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Ann Black’s report from Brighton

Conference 2013 5Conference has moved on from the days of pre-dawn NEC meetings, knife-edge votes on foundation hospitals and Iraq, lobbying by delegates and rushing through the scrum of microphones to the hall. The NEC no longer discusses resolutions, but waves them through regardless. So we met just twice during the week. On Saturday 21 September Ed Miliband told us that he had listened to the NEC and decided that Labour would scrap the bedroom tax. This was applauded, with pleas for more rabbits to be pulled out of the hat on Tuesday. We didn’t get nationalisation of the railways or Royal Mail, though the freeze in fuel prices until 2017 was warmly received.

On Tuesday 24 September the NEC reviewed the week with some satisfaction. Ed Miliband’s speech was appreciated in the conference hall and by the wider television audience, with specific campaign pledges, a sense of direction and a vision for the country. Since then the Tories have switched from describing him as weak to describing him as dangerous. This is a definite improvement as long as he keeps the right enemies: the over-powerful, the uncaring, the vested interests.

We said goodbye to Harriet Yeo, stepping down after chairing conference with skill and humour, and to Andy Worth, and welcomed Cath Speight, returning as a GMB nominee, and Andy Worth of the TSSA. Angela Eagle was elected Chair and Jim Kennedy as vice-chair. Jim’s election address for the NEC began:

“I am working-class and a trade unionist: there, I’ve said it, I hope I haven’t overstepped the mark. Until recently such a statement would not have been necessary; after all there have been many declarations about making the PLP more representative of the society we live and work in …”

If all goes well he will take the helm for the 2015 general election. The party will be in good hands.

Conference

I’m keen to hear your impressions as delegates, visitors, sofa surfers and Parliament Channel addicts, and will take them to the NEC on 4 / 5 November. I will ask again for daily agendas including the text of motions to be loaded onto the party website for home viewers. A few key points:

Six contemporary topics were chosen for debate, with the unions prioritising cost of living, Royal Mail, employment rights and lobbying, and constituencies adding housing and the NHS. An emergency motion on the railways was also accepted. Heidi Alexander MP and Tom Blenkinsop MP were elected to the
conference arrangements committee (CAC) with Katy Clark MP and Peter Willsman fairly close behind. Please feel free to get in touch for details, or with any concerns.

Proceedings ran smoothly except for the third day when delegates, rejected the CAC report because points of order were not satisfactorily addressed. Technically this left the hall without an agenda, but it made no difference: the programme continued anyway. All motions were carried, including pledges to renationalise Royal Mail and to take the railways back into public ownership when their franchises expire. This brought an e-mailed question from Jake, a teacher:

“It was widely reported that conference overwhelmingly voted to renationalise the railways and Royal Mail, but that the party leadership has simply stated that this is not party policy and these votes will be ignored. If it really is this easy to ignore conference votes, what’s the point in even holding them? If the party leaders can say what is, or what is not party policy, is it not a bit of a sham to put issues to vote at conference?

Any insight you could give me about this would be greatly appreciated. It would be really useful when I attempt to explain it to A-Level politics students!”

Answers welcome. And finally, most security measures were gone. No Ring of Steel, no cops with guns, no X-ray scanners, no living in a cage. It was wonderful to walk out of the hotel and straight across to the sea. I hope it means that Britain is a safer place, and not that we are unimportant …

Questions and comments are welcome, and I am happy for this to be circulated to members as a personal account, not an official record.  Reports of meetings from July 2008 onwards are at http://www.labourblogs.com/public-blog/annblack, with earlier reports at www.annblack.com

2 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    The Extra room surcharge because it’s about having what is defined as an extra room, not bedroom was really a stupid idea by the Tories, but since it will only affect about a million people it not that much of an issue.

    What I though when Miliband stated he would get rid of it was another U turn even though it’s welcome because Miliband stated before he could not promise anything as he did not know the state the country would be in, he’s now changed his mind.

    Not bring back the Royal mail will not go down well with lefties as they know of course this was a Labour plan anyway same with the post office.

    Looking at the marches in the past to save the NHS the Post Office and the Royal mail , well people are not marching now and the reason is I suspect they know if Labour gets back in they would I suspect do the same.

    I really do think Labour are miles away from getting the people back who decided that politician are in the main in it for themselves and why waste time voting.

  2. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    I thought that Ed Miliband was going to be different from the days of Blairs sofa cabinet.
    I am shocked that he is ignoring the conference vote to renationalise the railways and Royal mail.
    This shows a contempt of rthe democratic process.
    It is so silly too. Millions of people are fed up with the predatory rentierism of the monopolised utilities that cost them huge fractions of their income. In the case of railways the tax subsidy goes abroad to subsidise German railways and line the pockets of the rentier classes.
    This would not be so bad if we were all well off, but people aresuffering poverty because of it.
    It is about time Labour accepted that the free market is a help yourself deregulated oppotunity for rentiers, people who gain unearned wealth at other peoples expense.
    It is just plain blind and wrong to dismiss conference over such an important issue – and one that is annoying all sorts of people – not just Labour members.
    I am appalled at the stance taken by a leader who started out by emailing new members all the time asking for their input and views. It seems his democracy has gone out of the window. Is it pressure from the Right of the Party, or his own personality that has suddenly made him ignore the vote at the conference?

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