A very different day to yesterday. The spirit of the day was unity with almost complete calm after the results of Sunday’s card votes were announced – Card votes 6 and 8 were carried (Leadership elections and Westminster candidate selection – both of which we opposed). The response on the fringe to this appeared to be focused on Westminster selection with a lot of talk about accepting the position – that of 30% ‘trigger’ ballots – and encouraging the majority of CLPs to use the method thereby normalising the process to both neutralise the narrative that it is a method of ‘purging’ some MPs and, secondly, to keep up the pressure for ‘open selection’ to remain on the agenda. As an aside, the motion on open selection was brought by a group International Labour who have 3,500 members on five continents and conduct all their business by video conference. So, no excuse for rural constituencies perhaps?
I was particularly interested in Carwyn James’ review of where Welsh Labour (Llafur Cymru) have been implementing Labour policy and succeeding. The morning session included a stirring call for unity from Unite and an emergency motion from Matt Wrack from the FBU on the latest treatment of the Grenfell survivors (Matt is becoming one of my stars of the conference)
Most of you will have heard John McDonnell’s speech but Mick and I saw him at a fringe meeting in the evening and he calmly gave a compelling account of how the tiny Socialist Campaign Group of MPs responded to being told by the Prince of Darkness that they were going to be put in a ‘sealed tomb’ forever. Their response led directly to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign manifesto; subsequently to last year’s General Election manifesto; and is now developing into a programme for government. I loved his line, delivered deadpan, that he told his SCG colleagues in 2005 that: “we must develop our policies as if we were going into government tomorrow; they thought that I was on drugs”.
The day began in fiery mood when the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) report for the day directed that the issue about Westminster candidate selection be included in the debate on parliamentary democracy and that the proposal to be debated was not open selection but rather, a lowering of the ‘trigger’ threshold to 30%. Conference erupted on the issue. A show of hands to accept or reject the order of business showed an extraordinary divide; from where I was standing it looked like CLPs voted about 90% to reject but the affiliates section was almost unanimous to accept. As the voting arrangements are 50% each there was a card vote that resulted in the order of business was narrowly accepted but it was a raucous first hour.
The debate that followed focused on two of the eight proposals: the debate on open selection and the proposal to change the entry criteria for the Leadership and Deputy Leadership ballots to be 10% of MPs and MEPs plus 5% of CLPs or 5% of Affiliates. These went to card votes and Mick and I voted against both in line with the SGM debate. Mick spoke in the debate to ask the NEC to reconsider mandating that CLPs convene a minimum of eight General Meetings a year; pointing out that rural constituencies like ours would find this difficult as many members have far to travel. In the summarising at the end this point was addressed and we were assured that this is an ‘aspiration’ and that the NEC is looking at ways to help facilitate more engagement in rural CLPs and at offering help with technology options – on-linemeetings as an example. Mick’s contribution generated a discussion with a journalist from the Yorkshire Post and – as we walked through Albert Dock at about 10:30 in the evening – a fellow delegate that couldn’t remember the speech but had definitely noticed his ‘fabulous’ legs.
Most of the morning for Mick and I, plus two colleagues from York Central and Outer, was spent distributing leaflets in support of our Fracking contemporary motion. Now you can’t actually do this within the conference and Mick was told not to. Of course, he took no notice whatsoever and carried on until his second warning. We didn’t get on the agenda but we did our absolute best and my thanks to Charlie and James for their help. We polled 72,890 votes and came sixth on the list but fifth as Brexit got through in the Affiliates ballot- so close with four going through.
We attended two evening events: the Yorkshire and Humberside regional reception where John McDonnell spoke. He reminded us that our region is key to winning the next General Election – something that the day’s rumour mill was saying that the Tories are planning – as we hold a number of key target seats that must be won. For us Scarborough and York Outer are on our doorstep. He encouraged everyone to campaign hard in these seats holding out the prospect that, for the first time in a long time, when we win the GE then a Socialist will walk through the doors of Downing Street.
The second event was a debate on Brexit. We were both disappointed in that event as the platform was strongly advocating a second vote but at the end, when a question from the floor asked what the questions would be, there was no clear answer given. Some on the platform wanted three questions; some wanted two. As it happens, the Brexit compositing debate was taking place at the same time and that has produced a motion close to the one that our CLP chose and debated and close to the Kier Starmer position.
Other points made in the day was that the party is debt free and that we already have funding in place to fight a General Election.
A long day then and I thought that my reflection in the bathroom mirror this morning showed that I had aged more than one day since I last looked. More tomorrow and look out for more tweets.
