To Torbay CLP: Thank you very much for allowing me to attend the 2019 Labour Party Conference as your delegate! It was a tremendous experience and when I report back in the two branch meetings, I hope that you will be able to share some of that experience.
The last day of conference had the usual activities, but without the MPs who had all rushed back for the resumption of Parliament. A few delegates had apparently gone home, saving the cost of an extra night’s lodging, but most of the delegates remained for the very important business of the day.
The day’s topics were Local Authority Cuts, Homelessness, Housing, Immigration and Mental health, with additional emergency motions on Kashmir and Thomas Cook’s closure. The topics that had not been moved and seconded on Tuesday, before Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, were moved and seconded today. All of these motions were passed unanimously! The National Policy Forum’s (NPF) report on Housing, Transport and Local Government Policy was also approved, with a number of reference back items. (I explained reference back in Tuesday’s notes.)
At Conference, anyone can ask to speak for one minute on a motion, although an individual can only speak on a motion once during the conference. The motions are sent to the policy commissions who ensure that they are included in Labour policy, but they do not limit Labour policy. The mental health motion, for example, was really rather poorly written in that it fails to include much of what should be included. But the things that are included are important. Several speakers argued that it *should* include more, but that if approved, it would serve to ensure that the Policy Commission addresses these aspects of mental health and we would rely on the policy commission, once obligated to include the basic concept, to flesh it out properly. For anyone who wants to read them, the motions presented to Conference are listed in the CAC reports for each day. You can access those at https://labour.org.uk/conference/visitors/at-conference/reports-for-conference-2019/
Not everyone who wants to speak will be called, but the Chair does an excellent job of selecting people from all areas of the conference floor. In addition, people “scan in” with their conference pass when they speak and the software also checks to be sure that all areas are well-represented. People are seated by region, so it is important that all regions are heard. In addition, each chair balances the gender, ethnicity, and disability parameters as well. The height of the podium is smoothly adjusted electronically, from offstage, to meet the needs of each speaker.
At the close of the conference, delegates across the floor all seemed to feel that this year’s conference was exceptionally good. There were teething problems with the new format and rules, but the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) were helpful and responsive. We asked that next year perhaps another day might be added to allow more time for “debate”. Another day might enable scheduling of policy seminars that do not conflict with the conference sessions. (I missed the last policy seminar because it conflicted with Corbyn’s speech. I had assumed that these would be rescheduled, but they were held as originally scheduled.)
I put the word “debate” in quotation marks because it seemed to me that there was little debate on the conference floor. The debate occurred in the compositing meetings. So the only delegates involved in real debate were those who submitted motions that were included, and even then, a CLP could only be included in actual debate on a single topic area. Is this the best approach to take? What are the alternatives?
- Have all CLP motions, grouped by topic, presented to conference for the full conference to develop a final motion? This approach would be impossible. The Green New Deal motion, with about 120 people, debated for over 11 hours in total, and even then split into two groups to present two composite motions.
- Continue as was done this year? Maybe . . .
- It occurs to me, and I will feed back to the CAC, that having an earlier deadline for motions – perhaps a month ahead of conference, would enable the motions to be grouped and published so that each CLP (or member) could review the ideas present and submit their comments and suggestions to an online forum with a deadline of a week or so prior to Conference. These comments would then also be input to the compositing meetings. I suspect that few CLPs would actually do so, but everyone would have the opportunity to do so, as is the case with National Policy Forum consultations. Emergency motions would continue to be handled as they are at this time.
You might have other ideas – I’m happy to discuss them with you and include them in my comments to the CAC.
The main message, throughout the conference and again on the last day, is that everything is at stake in this rapidly approaching general election. If we elect a Labour government, we can see the sort of transformative change that our parents or grandparents (or great-grandparents) saw following World War II. We can have a government guided by respect for human dignity rather than respect for human greed.
