Yesterday I returned from my first Labour Party Conference.
Before I went, I had my reservations. I was originally chosen to attend conference as a delegate, along with one of my other colleagues from our constituency. However, we both received the same email a few weeks after sending off our applications, informing us that as neither of us had been a member for a year from the end of June, we did not qualify to attend as a delegate. I later realised I missed the cut off point by a few weeks, my friend Carol, by a few months. I have been told by friends in the Party that this rule has never been actively applied to delegates in the past, so the cynic in me asks why, especially in the trying times we found ourselves over the summer, they suddenly decided to start implementing said rule.
I was also slightly anxious due to the tensions present in the Party due to the unnecessary leadership election held over the summer, and by the fact that the leadership announcement would take place the day before conference was due to start.
We arrived in Liverpool early on Saturday. We were both wanting to attend Women’s Conference, which was held on the Saturday, but we also wanted to make sure we were around for the announcement of the leadership results. We watched the results live in a big hall which would later be used for women’s conference. When it was announced that Jeremy had been re-elected, with an even higher proportion of the votes than last time, the majority of the room were on their feet, cheering and clapping. I was convinced that Jeremy was going to win, however due to the undemocratic events over the summer, such as the purging of thousands of members and barring of many new members from voting at all, I was worried his mandate would reduce. I was happily proven wrong.
My next worry would now be that conference would be cast in the shadow of the results, with division and disunity rife. I was again hoping to be proven wrong on this.
Women’s conference was a great experience. It was liberating to be in a hall filled with women, all of whom were wanting to discuss issues that affected them. We started with a remembrance service for the late Jo Cox MP, which was finished off with a talk from Jess Philips MP. She spoke incredibly well, on an issue which must’ve been very hard to talk about in front of a crowded room. Jess and I have our differences of opinion on some issues, and she has blocked me on Twitter for seemingly no reason, however I have huge amounts of respect for her for the beautiful send off she gave her close friend.
I went to a fantastic fringe event on Women’s Political Blogging. The panel told us that the majority of pitches they receive for bloggers are from men, who are self assured and tend to sign off their pitches with “I look forward to seeing this in print.” Women’s pitches are significantly rarer and are littered with phrases such as “I hope this is good” and “I think it would be good”. It is incredibly important that women are made to feel more welcome in the world of journalism and blogging, especially if we wish to diversify the political media coverage we usually see.
There was another interesting talk hosted by the Labour Friends of Palestine. We were told that Palestine has taken Israel to the International Criminal Court, and they are currently being investigated for their conduct during the attacks in the summer of 2014 and for the continuing expansion of illegal settlements. We had the pleasure of hearing some insights from Lisa Nandy MP and Richard Burden MP, as well as Nadia from al-Shabaka and an international barrister who I did not catch the name of, all of whom are actively involved with Labour Friends of Palestine.
I also saw some fantastic speeches in the main conference hall, with some moving and interesting contributions from delegates. Angela Rayner MP gave an inspiring speech as Shadow Minister for Education, and spoke eloquently about an issue which unites Labour-grammar schools. John McDonnell laid out Labour’s economic vision under Jeremy Corbyn, announcing some exciting policies and finishing by saying the Labour Party no longer whispers the word “socialism”. Cat Smith MP was also extremely good when she took to the stage to speak about young people and the issues they face. Richard Burgon MP, Paul Flynn MP and many others all gave unifying and interesting speeches on their relevant areas of the party also.
In the spirit of unity, I will not go into too much depth on the speeches I took issue with. However, one of the lowest points of conference for me was Tom Watson saying “Comrades, capitalism is NOT the enemy.” Somewhat a contradiction in terms if you ask me.
One event that I found extremely shocking was the gerrymandering of the NEC. As I understand it, the NEC put forward a package of rule changes and told delegates they had to vote for them as a package, not on a one by one basis. Despite protests from the floor, including an emergency motion from Manuel Cortes from the TSSA in which he requested a card vote be taken on whether they voted for the changes on block or singularly, the Chair pushed on with plans to vote them through as a block. This was in spite of the fact that conference rules clearly state that if a delegate requests a card vote, a card vote must be taken. This meant delegates could either vote against the rule changes and vote against progressive policies such as giving Women’s conference powers to affect policy, or vote for the rule changes and vote for a rule change which gerrymanders the NEC and adds 2 extra people onto the committee, giving the anti-Corbyn members a majority. The rules changes were voted through.
Away from the formality of conference, was the festival held by Momentum which ran alongside it called The World Transformed. Some of the most amazing things I saw over the 4 days were at this inspiring event. The programme was full of interesting and thought provoking talks, including discussing a progressive alliance between parties with Caroline Lucas and Rhea Wolfson, talks from Paul Mason on a variety of issues and a final party with music and speeches and a surprise appearance from the leader of the Labour Party himself. There were differing opinions, but each opinion was listened to and explored with the respect it deserved, something that didn’t happen as regularly at the official conference.
The main hall was filled with socialist banners and stalls which sold books and souvenirs and was buzzing with excitement and a thirst for politics. The age range was huge, some young and enthused activists and some older members. Regardless of what you have read in other publications, it really was a phenomenal and groundbreaking event.
The cherry on top of the 4 politics filled days was the speech from Jeremy Corbyn on the final day. He spoke extremely well, he was clear on his message and fleshed out policies which had previously been criticised for not being thought through enough. He looked and sounded like a leader and showed marked improvements in his style from this time last year. He got standing ovations when he apologised for the Iraq War and when he praised the heroic MPs who stood in for the Shadow Cabinet this summer. The Union bloc, where we were sat, cheered and whooped triumphantly as he announced that a Labour government under his leadership would revoke the damaging Trade Union bill which was passed last year by David Cameron’s government. Even his critics have seemed impressed by the performance he gave.
Overall, I was impressed and enlightened by my experience of the Labour Party Conference, despite disappointing and worrying actions by the NEC, perhaps in a last ditch attempt to regain some control before the new members started on Wednesday. There was a spirit of unity running through the majority of the speeches and events and I have left with a feeling that the Labour Party can recover from the events of the last few months. Unity is the only way this will happen. Hopefully everyone will have realised that. The country needs us to be strong and united to take on the disaster of Thersa May’s government.