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John Prescott remembered the bitterness and division in the 1980s, saying that an MP once told a delegate to “Come on in, the blood’s lovely.” But this year, he said, is one of the best conferences he can remember. The Party is relatively united and Jeremy firmly in charge, laying down the challenges for the Tories. A record 13,000 members descended on Liverpool to attend Conference.
As we spent most of our time engaged in Conference debates and activities, we would be most interested in your opinions, whether or not you were there.
From speaking with friends and family members outside of the Party, we were told that the mainstream media were ‘unusually positive’ and certain policies, such as childcare, workers’ rights, and housing struck a chord with many who were watching the Conference at home.
Attending Conferences can be expensive if they take place in areas not close to home, especially with increased accommodation prices which aren’t fair on members on low income who would otherwise wish to attend. We therefore would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to Manchester Central CLP for the opportunity to allow us to attend this year’s Conference as your delegates.
This report is our personal view and experience of this year’s National Conference in Liverpool.
Donna Ludford & Jacob Mason
Due to prior commitments, Donna was unable to attend the Women’s Conference on Saturday 22 September. However, we both watched and kept up to date with happenings at the Conference with keen interest. The day opened with speeches from Jennie Formby, General Secretary, and Debbie Wilcox, the Welsh local government leader. Shadow minister for Women and Equalities, Dawn Butler, also spoke and, the only man to speak, Jeremy Corbyn, who was enthusiastically received. For the first time in more than twenty years, women’s conference voted on motions. More than 60 were submitted, and constituencies and affiliates prioritised women and the economy, childcare, abortion rights, and women’s health and safety.
“This could save lives”
Many women spoke movingly and directly from their experiences, reminding all that the personal is political. All were carried unanimously, with delegates voting to send the motion on women and the economy to annual conference.
The pledge to introduce paid leave for victims of domestic abuse caught the attention of most mainstream media. Dawn Butler announced the policy to provide victims of domestic abuse with ten days paid leave to allow them to leave abusive partners and find a new home. This would provide victims with the time to organise leaving their partner and find a safe space for them and any children – without having to worry about losing their job or pay. Two women every week are killed by a current or former partner. This policy is designed to tackle this epidemic.
In her speech, Dawn Butler said ‘Employers have a duty of care to employees experiencing domestic abuse and should put in place a range of workplace policies to help the victim. This crucial time will allow women to leave their abusive partners safely, get the help, protection and support they need, knowing their livelihood is secured. These ten days could literally help save the lives of those women.’
The next women’s conference will be a standalone event, taking place in Telford on 23/24 February 2019, and no longer will be a mere curtain raiser to National Conference.
National Conference opened with a welcoming speech by Liz Savage, Labour candidate for Southport, and Andy Kerr who was chairing the morning plenary session. Harry Donaldson, chair of the conference arrangements committee (CAC), delivered the agenda and a vote on accepting the CAC Report 1.
You can read all of the CAC reports, and other reports and documents relating to National Conference, at: https://labour.org.uk/conference/at-conference/annual-conference-2018-reports-2/ These include the text of motions and rule changes, and all card votes broken down by CLPs and affiliates.
“Decide in haste; repent in leisure”
CAC Report 1, which included a debate on Party democracy, reached our email inboxes at 8am on Sunday just as we were stepping onto the train to Liverpool. We, and other CLP delegates who we spoke to, were not impressed with having to vote on 40 pages of far-reaching Party rules and recommendations which we barely had time to read and get our heads around. Some delegates expressed concern that the NEC proposal for reformed trigger ballots would be taken in advance of all the constitutional amendments on Westminster selection. These factors contributed to 90.5% of CLP delegates voting against CAC Report 1 and the agenda as set out. However, with 98% of affiliates in favour, the report was approved by 53.6% for, and 46.4% against.
This was a disappointing way to begin a debate on Party democracy. Nevertheless, the debate proceeded with many delegates speaking on the topic of selections, stressing that being an MP is a privilege and not a job for life. Others criticised MPs who worked against the twice-elected leader, and some described the NEC’s offering as a ‘dog’s dinner’, with one speaker lamenting ‘if we decide in haste, we will repent in leisure’. On the flipside, other speakers did point out that ousting a sitting MP might be seen in a negative light by voters, who generally speaking might not be interested in Party politics or in-fighting, and that anyone who thinks that trigger ballots are more time-consuming than open selections has clearly never conducted either. All eight sections of the democracy review changes were voted through, most with majorities reaching over 90%, however trigger ballots were carried 65.3%, with 96.8% of affiliates and 33.8% of CLPs in favour. The leadership nomination change was carried by 63.9%, with 97% of affiliates and 30.8% of CLPs in favour.
There were slight tensions between delegates from CLPs and from trade unions, however Gordon McKay of UNISON offered a sobering admission by reminding conference that the unions have never walked away from the Party – regardless of splits. He went on to say that UNISON backed Jeremy Corbyn twice, and that any MP who was not 100% committed to public services would not get their support. The trade unions deserve a say in choosing parliamentary candidates and electing the Party leader.
