First time delegate Michael Brown reports:
DAY ONE: Protecting The Community
The family gatherings I am used to attending usually end in a sing-along of some description. I blame failed musical ambitions and a taste for real ale. This Labour Party get together on the South Coast was unusual in that it started with one.
The now familiar refrain that is Seven Nation Army set to the chant of Oh Jeremy Corbyn was chorused to the heavens by the massed ranks of the Labour membership as they stood to applaud the opening of Conference 2017. The man himself, watching bemusedly from the stage had the good grace to look a little embarrassed as he accepted the tribute with a smile and a wave. Personally, after the electric summer Jeremy has had, I would have not been surprised to see him join in full voice while ripping off his shirt and insisting that Tom Watson parade him around the room at shoulder height. You will perhaps be disappointed to learn that this didn’t happen. Instead, the deputy leader stood at JC’s side and displayed equal good grace in appearing to be overjoyed as the throng echoed on.
After such a kick-off, it would be true to say that the rest of conference lived up to expectations. There was surprise and delight in equal measure. It was inclusive and inspiring. Sure, disagreement and dissent did materialise – conference is a family gathering after all, but the after effects of the general election result and all the super heated positivity it has created failed to lower any high spirits. We were even blessed with sunshine – the alignment of that particular star with what is normally a wet September weekend perhaps a metaphor too far for the newly energised Labour Party. Apologies for any further clumsy analogies – my only excuse is that I am a newcomer to the party conference scene.
It fell to Lloyd Russell Moyle, the recently elected and Tory ousting MP for Kemptown to welcome all to Brighton. Drawing on Labour’s national 2017 successes as a parallel with Brighton and Hove Albion’s arrival in the Premiership, Lloyd gave a consummate performance which did not betray the nerves he said he felt on being asked to open the show. There were however no calls from the floor for Jeremy to manage the Seagulls! A team that perhaps could do with a touch of the Corbyn effect!
The chair (Glenis Willmott) was then moved to speak on the wider climate of politics; Trump, Macron and the rumblings of the far right in Europe as a backdrop to the UK scene; in which the rejection of UKIP, austerity and the resurgence of Labour under Corbyn has given hope to all – and it was hope with a capital H that proved to be the on-going theme of all four days of conference.
Conference Arrangements Committee
On to the main order of business for day one – Harry Donaldson the Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee outlined the responsibility of all delegates; To decide which 8 subjects from all the contemporary motions submitted by trade unions, socialist societies and CLPs would be prioritised for debate for †he remainder of Conference 2017. A responsibility that would create lengthy discussions healthier than a fully funded NHS with no private sector interest!
Dianne Abbot was the headline act of Day One, but before the queen of Hackney graced the stage, the first of the speakers from the floor were invited to make the first contributions:
There were voices from Bristol West, Birkenhead and Manchester Gorton who had reservations about Sadiq Khan’s invitation to speak at conference. All expressed views that London gets enough airtime. That the regional voices of other elected Metro Mayors would be refreshing for conference.
Just as we were all appreciating the subtext, thinking here of Khan’s criticism of Corbyn in the run up to the general election, a further delegate invited to the podium urged for Sadiq’s appearance on the grounds of his large personal mandate when elected to the office of London mayor. This received a mix bag of emotive outpourings. Cheered in some sections and jeered in others, the chair rightfully called the floor to order. This delegate has some sympathy; Khan’s victory was hugely symbolic as both the first Asian and first Muslim mayor of London and no one should forget the divisive and despicable campaign staged against Khan by his mayoral rival Zak Goldsmith.
Democracy broke out in a deep red rash: Harlow CLP challenged conference to consider the North Korea USA stand off. Stroud CLP questioned why there was only one motion on the issue of education, while Guildford South spoke against trigger ballots. Islington North reminded all that the membership is as important than any single MP. Several points were made about disabled access, and conference did seem to be ill prepared for this – the most poignant of which was the chair of Disability Labour who found herself in what must have been the embarrassing position of criticising her own party. All of this debate proved to be a dynamic precursor for the days to come; some serious challenges would be issued to policy and party bureaucracy from the gathered membership in the hall. Underlining to this observer that this party is a very healthy, very vibrant beast that is genuinely for the many, and not just the few.
When Diana Abbot did arrive, she was greeted with a standing ovation that was so much more than an appreciation of all that she has achieved in politics. This was also a very palpable gesture of solidarity against the personal abuse this particular MP had suffered during the general election campaign.
