The first full day of the Labour Party Conference got off to an interesting start, with dissenting voices during the very first session.
The vote on the Conference Arrangements Committee report is one of those formalities that delegates have gone through at the start of every Conference for years without anyone thinking of questioning their judgement. This year several delegates argued that they weren’t being given enough bites of the cherry, and eventually the Chair had to ask for a card vote. The vote to accept the report was won, but only by about 58% to 42%.
It’s a footnote – but one which I think demonstrates 2 things:
1) There are a lot of new delegates who are determined to test the Party’s commitment to democracy – I think that test was passed with flying colours.
2) There do seem to be a significant number of people here who think that you can’t have a democratically agreed position unless it has been thrashed out in public by delegates arguing from different sides. I don’t believe that – we ought to have more local forums and they need to be more transparent, but the adversarial model of speech and counter-speech didn’t inspire the voters in 1983 and it won’t inspire them now. I think some of the more confrontational voices need to recognise that we can make more coherent Labour Party policy through discussion, workshops, drafting and revision than we can through shouting each other down. I believe the Party will decide to keep the NPF, but I share the view of most members that it needs to be both more radical and more open, and I will certainly be supporting moves in that direction.
There were some very powerful speeches, but the ones that stuck with me:
- Ian McNicoll urging us to fight to win – we are a party of government, not a pressure group.
- Chris Bryant reminding us of the devastation that vulnerable people and minorities are already facing, and how we must have pride in our unity as a party otherwise people won’t vote for us.
- Ian Murray (our only Scottish MP) telling us that, for all their bravado and radical-sounding words, when it comes to actually implementing policies in Scotland the SNP are wee sleekit cowerin’ beasties.
- The powerful plea from Northern Ireland for our Party to decide to organise there to offer the population rights on e.g. abortion which the rest of us in the UK have taken for granted for years.
I also attended the Labour Coast & Country session, which was so well attended that we had to move to a bigger room. Maria Eagle spoke of the importance of valuing local councillors – including Parish – and fighting to win those seats, not just sending everyone to our target seats. Also, we must not allow the NFU and the Countryside Alliance to define politics in rural England and we must contact our new members and welcome them, giving them the opportunity to become involved early on. The delegates there felt that our message to the voters needed to be clearer, and that while the basic message for voters across the UK should be the same, there were different emphases and sometimes a different slant required to make it relevant for the bulk of the country away from London + the northern mets. And we needed to have other techniques in our campaign armoury apart from simple door-to-door ID.
I also attended the SERA rally – the Labour Party’s environmental campaign. This needs to be a strong campaign area for us, as the Tories have vacated anything near the centre ground and are demolishing the environmental measures Labour put in place between 1997 and 2010. We heard what Plymouth City Council were doing with Cooperatives in energy generation, insulation, growing and distributing fresh Fruit and veg. Daniel Zeichner the new shadow minister for buses, cycling and walking said it was no good relying on the market – we needed intervention, as they had in London. And Sadiq Khan promised to be the greenest Mayor London has ever had. I pledged to bring at least 5 people with me from Suffolk to the big Climate Change march in London on November 29th – we need to make sure people can see that voting Labour is the most effective way to achieve green objectives.
Finally, at the ALC reception in the evening, I met up with lots of good friends. Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson addressed us – they were doing 14 different receptions this evening, but Corbyn didn’t look tired or frazzled – he spoke calmly but powerfully for several minutes about our mission to expose and reverse the Tory lies over austerity which have led to the most concerted attack on the vulnerable, trade unions, and ordinary working people in a generation.
Sandy Martin, Labour Group Leader – 27/09/15