Today was an unusual day at Conference in multiple ways.
- I think that I made a very useful contribution at a policy seminar.
- Corbyn appeared unexpectedly to tell us about the Court’s ruling on Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament.
- During the lunch break (while I attended a fringe event on StopTheWar, stopthewar.org.uk) the conference schedule was rearranged, thereby avoiding an awkward situation. (see below)
- After the lunch break, there was a touching film tribute to John Smith – one of Labour’s greatest leaders – and then we heard from three international visitors. The socialist Labour movement is an international movement, and our Labour Party is committed to standing in Solidarity (fist in the air) with oppressed people everywhere. The situations in Ghana, West Sahara, and the Chagos archipelago are all horrific, and all trace some of the roots back to colonialism. Apparently each Conference meeting includes some people from countries that we know little about, telling us about the opporession they suffer.
- Corbyn’s speech, followed by singing of the Red Flag and then Jerusalem, closed the day. Almost all of the Shadow Cabinet joined Corbyn on stage; he welcomed each person as they arrived and everyone posed for innumerable pictures. The picture below shows the packed Hall for Corbyn’s appearance. Normally the balconies (on three sides) were empty or nearly empty. Not only were they full, but if any delegate was not in their seat at 4:00, other people were seated there, so the place was completely full!
- In the evening I attended a Fringe event help by the Cooperative Party (if you don’t know about it – please look it up and/or talk with me: https://party.coop/) on their main campaign this year – food justice.
Much of this afternoon’s business was delayed until tomorrow morning, when we will also conduct tomorrow’s business.
There were many important announcements made today. For a reasonable summary of the announcements made thus far at conference: https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/labour-party/news/106806/glance-heres-everything-new-labour-announced-2019
One fun moment was when Rebecca Long-Bailey managed to work the words of the old Clause 4, adopted in 1918 and redrafted by Blair in 1995, into her speech: To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. She had a lovely grin on her face when she did this, and most of the delegates were quite pleased as well.
Motions that were carried today included one concerning the Amazon Fires, one on corporate Governance, and two on the Green New Deal. One of the two has a net-zero carbon date of 2030, which is ambitious, but arguably achievable. The other has some other good features, but no date. We began discussion on other motions that will be further discussed and then voted on tomorrow: Local Authority Cuts, Homelessness, Housing, and the critical situation in Kashmir.
How does the day proceed, you ask?
- Following the 8:30 policy seminar, I walk across to the Brighton Centre, being inundated with leaflets of all sorts along the way. (I hate to think about the number of trees who sacrifice their life so that conference delegates and visitors can be leafleted.) Arriving at the Conference Hall, I collect a printed copy of the CAC (Conference Arrangements Committee) report; that report has the day’s timetable and ballots and information pertinent to matters that will come before conference that day.
- The Conference convenes with a report of any ballots from the previous day and a report from the CAC about today’s schedule. At each stage there are opportunities for people to raise issues.
- Once the Conference has accepted the CAC report for that day, then business starts, usually with one or two speeches from the shadow ministers responsible for the topic being discussed in that segment of the Conference. The next order of business is dealing with “reference backs” (more later). We then hear from movers and seconders on a number of motions; the motions are printed in the CAC report. All delegates have the opportunity to speak (for 1 minute) in support of or against any “reference back” or motion. While all of this is going on, delegates can raise a point of order if they perceive that the standing orders of the conference have not been properly followed. We them vote on each reference back and on each motion and the vote whether or not to accept the National Policy Forum’s report on the topic that has been discussed.
- Next is the lunch break, which is my opportunity to attend a fringe event.
- After lunch was unusual today. We had been scheduled to have the Deputy Leader’s speech, but he went back to London in light of Parliament being re-convened. So we moved onto the other business of the afternoon, as described above.
The awkward situation that I mentioned above was as follows. Several of the leaflets this morning called upon delegates to rise and leave the Hall when Watson began to speak. Personally, I was not happy with this suggestion. From a principled standpoint, if a members of a Party cannot be civil and listen to what other members have to say, then it seems to me that it is not so much a Party as a clique. From a practical standpoint, the proposed action would serve to divide the Party at a time when unity is desperately needed. During the Conference, the press appeared in packs whenever there was a hint that there might be dirt to collect on Labour; they would have been very pleased to report that the Labour Party was irreconcilably divided. After some thought and discussion with a few other delegates from our region, I had decided that I would sit and listen, but if I did not like what he said, I would not applaud. Thank goodness that the Supreme Court saved the Party from this awkward situation!
The Policy Seminar on Work, Pensions and Equality was my first stop this morning, before the Conference started. I’ve learned so much about how policy is developed in the Labour Party. Here’s how I *think* it works:
- The National Policy Forum, composed of Policy Commissions for each area*, begins with the previous manifesto.
- Members have input throughout the year through online consultations and simply contacting people on the relevant Policy Commission with ideas or concerns. Individuals, branches, CLPs or Affiliates can all express views and/or provide relevant information.
- Then the policy reports for each area* are published prior to conference.
- Each CLP and/or affiliate can carefully read the reports and identify any areas that they believe the Commission should consider again, explaining their reasons. They notify the Conference Arrangements Committee (I think) that they intend to do so, including the specific part of the document that they want to be considered again and the points that they believe need to be part of that consideration. This constitutes a “reference back”. This year Brighton Pavilion CLP had clearly pored through all of the reports very carefully and thoughtfully, and proposed several “refer backs” to each report. (I suggest that we plan to do something similar prior to the next conference. We could form teams of people with interest in each policy area to work on that particular report.)
- These reference back proposals are presented to conference in writing and with 2 minutes to argue their case to the delegates. Delegates them vote on whether or not to accept the reference back. If accepted (and all have been), these are returned to the relevant Policy Commission.
- Each CLP may also send one motion to Conference. These motions are grouped into topic areas and the delegates of the CLPs with a motion in that area attends a compositing meeting to form a single motion from the collection. When it’s not possible to form a single motion, then two motions might be produced for presentation at Conference. If Conference carries a motion, it is referred to the Policy Commission for that area.
- The Policy Commissions also consult with people within and outside the party while developing their reports and while redeveloping them, towards a manifesto development. One of the ways they consult is through policy seminars during conference.
This morning I mentioned my concern that there was no mention of the Health and Safety Executive and specifically, no policy to restore funding for this important body to the pre-Tory/LibDem levels. Legislation on Health and Safety (Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974) is powerful and provides workers with a great deal of important protection; it applies to risks of both physical and mental damage at work. The Tories/LibDems have not rolled back this legislation; instead they merely decimated the budget of the enforcement agency – the Health and Safety Executive – so that violations rarely lead to consequences for the employer, and violations continue unabated. It was clear from their response that the Shadow Minister and the member of the Commission had not thought of that point; they not only seemed quite interested and made notes with heads nodding, but later used it as an example of how these seminars help to ensure that the policies are complete and coherent. (I was really quite thrilled to have made a useful contribution.)
I will close now; I need to be packed in the morning to check out and return home after the conference closes, around midday tomorrow. I will draft a beginner’s guide to conference that might be useful to delegates next year. I confess, though, that I would love to go to Conference again as one of our delegates. Here we are almost at the end of Conference, and I think I’m almost getting the hang of it!
* Policy areas are:
- Early Years, Education and Skills
- Economy, Business and Trade
- Environment, Energy and Culture
- Health and Social Care
- Housing, Local Government and Transport
- Justice and Home Affairs
- Work, Pensions and Equality