In a week when Labour’s relationship with the unions is the crisis of the cycle, story of the second and trending twitter topic, the first of our ‘Top Of The Policies’ of 2012, sponsored by unionlearn and Unions21, steered my mind from one Unite (my union) towards the invigorating realisation that we can unite.
PragRad started life as a pamphlet, coloured plain red, with a declared stance of not representing a bloc, wing or the twittersphere troopers of the above. Since then, we’ve developed the innovative TOTP format for events, trialled first at Labour Conference, which encourages people to unite not over ideology, or the leadership’s strategy, but in thinking up new policy ideas with the radicalism and, to coin an increasingly popular descriptor, credibility needed to address the dire problems the country faces.
So the joke cracked by event chair, the Guardian’s Michael White, as he surveyed the list of speakers and quoted our pamphlet’s strap-line – ‘Ideas from Labour’s New Generation … John Edmonds … Parmjit Dhanda’ – was funny, and rather apt. An ex-minister and ex-trade union general secretary are indeed part of the ‘new generation’ which Ed Miliband said is defined not by age but attitude. It was a good thing that, as at our conference fringe, people with such a diverse range of political experience joined together to make their two-minute policy pitches in an environment where the only criterion of success was the quality of the idea, not the status of the speaker.
While TOTP’s slightly irreverent format cannot tackle issues in depth, it points to how the party can flourish, if it truly switches on ‘receptive mode’, is open to new ideas and encourages debate among members irrespective of background. For as TOTP events, Fabian Conferences, in the black Labour, the Purple Book tour and many other initiatives show, members are not scared by a ‘blank piece of paper’, they relish filling it and, unlike the past, the ideas bubbling up in this period of opposition show we are the only party able to formulate credible policies offering the radicalism necessary for a fairer society in straitened times.
With horrendous news of record levels of youth unemployment, it was apt that we kicked off 2012 with a TOTP on skills. If you’re interested, you can read the policy ideas presented here, but the top three ideas were: in joint third place Allan Graveson’s idea of fiscal incentives for training and Amanda Ramsay’s national Skills Mentoring Scheme; in second Anthony Painter’s call for a new high quality technical education for those of 14+; and the Top Policy was Jake Hayman (from futurefirst) who won by a big margin with a mentoring network for all state schools. These show it is possible to be pragmatic and radical.
PragRad is planning a series of TOTPs this year, culminating in a second pamphlet to be launched at Conference. We’re talking to Labour Friends of the Forces about a TOTP on defence, and already, Jack Dromey has indicated he’ll chair one on housing. Much more is in the pipeline including events outside London. TOTP offers a platform for members from across the range of opinions in the party and trade union movement to set aside their differences, air policy ideas and have a debate with a view to helping shadow ministers as they formulate policy. This is more fun and productive than navel-gazing.
John Slinger is chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and tweets at @JohnSlinger. More details at www.pragmaticradicalism.co.uk @PragRad
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.