THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, BRIGHTON 2015 – A DELEGATE’S VIEW
DAY 1 - 27 September 2015
Labour International (LI) Annual Meeting (Chaired by Co-Chair, Dalvir Singh, DS, and Secretary, Lorraine Hardy, LH)
First thing on a bright Sunday morning, but well attended: by both LI members, and a number of others, including Mike Gapes MP, Giampi Alhadeff of Labour Movement for Europe (LME), and Anne Black from the National Executive Committee (NEC).
The night before had seen the first LI event, the Harry Shindler inaugural lecture, where Roger Casale of "New Europeans" had talked about Harry the person and the campaigner. An inspiring story plus good discussions about the overseas voting issue and the EU referendum.
DS reported that LI had contacted Alan Johnson of the Yes campaign in order to offer LI’s support and to find out how LI can best contribute to the campaign.
Mike Gapes accepted LI’s invitation to become President of LI.
LH reported that, locally, the Labour Party is helping in the campaign to register overseas voters by offering to provide people to act as proxies.
Nicky Wildy was elected as LI’s NPF representative. The other candidates will act as a form of advisory group on policy, led by Nicky. Members from both Asia and the US put themselves forward, and DS noted that LI is keen to make sure that members from these regions are involved.
National Constitutional Committee (NCC) – LI candidate is DS (Elections took place during Conference, with Dalvir coming third with 8,261 votes!).
Then on into Conference. Conference was welcomed by Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove. He had run a brilliant campaign, which is well worth looking at - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbw1nseHlzU.
The whole morning was given over to learning the lessons from the election and setting the agenda for Conference. The first panel was a rather unfortunate start, in that it featured all men apart from one woman sitting on the edge (see below). This led to some heckling from the floor!
Conference had only been in progress for about an hour when a card vote was called on the Conference Arrangements Committee Report. This related to two reference backs, proposed by different CLPs. Jim Kennedy’s ruling that the Report was passed was disputed from the floor. This resulted in a flurry of activity, as many delegates (including us) had not yet got their cards from the Ballot area.
Better Politics at Every Level
The afternoon session saw a discussion of Better Politics at every level, with contributions from Kate Green, Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities and Gloria de Piero, Shadow Minister for Young People and Registration, and speakers from the floor. There followed reports from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Kezia Dugdale’s speech (the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party) can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT39wYMD6S8
Chris Bryant spoke, and said that democracy is broken. 24% voters voted for the Conservatives and now they are pushing things that were not in their manifesto. People are crying out for something different - 16 & 17 year olds want to vote – and voting is important because you will not be listened to if you are silent. He also emphasised that we need to have pride in the unity of the LP. Further debate and speakers from the floor followed.
Contemporary Motions Priorities Ballot - results and compositing meetings announced (see separate report about LI’s motion and compositing).
DAY 2 - 28 September 2015
Another beautiful day in Brighton and first up the Europe Debate! The night before LI’s EU referendum fringe event “Yes, the EU we want” had taken place, in what became a joint event with Labour Movement for Europe under the LI banner, and was packed (see separate report on this and LME’s “Rally for Yes!” event on Sunday 27 September).
Britain and the World (Focus on Europe)
Glenis Willmott spoke first, and argued that the EU referendum was currently the biggest threat to our country. Leaving the EU would be a backward step.
She argued that we needed to challenge the “Lexit” rhetoric. The EU is not a neo-liberal tax-free wonderland. If change is needed, we need change from within. Britain would be a more progressive society if it remains: as regards workers’ rights, freedom, equality, and solidarity. We would lose Investments from EU funding.
There is no progressive case for leaving the EU – and she noted that the EU is the only body doing anything to cap bankers’ bonuses or on climate change.
Alan Johnson is heading up Labour’s Yes Campaign. He referred to a very different world in 1975, year of the previous EU referendum, of flares and tank tops. Now a world of globalised trade. It was a very different matter to leave a EU of 28 Member States than a ECC of 9 in 1975. And 40 years ago, Greece, Portugal and Spain were still under dictatorship, not to mention all the countries behind the Iron Curtain.
AJ urged us to start campaigning now. Reform may be needed but this is a process, this takes time. The social dimension of Europe needs to be enhanced. Further, he noted that leaving the EU would make no difference to the refugee crisis – borders would be less rather than more secure.
For the Conservatives – European and Union – two least favourite words! Leaving the EU – would lead to isolation.
Moved by GMB and seconded by Liverpool. This was followed by debate and comments from the floor.
Pat McFadden asked Conference: do we want the UK to be a place of risks or of fears? We should be taking risks not fearing. Arguing for a better Europe. Peace in Europe/single market/important worker protection/anti-discrimination. We should remain in in order to take the country forward not backwards.
Hillary Benn then spoke and reminded us that the EU brought peace to the continent. Our boundaries will not be better protected if we leave. We as a Party are proud internationalists, standing in solidarity with those in trouble. On the refugee crisis/Syria - Britain in second place in the world in humanitarian aid.
Work and Business
Angela Eagle spoke. She referred to the Trade Union Bill and the fight to defeat it as a Tory obsession. She noted that it undermined fundamental rights and freedom, was a major attack on civil liberties, and also contrary to ILO Convention.
She went on to discuss energy and the green economy. She then noted our skills emergency and the need to invest in young people, build partnerships, UK competence in world. Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gKqNU4KJaA
A discussion of the three Employment rights composite motions followed (LI contributed to Composite Motion 3 – see report on LI’s motion and compositing).
