Perhaps the most striking thing about the Conference was the number of people who began their speeches by saying “I am a first-time delegate and first-time speaker.” As one delegate expressed it, the people in the hall were “normal people”. People who faced all the problems of daily life in today’s Britain. They came to Conference, overcame their nervousness at speaking in front of thousands, told their story, plunged into the policy discussions, and showed what amazing independent minds they have. This was as far from the polished professional showcasing of politicians that conference was just a few years ago.
Throughout conference the leadership rolled out policies that answered the problems that delegates raised. For example, thirty hours of free day care for pre-school children. A policy that can drag childcare into the 21th century. Another example was the right of workers to get a share in the companies they worked for. Many policies were explicitly more radical than those that had been in the election Manifesto. The Manifesto has become established common sense and the leadership is not resting on its laurels.
At the LRC fringe meeting, John McDonnell explained that during the dark decades of the isolation of the left, he and a small group of MPs patiently worked on their own shadow budgets. They calculated in detail what good policies would cost and how to pay them. This preparedness, this closeness between the policies of the leadership and the hopes of the members, augers well. We have become too used to leftwing governments that promise one thing before the election, but then back down once elected. I doubt this will happen when we get a Labour government led by Jeremy and John. With mobilized mass support, most of the program will be implemented. At last, the discussion in the Labour Movement can move on from what should be elementary policies – anti-austerity, worker’s rights, equality and justice – to the more difficult questions. Like: how can we make a systemic shift away from capitalism?
Yet, as young members I hear chatting next to me on the train say, the most exciting part of the conference was the Open Selection discussion. Labour International’s motion was widely acknowledged as playing a central role. Members overwhelmingly believe that democratizing the selection of parliamentary candidates is a key question. The outgoing NEC recommended that only their compromise solution should be discussed. This was all wrapped up in an obscure procedural question that was raised as soon as Conference opened. Despite this, more than 90% of CLP delegates voted that our motion should be discussed! It was an extraordinary, and to my knowledge unprecedented, show of independence. However, the discussion was pushed off the agenda because 98% of the union block vote (which has half of the total vote and is decided by a handful of leaders) voted in favour of the NEC. A meeting about Open Selection organized by Labour International after the conference was emphatic. The fight for Open Selection continues. And, considering the way this conference unfolded in all other aspects, it won’t be long before we succeed.