Sarah’s Report from Women’s Conference and Labour Conference 2017
I’m writing my report from the perspective of what it’s like being a first-time delegate.
Firstly I wanted to say thanks to Claire Wadey and that conference was made much easier by her being so organised, running briefings before and being around at conference to answer questions. I noticed that some other delegations didn’t know what they were doing, and I had people ask me questions as we were more organised.
I went to the Women’s Conference which apparently was the largest ever. Dawn Butler opened as the new shadow minister for Women and Equalities and mentioned that it was the trade union movement that taught her that others would stand her side in times of despair. She said “Today at this new transitional Women’s conference I want us to be united in our fight against injustice, all of you in this room are phenomenal women, our conference is to discuss policy and to empower you, and for you to empower others”. She quoted Martin Luther King who said “I cannot be where I ought to be until you are where you want to be”. One thing she highlighted was period poverty and was proud to announce conference was the launch of Labour’s official campaign against period poverty. She said the next Labour government will provide funding for free sanitary products for secondary schools, the food banks and the homeless shelters. She thanked Jeremy because they have worked out how they’re going to pay for this scheme, which was by scrapping the vanity products of this conservative government, grammar schools and the free schools. That money will go to helping women.
Jeremy then spoke to conference, having just come from being at Brighton Table Tennis Centre where he spoke about how fantastic it was to see young people, older people local people refugees and so many others all coming together in community activity. He said “building that strength of community that’s the sort of thing we’re about the party isn’t it?”. He thanked us all for being there and thanked Dawn for announcing the policy on period poverty in this country saying “that’s part of our policy we’re going to make sure that happens, we’ll force the Tories to do it and if they don’t we will when we have won the election”. He said that it was very important that women are heard and can debate properly and the policies come from the women’s conference as far as women are concerned. He said that we have to do even better as a party to attract even more women into membership, we need to attract far more working class women into membership – we want to be a woman’s membership to reflect the totality of women all across the United Kingdom. 45% of the parliamentary Labour Party is now women, with 119 women MPs in Parliament. He is very determined that we meet our target of 50% representation and was very proud to be part of a gender balanced shadow cabinet.
Emily Thornberry, who gave one of my favourite speeches, talked about the biggest increase in the Labour Vote since 1945. She said “Sisters, that is the evidence we need to show that if we are united behind Jeremy, and if we are standing on a radical manifesto, there is absolutely no seat that we can’t win and no Tory that we can’t bin”. She talked about next time round we are going to make history and have full equality of representation in the house of commons for the Labour Party.
I came away feeling inspired and uplifted and looking forward to the main conference.
At Labour Conference I was wondering how it would differ to the many UNISON national conferences I have attended. Firstly, what hit me was the sheer size of the event, the numbers attending were amazing.
During conference there were so many memorable speeches. Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, Laura Pidcock, Angela Rayner and Jeremy, of course, all made outstanding speeches (and received standing ovations) which I would recommend anyone who was not at conference watching. I’ve watched them all again on YouTube and it’s inspiring to hear them.
Naomi Klein gave another of my favourite speeches. She said she felt privileged to attend conference and could feel the optimism and energy at a time when there are so many bad things happening in the world. She talked about how moments of crisis do not have to be times when the obscenely wealthy grab more. We can go the opposite way, these can be moments when we find our best selves, where we locate reserves of strength, focus and resolve that we never knew we had. She also talked about the importance of social movements like Momentum working alongside political parties to create something which parties can’t achieve on their own and that this is inspiring to others. She said that people came to understand that “the biggest challenge is overcoming the way neo-liberalism has waged war on our collective imagination”. Again, I would recommend that anyone who did not see her speech to watch it as it certainly inspired me.
Aside from speeches from the platform, it was great to see how many delegates got up and spoke and debated, including our own Claire and Amanda who both spoke really well. The conference floor was electric at times and you really felt like you were part of an amazing historical event. I have to say I was happy with the contributions from those who mentioned Israel and Palestine and felt that there was no truth in any concerns raised about anti-Semitism in speeches made in the conference hall.
The only fringe meeting I made was the one on Autism and Neurodiversity where the new manifesto was launched
“The whole world is Neurodiverse, We are launching an inclusive Manifesto for all”
I learnt about the new manifesto and its key principles which are
- The social model of disability: Disability is caused by society creating barriers to the equal participation of impaired (or neurologically different) people.
- The neurodiversity approach: Humanity is neurologically diverse; people have different brain wiring. ADHD, dyslexia, autism and others are neurological differences. We want human neurodiversity to be accepted not suppressed or cured. (See our website for Neurodiverse profile prevalence figures.)
- Opposition to austerity: We need adequate public services, benefits and wages. Government and local authority cuts to these are a political choice, not an economic necessity.
- Socialism, democracy and solidarity: As a prospective Labour Party manifesto, this document bases itself on labour movement principles. We want to challenge the deep social roots of discrimination against neurodivergent people.
- Nothing about us without us: Policies and services, and the Manifesto itself, must be shaped by autistic and other neurodivergent people.
That last point was the most important to me – that people on the autism spectrum can themselves shape policy
The manifesto goes on to talk about diagnosis, support, independent living services and welfare amongst other things.
I would recommend anyone interested to go and read it at https://neurodiversitymanifesto.com/.
So conference was overall an enjoyable experience, although very tiring. My only criticism is that the disabled access was not good – with hardly anywhere in conference, apart from your allotted seat, to sit at other times. A lot of the people with mobility issues and those in wheelchairs were seated at the back, where they could not be seen easily if they wanted to make a contribution, and it was a long walk to the stage if they did get selected to speak. I think in future they should be seated across the front, with behind them trade unions on one side of the hall and CLP delegates on the other. Also when thinking about people (like my son with Asperger’s) who have sensory issues, it was a bit of a sensory nightmare with bright lights and main areas which were very noisy. So a separate quiet area would be good for people to go to for a while if they needed.