Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gordon at Progress Conference

Registration for the annual Progress Conference started at 9:00 yesterday morning at Congress Hall, TUC. The first keynote address was due to start at 10:00. As usual, despite my very best intentions, I was running late and I arrived at about 9:45 and went straight down to get a coffee in the TUC lower hall.

To my surprise the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, came down the stairs and started to shake everybody’s hand he came across including my own. I could only think at the time of saying “Hello Prime Minister”. Now of course I can think of all sorts of profound and convincing statements to say to him. But at the time it was only “Hello”. I couldn’t find my camera either to take a photo - but there you go.

It is only when you are up close to him that you realise that he is literally such a “big bloke” with a barrel like chest and rugby playing shoulders. His famous “big clunking fist” would indeed deliver quite a knock out punch. Light weight Tory leaders and egg throwers beware.

Gordon was the surprise keynote speaker and had not been on the original agenda. As soon as he entered the main hall there was a spontaneous standing ovation for him. Most of the audience didn’t have a clue that he was going to be there. He took over the platform for a confident and far reaching 20 minute speech, delivered without any obvious notes or screens (how do these people do it?).

I felt he was very buoyant but wanting to appear very calm. I think that the current financial crisis “extraordinary times need extraordinary solutions” is bringing out the best in him. It is “the biggest New Labour falls on us to deliver...We live in a global financial system where there is no global supervision" It’s personal as well, he talked about a women who wrote to him who had invested her savings in an Icelandic bank and could not any reassurance about her money. She had not slept for the previous 4 days. "We need to apply lasting values to new circumstances... Labour is the greatest force for fairness in our society. ..The lesson is that only progressive forces work”.

He also importantly, I think, gave an impression of optimism, not all is doom and gloom and in the long term we will come out of this. I managed to ask a question about the role that Governance failure in Banks, fund managers, accountants, actuaries etc, played in the current financial crisis and whether the concept of citizen investor will help prevent future failures. Gordon was I thought a bit wary in his answer but he assured us that once the crisis was under control there will be significant and wide reaching regulatory change in the future to prevent such things happening again. Fair enough.

In the last Progress conference I attended in 2006, Tony Blair was the keynote speaker. This was also in the same hall in Congress House. Tony had recently “agreed” to resign and delivered a blinding farewell speech. Later on I saw Gordon speak in this same location during the London trade union hustings for the deputy leadership election. He was very well received by that audience. Gordon left the Progress stage yesterday to another standing ovation.

I’ll post later on the rest of conference.


Charlie Marks said...

I hope you will be condemning the controversial plans to part-privatise the welfare state and cut benefits for lone parents.

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie

Not sure that that is correct at all. I did attend a workshop on welfare reform which I will try and post on this week

Charlie Marks said...

I'm just going on what has been reported in the press. Quoth the BBC:

"plans include giving private firms and charities the right to bid to run more public services.


Under the plans, which have been devised by former cabinet minister Alan Milburn, 10-year "franchises" for services such as GPs and colleges would be up for tender."

This isn't a policy that is being called for by the general public -there's no evidence privatisation benefits public services - it's a demand of big business.

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
We do need to keep an eye out on this but it seems that a lot of stuff was spinned beforehand in the press but the Queens speech didn’t mention it?

I must admit that I am surprised that many people forget that the overwhelming majority of GP practices are already “privatised” (by self-employed GP’s) and have always have been (stuffing their mouths with gold and all that).

Many GP surgeries (not my own surgery of course - he says quickly) need a bloody good shake up. In Newham we still have GP’s who try and refuse to give timed appointments!

Charlie Marks said...

Yeah, obviously GPs are private operators (historic compromise by Bevan!) But people like the connection with a GP - always seeing the same person, and the concerns are that corporate healthcare providers will be a more profit-oriented. Plus, GPs are concerned about facing unfair competition from multinational healthcare companies, and ultimately being forced out of business. I don't think that this threat of insecurity will improve standards. It will be interesting to see what the NHS constitution will entail regarding GP services - I don't know if empowering patients will mean they can challenge GPs who need a shake up...

Anonymous said...

What a load of crap...GP's will end up like the great NHS dental service we all enjoy? So free at the point of use that no one can access it.

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
I don’t think there is any evidence for this. During the recent London UNISON health conference the NHS CEO Ruth Carnell was quizzed on this and I don’t think that there is any appetite for widespread privatisation. Where the private sector (GP’s) fail to provide a good service then something has to happen.

Hi Anon
Dentists are advertising for patients in East London. Things are not perfect (yet – another 5 years of Labour will sort it out, don’t worry)

Charlie Marks said...

Not surprisingly, there's never any appetite for privatisation - although the looters are often peckish. Independent pollsters were unable to find a majority in favour of any of the privatisations of the last 30 years. Which is why people like Alan Milburn, Charles Clarke, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, and their ilk refer to it as "personalisation". This switching of terminology was recommended to Republican politicians in the US by the pollster Frank Luntz.

Where private GPs fail, why not establish NHS GP surgeries - as Bevan surely intended originally?

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie
Yes but no but - sale of council houses, not poplar? Utility shares give aways?

You surprise me that this was not "popular"?

Yes of course to NHS GP surgeries. I think that the resistance will be by GP’s.

Charlie Marks said...

The bit about the popularity of privatisation was from a book written from a pro-privatisation perspective. Given that even the Daily Mail moans about the energy companies being owned by foreign monopolies holding us to ransom, and that a hard-right Tory like Iain Duncan Smith was going to adopt the policy of renationalisation of the railways before he was ousted as leader - we can take it that support for Thatcher's privatisation agenda was never overwhelming, and is certainly not appreciated as much as it was in the past...

As for "right to buy": In Andrew Neil's autobiography he recalls interviewing her and asking why council houses weren't just handed over to tennants who had been living in them and paying rent for x number of years. She apparently told him, in her condescending manner, that it wasn't the point. The point was to have people getting themselves into debt - buying is not immediate, you have to get a mortgage. If you've a mortgage with payments to keep up, you're less inclined to take strike action...

John Gray said...

Hi Charlie

Agreed - but Right to Buy was very poplar amongst traditional Labour Supporters and it contributed to the Tories staying in power for so long.