Prescott calls for debate over Labour challenge

John Prescott opens new Labour policy forum
John Prescott opens new Labour policy forum

The continuing debate about policy within the Labour party is a "sign of strength" as the party attempts to renew itself in a third term of government, John Prescott said today.

The deputy prime minister was speaking at the first of a series of 'Let's Talk' forums, a consultation exercise with party members, the public and trade unions to help Labour develop its strategy for the future.

"Let's Talk is about new politics for new times, as Tony Blair said - or as I put it, it's about traditional values placed in a modern session," Mr Prescott said.

"It is about how we are to develop our public services for a new century. We have a unique challenge as a Labour government in a third term to renew ourselves."

And in a dig at Conservative leader David Cameron, he added: "Governments have to deal with complex policy and their impact on people's lives.not simple statements with no real policies underlining them - that is the luxury of opposition."

Today's session is specifically about public services, and will look at how to make the provision of these services fairer, give people more power over their local schools, hospitals and transport systems, and ensure they continue to be efficient.

There were also big decisions ahead on pensions, the environment and the criminal justice system - on which Mr Blair is speaking later today - and all of these would be informed by this consultation, the deputy prime minister said.

"The politics of ideas is equally as important as the politics of organisations," Mr Prescott continued - although he stressed that the normal processes of deciding Labour party policy would remain.

The new initiative is an attempt to show the Labour party in a more positive light following internal strife over the prime minister's future, which has reportedly led to more than 50 backbenchers signing a letter calling for him to set a date for his departure.

Problems with the NHS and disputes over education reform have also led to major clashes between the leadership and the left of the party, while disputes over pensions have also soured relationships with many unions.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of public service trade union Unison, welcomed today's discussion, saying the initiative was a "positive move" and assuring the prime minister that workers would be keen to take part.

"We want to talk about job cuts in the health service and the health service funding crisis. We want to talk about why we have to have markets and competition in our public services," he said.

But he warned: "The government has to listen. It has lost that listening element - this exercise could help it to regain that edge if it genuinely listened to what people had to say. It would be great shame to waste that opportunity."


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