for reading and there’ll be more pointing and shouting at the Fabian Fringe tomorrow, starting with a debate on ‘New Forms of Work’.

2100: When is Labour going to remember the trade unions founded the party and defend the right to strike? Burnham says Labour do defend the right in principle, but doesn’t defend the right in every instance. Strikes have to be last resort and that hasn’t been the case recently. Owen Jones says that if public sector workers don’t have the right to strike now, then when would they? They are being made to pay for the mistakes of bankers. Polly Toynbee adds that no Labour leadership has ever supported a strike because you stand for the democratic majority not the sectional interest. Twas ever thus, says Toynbee.

Is it time for the Labour party to stand on a platform of renationalising the railways? This would be hugely popular says Owen Jones and privatisation has been hugely expensive. It wouldn’t mean a return to British rail but a democratically accountable railway system that represents passengers and workers on boards.

Why do the French like to vote and the British don’t? The panel either don’t know or don’t care as there are no takers for this one.

2046: Next up is a conveniently grouped series of questions about the crisis of youth opportunity the country faces.

Dan Hodges says firstly Labour has to come up with an education policy – no one knows what it is. Stephen Twigg probably knows what he wants to do, but is scared of left wing voices like Owen Jones hounding him out.

Chuka Umunna says apprenticeships are the key, and giving parity of esteem to vocational education.

Labour was too focused in government on university says Burnham. We need to develop the same scale of ambition in apprenticeships he says. That’s how differentiate Labour policy from Gove’s elitism.

2043: What about working with the Lib Dems? Toynbee says the electoratal maths is so unpredictable, that Labour voters in unwinnable seats will have to hold their noses and vote Lib Dem. Reprising her column from last week, she says the Lib Dems could have made the last Labour government better on issues like Iraq.

What is Labour going to do to change the culture of politics? Owen Jones says lack of working class representation is the problem. Parliament is not representative of the population. Chuka Umunna says the need is for a more grown up politics that is more realistic about what can be achieved and that it gets things wrong and doesn’t always have all the answers.

Andy Burnham says you have to stop parachuting candidates into safe seats. Authentic voices are crucial. It’s also very expensive to stand as a candidate. Also the Labour party doesn’t develop it’s people and give them the right training. He talks about why the Hillsborough tragedy took so long for justice – because there weren’t MPs in parliament who were connected to the issues or who were interested because they didn’t understand the community it affected.

2032: Robin Hood tax could raise £20 billion in this country – France has implemented it unilaterally, why can’t Britain? Umunna says thats because France doesn’t have a leading financial centre in Paris like we do in London. To stop a banker flight it needs other countries to do the same.

If the next election is about the economy then is Ed Miliband up to it? Umunna says Labour is on a journey and Labour needs to win back the trust of people. Alison McGovern calls time on Chuka for not being pithy enough and hands over to his shadow cabinet colleague Andy Burnham, who says Ed Miliband called it right on producers and predators at conference last year. He called it early on an economy that isn’t working for working people. But the election won’t just be about the economy, it’ll be about the NHS too.

2025: A question about families who claim benefits being labelled scroungers whilst having their benefits cuts. Toynbee details some of the cuts to benefits happening and thinks this is going to be a psychological turning point where even papers like the Daily Mail will pick up on the horrific stories of what’s happening to people and change attitudes on benefits.

How does Labour deal with going into an election having to promise and deliver cuts? Chuka Umunna says undoubtedly Labour will have to make tough choices. It’s going to be a difficult landscape because the government has choked off growth. But there are choices about how you cut the cake – those with the broadest shoulders should pay the heaviest burden. But it’s not just about what you spend: government can help shape the market.

Owen Jones returns to the question of stigmatisation – particularly how the disabled in particular are being stigmatised by the government in being made to go to work when they are unfit to do so. Labour has to make a stand on this.

