Sunday at the Labour Party conference
A labour conference isn’t just the motions, but the speeches, the fringes and the rallies too. Following Corbyn’s overwhelming victory yesterday, today’s focus outside the conference hall and sometimes even inside it was: what does Labour do next? How does a party at war with itself reconcile and look to the future? This was the focus on the early morning shows such as Andrew Marr and the Daily Politics: concerns over mandatory re-selection and who will control the makeup of the Shadow cabinet were both hot topics.
Corbyn himself was on the Andrew Marr show, with mandatory re-selection, corporation tax being raised for provision of tuition fees, unity in the party, greater control for members over policy, Brexit and his proposal for a minister for peace and disarmament being the main topics of discussion.
The speech by Iain McNicol, the Labour Party general secretary, was a coded defence of the party’s staff, Labour’s record in government and the parliamentary wing of the party: while he welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s victory this was not the focus of his speech. The defence of the PLP wasn’t an outright rallying cry but a coded defence suggesting that Labour MP’s aren’t the enemy but the representatives of the Labour party.
McNicol argued “And let’s reflect a moment on what it means to have a Labour MP. It means a hard-working champion for the community. It means Labour values of compassion, tolerance and justice. It means relentless surgeries and case-work. It means endless work on the doorsteps and street corners and town squares. It means women and men drawn from the communities they serve. Hard-working Labour champions, winning seats for Labour, and denying Tories, and SNP and Lib Dems an extra seat in Parliament. That’s the PLP – Labour through and through, and deserving our whole-hearted gratitude and support.”
McNicol also went on to defend the Party staff who feel threatened that they will be removed from their jobs, indeed they are so concerned about their future they have contacted the leader’s office twice in recent months to demand safety in their positions. “I want to say something about the people who work for the Labour Party. We expect a huge amount from them. They work weekends and evenings. They drop everything to fight by-elections or local elections. They put this Party conference together year after year. They are some of the brightest and the best our movement has. I value them, I respect them, and I stand in solidarity with them whenever they come under attack. And so should this conference, because without them, our movement would be weaker.”
Again McNicol led a coded defence of the staff who are now feeling under threat. McNicol even issued a defence similar to Alistair Campbell on Question time that the Labour party shouldn’t denigrate its own achievements during its longest time consecutively in government arguing “There will always be those Tories who want to write off the Labour years, and pretend no good came from them. Let’s make sure none of us ever falls into that Tory trap.”
The group ‘Labour First’ which is dedicated to sustaining Labour moderates, also held a rally momentum-style today. It overflowed which led to it spilling out onto the street, with Hillary Benn having to push through to get to the stage. It’s well recognised that groups like Labour First are now the insurgents in the party, a position long held by the Bennite wing of the Party which is now in power and starting to take over the structures of the party. There were a number of speeches made here towards moderate members “not to rip up their membership cards but to stay and fight.”
Momentum themselves held a fringe on tackling anti-semitism in the party. The Fabian Society also held a fringe, with a panel of notables including James Schneider, John Mcternan, Kate Green and Polly Toynbee, with a focus on Brexit and unity within the party.
- Lisa Nandy was interviewed by Paul Waugh at the Waugh live fringe, widely considered to be one of the leading lights of the future of the party. She spoke about the weaponisation of abuse which occurs inside the party and said that she felt genuinely scared during the summer; and she spoke of shadow cabinet elections being essential to prove that Corbyn actually wants to give an olive branch out on party unity.
- Teresa Pearce stated that Labour would suspend the right to buy scheme, Labour would build a million homes in the next parliament with at least half social housing and to train up a generation to tackle a skills gap. In her speech she outlined other policies: “And through our national investment bank and regional development banks, we’ll also provide the necessary infrastructure. In the private rented sector end of tenancy is a rising cause of homelessness, so we would change the rules on tenancies where a three year lease becomes the norm. Setting up not-for-profit lettings agencies to promote longer-term, stable tenancies for responsible tenants and good landlords. Introducing a national standard to ensure private rented properties are fit to live in. We would reverse the government’s ‘pay-to-stay’ policy and, following the examples set by Wales and Scotland, we will suspend the right to buy. The right to buy can only make sense in a time of surplus, in a time of shortage it makes no sense at all.”
- Tom Watson in the early afternoon announced his campaign not just on digital democracy but on his campaign to replace hidden fees inside the NHS. He used the example of gaining a letter from the GP to confirm they are victims of domestic violence: “women who have tried to escape an abusive relationship, tried to get help for themselves and their families from our courts, are being charged £75 for a letter from their GP to say they’re a victim of domestic violence, so that they can access legal aid – sometimes even more. Lisa told me women are coming into the Safe Spots Centre asking for help because they’re getting charged £125 for a letter – £125 for a piece of paper, a piece of paper which says ‘Yes, this woman is suffering from domestic abuse, yes she needs help’. I don’t need to pass this through the national policy forum to say that a future Labour government will scrap this hidden health fee.”
- The transport secretary Andy Macdonald also gave a speech where he outlined support for moving railways back into public ownership, a view echoed by the participants debating transport ideas for railways, buses and such: “What we have now is a government clinging to a failed model for purely ideological reasons, and passengers and taxpayers are being made to pay an ever increasing price. We are clear about this. We’ll put an end to Britain’s rip-off railways, so as private contracts expire, the routes will return to public ownership so profits can be re-invested to improve services and hold fares down.”
- At the end of conference today there was also a tribute to the late MP Jo Cox with time for remembrance.