Diana has somehow pre-empted the mood of the crowd in her speech: declaring to further adulation the words “I’m still standing” Getting into her stride along the day’s theme of Protecting The Community, she spoke to the cuts in public services in the face of terror atrocities – committing Labour to reversing them. She spoke to the fact that austerity undermines law and order as much as it does health and committed Labour to recruiting 10,000 new police officers. She spoke movingly of Grenfell and promised 3000 more firefighters, and an end to deregulation – the fire brigade, she said, will be the lead agency for assessing and signing off risk in building regulations – as opposed to the private sector. She would end indefinite detention for immigrants and delirium ensued upon guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals resident in the UK. The announcement of a full enquiry into Orgreave resonated profoundly – the potential correcting of an injustice more than three decades old spoke to the very reason the Labour movement was born. Download her full speech here.
Highlights: Other speakers from the floor Day 1: Daniel Harris from Hove CLP told a moving story of how his mental health issues had catapulted him into homelessness. His passionate exhortation to build more social housing than Labour has yet committed to was hugely appreciated in the hall. Meanwhile Lauren Stocks a blue haired future red firebrand described the experience of anxiety, pressure and mental health issues arising in the personal narratives of those young people studying their GCSEs. The record books have yet to confirm whether or not Laura was the first person to use the word bollocks from the podium at any party conference – A story which made it all the way to the Daily Mirror Watch here.
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi – A Jewish delegate from Chingford CLP spoke eloquently about how legitimate criticism of the government of Israel in their conduct towards Palestine did not amount to anti-semitism, a topic which seemed to dog conference proceedings, at least according to some sections of media. Most inside the hall would agree that the tone of the debate on the Israeli / Palestinian issue was passionate rather than prejudicial.
Andrew Gwynne Shadow Secretary of State for Communities; Download Andrew Gwynne Speech Here, Ian Lavery MP and Labour Party Chair, Ian McNichol General Secretary Labour Party, who made the first of what would be several name checks to Momentum over the course of conference, Mike Payne GMB and chair of Wales Executive, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones who opened up in Welsh and received an tsunami of appreciation when, in a testament to devolution, he informed conference that there is no privatisation in any hospital in Wales.
- Announcement of policy directives – see Dianne Abbot, Ian Lavery and Andrew Gwynne speeches.
- Agreement by vote to focus conference around Rail, Social Care, NHS, Housing, Grenfell, Growth and Investment, Workers Rights and Public Sector Pay. Our delegation from Brighton Pavilion had voted for Rail, NHS, Housing and Learn Direct – we felt that an educational theme needed introducing to proceedings:
- The Conference Arrangements Committee report was agreed.
DAY TWO: Oh Emily Thornberry
Brexit, the economy, jobs, living standards and equalities.
The molten hot topic of Brexit and Internationalism has liquified politics and it burnt a few fingers here! Underlined by a well attended pro remain demo outside the Brighton Centre the day before, the subject was prime focus for the reconvening of conference.
Glenis Willmott, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party in what was her last major speech ahead of her retirement as an MEP spoke of her fight to remain in Europe. She underlined the need to extend that fight to any exit deal that threatens the peace in Northern Ireland, or undermines the peace of mind of EU nationals in the UK or those Brits who have carved out lives in Europe, or attacks workers rights and safety standards. Download Glenis Willmott speech here.
Emily Thornberry opened her conference address with a cheeky reference to Corbyn’s now infamous mistimed high five gesture as the general election results came in, and with comic prowess she described the Brexit process as a paternity test that Boris Johnson did not wish to take. She spoke to the precarious state of peace in the world,
calling out the world’s human rights abusers and sabre rattlers; openly referring to Trump as akin to a rogue dictator while calling for a Labour government to challenge international injustices. A stark contrast she said to the spineless unwillingness of the Conservatives to take on such a mission. Download Emily Thornberry speech here. Keir Starmer criticised the failings of the Tory Brexit negotiators which need no repeating here. He spoke to the need of a flexible approach that swept no options off the the table, suggesting that remaining in a form of customs union with the EU would be one of the possible end destinations for Labour Download Keir Starmer speech here.