There’s a question about where Labour goes on early intervention. Burnham says government needs to prioritise prevention. The only way to do it is a one budget system, with the merger of health and social care. Public services have never done prevention and in an aging society that has change.

2015: 1st question is on social housing. Should it only be reserved for the poorest? Dan Hodges from the Telegraph says yes. There is no alternative to austerity and the next Labour government needs to make some tough choices on spending and will have to cut things.

Owen Jones talks more broadly about the need to build more council houses to great applause from the room. But he stresses that mixed communities are important and making it for the poorest only speeds up the process of ghettoisation.

Should the health and social care act be repealed ask another audience member? Polly Toynbee says the bill was a catastrophe and looks forward to hearing fellow panelist Andy Burnham’s plans for repeal.

Burnham says yes Labour will repeal the bill. There are a whole range of measures in the bill that are unacceptable to the party that created the NHS. Around the world, all market based health systems are much more expensive. But importantly you need more integrated approaches which this bill runs counter to. We need a more collaborative structure, not competition.

1955: We’ll brook no regional meteorological stereotyping on this blog, but the current rain is making that a challenge. Still, it’s not deterred the crowds: standing room only for Fabian Question Time, up next:

Our traditional Sunday night event. No speeches, just the opportunity to put your views to our panel.


Alison McGovern MP, Labour MP for Wirral South (Chair)

Andy Burnham MP, Labour MP for Leigh

Dan Hodges, Daily Telegraph

Owen Jones, The Independent

Polly Toynbee, The Guardian

Chuka Umunna MP, Labour MP for Streatham


1935: John Denham says he’s ending on a tribal and sectarian note: Labour will do much better if they don’t appear to be tribal and sectarian.

Caroline Flint wasn’t here to sum up she left abour half an hour ago, to go the the Progress rally where the Guardian live blog reports she told the crowd:

“Apparently I’m a cuckoo, so I’m going to start by talking about the dodos tonight … the Liberal Democrats! Who did you think I was talking about?”

She’s not someone who can be accused of playing to the crowd: she’s just as dismissive of the Lib Dems when they’re in the room, as tonight proved. But while John Denham’s hard edged pluralism – no great love for the idea of coalitions or philosophical attachment to working with the Lib Dems in particular, but a rational case for a more plural politics as the best means of achieving the progressive ends many people want to see – might not feature so many overt applause lines, it probably better captured the mood of the room.

1930: Austin Mitchell MP says from the floor that the worst enemy of pluralism is the Liberal Democrats for propping up the Tories and blaming everything on the ‘mess’ left by the Labour government. That makes co-operation very difficult to countenance.

1925: Electoral reform hasn’t really been on the menu tonight: perhaps a reflection of not only the fact we are post-referendum defeat but that there are much more visceral, less ethereal topics to discuss. But Katie Ghose makes a good point when asked about it – she is chief exec of the Electoral Reform Society after all – that one of the main arguments to keep pushing for reform (and she believes it will happen though can’t say when) is that it means an end to no-go areas where parties who have no chance of winning under first past the post don’t campaign. That’s a crucial point that links back to the earlier event on deepening democracy (see below): if people don’t see any political debate in their neighbourhood they are unlikely to feel it’s worth engaging or participating in politics or community life more generally.

1915: Denham says the purpose of pluralism is seeing the progressive views of voters of different parties expressed in the political system. Denham doesn’t want parties to merge but to have a better type of conversation. Hughes agrees with this – and says that both parties broadly split into those that think they can work together and those that can’t.

That split is keenly felt in the room. As expected, the view in the room feels more on the tribal end of spectrum, with questions picking on Hughes in particular for the Lib Dems actions in government. It also seems hard to get the debate away from the ‘what ifs’ of electoral maths – would you do x if y happened at the next election – and answer the deeper questions that people like Katie Ghose have been talking about: changing the tenor and culture of politics to get to the more productive conversations people want to see.

