Christopher Webb, Conference Report 2018
Conference this year felt like a managed affair, everything seemed delicately balanced to give a specific impression to the delegates, party and media. While overall the conference was a positive experience some parts of it left sour notes, these included the party not coming away with firm commitments on disability issues, the incomplete state of the democracy review, growing regional disparities and the inability of delegates to scrutinise the work of the NEC and the other labour party management bodies.
while this was Women’s conference for the rest of the delegation I was (for obvious reasons) free to take in Liverpool as a tourist and the highlight of my day was the Liverpool museum, the docks, Chinatown and the historic town centre.
initially I didn’t expect much from the Liverpool museum but after arriving there from taking a long walk through Baltic triangle and Chinatown it was fascinating to get history about how these areas arose and Liverpool’s links to the wider world. The museum had excellent exhibits on Liverpool’s “socialist” and “collectivist” histories which urged the importance of being unionised and the effectiveness of collective action.
This is where I began my time as a delegate, we began with our regional briefing and had The opening formalities. We were then presented with CAC1 report, in this the hall was told that if the democracy review changes which were due to be discussed today were passed then all linked constitutional amendments would fall, preventing a debate from taking place on them. Many delegates in the hall voiced their displeasure with this arrangement. I asked a question related to an issue I found last year, as we had found that despite being entitled to over 3000 votes we had only been allocated 1800 votes. When I received answers from the CAC I found them to be completely unhelpful as to why we were allocated fewer votes than we were entitled and as to if they were resolved as so, I could not vote for the report. As it stood many other CLP delegates also could not vote for the CAC report so it came down to a card vote. This resulted in the CLP’s voting overwhelmingly against and the Affiliates voting for and the report narrowly passing.
We then went on to the democracy review and there were 8 categories, covering individual members rights, local structures: CLP’s, Regional Structures, National Structures: NEC, National conferences, leadership elections, the National Constitutional Committee and Westminster Selections.
Of these 8 Areas only two were at all contentious, Leadership elections and Westminster Selections.
In leadership elections people believed that the proposal given allowed specific sections of the party the ability to “Veto” candidates based on its wording
as for Westminster Selections many people felt that it was worse than open selection in every way and that it should be defeated in order to allow a proper debate on open selection to happen when constitutional amendments happen.
Today was mainly occupied by policy debates such as the ones on the policy reports on economy business and trade, housing local government and transport and the contempary composites on housing and the economy. There were also two emergency motions covering the Grenfell tower and the Car industry,
we were first given a report from Carwyn Jones, as his last address as leader of welsh labour where he made a commitment that there will be a woman running as leader of welsh labour and he will nominate a woman if that’s what it takes.
within the debates there were several references back which will hopefully strengthen our policy reports and the contempary composites in particular were well worded,
The housing one called attention to the planning process which has biases towards private developers and allows them to continually ignore their social and affordable housing requirements which is something we have seen all too much of locally. It calls for more usage of cooperative housing initiatives and for land acquired in re-nationalisation to be given to councils for use in council house building projects. Finally proper regulation of short term lettings such as air B&B’s got a mention as these do not have correct licensing and deprive the area of valuable housing stock.
the economy composite re-affirmed labours commitments to overhauling anti-union legislation and renationalisation of key industries as well as ensuring workers are represented on company boards.
the Grenfell motion, Moved by the FBU was to highlight that Kensington & Chelsea council had sent letters to Grenfell residents telling them to return to their former home or they would lose their tenancies.
the Car industry motion, Moved by Unite was to highlight that due to poor handling of the Brexit negotiations Jaguar landrover will be placing 2000 staff onto a 3 day week they wanted to affirm labours commitment to a “jobs-first Brexit”
Later in the day I attended training sessions as well as best practise sessions with members from around the country
I began today by attending a policy seminar on Housing Transport and local government in order to ask some questions I did not get to ask in the main debate the previous day. It was hosted by Andy MacDonald, Andrew Gwynne and John Healy. In this they addressed delegates concerns about the shadow cabinets concerns for these policy areas. Several delegates raised good points which I wish to raise here.
