Labour National Conference 2018 in Liverpool
David Plowman- South Suffolk Labour delegate report.
Being at conference is an honour and privilege. I am still buzzing after attending this year’s conference.
The aim at atmosphere was of a pre-election conference putting the finishing touches to policy and enthusing ‘the troops’ for a General Election campaign. Although calling a General Election under the present legislation is more difficult, the present political atmosphere suggests that anything is possible.
My intention was to attend conference and then to attend fringe events later in the day, however there is so much to do in the conference a so many fringe events, you are only able to do one or the other.
The conference day lasts from 9.30am to 5.30pm.We are presented each day with a 50 page report each day we have to digest. On the first day there was even a 40 page addendum to digest.
My highlights from Conference come from the delegates that spoke from the floor.
To quote Tosh from ASLEF, who said that he had kept unusually quite during conference because of the quality of the speeches from the floor. He stated that people call members ordinary- he found each and every one of them extraordinary.
In the international debate a speaker talked about how it was important for us to continue to fight for our rights as this change rippled to other nations. We take 1 step forward and people in other countries make take 10 steps as a result.
‘I cry they all cry’
A delegate spoke about her child who had decided not to have any Christmas present but to donate them to people who used foodbanks and could not afford presents. She said that if her 11 year old autistic son could see and understand the injustice of Universal Credit, why could the Government not see the same.
Another delegate described how her daughter and son- in- law had one room in her flat and her son another, she added that, by the way she had slept on the sofa for the past 10 years.
There was also a delegate who revealed, for the first time to anyone, that when he received the letter saying that would no longer receive disability benefits as he had been deemed to be ‘fit for work’ he contemplated suicide.
During the debate that continued after the speech a delegate spoke emotionally from the podium about how his son who had mental health issue, unbeknown to him, and had committed suicide. When the delegate left the podium Jonathan Ashworth ran after him and the two men stood on the side of the stage in a hug of support. This bought a tear to the eye of your soft hearted delegate: Jonathan is the sort of man I want to run the NHS.
The first day was mainly taken up with discussion on rule book changes and other bits of administration. This was conducted in a spirit of unity with little lengthy discussion or dissent. There were 8 votes on various areas of rule book change which were passed by a show of hands. The debate on the subject of Open Selections was contentious. The NEC has recommended that the rule change on Open selection for Parliamentary Candidates be rejected. Almost all of the CLP delegates voted by show of hands to support open selection and almost all of the unions and affiliates voted against. There were over 1500 CLP delegates voting and about 500 affiliates and union delegates voting. It was explained that at conference any vote consists of 50% decided by CLP delegates and 50% by affiliates and unions. I any many other delegates were not aware of this rule. There was then card vote to decide the issue. The result of the card vote was –
It appears that the unions still come to the rescue of the leadership when difficult situations arise.
There was also a card vote on the contemporary motions priorities. Basically the delegates voted on the topics to be discussed during conference.
The eight subject areas selected for debate were:
Top 4 Issues from Affiliates Ballot:
An Economy for the Many 1,848,812
Government Contracts 1,845,256
In-work Poverty 1,845,084
Top 4 Issues from CLP Ballot
Schools System 233,883
Justice for the Windrush 212,612
The CLP’s/Affiliates who had entered motions under these headings then had to attend Compositing meetings to arrive at a composite motion that satisfied all those who had entered motions. The composite meeting for the Brexit motion lasted 5 ½ hours and involved 300 members. Kier Starmer pointed out that they all missed the final episode of the Bodyguard therefore he did not want anybody to tell him what happened. I talked to some people who had attended the composite meeting who said that it was conducted in a comradely way and everyone involved was happy with the result from whatever position they came.
All motions were discussed and passed, mostly unanimously.
Also worth noting is the fact that when we enter the conference area we are handed various sheets from different groups within the party. The ‘yellow pages’ were from the Campaign for Labour Democracy and contained useful information. They informed us that the Unions had decided on their four areas of debate therefore CLP delegates should avoid voting for those areas as they were already agreed.
At this point I must say that we were also handed the ‘white pages’ from Labour First which contained very little information other than whinges about what was decided. I noticed that by Tuesday no one was handing out these sheets.
Jennie Formby was unanimously elected as General Secretary.
