In the regular UK political calendar, autumn means one thing – party conference season. But this year’s calendar has been anything but regular. Between Brexit negotiations and the election of the latest Conservative Prime Minister, the focus has not been on normal procedure. Weeks into months has been given over to the latest developments (or not) on Europe and Conservative party infighting over a leadership election the vast majority of us had no say in.
The return of the UK and Scottish Parliaments following the summer recess should have brought with it renewed focus and energy to deliver on the issues that matter for those we represent. At Holyrood we have seen positive steps with Scottish Labour securing a revised target of 75% for 2030 emissions reduction as part of the Climate Change Bill, and a long-overdue vote on the future of the rail franchise, following ongoing dissatisfaction with Abellio. At Westminster however, the business of the country has ground to a halt.
The UK Parliament returned from recess on 3rd September, only to be unlawfully prorogued less than a week later in a move which the Supreme Court judged “prevented parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of a possible eight weeks”. The decision of the Supreme Court that the prorogation was unlawful saw MPs return to Parliament last week, but the nature and language of debate which ensued was far from welcome and still we are no further to securing any kind of alternative deal with the EU for Brexit. Further away still is the refocusing of parliamentary time on key issues of inequality and poverty which are affecting people across the UK every day.
At its conference in Brighton, the Labour Party sought to redress the focus, to shift the narrative away from the single-minded pursuit of Brexit-at-all-costs and back to domestic policy. Conference approved motions which under a Labour Government would have a positive impact on individuals and families across Scotland and the UK, not least the pledge to end the roll-out of Universal Credit. Alongside announcements on ending in-work poverty and introducing a real living wage of £10 an hour, this is the kind of action which would really make a difference to families currently struggling to make ends meet.
A Labour Government would also introduce a Right to Food as part of a Fair Food Act, including a National Food Commission to monitor food insecurity and an Action to Food Fund for the most deprived areas. The Trussell Trust has welcomed the pledge to half the use of food banks in the first year of a Labour government, and end the need for them within three years. As we approach Challenge Poverty Week, this refocusing on policy which better supports the vulnerable, the pledging of action which seeks to reduce poverty and address inequality in our society, should only be welcomed.