Cynllun B i Gymru / Plan B for Wales
Co-Operation is the Key
Compass Cymru organised a meeting in Cardiff on the 25th October to discuss the options and potential we have in Wales to develop and implement the Plan B ideas. Through working at the national level, with the Welsh Labour Government in the National Assembly, the community and local authority levels, we have the chance to test ideas for others to learn from, with the co-operation and enthusiasm unions and other organisations.
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Now onto the event- After a warm Welsh welcome from Russell Elliot- the Compass Wales’ group organiser- Rosie Rogers from the Compass office (chair_ welcomed all guests and speakers. John Harris from the Guardian led an interesting debate outlining Compass’s journey since the last Labour Government. Labour policy was not always in line with the Compass agenda, but instead often found its policy priorities being reflected in the Greens and Lib Dem ideals. This led Compass to realise the need to open up membership to all progressive parties and embrace a more pluralist politics.
Recognising that Labour is unlikely to get 50% of the UK vote indicates the need to build coalitions. The Con Dem government is an example of how successful the right are at reaching out. John said that the Tories weren’t ‘evil and brilliant’ at getting messages across, instead the right’s case study shows that pluralist messages through the media and businesses worked for the Tory agenda. He stated the need to challenge the language used in the media, by insisting we talk about social security and not the US ‘welfare.’ This frames ideas in neo liberal terms, and showing that we’d lost the argument already. Labours success in the past relied on working with other parties, and to gain more than 30% of the vote, the party must embrace pluralism.
John McInally, Vice President of the PCS union kicked off next and started by outlining that the UK Government are carrying out a scorched earth policy, of which there had been hundreds around the world since the early 70’s, and none of which, had worked for the economy. They were however an ideological tool that had successfully entrenched vested interests.
The scape-goating of societies poorest, such as disabled people, are now being singled out, as if responsible for the financial crisis. The blame for the irresponsible behaviour of the banks, which identify profits belonging to private property, has been shifted to the public sector whilst debt has been nationalised.
The privatisation of public services is immoral and unaffordable for those on benefits.
Politics has moved so far to the right that straightforward Keynesian ideas that were once thought to be common sense, are now seen as extremist. But when you have 90% of housing benefit claimants being people in work, the system isn’t working. The PCS vice president said the Union believed in the widest possible alliances and co-ordinated action at party and community level.
Labour Welsh Assembly Member, Mark Drakeford then gave us his perspective. He stated the need for recognition of the age of austerity in which we live under the Coalition government. All the alternatives insist on injecting demand into the economy. Pessimistic on the realistic impact we could have, he believed the challenge is surviving austerity and planning for the longer term with the Compass Plan B alternatives. The issues in Wales however, face structural not cyclical problems, and impress the need in realising why companies choose where to locate.
Coalitions are not new in Wales and Mark Drakeford believed they are the way forward as long as we stayed within the realms of possible. The work of Compass and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, are very important in giving us space to build consensus and a political forum where women have contributed to coalitions in Wales.
Next up was Anthony Slaughter of the Green Party who described 2 key issues. The first was the decision needing to be made on the type of society we want and subsequently the new model for growth. The current deregulated model increases inequality. He thought that investment should be targeted to public services, education and social security benefits. Decentralised community banks and a state green bank were elements he thought to be essential in supporting long term investment with the prospect of creating 1 million green jobs in transport, energy and housing. The second issue is tackling the environmental crisis and investing in communities’ ability to supply more of their energy and food needs, along the lines of the Transition Towns.
Anthony also saw the need for coalitions and moving beyond the limitations of traditional political structures, saying that coalitions should be a matter of commitment, not just convenience. The way forward, he thought, was to identify issues that different parties could all work on but also work with communities and NGOs. In his view the Labour conference looked like people patiently waiting for their turn to be in power, but he didn’t think we could wait until 2015.
Last of the speakers, Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru continued the idea of alliances, with a focus being placed at the importance of grassroots level. The One Wales Government, between Labour and the Party of Wales, had shown that we could make a success of coalitions. Leanne stated that benefit cuts will hit the most vulnerable and that protesting against the cuts was not enough. Young people are opting out of politics and we need to offer them hope and inspiration to get involved. Leanne, who set out her ideas for local economic regeneration in the Greenprint for the Valleys document, told the meeting that Plaid’s policy was in line with Compass’ Plan B. She said the economy needed an economic stimulus, which could come through investment in social housing, transport infrastructure, schools and renewable energy. Plaid’s Buy Local campaign also aimed to keep money circulating locally, adding more value, generating quality jobs and cutting food miles.
Leanne called for a united progressive civic force to put the interests of Wales first and protect people from the Con Dem government. We could then develop a united Welsh alternative and strengthen the Welsh ‘shield’ against the Westminster government.
Following the speakers, John Harris chaired a session with questions to the panel and discussion about the opportunities we had to work together.
Len Arthur from Welsh Grassroots Labour, said as a community councillor he knew there were opportunities to work together at the grassroots level, but that we couldn’t avoid the big issues and the need to develop a new wave of political involvement to counter the hollowing out of our democracy by corporations. He said that we needed to push on these big issues to galvanise joint working across parties.
John Harris suggested starting off with a conversation and working with a different model of activism, one that appeals to young people. He asked if we should start with a charter with 5 or 6 priorities that we all share? Leanne Wood agreed that there this a lot of agreement between the different parties, but stressed the need for us to set out what we are for, and not what we’re against. Anthony Slaughter thought that mainstream alliances would hit party problems, which we’ll need to work around. He thought that we needed to start working at the community level, on ideas like Leanne’s Greenprint, to engage people on practical issues and build up the resilience of local economies.
There was agreement that buying locally is a good place to start, that all could agree on. Mark Drakeford thought that procurement was more important, as it would deliver more than people acting individually. Local action could have an effect though, he thought, setting the example of the Bristol local currency, which had broken into the mainstream and can be used to pay for Council Tax. L
A PCS member thought that local currencies would only be allowed to get so big and then they would be stopped. He asked if we could bring together the unions’ agenda and community level initiatives? The priorities, from his point of view, were opposing the privatization of services, defending a universal welfare system and having positive measures on childcare. He posed the question ‘can Labour support a no cuts programme?’
The Green Party’s Anthony Slaughter observed that there seems to be a consensus around justice, equity and fairness, to empower people. He added that we needed to focus on concrete ideas, e.g. procurement, local currencies and to tackle other issues by building up to support credit unions.
John Harris observed that there was consensus on opposing cuts and on welfare issues. John asked the panel members what they saw happening in the next 4 years:
* Anthony Slaughter thought that the transition movement would be important along with other grass roots working within communities.
* John McInally stated that PCS and UNITE support and actively builds, anti cuts movements. He said we are currently in an age of austerity, which needs hope with a no cuts agenda.
* Mark Drakeford thought that devolution had helped to bridge the gap between the grassroots and the leadership in the Welsh Government.
* Leanne Wood thought that a focus on practical ideas was the priority, a back to basics approach (not the kind the Tories had tried!) focussing on access to basics, credit, food and energy.
With the speakers from PCS, the Green Party, Labour and Plaid Cymru, all believing that we should look to work together on starting points, Compass will explore how we can help develop this co-operation further.
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