1855: Mary Riddell picks up Hughes on the Observer’s report about Lib Dems briefing that Ed Balls would have to go for a Lib/Lab deal to be possible. Would Hughes work with in government with Ed Balls? Hughes says he wouldn’t seek to dictate any personalities for the other parties. John Denham says that after the last election, the phones of people like him were ringing with Lib Dems saying we’ll not work with Labour unless Gordon Brown goes. Hughes accepts there were people in his party who said that but it’s not his view.

1845: Simon Hughes thanks, among others, the Fabians and announces that he is a former member of the Fabian Society.

Hughes makes an interesting point in favour of coalitions: you have to account for manifesto pledges on an evidenced basis, not just wave through what has been already agreed. This makes for better policy. We can’t know what the electorate will throw up in terms of majority or coalition governments, but you have to decide how to best achieve social and economic objectives and that’s why Hughes supports the coalition. It’s better to be there making the decisions than not.

It’s not a matter of personalities says Hughes – correcting the conflation of his comments to the Observer with other Lib Dems’ briefing about not working with Ed Balls. You don’t get to chose who is in the other people’s team says Hughes. He would work with Labour if they were much more progressive than they were in government – on trident, tax, on social housing. If Labour wants a deal it needs a radical manifesto that will allow for a proper progressive coalition.

1840: Caroline Flint says Labour didn’t lose because they were too tribal – Labour lost because the party weren’t talking about the issues that mattered to people like immigration.

Flint believes its important to be open to new ideas and it’s “not about saying any one party has a monopoly on good ideas”. But is coalition the answer? No says Flint. People can’t vote for it and you get unaccountable backroom deals. We could do more things to make politics accountable, like having ‘none of the above’ on ballot papers. Or looking at scrutiny about whether laws really did what they were supposed to do. Labour in 1997 had a coalition of interests that it represented and moved out of the party’s comfort zone. That’s what Labour needs to do in 2015.

Riddell asks Flint what she would do in 2015 if there were to be a hung parliament. Flint refuses to speculate on what will happen. But also says that the Lib Dems have undermined the very notion of coalitions.

1830: Katie Ghose picks up the theme that voters are tiring of tribalism. They’ve changed, they are not partisan like they used to be – they shop around and look for politicians that fit the bill. These things reflect the wider changes in society.

What does this mean for Labour? The challenge is how do you change your behaviour but maintain a sense of identity. Support for coalitions is in freefall, but voters want parties to work together the new Fabian polling says.

There will be credit given by voters for parties which are in tune with this says Ghose.

1825: Lib Dem MP John Pugh says personal relationships are important, civility pays, and  it’s important to keep all lines of communication open. “If Vince want to text Ed, that’s ok with me” says Pugh. But parliament has been slow to learn these lessons. How do we make more plural culture? Public is wearying of tribalism – people like off message politicians, which is the secret of Boris’s success.

Political parties themselves are changing says Pugh. Debate has moved on from Orange Book, New Labour or Cameroonism which were all pretty similar. After the financial crisis, big ideas and real differences are returning following an era of undifferentiated centrism.

1812: John Denham says in answer to the question ‘is the future plural’, that in fact the past was. Universal suffrage and many other things wouldn’t have been possible by one party alone. Denham says a new Labour group is launching this week called Labour4Democracy, which has looked at public attitudes and found huge similarities on issues between Labour and Lib Dem supporters. But the tribalism of British politics means this isn’t allowed to comes through. Most people want progressive change but the current political system doesn’t allow it to be expressed. This means Labour needs to not resort to knee jerk tribalism and work together on key issues; the Lib Dem challenge is to express though their politics the progressive views of most of their supporters.

1804: After a slightly rain delayed start, the Telegraph’s Mary Riddell (who also regularly does excellent Fabian Review interviews) begins by quoting Peter Hain saying that an era of coalitions us upon us. But Riddell also points out how tribal British politics – despite the recent Fabian polling that says voters want to see greater co-operation.

