Brighton debate: Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities

Roll up, roll up – take your seats.  Monday afternoon of conference week in Brighton brings a debate on proposals for creating a new economy, one that really works for everyone in Britain.  As the party “demands better”, this forward-looking plan shows how we can tackle the root causes of our current dysfunctional economy and to provide real content to our campaigning on that central political issue of “the economy, stupid” (as Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist inelegantly put it).

The debate on Motion F28 – Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities – is your chance to accept, reject, amend or better still improve upon the ideas contained in the FPC’s paper of the same name, available to download here.  Do have a good read in advance, there’s a lot of great content to digest.  

On this site, Katharine Pindar has already helpfully examined it  through the lens of how Labour voters might see us, as an alternative to Corbynomics.

Developed over two years through our deliberative policy-making process, the package of proposals had a longer gestation period even than an African bush elephant: the working group (which I co-chaired with Julia Goldsworthy until she was appointed to a politically restricted job) took evidence and consulted widely, and then had to pause for Theresa May’s ill-fated snap general election. 

Our original consultation paper back in 2017 set out the challenges we had identified in creating a more prosperous and sustainable economic future for Britain in the 21st century – low productivity, new technologies, changing demographics, the folly of Brexit, resource depletion, rising inequalities, a trends towards ever bigger companies and reduced competition, and much more.  Despite this depressing back-drop, we said Liberal Democrats are inherently optimistic and should embrace the potential of change and of the big economic shifts that we saw coming.  We should not retreat, we argued, either to the little Britain ‘drawbridge economy’ envisaged by post-Brexit Conservatives or to Labour’s ‘big government knows best’ 1970s style siege economy.

Instead we sought to develop a coherent forward-looking alternative approach, offering good jobs and real opportunity at work, a vision of business that serves the common good alongside private profit, and the potential to build strong communities and thriving places across the UK.  In all our proposals we sought greater fairness and equality of opportunity, we wanted to harness the new technologies to serve society, we supported entrepreneurial business while combatting abuse and monopolistic power, and we acknowledged the very real environmental limits of the one planet on which we all depend.

On jobs and work, we propose greater protection and empowerment for individual workers while maintaining a flexible labour market, with rewards more fairly shared – including a new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority and a Good Employer kitemark for firms.  Reforms to training, incentives for self-learning and a new National Skills Strategy will equip us for technological change. 

On business, we want an overhaul of corporate governance for big business and a renaissance of new forms of companies, greater employee ownership, and many more small, local and mutual enterprises.  For consumers, we see the coming changes as a way to meet genuine needs better, for example with a ‘right to repair’ on products and with measures to combat excessive market power.

For communities, we’ve identified how to foster a more balanced economy, with more economic power in cities and regions.  More targeted investment in physical and social infrastructure and more support to high value-adding industry sectors and clusters are some of the specific policy measures needed.

Going beyond individual policy proposals, the working group identified cross-cutting ‘enabling’ features of the new economy – from a reform of banking and access to finance through to new indicators of well-being to supplement narrow GDP.  Overhanging everything is the threat of Brexit – and we’ve restated our longstanding belief in the benefits of free trade and an open global economy.  Taken together, policy paper 133 offers an alternative way forward, an economy fit for the future.  Come to the debate at Brighton, and say if you agree.

* Mike Tuffrey is a former councillor and London Assembly member, works in the field of corporate sustainability and is a trustee of the New Economics Foundation.

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9 Comments

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Sep '18 - 12:02am

    Good to have your summary of your ‘coherent forward-looking alternative approach’, Mike, and your pointers through it. I was struck by your description of the thinking that went into the planning of this, last year, and the determination you describe the group having, not to retreat either to a ‘drawbridge economy’ envisaged by some Conservative Brexiteers, or Labour’s ‘big government knows best’. How much more should those approaches be rejected today, when voters shrug their shoulders or shout in despair at the lamentable state of both the major parties! Quite evidently, neither Government or main Opposition ‘knows best’ any more. And how much more acceptable should therefore be the well-thought-out policies, based on consistency of values and purposes, of our party today.

    On Newsnight, the BBC 2 programme, just now, one of the contributors to a discussion about the Lib Dems (which was graced by Layla Moran MP) mentioned that she knew many Lib Dems who had voted Labour in the GE. When Labour and the Tories are both so futile, this is absolutely the time to make known the value of the alternatives we offer, such as these sensible and useful proposals, to win back the voters.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Sep '18 - 5:32pm

    As well as restoring economic success, the paper should be judged on its ability to share the financial rewards geographically, across social strata and between generations.

  • Jason,

    I agree that employment training for long-term unemployed is an essential policy. No party has effectively addressed the issue of long-term unemployed.

    There are very strong economic and moral arguments for a job guarantee program that targets the long-tern unemployed and acts as an automatic fiscal stabiliser in periods of slow growth i.e. the state in the position of employer of last resort.

    The program has the benefit of being administered on the ground by local authorities which makes it a great deal easier to deliver than national apprenticeship programs or more general fiscal stimulus spending.

  • JoeB,

    i disagree with your statement “that employment training for long-term unemployed is an essential policy.” by then it is far to late. The policy should be training is available to all and should be encouraged. In work or out of work the priority should be how can we upgrade your skills. If someone is playing ping pong between the Job Centrer and ill paid transient work they are in as much need of a skills upgrade as someone who has been festering on the dole for months.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Sep '18 - 9:20am

    In the light of Labour’s John McDonnell’s radical plans for the advancement of workers being set out at present, there is still more need for us to emphasise our own plans for what Mike Tuffrey’s September 6 piece on the Brighton debate on Motion F28 calls for ‘greater protection and empowerment for individual workers’. Our plans, also mentioned in my own piece published three days earlier under the title A challenge for Labour… appear to offer alternative, more moderate but still powerful ideas. What is best for the workers, most acceptable to Labour voters, and most achievable, and whether we should be more radical on this ourselves, are clearly subjects for much further debate.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Sep '18 - 12:21am

    It would indeed be good, David, if progressive people in the left and centre-left parties could agree on policies for the betterment of workers, giving them more job security, better conditions and pay, and perhaps a chance to share in profits. Not that there will be much chance of profits to share if Brexit isn’t stopped, or there is some hopeless fudge, but there are indeed enticing possibilities. Meantime we shall go on determinedly developing policies for people’s welfare and working towards checking poverty and gross inequality at Brighton this coming weekend. It’s a shame that you can’t be there yourself, but your food bank is still greatly needed. Thanks and best wishes!

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