Stability and Prosperity
John McDonnell speech
- The rejection of austerity politics - austerity is not an economic necessity, but a political choice. Labour is now the only anti-austerity party.
- The aim to end pay gap and discrimination and the persecution of the disabled.
- Instead of austerity, the LP would dynamically grow the country. Invest in key sectors and ensure economic growth for all.
- Cuts to deal with the deficit – but in particular to the corporate welfare system e.g. making companies like Google pay their taxes.
- LP needs to prove to the British that it can run the economy better than the rich elite of today
- Other areas: trade union rights, the mandate of the Bank of England, the operation of the HMRC, housing
Finally, he noted that we need to draw on all talents inside and outside the Party – and asked those who decided not to serve, to come back and help us to succeed.
Don’t mistake debate for division, division for democracy. Pragmatic idealism – another world is possible – this is the New Politics.
Work & Business/Stability & Prosperity cont.
Owen Smith (Shadow Sec for Work & Pensions) spoke. He noted as regards young people that the so-called proper living wage is only from age 25! He referred to pensioners/pension pots and those with disabilities. On social security, he urged the LP to make a case for a collective policy of risk, to create an efficient/compassionate welfare state, to oppose the Welfare Bill, and not to ape Tory language.
Votes: NEC Rule changes/Card vote: NEC supported amendments all carried. Votes on Contemporary Motions and Emergency motion on Redcar Steelworks - all carried.
Conference then broke up for the day and we made our way to the different policy seminars being held.
At the Better Politics seminar, Kate Green, Angela Smith (leader in the HL), Chris Bryant and Wyn Davis spoke. The Chair, Johanna Baxter urged us to get in touch with further ideas/points via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The evening’s events included the Europe Reception held by the European Parliamentary Labour Party and S&D Group in the European Parliament, with Jeremy Corbyn in attendance and speaking, where LI had a photo-op with Glenis Willmott. Most of us then moved on to Diversity Nite, where we saw Jeremy Corbyn again (the first Party leader ever to attend, according to Keith Vaz), amongst others, and were finally able to have a well-deserved curry after a packed day!
DAY 3 – 29 September
Living Standards and Sustainability
Lisa Nandy (Shadow Secretary for Energy & Climate Change) spoke on the challenges of climate change. She argued that leadership is needed on climate change and that the UK can provide this globally e.g. Prescott on Kyoto, Ed Milliband on Global Climate Change. The Paris Summit can be historic – we need to prioritise clean renewable energy.
But under David Cameron, she noted, the global influence of the UK has decreased. The UK is not in the top 10 in the world for clean energy investment. She argued a Clean Energy Economy could enhance our economy.
During the rest of the morning, there was a discussion about how to take the fight to the Tories, and later, about stronger, safer communities, as well as the Local Government Report and further votes on composite motions on housing and the licence fee.
Conference then adjourned early to prepare for the LEADER’S SPEECH! Even delegates were queuing for this in case there was a problem accessing the hall…
A young Islington supporter introduced Jeremy Corbyn. Her father had been a Pakistani political refugee to the UK, who went on to become a doctor, and she is following in her father’s footsteps.
The speech can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHGEnYChJYM
- Instead of imposing policy, we want an open debate – bottom up not top down. Real debate – straight talking, honest.
- Challenge austerity, inequality and protect working families.
- An international voice for engaging in partnership with those who agree with our values e.g. global environment (Green New Deal – tackling climate change)
- Human Rights Act, ECHR and Trade Union Bill – fundamental attacks on our rights.
- Tories talk about economic security for families and people in Britain – what about the insecurity that exists in Conservative Britain?
- UK is close to bottom of the global investment table. Balance of deficit payments is the highest has ever been. We are ill prepared to face another crisis.
- Public Investment in infrastructure while interest rates so low, e.g. social/housing, leading to a profit for taxpayer as will save in other areas.
- Education – accountable to local government through local education authorities. No plans to bring back selection.
- Refugees – do more, and reach out the hand of humanity and friendship to them.
- National Security. Working to resolve conflicts is the best way to deal with this. Honour obligations under the nuclear proliferation treaty; work towards a nuclear free world.
- Support Obama’s deal with Iran. Syria – answer not in a few bombs – this does not work because no diplomatic strategy on ISIL. UN has a role to play here.
- Leadership contest was a political earthquake. Development of a modern left movement. New members want to be active and involved. Changes in politics – how the Party works e.g. on social media.
- You will have the final say re. policy. Disagreement is a split, and agreement is compromise: that is not the case in the New Politics.
- No to personal abuse, listen to views, can agree/disagree. Cut out abuse, cyber-bullying, and misogyny online (HUGE APPLAUSE).
- Democratic rights – electoral register – could lose 2 million especially from council estates, students, etc. Nationwide campaign, including harnessing the power of social media.
- Scotland. Tribute to Kezia – need to win back Scotland.
- Fair play for all – SOLIDARITY – values that Labour and our country values. Fairness and equality. Put peoples’ interests before profit.
- Self-employment – insecurity and risk – deal with the imbalance here too and offer a safety net.
- Railways – want to bring the private franchises gradually into public ownership as they come to end.
- Housing and Mental Health – priorities.
Jane Golding, LI Sponsored Delegate, October 2015