1735: This fringe is the sequel to an event the Fabians ran with CentreForum in Brighton last week – standing room only for Andrew Adonis and Jon Cruddas discussing with Ming Campbell and Jo Swinson whether Labour and Lib Dems could ever work together. Today’s Observer suggests the Lib Dems think yes – but only without Ed Balls. This has a whiff of tit-for-tat about it, seeing as senior Labour politicians have been saying similar about Nick Clegg for sometime, starting with today’s panelist John Denham in the Fabian Review way back in July 2010. But polls mean it’s a question both sets of politicians will be increasingly challenged on, with Labour currently likely to be the largest party but without an overall majority. The experience of the coalition negotiations following the last election is a lesson Labour needs to learn from – the lack of relationships with their Lib Dem counterparts was a major barrier to productive discussions. So it’ll be interesting to see if  pluralism trumps tribalism this evening. History suggests it might well on the panel but in the audience, not so much.

1720: Next Fabian event is Politics: Is the future plural?

Is Labour prepared for plural politics? Leading Labour and Lib Dem MPs go head-to-head. Can the two parties either work together?


Mary Riddell, Daily Telegraph (Chair)

John Denham MP, Labour

Caroline Flint MP, Labour

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society

Simon Hughes MP, Liberal-Democrats

Dr. John Pugh MP, Liberal Democrats


1355: Some questions and comments from the audience:

– What is the way to develop knowledge of politics and skills people need to be involved in politics?

– To encourage participation we need an ideal to aim at.

– There is too much talk and not enough action by councillors.

Creasy says all these points show we need to change what we do – if people need a lot of training to be involved in politics, then we’re doing politics wrong. The ideology point is the most important one – it’s not process but purpose that matters.

Peter Kellner says we’re measuring inequality through the right’s frame: gini co-efficients and money. We need to go back to a more historic notion of equality, about having good schools and enough food, rather than the size of your tax credits. Atticus Finch’s speech to the jury in To Kill a Mockingbird has the finest exposition of equality and it doesn’t mention money.

And with that Kathryn Perera brings things to a close and mentions a Movement for Change event that’s taking place later today and will showcase political participation in action. The next Fabian Fringe is in Manchester Hall and about pluralism, pitting Lib Dems John Pugh and Simon Hughes discussing co-operating or otherwise with John Denham and Caroline Flint.

See you then.

1340: Stella Creasy challenges the audience not see politics as a public complaints desk – Stella needs to work hard in Walthamstow but needs the people of Walthamstow with her to make a difference on big issues like loan sharks. Catherine MacFarland agrees that the key is to put the wheels in motion for better participation – it’s not just about doing things better in Westminster. Anthony Rowlands says party candidates need to show the lead.

1335: A question from the floor: primaries need to promote more ‘normal’ candidates – how can the Labour party do this? And how can people bear the cost of standing? Peter Kellner responds that Labour members need to let go and trust the selectorate – cede control in order to improve democracy. This is where state funding for politics should go – not to parties, but to fund mailshots etc for candidates to stand in open primaries.

1330: Stella Creasy says these issues are a challenge at a time when people need progressive political solutions the most. The toxicity about whether politics can make a difference means fewer people are getting involved. This challenges the left more than the right because people see politics as too small to achieve change against the big problems we face, whereas the left needs to maintain faith in collective solutions says Creasy. This requires solutions which give people power to make a difference themselves, say by having a voice in their own treatment. The key is to make a society where people actually want to get involved, rather than trying to come up with ‘magic bullet’ solutions like reforms to Westminster politics. We’ll rebuild our democracy through a sense of efficacy – co-operative models or personal health budgets – where people can see what difference can be made by getting involved.

1320: Anthony Rowlands from CentreForum says there is a clearly a problem – turnout is declining and attempts to reverse the trend like referendums on mayors or electoral reform have been rejected. Parliamentarians haven’t helped themselves with their behaviour through expenses etc. There are good reasons why people no longer feel so attached to politics, although questions whether there was a golden era for political parties, but what do political parties need to do?

