Labour heavyweights launch ideas campaign to end party infighting
Four former ministers are launching a campaign to revive the intellectual life of the Labour Party and counter what they see as a pointless tug of war between Blairites and the trade unions.
When Ed Miliband assumed office as Labour leader in 2010, he declared that the party's policies were a "blank sheet of paper" – meaning that everything in previous election manifestos was up for re-examination. A full scale policy review is now under way.
On Monday, the four Commons veterans will launch a new "Policy Portal" open to Labour MPs and supporters with ideas to contribute to the review. To start it off, they will post one essay each on issues they handled when they were in government.
The only condition attached is that they want "smart new ideas that do not require huge levels of public expenditure, but would bring real benefits to society."
Writing separately in the current issue of the New Statesman, one of those behind the new project, the former Home Office minister John Denham, who now acts as Ed Miliband's parliamentary aide, warned that the Labour Party cannot go back to promising substantial increases in public spending.
But Mr Denham and his associates on the project – Hugh Bayley, Nick Raynsford and Malcolm Wicks – are also trying to steer clear of the economic liberalism of the Blair years, when New Labour attracted support from millionaire businessmen but was accused of losing sight of its core supporters.
Each of the four has been in the Commons for at least 20 years, and so they were MPs when Labour was in opposition and led by the late John Smith.
Among themselves, the quartet had jokily suggested calling their new initiative "neither Progress nor the GMB". The next Labour conference will have to deal with a dispute between the left-wing leaders of the GMB union and the Blairite think tank Progress. The union has accused Progress – which receives substantial sums from the Labour peer Lord Sainsbury – of acting as a party within the party.
In their mission statement, Mr Denham and his allies warn: "When political parties go into opposition after a long period in government, they are vulnerable to different reactions. On the one hand, they can get sucked into an orgy of blood-letting and recrimination, on the other they can lapse into comatose inertia."
The four contributions posted on the website will include an essay from Mr Denham proposing that supermarkets be compelled to release information about their prices in a way that will make it possible to create an app through which shoppers can make genuine comparisons.
Mr Raynsford has contributed a proposal to alter the tax system to give people with spare rooms in their homes a greater incentive to rent them out.
Mr Wicks has proposed a Savers' Charter that will protect customers from losing out from artificially low interest rates.
Mr Bayley has proposed a "right to treatment" for NHS patients as a way of overcoming what is known as the "postcode lottery".
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