13 September 2010
In the last of Open Left’s online Q&As with Labour’s Leadership candidates, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham is answering your questions below.
Max asks (5.43pm): Would you ban ‘London dinner parties’ in order to prevent the kind of elitism you profess to so intensely dislike? And, if yes, what would the impact be on Come Dine With Me which is a crucial cornerstone of public broadcasting in the UK. Would you offer Channel 4 special dispensation so long as they promised only to incite dinner partying north M25?
Andy answers (5.50pm): I certainly wouldn’t produce a six-page guide to producing one, and nibbles wouldn’t be compulsory!
Daniel asks (5.35pm): Sections 11-18 of the Digital Economy Bill contain a statutory instrument that would permit the disruption of a family or organisation’s communications in response to actual or alleged copyright infringement. Do you believe this to be a reasonable?
Andy answers (5.40pm): You may not like this but yes, I do believe it was reasonable. Britain has traditionally had a vibrant creative economy. Going forward, if copyright can be subverted, then we stand to lose an important economic strength, but it is also not fair to any performer or creator if their work can be taken for free. You may be right that a sledge-hammer approach to this is not the right way. As Culture Secretary, I was always attracted to solutions which capture the creative benefits of the internet to explore new music, while securing an income stream for musicians, ie a monthly fee or payment on your ISP bill for unlimited access to digital content. We do need to find a solution that strikes a fair balance between the interests of producers and consumers. The online world has to work in the public interest and cannot be allowed to overturn the law.
Sad Bog asks (5.25pm): What should Labour do to win back seats it lost in Southern England?
Andy answers (5.29pm): It is clear to me, from my tour of constituencies across the South, that housing is the overwhelming policy issue and there is a strong sense that we failed to address it. Labour needs to develop innovative new policies on housing so that we are speaking to the aspirations of people who not unreasonably want to live in the areas where they grew up, close to family and friends. I have proposed giving local authorities borrowing freedoms to purchase, under CPO powers, problem properties from absent landlords. This would enable us to expand council housing quickly, cut the Housing Benefit bill and bring more stability to communities. I have also put forward a major reform of property tax, as I believe this could appeal to the voters we have lost. So a Land Value Tax would replace Stamp Duty and Council Tax, unfair taxes on the aspirations of lower and middle income families.
Katherine asks (5.16pm): My question has two parts. First, would there have been a financial crisis if the women ran the banks? Second, how would you inspire unpolitical people to volunteer for the labour party?
Andy answers (5.21pm): I thought the Treasury was much better run when we had more women Treasury ministers. There is a serious point about the macho and competitive culture in the City which may have led to some irresponsible behaviour and made it harder for women to reach senior positions. You would hope that there has been some serious soul-searching since the banking crisis and a culture change. However, there are worrying signs that things are returning to business as usual. Labour should bring forward bold proposals for a financial services industry that commands public confidence and is seen to serve the wider public interest.
On your last question, I have a vision of Labour as a grassroots force in every community. We should be working side by side with local groups to improve people’s lives and not just be a local talking shop. If people could see Labour working for the benefit of local people, we would regain their respect and it shows the difference that politics can make at a local and national level.
Emily asks (5.10pm): I am pregnant and my child is due to be born the first week of January which means he or she will lose out on the Child Trust Fund, potentially face cuts in Sure Start and Child Benefit yet this Conservative Party claims to be the most family-friendly in Europe. If you were elected leader, how would you fight the Tories on this issue and what would be the Labour priorities for family friendly policies?
Andy answers (5.14pm): Hello Emily, and congratulations and good luck. I hope everything goes well. Firstly, we must expose the hollowness of their claim to be a family-friendly Government. They have already taken a number of steps to cut support to families – on the maternity grant, free school meals, free swimming for kids, and tax credits. Labour has a proud record in this area and we should defend a universal Sure Start service and the Child Trust Fund, which encourages people to save. I was also very proud of the work we did on the Healthy Child programme, which had the potential to transform the early years of life, particularly for those children in the most difficult circumstances.
Carl asks (5.03pm): The Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat bedfellows have set the country on a severe course for cuts. As leader of the opposition, how would you go about opposing their cuts agenda? What are your views on growth/investment as a means to get the economy out of recession? How far do you agree with what Ed Balls is saying?
Andy answers (5.08pm): You have identified the biggest political risk facing Labour right now. As Leader, my first priority would be to set out a credible and principled alternative to the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan. I agree with Ed Balls that we should extend the period to reduce the deficit over two Spending Reviews. I would also make the argument that we should raise more from tax as preferable to severe spending cuts that will forever change the character of our public services. But we must have realism and credibilty in our arguments. I have said that it is not sustainable to give the NHS real terms increases throughout this Parliament as the Coalition propose. Instead, we should stick with our plan for inflation for the NHS so that we can mitigate the size of the cuts that councils will face. This more balanced approach to public spending makes policy sense. The NHS cannot function properly if it is unable to discharge older people from hospital because of a lack of support in the home.
Alan asks (4.57pm): In your manifesto you say you would explore ways of linking social housing allocation to the contribution people make to the wider community. Can you explain a little more about this? How would you prevent this from further entrenching into poverty, those who are simply not able to make a contribution to the wider community due to their social circumstances?
Andy answers (5.02pm): As well as building more council houseing, there is a need to strengthen public confidence in the fairness of the system for the allocation of houses. Manchester City Council has developed a pioneering scheme where people are given priority points based on their connections and contribution to the local community. You are right to warn that this should not exclude people in urgent need but it has successfully restored local confidence in the system.
Sam asks (4.51pm): What, in your view, is ‘Britishness’? Do you feel that patriotism is either necessary or desirable?
Andy answers (4.52pm): At its best, Britishness is an attachment to a shared set of values, such as fairness and tolerance. Patriotism can be positive in building a sense of identity but it should only go so far. Your politics should be based on values not on borders.
Alan asks (4.45pm): After it was effectively characterised by the Conservatives as a ‘death tax’ during the election campaign, how would you go about selling your compulsory levy for the NCS, to the electorate?
Andy answers (4.50pm): Firstly, I believe Labour must rediscover the courage of its convictions, even when it involves difficult questions involving tax. The way to build public support for a 10% care levy is to highlight the cruel injustice that people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s face today. In effect, they are subject to a ‘dementia tax’ which takes more money off people the more vulnerable they are. At the moment, none of us can be sure that we can protect our homes and savings in later life. That is why, if we explain it properly, Labour can make the case for a compulsory 10% levy on all estates, because it means 90% of what they have worked for is safe.
Kevin asks (4.38pm): Should discrimination on the grounds of religion as to entry to a faith school be ended? I am in favour of faith schools but disagree with selection as to entry, when the roll is oversubscribed, being based on religious affiliation.
Andy answers (4.43pm): Like you, I am in favour of faith schools, but agree with you that they should be open to all. More generally, I am opposed to any form of selection in education. I believe in true comprehensive education – in intake, in curriculum, and in extra-curricular activity – and wish our Government had made a stronger case for it.