Candidates for elected office need to demonstrate they are interested in people’s lives – they should appear more normal, says Rowlands. The narrow career paths of special advisers is a problem. MPs also need to make better efforts to genuinely represent people and be seen to be doing so.

1310: Catherine MacFarland from Respublica says the concept of politics has become narrowed to mean politicians and Westminster, but in reality politics goes much broader and deeper. Many reports show the decline in trust in politics as has involvement in politics. But does this mean people are completely disengaged from the political? The Fabian polling shows politics feels to people like a game played by a political elite – but deeper democracy means we have to see political participation as a much broader concept: reconnceting people with each other. Faith groups, sports clubs, membership associations are all forums of decision making in everyday life, it’s not just about elected representatives. We need a more meaningful account of citizenship.

1255: So, slightly late, we begin. Marcus Roberts, the Fabian deputy general secretary, welcomes the hoards – the room is pretty full – and starts by saying the panel’s chair, Kathryn Perera knows more about reconnecting politics than half the parliamentarians in Westminster due to her work with Movement for Change.

Perera asks Peter Kellner of YouGov to speak first about the Fabian polling. Kellner tries to clarify exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about non-voters. Some people are completely unreachable – died since last register taken, students who are registered twice – and practically unreachable – elderly in care homes – so nominal full turnout is only 90 per cent. Then there are another 10 per cent who are alienated from politics in a fundamental way, pollsters can’t get to them, so really full turnout is 80 per cent. So we are really talking about 7 million people who could vote but don’t. That’s what the new YouGov/Fabian polling is focused on.  Roughly a 3rd give a political reason for not voting – ‘they’re all the same’ – a third give a practical reason – ‘i was away’ – and a third just weren’t aware of an election.

Two things that would make a difference people say were if politicians told straight answers to straight questions and didn’t shout at each other for effect. A more practical change would be for candidates to be chosen by open primaries. It makes for much greater independence as they are not able to be threatened by deselection by party whips.

1235: Reconnecting politics is, as it happens, the theme of the new conference special of the Fabian Review. We did some polling with YouGov that found Westminster feels further away from real life than the political class probably realises – but also that non-voters are far from a lost cause. You can read an analysis of the polling on Fabian Review online here. If you want to read the whole magazine – which has been beautifully redesigned – then you should join the Fabian Society.

1230: Our first event starts 1245:

DEEPER DEMOCRACY: Can parties reconnect people and politics?  It’s a cross party thing – we’re running it with CentreForum and Respublica – and asks if politicians can bridge the gap between Westminster and the real world. Panelists are Stella Creasy MP; Peter Kellner (President, YouGov); Caroline MacFarland (Managing Director, ResPublica); and Kathryn Perera (Chief Executive, Movement for Change) (Chair)


As ever the Fabians are holding the biggest and probably the best fringe at Labour Conference. We’ll be live blogging all our public fringes from Manchester Town Hall.

You can also follow us on Twitter at @thefabians and you can join the debate on the hashtag #FabLab. The general Labour conference one is #Lab12

Labour’s Alternative: The Shape of Things to Come

This year’s Labour Party Fringe will explore some of the themes outlined in the latest groundbreaking Fabian pamphlet the ‘Shape of Things to Come’, edited by John Denham.

The Fabians have a long established tradition for running one of the most high profile and comprehensive events series at Labour Party Conference. We put politics at the heart of our fringe with headline speakers debating the issues at the very heart of our politics.

This year is no different with more than twenty different events with a variety of partners and affiliates hosted at Manchester Town Hall. Our space, located 30 seconds from the secure zone, is open to local Fabian and Labour Party members without a conference pass and spaces for every event are secured on a first-come first-served basis with no pre-booking, see you there.

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