The 2015 Labour Party Conference – September 26th- 28th First Conference- First Impressions

Day 1: Labour Womens’ Conference

What a fantastic start I had to my first Labour Party Conference – a long walk along the Hove and then Brighton seafront bathed in sunlight, a cloudless blue sky and the most wonderful white Georgian architecture. I was off to the Labour Party Womens’ Conference at the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel. I was surprised by the tightness of security with huge concrete vehicle security barriers outside all three of the main venues and our passes were duly scanned.

oneThe Womens’ conference was opened by Kate Green now Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. She welcomed everyone by saying ‘ We want to hear from all of you today. Make your voices heard!” This conference epitomised the change from ‘New’ Labour to Corbyn Labour as it began with the old (sorry New) Labourites grandstanding and ended with the voices of ordinary women being heard and a magnificent speech by Jeremy Corbyn. It was not without its ‘atmospheres’ and, although I had never been to a Labour party conference before, I got an inkling of how ordinary women talking about their very real concerns, hardship and poverty might in the past have been cold shouldered and hushed up. There were definitely some icy moments.

Yvette Cooper was next on, making a fitting tribute /eulogy to the work done by Harriet Harman and this was followed by a film showing how Harriet had helped many women up the greasy pole. She actually mentioned our own Jess Phillips and how she had acknowledged the help and inspiration of Harriet harman.

There was a lot of talk about ‘winning elections’ which was the euphemism of the day for ‘Why have we got Jeremy Corbyn for leader? and how, despite there being more women in the shadow cabinet than men, it was outrageous there were no women in the highest positions i.e Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor. I thought from what was being said that Jeremy Corbyn was going to get a really rough ride when he turned up for his speech in the afternoon,

There were many questions from the floor from domestic abuse, disability,female genital mutilation, refugees, poverty and inequality to welcoming new members but as not enough time was given for these in the morning, more time was allotted in the afternoon and everyone who wanted to question was heard.3

Tom Watson was invited to attend for the morning session and did so. We were there to discuss the ‘new politics’ although it wasn’t made totally clear what that ‘new politics’ was – something more consensual, more engaging and direct, more inclusive – was what I guessed it meant. Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish Labour party, addressed us in the afternoon.

Several things came out of this conference for me:

  • we need to do a lot more to welcome new members and make them feel at home and active within the Labour party;
  • for this womens’ conference to have any clout, it needs to be able to put forward motions to conference . Hopefully, like the ‘withering away of the state’, the need for a women’s conference will soon be a thing of the past;
  • it is important now we have a lot of new members to be clearer in our communications re. various issues and not using acronyms;
  • All women shortlists need to be supported as they are needed to ensure that womens’ representation in Westminster improves;
  • we need more women taking an active part at constituency level, as councillors and in parliament. To this end, the Labour Women’s Network is a members’ organisation run by volunteers. It exists to train and support Labour women wanting to participate fully in politics. You can find out more at www.lwn.org.uk

Question – Is it more important that there are women in the ‘highest’ positions or that there are policies in place that really support women?

Jeremy Corbyn was given a standing ovation both at the beginning and end of his speech (Click link here: https://youtu.be/8mL8wPj7p-I)4

Thanks

He thanked Kezia Dugdale for her speech and said that he and Tom Watson were heading to Scotland straight after the conference and would be visiting Scotland at least once a month. He thanked all his supporters especially the many women MPs who had given him much more friendly advice than the men in his first two weeks as Leader of the opposition. He thanked Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall for their companionship through the election campaign. Jeremy also talked about Andy Burnham’s unswerving commitment to comprehensive education and the NHS. He paid homage to Harriet Harman’s work on advancing the cause of women’s equality and said unequivocally that the gender pay gap has got to go.

Retention of new membership

Jeremy thanked all those who had voted in the leadership election. Membership has doubled since may and 74,500 of those new women are members. (Click link to see video: https://youtu.be/fSPSfTa6VZ4). We have to change the culture of branch, constituency and the way events are run locally to keep the engagement of the new voters. We’ve got to be open, active, welcoming, do things differently, use social media a lot more, we’ve got to be out there taking the arguments to the people. (Click on link: https://youtu.be/iYSK95Qy8XQ ).The main principles on which to fight the 2020 election will be an inclusive health service, inclusive welfare state and a society that prevents anyone falling into destitution. Proud that there is now a Shadow Minister for Mental Health.

Women

Jeremy stated that you have got to fight for equal rights for women otherwise our democracy does not exist. He will continue Women Only shortlists but go further and give more support to women candidates for selection and after they have been selected. The Labour Party will also hit Austerity hard. It is women who suffer most because of Austerity. The Labour Party will invest and grow their way to prosperity, at the same time closing the equality gap.

You can watch the whole speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8OwFWo89II

These were some of the Press Photographers who seemed to want a shot of perhaps a Corbyn bald head (he actually has a good head of hair so they were probably disappointed) but just in case they decided to publish unflattering pics, I took a shot of them!!!!! We have to challenge the media at every turn!!!

press

Alison Gove-Humphries

Hall Green Branch Labour Party

October 2015

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