Various Good practice awards were given to various CLP’s.
Merit awards were awarded to long serving and active members. One of the awards was to Walter Wolfgang who is now 95. Many may remember that Walter was ‘manhandled’ from the 2005 Labour Conference when he heckled Jack Straw who was Foreign Secretary at the time.
A motion from the women’s conference was debated and passed unanimously. (Please note that a stand-alone National Women’s Conference will be held in Telford from 23-24 February 2019)
The Finance Report was presented and approved. The Party is now debt free and is able to raise sufficient money from its members and supporters to fund its operations and campaigns. We are not beholden to any corporations or single donors. The subject was raised about the small percentage of member’s fees that are returned to the CLP. This will be looked at and a report produced for the 2019 conference.
Ian Lavery MP (Party Chair) ended the session with a speech which addressed the Democracy Review and promised-
A charter of member’s rights;
• to support members who dedicate their lives to building our Party up and down the country;
• to radically reform Structures for our Black, Asian and Minority ethnic members and
• to create a new disabled members seat on the NEC and on the Conference Arrangements
• to create a new women’s structure at national and regional level;
• for new, members led, structures at regional level;
• to have by-elections for vacant NEC places;
Started with the usual administrative matters and card vote results.
This was followed by a speech by Carwyn Jones who is resigning as the First Minister of Wales. He talked about Brexit and announced a further £6million support through our new EU Transition Fund for workers at Ford, Toyota & Airbus in Wales. He also detailed the things that Wales did differently-
• We ended the internal market in the Welsh NHS – ensuring a health service that is fit for
purpose and true to Bevan’s ideals;
• We scrapped the Right to Buy – ensuring that housing stock for those who need it most is
protected for generations to come;
• We stood with our brothers and sisters in the Trades Union movement to defend Wales against
Tory attacks on workers with our own radical Welsh laws;
• We intervened to save our steel industry and protect thousands of jobs in the face of
international turmoil and indifference from the Tories in London’
The debate then opened with motions on Housing, An Economy for the Many, and In-Work Poverty.
The debates throughout the conference were informative and moving. In total about 250 delegates were selected to speak. A large number were ‘first time delegate and first time speaker’. The chairs ensured that people only spoke once and that people from all areas of the hall were called. The rule was that you had to sit in your chair, raise your hand and wait to be pointed at and called. Assistance stewards also made sure that any delegates with disabilities were called and able to address the conference. This was the most inspiring part of the conference as members took to the podium and shared a part of their lives with everyone else. There was very little sloganizing or grandstanding just people telling their stories. Sometimes this was extremely emotional and some of the speeches were very powerful. Every opinion was received with respect even if it was a minority view.
John Healey (Shadow spokesperson on Housing) delivered a speech in which he pledged.
• We will end rough sleeping within a parliament;
• We will control rents, end no-fault evictions and put a stop to the tyranny of rogue
• We will give first-time buyers on ordinary incomes the opportunities only the rich get
under the Tories;
• We will get councils building council housing again, and build a million new truly
affordable council and housing association homes.
• In year one, we will legislate for new renters rights to control costs, improve conditions
and increase security.
• We will back new unions for renters, and fund them in every part of the country
• We will introduce a new national levy on second homes used as holiday homes, to help give
homeless families the chance of a first home.
Many delegates spoke on the policy areas giving their personal experience.
The hall filled to capacity at the end of the morning session when John McDonnell gave a confident impassioned speech. John’s theme was a shift of power both in the general economy and the workplace. He referenced Clause 4-
• Let me remind you what it said: “to secure for the workers, by hand or by brain, the
full fruits of their industry.”I say the Clause 4 principles are as relevant today as they
were back then. Fair, democratic, collective solutions to the challenges of the modern
• We’ll ban zero hours contracts.
• We will set a real living wage of £10 an hour.
• Wages will be determined by sectoral collective bargaining.
• We will tackle the continuing scandal of the gender pay gap.
• We will legislate for large companies to transfer shares into an “Inclusive Ownership
Fund.” The shares will be held and managed collectively by the workers. The shareholding
will give workers the same rights as other shareholders to have a say over the direction of
their company. And dividend payments will be made directly to the workers from the fund.
Payments could be up to £500 a year.
