CONFERENCE REPORT 2017 from Jane Clarke
The first part of this report is my impression of Day One of the Conference as a first time delegate, which I wrote that night. The rest of the report covers those parts of the conference where I had a strong interest.
Sunday 24 September 2017 Morning Session
Conference opened with an eloquent welcome from Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP.
This was followed by a wide-ranging speech from Diane Abbott on Protecting Communities which referenced:
- Prevent is a tainted brand
- Labour will employ 10,000 more community police officers
- The Fire and Rescue Workers must, and will under Labour, be responsible for fire safety building inspections
- Need a full enquiry into Orgreave and other workplace miscarriages of justice
- Tories have weaponised immigration
- Labour will implement the Dubs proposal to help child refugees
- Diane’s mother come to the UK as a student nurse in the 1950s
Diane received a heartfelt standing ovation from the hall.
11 of the 15 Pavilion delegates then had a quick meet-up to agree which Contemporary Issues we should prioritise. We chose: Housing; Rail; NHS; Learn Direct.
Sunday 24 September Afternoon Session
The discussion on Protecting Communities continued. There were excellent speeches from many delegates including Daniel Harris and Danielle Spencer from Hove CLP and memorable words from a sixteen year old delegate from Ashton-under-Lyne who talked about the shambles over GCSEs and how so many school students were suffering from stress and anxiety. A punk musician from Mid-Norfolk, this is how he described himself, had been elected as a Town Councillor and said there was NO money for arts provision in his area and he called for funding for the arts. The delegate from Dover explained how Brexit would cause major problems for her city and said Labour could win Dover at the next election.
There were many thoughtful interventions from the floor on homelessness; fighting the cuts; the toxic effects of austerity; domestic violence but what seemed to be missing was a sense of where this debate was going. There was no motion at the end of this session. Were these points captured in any way? It felt like a great debate with no tangible outcomes.
Welsh Report from Carwyn Jones
This was an upbeat speech. Labour has had a surge in Wales and won seats back from the Tories. He likened the Tories approach to Brexit negotiations to Dante’s Divine Comedy and said that fifteen months on and Davis, Fox and Johnson were still in the outer circle of hell. On domestic issues he said moves to privatise the NHS in England must be fought and that the NHS is not being privatised in Wales.
General Election Report from Iain McNicol
- Best Labour result in decades
- Extensive and successful use of social media
- Jeremy Corbyn has continued to campaign the length and breadth of the UK
- We currently have 570,000 members
- The Labour Party is now mortgage-free, loan-free and debt-free
Results of the Contemporary Issues Priorities Ballot
CLPs voted to discuss: NHS; Social Care; Housing; Rail
Affiliates voted to discuss: Growth and Investment; Public Sector Pay; Workers’ rights; Grenfell Tower.
DAYS TWO – FOUR Paragraphs on selected speeches and a policy seminar.
I had indicated International Affairs as my area of particular interest.
Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, covered much ground in her speech on Monday 25 September. She left Brexit, apart from general remarks, to Keir Starmer.
- Labour remains committed to 2% of national income on defence
- Real time pay rises and decent living conditions for armed forces
- These are dark and dangerous times
- Rule of Law, Human Rights and Geneva conventions being ignored across the globe
- North Korea ignoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
- Taken together these represent the biggest challenge to the world order since the 1930s
- Labour believes in ‘a world based on rules and laws’
- President Trump’s pronouncements on travel ban for Muslims; reneging on Paris climate treaty etc are ‘more like what we would expect from a rogue dictator.’
- Tories are supine and sycophantic towards Trump
- Tories announce suspension of co-operation with the military in Myanmar and on the same day sign a deal to increase our co-operation with military in Saudi Arabia who are dropping cluster bombs in Yemen
- Next Labour Government will immediately reform legal and regulatory framework on export of arms, fully implementing International Arms Trade Treaty
- Labour will never put interests of rich and powerful above Rule of Law and the lives of civilians in Yemen and elsewhere
- Need a revolution of values that Labour is putting back into politics and will put back into Government
Keir Starmer spoke to the Statement from the NEC on Brexit:
- Labour will seek a strong, progressive new relationship with the EU – not as members but as EU partners
- Labour will fight for a Brexit deal that prioritises jobs and the economy and protects rights
- Labour would seek a time-limited transitional deal on the same basic terms we currently enjoy
- We condemn the Tories for whipping up division over immigration
- We demand the Government immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain, as it seeks to obtain reciprocal rights for British citizens living in the EU
Policy Seminar on Work, Pensions and Equality – Wednesday 27 September
Panel: Debbie Abrahams (DA), Diana Holland (DH), Ms Greenwood (MG), Alex Cunningham (pensions)
This was an opportunity for delegates to raise the issues of greatest concern to them. The following topics came up:
- WASPI women – raised by four delegates
DA said: One possibility is to bring forward the state pension age to 64. This would help 2.6 million women. It’s not perfect but we can press for the Tories to do it now. We will continue to press for compensation.
- Sanctions, Universal Credit, Welfare Reform – raised by four delegates including Fraser who had moved the Reference Back on the weak para in the National Policy Forum Report on Welfare.
DA: Agreed that imposing sanctions was wrong. She was currently looking at ten themes on Welfare Reform. Universal Credit was not fit for purpose.
MG: Universal Credit was a huge issue as was in-work poverty including among public sector workers.
- Disability rights – raised by three delegates including delegate who said Labour must dissociate itself from a disgraceful statement by Frank Field who had said severely disabled people should not get the minimum wage.
I had to leave just before the seminar ended so was not able to record the answers in this area.
Other issues raised by delegates at the Seminar:
- Delegate wants ‘institutional racism’ included in the Race and Faith Manifesto
- Delegate who said suicide rates among the transgender community are one in two. Had not seen transgender issue reflected in the National Policy Forum
- Question about how Work Centres operated
- One delegate anxious about the language the Government was using about future state pensions as if these may be under threat
- A pensioner delegate objected to use of the phrase ‘welfare benefit’. Was not a benefit was a right
- Strong criticism of PIP assessment process as cruel
- Juliet McCaffery (Pavilion) said Policy was weak on ethnic minorities who are white. Conditions of 20,000 travellers on the road must be considered
- Michael Brown (Pavilion) mentioned the International League Table of Women in Parliaments. Globally 23% of representation was by women
- Delegate said rural areas NOT mentioned in Policy Report
- Delegate who is convenor at Capita said they were trying to cut pensions by 50%
- Delegate said we need to raise awareness that you can get support with your Council Tax if on low income. She was concerned how few councillors seemed aware of this.
Overall Impression of the Conference
This was a dynamic, optimistic and outward-facing Conference. I was inspired by the eloquence and passion of the speeches both from delegates and from Members of the Shadow Cabinet. What struck me most was the energy and new talent coming through the ranks of the Party. The conduct in the Hall was committed and comradely and I saw no examples of racism of any form.
It is worth noting how much Labour Party finances have improved thanks to the extraordinary growth in membership under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
My thanks go to the constituency for giving me the opportunity to be a delegate. I would also like to record my thanks to Claire Wadey, both for the excellent pre-conference briefing seminar she delivered and for her guidance during the four days which helped me get the most out of Conference.
Jane Clarke 25 October 2017