Labour keeps unfunded spending pledges at bay during ‘chaotic’ policy forum
Labour will keep in place a two-child cap on benefits after the leadership managed to keep “unfunded spending commitments” out of a policy document that will form the basis of its election manifesto.
The party’s national policy forum concluded on Sunday with an endorsement for leader Sir Keir Starmer’s plan for government and the “fiscal rules” set out by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, according to a spokesman.
But the gathering in Nottingham saw divisions emerge, with trade union Unite, Labour’s biggest financial backer, voicing its frustration at the “chaotic” process for negotiating policy.
The union said it was unable to support “in full” the final document produced by the two-day forum, accusing the leadership of “weakening” the language around a stance on zero hours contracts.
Sir Keir warned the forum on Saturday that the party could not go into the next general election, expected to be held in 2024, with a manifesto containing unfunded spending pledges as it looks to demonstrate economic credibility to on-the-fence voters.
The party leader urged members, trade unions and other affiliated groups taking part in the talks in the East Midlands not to “pile” Labour up with “baggage” that could stand in the way of it forming the next government as he spoke of “tough decisions” being required on public spending.
The outcome of the forum suggests that a Starmer premiership will see a two-child cap on benefits kept in place.
Introduced by Conservative former chancellor George Osborne during his austerity drive, it prevents parents claiming Universal Credit for any third or subsequent child.
Campaigners say scrapping the cap would lift around 270,000 households with children out of poverty at an estimated cost of £1.4 billion in the first year.
But Sir Keir and Ms Reeves have said the current state of public finances means it cannot be a policy that is reversed immediately.
Free school meals
Labour also reportedly faced down amendments at the forum calling for a commitment to roll out free school meals and a reversal of school academisation.
Speaking at the conclusion of the forum in Nottingham, a party spokesman said: “Labour’s democratic policymaking body has endorsed Keir Starmer’s programme, his five missions for government, and the fiscal rules that he and Rachel Reeves have set out.
“This is a serious, credible and ambitious policy programme that lays the groundwork for an election-winning manifesto and a mission-driven Labour government that will build a better Britain.
“There are no unfunded spending commitments in the document.
“This weekend is another proof point that shows that Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party and is ready to change the country in government built on the rock of economic responsibility and strong fiscal rules.”
Unite, one of the UK’s biggest trade unions that provides Labour with almost £1.5 million a year, expressed its dissatisfaction with the outcome of the conference.
A statement released by the union said: “Unite was unable to back the document in full as it clearly crossed the union’s red lines including around workers’ rights in collective bargaining — an area which needs root-and-branch change, not just tinkering around the edges.
“The process in Nottingham was also chaotic with an attempt to push through changes to the policy document without first sharing them with conference participants, including Unite.
“As in any negotiation, you simply don’t sign up to something without all the detail and understanding the impact on our members and workers more widely.
“As the general election draws nearer, Keir Starmer has to prove Labour will deliver for workers and we need clear policies on this.”
The row comes after Unite general secretary Sharon Graham earlier this month warned Labour the union could reduce the amount of money it gives to the party as she called for a “bolder” vision.
Members of her union recently voted overwhelmingly against disaffiliating from the party.
Not all union chiefs shared Unite’s assessment of the agreement.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of retail union Usdaw, tweeted: “Heading home from a productive Labour national policy forum weekend.
“Lots of important discussions and decisions to improve the lives of Usdaw members and working people. Now let’s deliver a Labour government and Keir Starmer as our next prime minister.”
GMB said Labour had ended the forum with a “policy programme that would make a real difference for workers”.
In a statement, the union said it had “secured historic commitments” that a Labour government would strengthen equal pay rights, improve shipbuilding contracts and provide new rights that assist the ability for members to organise.
Naomi Pohl, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said the forum had proved a “difficult process at times”.
“Tough choices were made but overall I am really proud of the resulting policy,” she tweeted.
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