Party Conference Update, Tuesday 25th

I enjoyed yesterday; the atmosphere in the hall was really energised. The day was dominated by standing ovations – two for Kier Starmer; three for Emily Thornberry and three for Diane Abbott plus several during the Palestine debate, although perhaps the latter should be described as carnival. It was extraordinary to see a sea of flags waving as Harlow CLP moved the motion.

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I did want to speak in the Brexit debate (as did our colleague Charlie Rowley from York Central) but neither of us were picked. It was a good, calm and rational debate on both motions plus the Windrush motion, one that I scarcely recognised from the radio this morning – should I be surprised?

Mick spoke in his ‘reference back’ on Fracking and this was carried overwhelmingly at the end of the day. Mick and I have noticed that whilst Fracking doesn’t appear to be at the forefront of conference business this week there is nevertheless, a strong theme that climate change is right at the top of the party’s agenda. This was evidenced by Rebecca Long- Bailey’s speech yesterday and in a Policy Forum debate that I attended where Barry Gardiner re-iterated that the business and trade forum strongly recognised that the emphasis on Growth and GDP at the cost of sustainability was not a valid approach and he reminded us that he had introduced the Fracking ban.

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At the fringe events Keir Starmer gave his analysis of the reasons that the Brexit negotiations have been so ineffective. He observed that the Tories have approached it from an ideological perspective without first having assessed the needs of the British people or economy. He had worked on the Good Friday agreement and used that example to underline how the Tories had fundamentally failed to understand that the issue was not in any way a technology issue and that it was about Irish history and sensitivities.

Mick has proposed that the NEC convene a meeting of front line CLPs and we await an answer; as he said to the platform yesterday “it wasn’t a rhetorical question”. We have the view that Fracking is an issue for CLPs but not for affliates, especially Unions, but Mick was approached by a representative of Unite who specifically wanted him to know that Unite had supported the reference back.

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It’s the Jeremy’s speech today; I won’t be sitting on the floor in the dark on Thursday morning to write an update so please watch on TV, and I hope to be back on the floor next year. It’s been a really good experience – thanks for selecting me to be your representative.

Party Conference Update, Monday 24th

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)

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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”.

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Party Conference Update, Sunday 23rd

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.

DnyVO2mXUAYemMf.jpg-large 2018-09-25.jpegThe 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.

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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.

DnzT_PsX0AMbD3S.jpg-large 2018-09-25.jpegThe 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.

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Standing ovation as John McDonnell says that we will be proud to call our Government policy, Socialism.

David Milliband says his party has ‘no strategy’ on EU withdrawal and should back Final Say referendum

David Milliband has accused Labour of a “dereliction of duty” over its refusal to back calls for a final say on Brexit.

Speaking on the eve of the party’s annual conference, the former foreign secretary said Labour had “no strategy” for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

The issue is expected to dominate the gathering in Liverpool, with Jeremy Corbyn facing mounting pressure to support a public vote on whatever deal Theresa May negotiates with Brussels.

Grassroots activists hope to use the conference to force a change in policy towards backing a final say referendum.

It comes after Theresa May admitted negotiations were at an “impasse” and warned that the UK would leave the bloc without a deal unless EU leaders agree to compromise.

Mr Miliband, a former Labour leadership candidate, told BBC Radio 4 Today: “Labour has got to be much, much stronger. The truth is that waiting for the government to foul up is no strategy at all. The country desperately needs a strong government but it also need a strong opposition.

“Labour’s tragedy over 20 years – and I include my own period in this – is that there was almost a complacency about Europe. The Tory tragedy was to be obsessed about Europe and the Labour tragedy was to be complacent about Europe.”

He added: “Finally the complacency is breaking, at least at the constituency level of the Labour Party, but it’s an absolute dereliction of duty for the Labour Party leadership not to embrace the fundamental principle that since the Brexit that people were sold two years ago is not available, it’s essential that the Brexit deal the prime minister does is put to people.

“The most corrosive thing in the long term will be a Brexit on terms that were missold.”

Mr Miliband predicted Ms May would “eke out” a “paper-thin deal” with Brussels and then “use the threat of no deal and the disaster that represents to try to bludgeon people to support it”.

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