Standing ovation as John McDonnell says that we will be proud to call our Government policy, Socialism. @tandmclp#Lab18
Our six delegates and another 400 members enjoyed a morale raising and optimistic Regional Conference. Over here we can lose sight of the strength and quality of MPs and speakers we have in Yorkshire.
Keynote speaker was John Trickett MP for Hemsworth who is in charge of the Party’s preparations for the next election. The next manifesto will include £10 an hour minimum wage, legislation on TU rights, refinancing the public sector, an end to privatisation of the NHS, funding for municipal socialism, deveolved power s for the North.
Rachael Maskell MP for York Central confirmed the commitment to nationalise the rail system and added a commitment to give control of bus transport back to local authorities, a national walking and cycling strategy and a review of freight transport to get a shift from road to rail.
John Grogan MP for Keighley said a devolved Yorkshire should be run by a cabinet of Council Leaders. Judith Blake Leader of Leeds Council said it was wrong for George Osborn to present himself as champion of the Northern Powerhouse. It was after all John Prescott who first proposed and then championed the idea. Richard Corbett and Linda McAvan MEPs and Paul Blomfield Shadow Brexit Minister spoke on Brexit. See Linda’s report.
Other speakers Melanie Onn MP for Grimsby, John Healey Shadow Housing Minister, Loiuise Haigh Shadow Police Minister, Emma Hardy MP for Hull West, Bill Adams TUC, Mark Burns-Williamson West Yorkshire PCC, Joanne Thomas USDAW, Alex Sobel MP for Leeds North West, Thelma Walker MP for Colne Valley. A rousing speech from Richard Burgon Shadow Secretary of State for Justice brought Conference to a close.
Conference started with the announcement of the result of the leadership election. The overwhelming vote in favour of the continued leadership of Jeremy Corbyn was enthusiastically received. It set the tone for the rest of Conference which was one of unity and determination to come together to fight the Tories. This was expressed in speech after speech in Conference over the following four days and was clamorously applauded by delegates and visitors, who were essentially telling the PLP to put the recent divisions behind them and get on with their job.
The quality of speeches from the platform was excellent, to my surprise I have to admit. There were no weak speeches, there were many impassioned speeches and the insight and policy content were generally substantial. In spite of the unprecedented difficulties of the period leading up to Conference the Shadow Cabinet came across very strongly and presented a comprehensive set of policies with some new and radical proposals which were warmly welcomed by Conference. These included:-
Legislation and international agreements to close tax havens and end tax abuse. Shift the tax burden from those who earn wages and salaries to those who hold wealth. £250 billion infrastructure investment programme Create 200 local energy companies and 1,000 energy co-operatives. New Childcare Taskforce, to transform early years provision for every family. Every academy and free school to be accountable to their local communities. Bring back Educational Maintenance Allowance, maintenance grants for low and middle income students and student nurse bursaries. An ethical policy on arms sales. Take the global leadership role on nuclear disarmament Halt and reverse the tide of privatisation and marketisation of our NHS. Repeal the Health and Social Care Act No more PFI in the NHS A million new homes over the next Parliament with half social housing. Scrap Tory ‘Pay-to-Stay’ policy and suspend the Right to Buy. Block TTIP, TISA and CETA, create international trade partnership called Just Trade.. An integrated national transport network which should be publicly owned. Scrap the Work Capability Assessment and punitive benefit sanctions. And much, much more. It’s worth looking through the comprehensive summary. Also worth saying that the speakers as a whole were very well balanced in terms of gender, age and ethnic groups.
Fracking. Although we were not able to get our anti fracking resolution onto the agenda I managed to make a speech against fracking which was well received, we leafletted the delegates and held a successful anti-fracking fringe meeting. We were rewarded by one of the surprise policy announcements which was that a future Labour government would ban fracking completely.
Jeremy Corbyn was extremely impressive making two major speeches, speaking at every regional meeting as well as some fringe meetings. His main speeches together with those of Tom Watson, Iain McNicol and Sadiq Khan are reproduced separately.
Summary. Conference was genuinely uplifting. The policy platform gave us more positive substance to campaign on than we have had for some time and the mood at the end was of determination to unite and win the next General Election, which some believe could be next year. Morale of delegates was high. Conference ended with the launch of a campaign against new grammar schools which has already had some success. Note also that the new Shadow Cabinet, announced in October, has been expanded by nine including John Healey, Nia Griffith and Keir Starmer.
See Mick Johnston’s speech to Conference on Fracking by clicking the following link and running forward 1 hour and 17 minutes.