The Labour Party conference did not start off well – the car broke down shortly after we set off and I smashed my phone in car park upon arriving many hours late. However, we only missed a few receptions and fringe meetings – things didn’t really get started until the Sunday, with the official opening of the conference.
It is always hard to choose – do you go to fringe meetings, “network” or go in to the hall to listen to the speeches. Most of the drama and interest takes place outside the hall – which is much more geared to the media. The art is juggling the various lobbies to best effect.
The early part of the week was dominated by Palestine – packed fringe meetings on Sunday and Monday reflected the huge interest there has been in the issue since the onslaught on Gaza for 50 days over the summer. Unions and constituency parties had submitted ‘contemporary’ or as we would call them emergency motions on Gaza. The good news was they were ruled in as proper motions, then under the arcane procedure failed to get selected for debate despite – apparently – getting enough votes.
Procedural wrangles failed to get the motions debated, but the issue was raised from the floor and, perhaps more importantly, Palestine was mentioned in Ed Miliband’s speech – a surprise for many.
The general response to Ed’s speech from the Canterbury delegation was a good one – the six big goals that were announced very much reflected the issues that have emerged from members meetings. It was very felt that these were positive issues on which we could campaign and of these the greatest was the NHS.
:: To reward people for hard work – raising the national wage to half the number of people on low pay
:: To tackle the cost of living crisis and make sure wages increased with economic growth, breaking up banks and taking power from Whitehall
:: Britain to create a million jobs in green industries – helping to tackle global climate change
:: Making sure as many school leavers go on to apprenticeships as go to university – companies who employ foreign workers will be expected to offer apprenticeships too, and those who want Government contracts will need to provide apprenticeships
:: Making the dream of home-ownership a reality by building more homes and making sure 400,000 first-time buyers a year get on property ladder
:: Save the NHS – provide a “truly 21st century health service” using the proceeds of a mansion tax on homes above £2m and a tax on tobacco firms
91 year old Harry Smith gave the most emotional speech of the week – standing ovations and floods of tears. His main message was to remind delegates of life before the NHS; when poor people died unnecessarily and in pain because they couldn’t afford to pay for health care.
If Blair said ‘education, education, education’, Miliband should fixate on the NHS, then the NHS and finally the NHS. Not because the politics are right, but because if we don’t there is a real risk that a resurgent Tory party will destroy what our parents built and we have enjoyed.
The other initials that were everywhere were the four letters – U-K-I-P. The debate veering from complacency – they only take votes from Tories; to obsession. Speaking at a fringe meeting I tried to outline a common sense approach – six things to do, three things not to. In essence it was that we should challenge the demagoguery on immigration and Europe, but do it with facts, positive policies and talking to people – not through insult and shouting.
Our final meeting of the week – packed despite it being held on Wednesday lunchtime as everyone was packing up to go home – was about the ‘insecure workplace’. It was the launch of a workplace pledge – setting out rights for every person in every workplace – fair clear, understood and enforced. Chaired by Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror, it was given encouraging support from two Shadow Ministers – Angela Eagle and Owen Smith – one key focus was to give everyone access to an independent trade union for advice – without fear or favour.
In comparison to the journey up, the return was peaceful. An eventful and tiring week, but returning feeling we are on the right track. All we have to do now is win the election!