Highlights from the Labour Conference on Monday:

  • The Brexit vote supported Corbyn’s approach of first winning a general election, second negotiating the best possible deal for leaving, and finally having a referendum to allow people to decide whether the UK should exit with that deal or remain in the EU. The NEC motion also included advice that the Party have a special one-day conference, after the general election, to decide how the Labour Party should campaign. The alternative motion  that Labour takes a stand to remain in Europe was defeated in a vote by the show of hands. I found it illuminating that the Labour Party is resilient enough to accept and respect different views on this and other matters, recognizing that what is most important is that we share the values of socialism. John McDonnell and Kier Starmer each publicly stated that they would personally campaign for Remain while respecting the views of others; both support the present plan.
  • John McDonnell drew to our attention the situation with Asda requiring employees to sign a contract that will remove their paid breaks and force them to work paid holidays. They face the sack on 2 November if they don’t sign, so there may be strike action; let’s support them!
  • John also made some expected announcements (restore trade union rights, end in-work poverty with better pay and better contracts, increase cooperatives) and some less expected (free personal care for elderly people, reducing the average working week to 32 hours). He also made a commitment to rebuild local democracy, stressing that public assets (parks, youth centres, libraries, and more) make a better life. Citizens of the global south would be given free access to all green technologies we develop. The Conference gave him a most enthusiastic standing ovation.
  • Kier Starmer reminded us of the excellent and successful work done to build a cross-party effort to stop a no-deal Brexit. The law was passed. He noted that since becoming PM, Johnson has won NO votes, and Corbyn has won 6! He argued (and I agree) that it is necessary to put the final options to the people, so that the people can make an informed choice. He clearly respects the views of the people who voted to leave the EU, seeking to understand their reasons. He suggests that the lack of control, power, wealth and opportunity were underlying issues – and notes that Labour is the party with plans to restore these features to people and their communities.
  • The Conference unanimously passed a motion about the situation in Yemen, calling for the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and for HM Government and the UN to exert pressure on the warring parties to abide by international law, to stop fighting, and to negotiate peace.
  • The Conference overwhelmingly passed an ethical foreign policy motion calling for the Government to adhere to an ethical policy on trade with Israel, to oppose any proposed solution that does not recognize Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and to work with sister parties, globally, rejecting trade arrangement with Israel that fail to recognize the rights of the Palestinians.
  • The Women’s Conference motion on Universal Credit and Employment support was passed. It noted that women, especially BAME women, suffer the most from Universal Credit. Did you realize that a woman with children who is under 25 gets less money to live and support her children than does a woman in the same situation who is over 25? There are so many ways that UC is damaging to women and families.
  • We also unanimously passed a motion calling for justice for rape survivors. The motion was made in response to government figures showing that rape has essentially been almost decriminalized, because charges are rarely brought.
  • Other motions passed included:
    • Human rights for the Uyghurs – There is substantial evidence from independent sources that the Chinese are abusing the human rights of these people.
    • The Labour government should have an industrial strategy focussing “on low-carbon infrastructure with trade unions at its heart.” It also addressed the climate concerns for public infrastructure ad transport and calls on the Labour government to end austerity, widen public infrastructure and increased statutory redundancy pay.
    • Reclaim outsourced public services within the first term of a Labour government.
    • Reduce the average working week to 32 hours
    • Improve the ability of workers to more effectively bargain with their employers
    • Renationalize Royal Mail, reuniting it with the Post Office and combining these with a new, publicly owned Post Bank
  • At a policy seminar on Justice and Home Affairs, colleagues raised many points that were considered and taken on board by Dianne Abbott and Richard Burgon. Here are a sample:
    • Although the probation service has been brought back in house – because the private sector was inept – the lucrative business of running programmes for probationers remains outsourced.
    • Community Protection Orders (CPOs) are often used against homeless people, with a police officer making the decision without sufficient information.
    • The Equality Act is good, but people must go to court to enforce it. An Equality Tribunal was suggested.
    • Similarly, when people break court orders (e.g., for anonymity) it is left for the victim to prosecute for contempt of court, but the court should do this.
  • Other events:
    • Bursting the myths around renewables – interesting, but less informative than I might have hoped. If you want the handout, please let me know. I’ll scan it when I get home and send you a copy.
    • Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) seminar on Fairer Welfare – an excellent session with several well informed speakers.Please let me know if you want details.
    • Labour Housing Group – (https://labourhousing.org/) – This group was new to me, although it has existed for 40 years. I attended their meeting this evening where our Shadow Minister for Housing, the Campaign Director for Shelter, and other Councillors and MPs were present as speakers. I plan to join when I get home (on a secure internet connection). Apparently Labour’s plan, once in government, is to have a fully fledged Housing Department.
    • Labour & Palestine – This group was formed following last year’s conference. There were some excellent speakers, but I had to leave early to get to the Labour Housing Group meeting. There is a statement online; Labour members are welcome to read and sign it. labourandpalestine.org.uk/statement

I’ll sign off now – I still have papers to read to prepare for tomorrow.  Conference requires a lot of energy, but it’s worth it!


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