The Labour Party Conference is now only a few days away. This is shaping up to be a pivotal conference for the Party and the Labour movement generally.

The Party’s politics have changed. Gone are politics of austerity and New Labour managerialism. In its place we are starting to see politics aimed at benefitting the majority. This is, of course, only the start.

Two recent reports, one from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) arguing that a much more radical intervention by government will be needed to mend a broken economy and another by a group of scientists arguing, upfront, that capitalism cannot deal with the impending climate change disaster both show that there is room for Labour to be even more radical in its policies for the next General Election.

Whilst policies can change relatively quickly changing the institutions of a political party takes longer. This Conference however is likely to be remembered as the one where a sea change away from the old order really gained impetus. We have already seen some changes.

  • a new general secretary
  • A new NEC more aligned with members interests
  • A party of over half a million members at a time when Tory membership has slumped below that of the SNP
  • An understanding that the next election will be won on the streets talking directly to electors rather than in the TV studios.

This Conference will take things further. LI’s motion on Open Selection together with the other CLP’s pushing for change in the selection of MP’s will hopefully be carried and start the transformation of the Parliamentary Party into something looking more like the country generally.

It will also be the Conference which must put impetus behind the idea of transforming the party away from its old, sterile past into a genuine people’s movement. John McDonnell’s promise that ”when we go into government we all go into government” must also start to be fleshed out.

Turning that into reality will involve real, fundamental, change. The Conference will see Katy Clark’s review into party structure. Hopefully it contains some of the radical changes needed. The days of policy being decided behind closed doors must come to an end. The communications lines between members themselves, members and the party and members and the general public rendered sclerotic by New Labour’s centralisation need to be rebuilt. Everybody has to have a say.

The effects of austerity are clear for all to see. The Tories creation and shambolic handling of Brexit show clearly the need for a change of Government.

The real and damaging splits in society caused by austerity are also clear. Recent polls show that if only 18–24 year olds had the vote Labour would win 600 seats with the Tories getting none. Equally, if the mandate was limited to those over retirement age, the picture would be reversed. The irony here is that those in retirement are being just as badly served as the young.

These problems can be solved by Labour getting its message out but that means ensuring that everybody in the party can contribute to and understand the message and how to deliver it. Labour’s political approach has changed. I look forward to the Conference taking the first major steps towards changing the Party’s internal structures and approaches to deliver those new politics.

Frank Bonner

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