Calm after the storm
Treasurer Diana Holland delivered her report for Jan-Dec 2017, reporting that as a Party we are debt free. The 2017 general election was successful in raising money as well as gaining seats. Even though there has been an increase of Party members, Diana wished to stress that their membership has not been used to pay off debt. She went on to explain the current funding arrangements for CLPs and confirmed that these will be reviewed by the NEC. A Scottish delegate highlighted that this was the first time his CLP has been able to afford to send a delegate to conference for over twenty years, and asked if special treatment on geographical or demographic grounds could be looked into, with a mechanism for more affluent CLPs to transfer money to less affluent CLPs. Diana assured conference that costs of the democracy review will be contained within the overall finance strategy. Diana went on to state that Labour Live was not created as a profit-making exercise, however the outcome of this event will be included in next year’s accounts.
On choosing contemporary issues on which to debate, delegates voted for An Economy for the Many, Brexit, Government Contracts, Housing, In-Work Poverty, Justice for the Windrush Generation, Palestine, and School Systems. Compositing meetings were held for each topic, with composite motions (and results) available in CAC reports online. Priority of speaking was, quite rightly, given to floor delegates however there are two keynote speeches made by shadow cabinet speakers which struck a chord with us. The Brexit debate was the highlight of the policy agenda, and most of the hall gave a standing ovation to Keir Starmer for saying that no-one was ruling out a people’s vote, with Remain as an option. Delegates passionately claimed that Labour could gain 60 extra seats with a commitment to a people’s vote; however a voice of reason came from another delegate who expressed caution: it would be the Tory government who would decide the wording of any question, and that another close result would not bring unity to the country.
The best protection is memory
John McDonnell’s keynote speech was the second to make an impression on us. Worthy of a leader’s speech, McDonnell reminded us that it is has been ten years since the financial crash. Despite being the sixth richest country in the world, we have spent eight hard years of Tory austerity paying for the mess caused by greed from a small financial circle. The best protection we have from another crash, he said, is our memories of how that crash was allowed to happen.
Sidney Webb’s Clause IV was officially adopted by the Party 100 years ago and, McDonnell said, is still relevant today. Society needs democratic solutions to the modern economy, with McDonnell saying that ‘democracy doesn’t stop when you clock-in at work.’
Trade unions founded our Party to take our voices into parliament, but democracy needs to be extended further into the workplace. Conference warmly accepted the proposal that one-third of seats on company boards will be reserved for workers to allow for greater collective bargaining.
The greater the mess made by the Tories, the greater the radical policies we’ll need to fix our economy.
We’re sure that you will have watched the final act. The choir singing Change is Gonna Come and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother is one of the best introductions to a leader’s speech ever. Jeremy gave an outstanding performance, and the feeling you got from watching Jeremy and other keynote speakers is that Britain is safe in Labour’s hands. We left conference feeling ten feet tall and ready to welcome the next general election, and although there is uncertainty of when that will actually take place, there is credibility of a Labour victory.
Violence against Women Activists
When you’re sat in the main hall and gripped by debates and speeches from speakers, you can be surprised by how quickly time passes by. On the train to Liverpool, we sat together highlighting different fringe events that we found interesting, however we weren’t able to attend every event that caught our eye.
One moving and emotional event that we did attend was called Violence against Women Activists held by Amnesty International and Labour Campaign for Human Rights. The panel, chaired by journalist Owen Jones, consisted of İdil Eser (former director of Amnesty International Turkey), Stella Creasy MP, Catherine West MP, and Kate Allen (director of Amnesty International UK).
This section of our delegate’s report will look at some points we took away from this event, which we hope you will look into further with the links provided on the next page. From the panel’s discussion, we learned that in the UK:
- Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner
- 20% of women have experienced sexual assault
- 10,000 women are sexually abused every week
- In domestic violence court cases, nine out of 10 defendants are men
Additionally, a recent Toxic Twitter report revealed that death and rape threats on Twitter are on the rise against females, and that BAME MPs are statistically affected more than white MPs, with Dianne Abbott receiving more than half of the abuse on Twitter.
The panel agreed that the UK government could do more with a consistent approach, both at home and abroad.
Women’s rights are under threat around the world. İdil Eser shared her own terrifying experiences when she was detained (along with ten other activists) in Turkey by a grotesque abuse of power, as free speech and other human rights in Turkey was caving-in. With acid attacks in Iraq, carjacking in South America, and trade union members being killed in Columbia, the panel asked how we could change the global environment and redress the power balance. The role of society plays a big part in how this can change, not just the state.
We need a gendered approach
The panel talked of the need for a caucus in every country; otherwise governments can cherry pick reports to suit their needs. It was also mentioned that the UK’s Foreign Office needs to highlight and challenge human rights abuses and will need to look at their own complicities, especially on Turkey’s actions as the UK government is arming Turkey’s dictatorship. The panel also suggest that the Labour Movement should link with more societies around the world; whilst on a grassroots level, members of society could write to newspapers to highlight and call out on the threat to women’s rights, and support ethical businesses that don’t endorse inequality and /or violence, and participate in activities with Amnesty International and Labour Campaign for Human Rights:
For more information on the work carried out by Amnesty International and Labour Campaign for Human Rights, and for details on how you can get involved, please visit: