As Crawley CLP’s official delegate to this year’s Annual Conference in Liverpool at the end of September, I am pleased to have the opportunity to report back on my experience of this important event.
As a thriving, modern city and one of the UK’s major cultural centres, Liverpool was an ideal location for Labour’s Annual Conference. Many thousands of Party members were present (including 96 delegates from SE Region alone), together with trades unions, MPs, MEPs, local councillors, HQ staff, exhibitors - and, of course, the media. Despite the turbulence and uncertainty of recent months, the overall mood within and outside the main Conference venue was positive and optimistic, not least because of the massive surge in grass roots membership and the recognition that we all now need to come together as a single, united movement. I sensed a real appetite among delegates to debate and engage, mirrored by a genuine willingness on the part of the Party Leadership to draw on the views and ideas of members at all levels. The extensive and varied range of fringe events provided excellent opportunities for such engagement and participation to take place. Among the fringe discussions in which I myself took part were ones on Housing policy;; Anti-Austerity; post-Brexit national identity challenges for the Left; Education; Justice policy. By chance, I was also interviewed by a BBC online news journalist seeking delegates’ views on whether there were any possible ‘benefits’ to the outcome of the EU Referendum: for what they’re worth, my comments can be seen via @mark_sudan for 27th September.
As you will have seen on TV, the main Conference Hall was the venue for passionate debate on many topics, usually centring on reports from the various National Policy Forums. The key subject areas covered were: international affairs (especially conflict in the Middle East and the resulting refugee crisis/humanitarian concerns); foreign policy & defence; education; energy & climate change; housing; transport; the NHS; economic & industrial strategy – with a strong focus on anti-austerity and regeneration. Somewhat surprisingly, Brexit was not the subject of a specific debate, although it was referred to many times by podium speakers and was the subject of many fringe discussions.
In summary, the following were, for me, the key themes and highlights of the Conference overall:
- With the Leadership issue now firmly and conclusively settled, Party unity must be our top priority – we must now concentrate on taking the fight to an alarmingly reactionary Tory government.
- There must be an end to abuse, bullying, misogyny, and anti-Semitism - from wherever within the Party it happens to come.
- We must show positive support for the self-employed, who are potentially as vulnerable and in need of safeguards as all other workers – a message spelt out clearly by Jeremy Corbyn himself in his Leader’s Speech.
- We must assertively reclaim the concept of Patriotism from our opponents on the political Right – something stated unequivocally by Jeremy Corbyn in the context of anti-Tax Avoidance, as well as by Rebecca Long-Bailey (on the Economy) and Clive Lewis (on Defence policy).
- We should welcome the emergence of some impressive new talent in the Shadow Front Bench Team, particularly since the mass of Shadow Cabinet resignations during the summer. Such rising stars include Rebecca Long-Bailey, Clive Lewis, Angela Rayner, Kate Osamor, Cat Smith, Richard Burgon, and Debbie Abrahams. It is hugely encouraging that so many of these leading figures are women.
- On Labour’s future direction, there is a strong desire for ordinary members to be actively involved in driving and shaping policy – we must encourage everyone at all levels in the Party to take full advantage of the many opportunities now available to do this.
2016 Annual Conference Delegate
Crawley Constituency Labour Party