Marcus English, Bicester Branch, our delegate for Conference
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Wednesday 27th September
Marcus with outgoing NEC Chair Glenis Wilmott
One thing I was really looking forward to at conference was meeting and sharing ideas and war stories with delegates from other constituencies. Across the week I’ve spoken with comrades from London, Birmingham, Brighton, nearer to home in Warwick and this morning I had the pleasure of sitting down with a couple of members from Canterbury. Obviously, I was eager to find out the magic elixir of overturning a 22,000 Tory majority and turning a traditional Conservative seat red. Although there’s not one simple solution, it was inspiring to hear how hard work, constituency visibility and a lot of campaigning managed to make Rosie Duffield the Labour MP in the town. I managed to record a short message from Canterbury CLP to Banbury which I hope will be posted to our Facebook page.
There was no formal business at conference today. We received the results for the Constitutional Amendments with the NEC’s recommendations for increasing CLP and Trade Union representation, lowering nomination thresholds in leadership elections and the code of conduct being passed overwhelmingly. The motion on abolishing the ‘contemporary’ motions rule was defeated however.
The main bit of business was Jeremy Corbyn’s leader’s speech. I’m sure most would’ve seen the speech, read the highlights and digested the commentary from the pundits. I found the speech to be inspiring, confident and up-lifting. I’m sure the majority, including myself, of delegates are sufficiently fired-up to return to the constituencies, campaign hard and to paraphrase some Liberal bloke, prepare for government. There’s still a lot to do, much work to be done but it begins now and remains the responsibility of all of us members and Trade Unionists.
Tuesday 26th September
Ballot boxes on the conference floor
One thing that really struck me today was how members had embraced the democratic procedures of annual conference. So many people are eager to speak from the rostrum, to have their say and put their ideas across. There is quite the carnival atmosphere on the conference floor, not something I’d expected. For those unfamiliar with the procedures of conference, you have to be picked by the Chair to speak in any debates. This leads to people charging down the aisles to grab the attention of the Chair, whilst others brandish inflatables or flags. It’s not an ideal situation, something brought up several times.
Marcus’s attention grabber?
I attempted to speak on the conference floor this afternoon on the NHS composite motion submitted by Constituency Labour parties. I was eager to speak out against STP’s in relation to our own struggles with keep services running at the Horton General. Despite brandishing my own fetching homemade banner, I wasn’t unfortunately called to the rostrum.
This morning’s main business was taken up with Constitutional Amendments. In the time since our member’s mandating meeting and the start of conference, the NEC had proposed their own set of motions and launched a democratic review of all party structures and had subsequently asked CLP’s submitting rules changes to remit it to this body. I supported, in line with the mandate of Banbury CLP, the two motions that did come to conference floor (the code of conduct and one abolishing the term ‘contemporary’ in motions to conference). I decided to support the other two motions from the NEC, feeling they continue to broaden democracy in our party (extra CLP and Trade Union places on the NEC and lowering the threshold for leadership nomination to 10%).
Angela Rayner MP
There followed a good debate on the policy commission on Early Years, Education and Skills followed by an excellent speech from Angela Rayner in which she praised a Labour government innovation, Sure Start centres, for changing the direction of her and her son’s life when she became a mother at 16. Angela announced we will give 500 million GBP a year to Sure Start to reverse Tory cuts in full. Angela also talked about the importance of lifelong learning, so committed the National Education Service, already outlined in the manifesto, to providing education for all at every stage of our lives.
Matt Wrack General Secretary of the FBU
The afternoon’s session heard barnstorming speeches from Jon Ashworth on the NHS and from FBU General Secretary, Matt Wrack, on the Grenfell Tragedy. Matt talked about how every single firefighter who braved their lives entering the burning tower was an FBU member. The tragedy saw those Trade Unionists emerge as heroes, whilst we saw both failure and neglect from Royal Kensington & Chelsea council and the government.
All Contemporary Motions were passed unanimously, a real indicator of the spirit of unity at conference throughout this week, a theme carried on in Deputy Leader Tom Watson’s speech.
John McDonnell’s impromtu speech
The other noticeable thing about conference is the real zeal and desire for people to talk about politics, wherever and whenever. No longer can we say the youth are apathetic. Everywhere you turn in Brighton, meetings pop up everywhere. I caught an impromptu gathering in a garden where Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell gave a speech on the importance of Labour Party members fully involving themselves in community campaigns and urged party members to stand for election for Council or other offices and put Labour values in place across the country and to keep spreading the message and building on our radical manifesto.
Monday 25th Sept
An incredibly busy day at conference with a Plenary session on Brexit & Internationalism and four composite motions: Growth & Investment, Public Sector Pay, Disabled Public Sector Pay and Workers Rights all coming to the conference floor.
There had been a little bit of mischief from the media, and some in the party, accusing conference of ducking the issue of Brexit. However, this ignores that Brexit was down for debate as part of a Plenary session on the International Policy Commission. A point I made with Channel 4 journalist Michael Crick.
Marcus doorstops Channel 4’s Michael Crick
A delegate moved a reference back on the Brexit section of the NPF document and there followed a very lively debate. There were impassioned calls for us to retain our single market membership, whilst others warned of the dangers of ignoring the democratic wishes of the referendum. Perhaps Labour’s position was best summed up by one delegate when they said “we’re walking a tightrope on Brexit but we must do what is best for Britain, for jobs, for prosperity and to keep Britain going”.
This point was further echoed in Emily Thornberry’s rousing speech when she outlined the three priorities of Brexit: jobs, jobs and jobs. As part of her speech she pledged to put Labour values at the heart of British foreign policy and announced a new policy for licensing arms sales abroad.
Emily Thornbury MP
It was then down to the business with the Composite Motion debates. These were the merged contemporary motions coming from various Trade Unions and CLP’s. I felt all four of these motions were solid enough to warrant support and built on our pledges in the Manifesto.
Both Len McClusky and Dennis Skinner gave excellent speeches during the debate, with Dennis calling for the end of the public sector pay cap and referencing how, as a Miner working with foreign displaced workers, there was never any problems in the pits because everyone was on the same money and everyone was a member of the union, the NUM.
Dennis Skinner MP
The ending on the public sector pay cap was a key theme of the day, repeated by many of Shadow Cabinet throughout. All four motions were passed by the conference floor.
Big announcements were the order of the day in Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s speech. John pledged to end PFI contracts, building a cross rail for the north, electrifying the South West railway lines, address the gender pay gap and a cap on credit card interest payments – “and when we amend the law”, he said, this will be known as the ‘McDonnell Amendment’!
John McDonnell MP
John made an interesting point on how its always been the role of Labour governments to lead our country into each new era. The current one we face is ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. This theme was picked up in the Economy Policy Seminar I attended later in the day. Although by no means perfect there are set a set of proposals in the democracy review, designed to give members a voice in the National Policy Forum. During the seminar I made the point on alternative methods of ownership, particularly co-operatives and how they could play a role in a modern economy.
Standing ovation for John McDonnell
The afternoon saw a debate on the Work Pensions and Equality report. One delegate called for a section of the report to be referred back as it made no mention on reversing cuts to social security. I supported this remit as did a majority of the conference and it was subsequently carried. I hope the Policy Forum adequately explores the issue in the next 12 months.
There’s a real sense of the possible here at Conference and an eagerness of proving ourselves as a party ready for government. And as Len McCluskey said, “I’ve never looked forward to a Labour government like I’m looking forward to this one.”
Sunday 24th Sept
Crowds of delegates flooded into the conference centre which is estimated to be the largest conference gathering in a decade. It’s believed around 13,000 have descended upon Brighton for annual conference.
There is a real buzz on the conference floor. Lots of new blood willing to share ideas and strategies on how we defeat the Tories and elect a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn.
Chair of the NEC, Glenis Wilmott opened conference by announcing that around 1000 delegates were first timers. Personally, I was struck by the amount of CLP’s that were sending their full quota of delegates, with some having representations of up to 10. A real exercise in participative democracy.
Diane Abbott MP
The first business of conference was a vote to support the CAC report with many delegates speaking from the podium to ask the CAC for some of our regional Metro Mayors to be allowed speaking time.
Conference moved onto our first debate, Protecting our Community. This session was opened in a fantastic speech by Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott. Diane paid tribute to the police, fire service, NHS workers and transport workers who, in the last 12 months, have continually run into the face of danger. Diane reaffirmed Labour’s opposition to the Public Sector pay cap and announced Labour would reverse Tory cuts and recruit 10,000 police officers to work within the community. The Grenfell tragedy was touched upon with Diane stating the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s response was shameful with only a handful of families being offered new homes.
A theme throughout this session was an opposition to local government outsourcing and bringing services back in-house.
Diane touched upon immigration and referenced the Tories had weaponised the subject during the General Election. She announced that Labour would put an end to indefinite asylum detention centres to much support from the council floor.
There followed a lively debate from CLP debates on three of the NPF reports: Justice and Home Affairs, Housing Transport & Local Government and Environment, Energy and Culture.
Paula Peters, Disability Campaigner
Of particular note was Paula Peters, a delegate from Bromley & Chislehurst and a disability campaigner. Paula explained how disabled people were nine times more likely to bear the brunt of Tory cuts. She went on to further explain that a UN convention of rights for the disabled had investigated, for the first time ever, the UK government and subsequently found them guilty of mistreating disabled people.
Andrew Gwynn, Shadow Secretary of State for local government made the keynote speech in the afternoon. He outlined our commitment to continually innovate in local government. Andrew also committed Labour to bringing essential services back in house as well as announcing the party’s plan for a renaissance in local government, with a promise for our government bill to rebuild local services.
In the afternoon we voted in the priority ballot for contemporary motions. Eight subject areas can be voted on by conference, four from the Trade Unions and affiliated societies and four from constituency Labour parties. The Trade Unions supported the following four subject areas: Growth & Investment, Public Services, Workers Rights and Grenfell. As the Trades Unions had already announced their support for the following subjects, and as Brexit was already down to be debated tomorrow morning, I supported the following motions, which I believed to be pertinent for our constituency: NHS, Social Care, Housing and Rail. These subject areas were overwhelming endorsed by conference.
Overall, there is a real sense from conference of government within our grasp and a real sense of the future being ours, only for us to grab it.
As a first time delegate I was also struck by a conference that had really opened out to allowing members control of the conference floor. It was heartening and energising to hear the contributions from so many members across the country.