John McDonnell was in combative mood, and in the main he delivered a Tory bashing speech for the gallery! Stand out points for me included the IFA study which indicated that writing off student debt would cost £10 Billion by 2050, and that action was needed now by the incumbent government. Calling out the scale of profits made from PFI deals in the past six years; some £831 Million, was also revelatory and eye watering. His subsequent announcement that companies based in tax havens should not own shares in PFI’ schemes as well as confirming that, under Labour, all PFI contracts will be bought back in house inspired conference to its feet. Download John McDonnell speech here.
Sadiq Khan: Download Sadiq Khan speech here.
Debbie Abrahams: Download Debbie Abrahams speech here.
Speakers from the floor: A common theme emerged of how the problems of the global economy have been visited upon migrants in context of Brexit – the emotive testament from an Italian migrant from Hackney CLP told how unwelcome she and her family now felt in post referendum UK touched all who heard it. Ian Page from Bath CLP went so far as to state that, as the evidence for remaining in Europe was overwhelming, a reconsideration should be on the cards. This was in contrast to Daryl Hannah from Hove CLP who reminded conference that, as democratic socialists, the result of the referendum should be respected. Turkey and Palestine were both mentioned. Jean Butcher from UNISON informed conference that supply chains spread poverty around the world and reminded us all to of Dr Martin Luther King’s quote – before you eat breakfast in the morning you have depended on half the world. It’s true – I had a banana and a coffee; from the Caribbean via Columbia to Brighton.
The beast of Bolsover; the legendary Dennis Skinner was also called from the floor. He gave a typically barnstorming performance in regard to where the money will come from to fund our manifesto promises – his advice, to emulate the private sector and borrow it:
Reference Back. There were two instances of note:
- Nottingham South called for Brexit policy to be ‘referenced back’ to the National Policy Forum; the delegate concerned wanting the UK to remain in the customs union and the European Economic Area. Conference overwhelmingly voted against the delegate and this was reflected in the votes by the Pavilion contingency.
- Taunton Deane referenced back a section of the National Policy Forum on welfare demanding the scrapping of all planned welfare cuts. The Pavilion delegation voted overwhelmingly to support Taunton, and it seemed, from our vantage point, that the rest of conference did too. However the chair recounted several times inducing a fair bit of tension, before the vote was carried in favour of Taunton to send that section of policy to be reconsidered by the forum. Much cheering ensued.
Votes – acceptance of the international policy commission report; Economy, Business and Trade Policy Commission Report; Work, Pensions and Equalities Commission Report
Affiliates vote only: Contemporary Composite 1 – Growth and Prosperity Contemporary Composite 2 – Public Sector Pay Contemporary Composite 3 – Public Sector Pay Contemporary Composite 4 – Workers’ Rights
DAY THREE: In the black with a white elephant
Early years, education and skills; investing in the future; health and care
A big day for conference democracy. Voting in the ballot for two seats on the National Constitutional Committee, alongside other votes to decide a number of CLP and NEC rule changes would lead to dramatic interludes on the conference floor, and no less than two Pavillion delegates made it onto the podium to express some firm views: Both were well supported from the floor.
Boris Johnson’s attempt to gatecrash Lab17 dressed as a white elephant did not fool conference security.
Diana Holland, national treasurer gave an overview of party finances, confirming to all that the party was now, largely thanks to a massively expanded membership, out of debt, mortgage free, and in the black to the tune of over 6 million quid – nice work!
Our very own Amanda Evans, resplendent in a very distinctive hat, and in her role as local treasurer stepped up to the lecturn and demanded to know why, given we had just heard the national party was in such fine fettle financially, that a stall in the exhibition hall was denied to us on the grounds that ‘the national party could not afford to give the space away! Adding insult to injury we found yet another Labour Party merchandise stand, to add to the other Labour Party merchandise stands present, in the space ordinarily reserved for the local hosts – us! The question went unanswered but the point was well made.
Pavilion secretary Claire Wadey moved an emergency motion on the issue of the ongoing suspension of local member Greg Hadfield during the fallout of the 2016 Brighton and Hove District Labour Party elections. Claire eloquently described the lack of information coming back from the NEC over an unnecessarily prolonged period of time as ‘justice delayed, justice denied’. Momentum had pressed for support of Pavilion’s motion and there seemed to be a lot of support in the hall – prior to Claire moving the motion I distributed leaflets outlining the full nature of our complaint and here again there was much sympathy. However, following a dramatic card vote, we lost in the hall.
The main speakers today included Rebecca Long Bailey who spoke excitingly of being at the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, and how the pace of technological change calls for new models of ownership, alluding to how intellectual property rights and the fundamentals of business are structured to benefit the few over the many. Download Rebecca Long Bailey speech.
