Freddie Evans – Youth Delegate Report, Labour Conference 2017
Sunday 24th September
Conference was opened by a rousing speech from Kemptown’s MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, which was thoroughly enjoyable as last time I was at conference in Brighton we had no Labour MPs at all in the city.
This was followed by a debate on protecting our communities, with the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, giving a speech on the subject. While the tone and policy of the speech were to my liking, I did find myself slightly affronted by the stronger line Labour has taken on immigration, while at the same time Abbott lambasted the government’s own immigration policies.
I was tempted to speak during the debate on protecting our communities, though I ultimately lacked the courage to stand up and do so. If I had spoken it would have been on how a well-funded national education service can help to protect communities. As I believe that an educated population is in general happier, and less likely to resort to crime or extremism, particularly if this education is followed up by the economic system Labour is seeking to build.
After the morning session we held a brief meeting to decide how we would vote on the priorities ballot, ultimately choosing housing, rail, NHS, and learn direct.
The afternoon was filled with further discussion on protecting our communities, a speech by the Welsh first minister, and Ian McNicol. During both of these speeches I was disturbed by the behaviour of a few surrounding delegates, who actively heckled or merely made intolerably loud comments about the speakers. Some of them were local delegates, and I found it incredibly irritating, and uncomradely. While we may disagree with what Mr McNicol and Jones have to say, it is unacceptable to disturb others who are trying to listen nonetheless.
Later, at Pavilion CLPs ‘Concerts for Corbyn’ event that evening, I actually had the opportunity to discuss my thoughts on the national education service with John McDonnell for about ten minutes during which he clarified some questions I had on Labour’s universities policies, in particular on student grants.
Monday 25th September
The second of day of conference began with the good news that Brexit had not made it on to the priorities of issues to be discussed, which was welcome, as it avoided a potentially embarrassing display of internecine conflict over members passionately held views of Europe and Brexit.
Passionate and interesting speeches from delegates on the economy abounded, with the Shadow Chancellor delivering an incredible speech that was well received in the conference hall for its combative tone towards big businesses that break the rules, PFI and other issues.
I was also incredibly excited to hear Emily Thornberry lay out how Labour will practice its foreign policy when in power, and it is the kind of speech I have wanted to hear from Labour’s shadow foreign secretary for years.
In the seminars after the close of that day’s session I asked the shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith, what policy Labour would adopt towards the outsourcing of the armed forces catering arm to private firm Sodexo. This is an issue close to my heart as I have friends and colleagues who are in the military, and have heard first hand of the utterly appalling state of food for our men and women in uniform. Griffith responded that like many other such outsourcing programs, Labour would be looking to bring it back inhouse. Which in the case of the army would mean it reverting to the army’s own food catering units, who already provide that service when the army is deployed abroad.
Tuesday 26th September
Day three of conference opened with a rejection of the CAC report by what appeared to be most of the CLP delegates on the floor. However, when it was brought to a card vote it was later found that those of us who had voted against the CAC report had been resoundingly defeated by the trade union delegation.
After this event, and much to the surprise of the chair, the conference proceeded to reference back and ask many pressing questions of the party’s financial report. This was most unusual as in my previous years as a steward, most delegates seemed to use this as an opportunity to sneak off for a coffee. It was, however, most welcome, as it clarified some, if not all, of the delegates’ questions. The best news of the whole report was that Labour is now debt free, which is exciting news for our party.
Moving on from this the NEC rule changes were debated and ultimately all the CLPs but Brighton Pavilion remitted their rule changes, which was understandable, if somewhat disappointing.
I tried reference back during the debate on education, as I believed that the NPF document should have made reference to student housing, an issue that is on nearly every student’s mind. If I had been selected to speak I would have drawn attention to the exorbitant rents that most universities charge, and how most students have to take part time work or parental support, if available, in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, only three speakers were chosen for this debate.
Wednesday 27th September
The results of the NEC rule change ballot showed that we had been roundly defeated on our contemporary motions rule change. While this was sad to hear, the upshot was that all other democratising measures proposed by the NEC were passed.
Corbyn’s speech was an absolute barnstormer during which he firmly parked his tanks on the government’s front lawn, lambasting them for repeated failure on their own terms, and rhetorically demonstrating how Labour would run the country if it were in power. The speech has been covered extensively by others, nonetheless, Corbyn showed how we would run the country ‘For the Many and not the Few’. Lastly, I particularly liked the reveal of a new slogan ‘Hope for our Country’, which I think is incredibly strong and emotive, similar in tone – though far more solid in our commitment – to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign slogans.
This was a very different form of conference than the last two I had attended. Delegates and members seemed fired up and invigorated, while even many of Corbyn’s fiercest critics seemed to, at least rhetorically, be feeling the buzz too.
While I did tire of the constant ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyns’, I nonetheless found them to be amusing. I do however hope that in future conferences they are somewhat less frequent. Jeremy Corbyn is the leader who has brought us hope for socialist change in this country, yet it is his policies that I stand behind, not simply the man himself.
In future years I would like to see a return to a longer conference, particularly in light of our improved financial situation, as three days is simply not enough for any kind of substantive debate.
I would also like to thank Claire, and all our other delegates who did such a wonderful job representing our CLP during this fantastic conference.