One is regarding “Services for the Dead”
A delegate from the South west sits on a combined burial board near Bristol and has raised concerns that the massive amounts of new homes being built around the M4 corridor has placed pressure on existing services & infrastructure however as he sits on a burial board he has found that the waiting list for burial plots in the few graveyards that remain has climbed from a few months to 15 years in several graveyards. With the labour party intending to build 1 million homes when it gets into government it is essential that new services are built but he raised the issue that services for the dead are important too. People need places to go when they pass on and people need places to mourn and remember the dead.
The second major issue raised was the rising prevalence of “live-work units” A delegate from London told the session of this new trend of employers cordoning off a section of their workplace and turning it into living quarters. due to high rents, thee employer will then offer these to their employees despite these living spaces having no planning permission and not informing the local authority of the people living there.
As these buildings are not built to have people living there they are not up to standard and safe and it often ends in disaster and the delegate told us of a fire that broke out in this building, and the only reason the fire service went in to rescue the “residents” was due to one of the younger firefighters knowing there were people living there. The older firefighters believing the building was to be dealt with as it was zoned would not have sent firefighters in otherwise.
While these properties might be illegal the residents will not tell anyone as it will cost them both their homes and their jobs, the delegate couldn’t really offer any easy solution but wanted the message to be spread.
I then raised the work that our council is doing under the lead of Cllr Hill, about licensing landlords and spoke about how it has taken so long to do this when youre in a minority and getting the secretary of states permission, Then finally getting to do it only to be sued.
I asked for the next labour government to have day one legislation for protections from councils from frivolous legal challenges and for additional powers to be devolved back to local councils, I had to leave before I could get an answer but John Healy did find me in the exhibition later and tell me that it was a yes!
We had constitutional amendments and beyond the usual which can be odd and interesting there was one of particular interest to Pavilion, “the right to not stand a candidate” proposed by Richmond CLP. On this all of pavilion’s delegates had a strong feelings that we should not support this change and that the arguments presented in favour had no merit. While I did not get to speak My particular point was that it would never be a decision that can be taken by the CLP on its own and there will always be an element of outside interference, as seen by the bullying and harassment members of pavilion received in 2017.
in the afternoon I had to leave to attend Key training on labour party technology such as organise and contact creator.
The final day of the conference was taken up by a debate on “tackling inequalities” and discussions on health and social care. With a motion on ensuring that the royal Liverpool hospital which was being constructed by Carillion was continued.
Finally it was topped off by speeches from Dawn Butler and Jeremy Corbyn
Of particular note today was Dawn Butlers Speech, it was energising and fun but powerful and captivating.
She spoke of the importance of having a fully funded, fully empowered equalities department within the government to rectify the damage the conservatives have done to the diverse communities and equalities groups within this country, as well as her families and her own experience which is similar to many other windrush generation families who have in her words “given blood sweat and tears only to be discarded like trash”.
Key pledges were the promises to give British sign language full legal status and end period poverty
Jeremy Corbyns speech was a rallying cry more than one filled with policy announcements but did have policy such as was the announcement of a free 30 hous of subsidised childcare, free for those on the lowest incomes and capped at £4 for everyone else and ensuring that the workers in these nurseries are graduates.
he did note that it was the centenary of some women getting the right to vote and that labour had more women members than the conservatives and liberal democrats had members put together. He also drew attention to the role that labour had played in politics in the last year mostly good but some bad, such as the antisemitism issue that has engulfed out party. and tried to sell a positive message moving forward.
the speech was nearly an hour long and had several foreign policy goals and a domestic wishlist fundamentally pinned on ending austerity.
compared to conference last year the party felt more driven and determined however there was this underlying feeling of stage management, as some issues have been put onto the backburner – in some cases for the second time – in order to focus people on fighting an election that could happen at any time, or, not until 2022.