Angela Rayner, my favourite member of the shadow cabinet was sensational, referring back to her own start in life as a young mum of 16 with no qualifications. Speaking to how Sure Start had been instrumental in giving her the confidence to get to where she is now. Her promise to rebuild Sure Start with an injection of £500 Million was both personal and emotive.
Naomi Klein, The author, activist, and eagerly awaited speaker to this conference was up next. Speaking to the global uncertainty in the world and how the new left movement centred in the UK continues to provide hope to the poor, oppressed, and under privileged people of the world. You really should watch this particular speech…
Tom Watson’s moment on the podium was remarkable in that he whipped the throng into (yet another) chorus of Oh Jeremy Corbyn. I later saw the Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack speak at a fringe event organised by the Labour Representation Committee. Matt joked that Tom Watson had not bothered to learn the words to that song until the general election results had come through – hilarious!
OTHER BUSINESS CONCLUDED:
Places on the National Executive Committee: Anna Dyer and Emina Ibrahim, also known as ‘the left candidates’ won 71 per cent of the vote at conference – a landslide. Both candidates were supported by Brighton Pavilion.
National Policy Forum report on education: A paragraph was ‘referenced back’ by show of hands because it failed to clearly commit to proper democratic control of schooling, with no clear refutation of academy type education.
NHS: Another section of the National Policy Forum was ‘referenced back’ because of a glaring oversight that had gone unnoticed by all except one delegate in the room. The current policy committing to make the NHS the ‘preferred provider’ to the NHS, when in fact it should have read, the ONLY provider! The show of hands in support of this reference back was overwhelming!
The NEC recommendations for voting to rule changes can be seen above while the actual results of votes can be downloaded in full here: CAC Report of Ballot Results and Statement-3
DAY 4: The leader’s speech
Oh Jeremy Corbyn, Oh Jeremy Corbyn, Oh Jeremy Corbyn etc etc!
JC day today! The grand finale to four days of finely tuned debate was preceded by a selection of policy seminars in which delegates were invited to help shape ongoing Labour policy.
The Brexit seminar was well attended and the panel included Emily Thornberry, Kier Starmer, Glenis Willmott and Barry Gardiner – the full shadow Brexit team. Gardiner spoke to the notion that rising GDP is concomitant with rising inequality which Starmer underlined, drawing on the Tory agenda for post Brexit Britain as deregulation, deregulation, deregulation. Adding a poignant thought on why the phrase ‘take back control’ had such resonance with the public at the time of the referendum as a phenomena that Labour better needed to understand; the list of things that might have made it onto such a list would be potentially very long, but the issue of immigration caught Labour on the back foot he said, and the vote was further bound up in freedom of movement. The clarification of Labour’s policy on the customs union and freedom of movement as announced in Starmer’s earlier speech was very welcome. A delegate from Carlise CLP made the observation that her local council bins policy got more scrutiny that the EU trade deal proposals, a phrase which both Starmer and Gardiner threatened to steal for future usage.
The Work, Pensions and Equalities seminar hosted by Deborah Abrahams and Diana Holland was not short of delegates wishing to contribute. Pavilion’s Juliet McCaffrey spoke to the need to consider the Gypsy and Travellers community in equality legislation, and your very own correspondent suggested an equality idea that Diana Holland later complimented, and said would be considered as future policy: The legal obligation for all corporations to hire a Diversity and Inclusion manager to guard against unconscious bias in such equality issues as setting of pay, promotion and hiring, and to minimise gender pay gaps while expanding equal opportunities – BOOM!
Jeremy Corbyn – Oh Jeremy Corbyn – Oh Jeremy Corbyn etc, etc…
Corbyn quickly found his stride, plainly the endless campaigning has done wonders for his stage presence, and ability to capture a room. Ruminating on how some political theorising states that elections are won from the centre ground, he suggested that this might be true as long as you accept that the political centre of gravity has now moved – to the left. Check the leader out…
Debate, democracy, drama – tick
Energetic, educational, entertaining – tick
Inspiring? Absolutely. Frustrating? Sometimes. Would I come again? Hell yes.
To paraphrase Corbyn in his conference address, the Labour party in its current vibrant form is now the mainstream. As I looked around the packed hall teeming with talent, ideas, energy and the will to challenge party bureaucracy, it seemed hard to refute that Labour is the government in waiting.