Labour Party Conference – a member’s diary

lab-conference-photo

Saturday 24th September 2016

We arrived in Liverpool in time for the leadership election conference. As I’m sure you’re all aware, Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected with 61.8% of the vote to Owen Smith’s 38.2%. He gave a fiery speech in which he asked to wipe the slate clean from the bitter leadership campaign in an attempt at creating some unity at conference.

Sunday 25th September 2016

This was the first day of conference, and was opened by the Mayor of Liverpool welcoming visitors to the city. Delegates approved the first Conference Arrangements Committee Report.

The morning also saw the obituaries, and merit awards were given to two dedicated party members. The tribute to Jo Cox came later in the day and was a particularly poignant and memorable moment – a new Women in Leadership mentoring scheme was announced in her honour.

8 topics – child refugees, defend and promote public services, energy, housing, employment rights, grammar schools, the NHS, and industrial strategy – were chosen to be discussed at conference. Notably (and embarrassingly for some) Brexit was not sufficiently popular to make the final list, but one of the employment rights motions had a very strong focus on Brexit (and not just the implications of Brexit for rights at work).

Monday 26th September 2016

Clive Lewis, then Shadow Defence Secretary, gave what I thought was a brilliant speech on Labour’s defence policy, though rumours emerged afterwards that it had been amended shortly before. Then reports of last minute forced amendments from Seamus Milne and wall-punching from Lewis abounded, embarrassing scenes at the opposition party conference.

The second half of the morning session was focused on the economy, with there being four composite motions (three on employment rights, one on the industrial strategy). John McDonnell gave a very well-received speech about Labour’s economic priorities. The international speaker was Scott Courtney from the Fight for $15 campaign in the USA, campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage. He’d spoken at an event I’d been to in Portland, and he was excellent this time too. He talked about how they’d managed to build support for a $15 minimum wage, shift the terms of the national discussion, and successfully campaigned for minimum wage rises in numerous US states (quipping that he didn’t know why Oregon, who raised their minimum wage to $14.75, couldn’t spare the extra quarter).

I attended a number of fringes throughout the day. One was on how Labour can win back working class communities from UKIP with Hope Not Hate and Ruth Smeeth MP. It was argued that we need to engage with the “I’m not racist, but…” people, use themes like health to get people involved and active in communities, and to use modern community organising strategies (explained using themes of discipline, intention, method, and power) to do so. One member of the panel pointed out, in order to illustrate the importance of community organising, that after an episode of Gareth Malone’s The Choir aired, featuring a choir from a local area, the BNP vote in a by-election in that area immediately after halved.

I also attended an event with Liz Kendall MP and Stephen Kinnock MP about reclaiming patriotism from the right, a fascinating topic in the light of Brexit. For too long patriotism has been the reserve of the right and a toxic subject for the left to consider and it was refreshing that this was being addressed at conference.

Tuesday 27th September 2016

Overall the party voted in favour of the party’s official policy forums, but some faced significant protest from the party votes.

The Treasurer reported that the party’s finances were in a very good state and that we are debt free. Before the morning session votes was Sadiq Khan’s speech – the Coop Party speaker was pushed back to the afternoon due to delays arising from the debate over the CAC report earlier in the day. The atmosphere before, during, and after Sadiq’s speech was incredible, with the focus being on what Labour can achieve in power.

A composite motion on grammar schools was also debated. Stickers and placards bearing the ‘Education Not Segregation’ slogan were handed out, and Angela Rayner’s speech, kickstarting our fight against new grammars, was excellent.

I was not present for the debate on Energy as I was at the exhibition, but I made sure to be in the hall for Tom Watson’s speech. He gave one of the best speeches of conference in my opinion, and really lifted spirits in the room. The way he dealt with a heckler who took objection to him listing the last Labour government’s achievements especially lightened the mood, pointing out to Jeremy Corbyn that the heckler hadn’t gotten the unity memo.

The main fringe event I attended on Tuesday was the Make Votes Matter and Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform rally, entitled ‘Time for Labour to Embrace PR’. I had designed the leaflets for this event, and stewarded it on the day – featuring a star studded cast of speakers such as John McDonnell, Chuka Umunna and Stephen Kinnock. Like the Electoral Reform Society earlier in the week, the venue was packed, and the event was overall a great success.

Wednesday 28th September 2016

This was the final day of conference, and I made an effort to collect as much free stuff from the exhibition hall as possible. The Home Affairs debate came first, which was one of the best of the conference. It was begun by speeches from Cat Smith and Richard Burgon, but it was the speeches on the Child Refugees composite motion that were particularly compelling. Stella Creasy and Lord Dubs were among the passionate speakers from the floor, while Yvette Cooper gave a timetabled speech on the same issue. Andy Burnham spoke generally on the issue of Home Affairs, but also about how his 10 years in frontbench Labour politics would soon come to an end owing to the Greater Manchester Mayoral contest next year.

The only business in the afternoon was the leader’s speech. As you might expect, the conference hall was packed and the audience was vocally receptive to Corbyn’s speech, mostly positive! After the customary singing of the Red Flag and Jerusalem, the conference came to an end.

The atmosphere at conference was far better than expected, and the number of speeches emphasising the need for a united Labour to win power served to refocus delegates to our top priority – winning power.

 

by Dan Wright of the Salisbury CLP

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