- Labour created the NHS; we now must recreate it so that it is public-owned, properly funded and staffed, and free at the point of delivery for everyone. A Labour government will do this and will bring privatised services back in-house and will legislate so that the NHS cannot be sold to the US-based countries or any others. Corbyn also described an excellent plan for ensuring that the NHS can obtain the medications that people need at a reasonable price. “We will redesign the system to serve public health – not private wealth – using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines. We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all. And we will create a new publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS saving our health service money and saving lives. We are the party that created the NHS. Only Labour can be trusted with its future.” Corbyin’s speech is available to read: https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/labour-party/jeremy-corbyn/news/106805/read-full-jeremy-corbyns-speech or to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i03qNHa-77o
- After the war, Labour advanced Council Housing as a way to serve general needs, providing secure housing for individuals and families, whereas Conservatives saw Council Housing as a way of keeping failures off the streets. Labour is now committed to build Council houses again, and to ensure that if any are sold, the proceeds are immediately reinvested into providing additional housing.
- Local Government and services have suffered since the Tories and Lib Dems instituted cuts to Council budgets earlier this decade. In Torbay, our Council threatens to provide no services beyond those that are statutorily required: child services and adult services. They say that we need to have town councils, so that we can all pay more and keep some public services. They say that it will be up to voluntary groups to provide these services, without acknowledging that voluntary groups can often get grant funding for starting up, but not funding to carry on delivering a service. A Labour Government will invest in local communities and properly fund local government. Across the country, youth services and facilities have been a casualty of the cuts – a foolish economy, given that their disappearance produces more crime and lower levels of education and aspiration. Labour will fund youth services and more, recognizing the value of local communities and investing in them.
- Labour will act to ensure that workers should be able to earn a living wage, have secure working conditions, and have a say in how the business operates, reversing the anti-worker and anti-union legislation and policies of the Tories and Lib Dems. (Never forget that the Lib Dems are AS RESPONSIBLE FOR AUSTERITY policies as are the Tories.)
- Even in a time of food shortages after WW II, people, including working people, did not have to go to food banks for handouts. A Labour government will ensure that through a humane system of social security and improved working conditions and wages, we will no longer bear the shame of having poverty at third-world levels.
- The hostile approach to immigrants and immigration is a relatively new phenomenon in Britain. People are being denied their human right to a family life by a system that does not allow someone to join their spouse and/or children. Even with substantial perseverance and cost, there is no guarantee that the family will be allowed to be together. I was shocked to learn that a child born in the UK must pay large fees and jump through hoops to get documentation as a UK citizen, if their parents are not UK citizens. Labour will change the culture of the government and deal with immigrants as human beings with human rights and as a valuable addition to our nation. After all, where would our NHS be without immigrants, who staff our hospitals and surgeries across the country.
- Legal matters of all sorts are often a disaster at a personal level, and often people cannot afford legal advice or representation. Until
- Labour takes an approach to see the climate crisis as an opportunity to develop a new, thriving green economy. A Labour government will help to fund the development and production of the technology to produce energy with net-zero carbon emissions – and to do so as soon as we have a Labour government. Technological developments will also be made available to countries in the global south at no cost, so that their economies can grow without the damage to the planet that ours have inflicted.
- Under the Tories and Lib Dems, education at all levels has suffered. SureStart programmes – despite clear evidence of their effectiveness, have been shut down, nurseries and schools are systematically underfunded as are colleges and universities, despite skyrocketing student fees, necessary to compensate for the complete lack of government support for higher education. Labour’s National Education Service, like the NHS, will provide education from cradle to grave, free at the point of use. The nation and all aspects of society benefit from education; the costs of education are an effective investment into our future.
Finally, there is Brexit. In Torbay, the majority want us to leave the EU – but few are ready for the damage that a no-deal Brexit would inflict. The Tories seem bent on a no-deal Brexit; they want out – not for the working people, but for the investments and financial dealings of the privileged class. The LibDems appear to have no respect for democracy whatsoever; they plan to simply ignore the Brexit vote. Only Labour shows respect for democracy; Labour recognizes that people voted to leave the EU and will work to get the best deal possible for the country and its people. Then Labour will give people their say in whether to leave on those terms, or to remain. People will have the opportunity to make an informed choice. Whatever is decided, Labour will make it happen.
I’m off my reporting box and my soap box for the moment. Thanks again for sending me to the Conference – and thanks for reading my notes.