• No more PFIs and we’ll bring the PFIs back in house. Through our public ownership programme
we will set up a ‘Public and Community Ownership Unit’ in the Treasury.
The greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be; the greater the need for change, the greater the opportunity we have to create that change and we will.
Margaret Greenwood (Works and pensions spokesperson) pledged-
• The next Labour government will scrap the Tories’ punitive sanctions regime in its
• We will rebuild our social security system from the principles on which it was founded.
Supporting people rather than policing them, alleviating poverty rather than exacerbating
There were many poignant speeches in this section.
Angela Rayner (Shadow Education Secretary) gave what some saw as one of the best speeches of the Conference. In this speech she pledged-
• We’ll start by immediately ending the Tories’ academy and free schools programmes. They
neither improve standards nor empower staff or parents.
• So we will allow them to build schools, create new places and take back control of
admissions from academy trusts.
• And we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the
mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.
• And where parents and staff want to go further in launching and leading their own schools,
our own movement already has an answer: co-operative schools – as part of the local schools
family. They will just be one part of the most ambitious school building programme ever,
delivered without the waste and inefficiency of free schools and, as we set out in the
election, backed by eight billion pounds of investment.
• We’ll set out plans for a state funded teacher supply service,
• Offer free early education for all two to four year olds and reinventing our state
• Too often those who suffer most from staff shortages are children with special educational needs and disabilities. So our National Education Service Charter, the result of thousands of submissions from our members and others, guarantees it will be truly inclusive.
Kier Starmer (Shadow Brexit Secretary) gave a much anticipated and well appreciated speech which reiterated that if any Brexit deal fails to meet Labour’s six tests we will vote it down and call for a General Election. If an election is call for the deal to be put before the electorate. He stated the question do we wish to remain in the EU should be on the voting paper.
Rebecca Long- Bailey (Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary) spoke about workers’ rights and the High Street.
• Workers under Labour will get full legal rights – such as sick pay, holiday and parental
leave and protection from dismissal from day one, even those working in the gig economy.
Labour’s emergency 5-point plan to save Britain’s high streets.
• The next Labour government will ban ATM charges and stop Post Office and bank branch
• We will provide free bus travel for under 25s.
• Deliver free public Wi-Fi in town centres.
• Establish a register of landlords of empty shops in each local authority.
• We will introduce annual revaluations of business rates, exempt new plant and machinery
from revaluations, ensure a fair appeals system and fundamentally review the business rates
system to bring it into the 21st century.
There was a debate on Palestine which became very lively with many Palestinian flags being held up by delegates. The debate was lively, however carried out with respect for all opinions almost unanimously supported. Any people with cautionary statements were heard with respect and their views taken on board. The delegate next to me was one of the few who voted against this motion. I asked him if he was offended in anyway by the demonstration of support for the Palestinian people. He said he was not he just could not support all of the elements of the motion. Emily in her speech stated that a Labour Government would recognise the state of Palestine.
Emily Thornberry (Shadow Foreign Secretary) gave what I considered was one of the most inspiring and rousing speeches of the conference. If she had asked us to pick up our pitchforks there and then and march on Downing Street, I would have followed her. She concentrated on International anniversaries, Internationalism and the fight against Fascism.
Diane Abbott (Shadow Home Secretary) ended day three by committing Labour to rebuilding community policing, shutting Yarl’s Wood, introducing an immigration policy based on the needs of the economy for certain jobs-
‘And, once people are here, we will treat our brothers and sisters from overseas fairly and equally.
Jonathan Ashworth (Shadow Health Secretary) in his speech defending the basis of the NHS said that-
• If a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government had been elected last year, austerity in our NHS would
have ended as we’d have invested £7.7 billion extra this year.
• We’ll establish a National Care Service
• We’ll invest £10 billion extra in infrastructure.
• When hospital rebuilds are left stalled like here in Liverpool we will step in, take
control and ensure hospitals are completed using public money not PFI.
• We will expand training places and bring back the bursary
• We will end the tax on the sick that is hospital car parking charges.
• And for hospital patient’s bed bound, sometimes for weeks on end, whose main comfort is the
television, it’s a disgrace they can be charged £35.00 a week just to watch TV. We’ll end
these rip offs and deliver a fair deal for patients.
• A Labour government will cover the costs of travel to and from hospital for cancer
treatment for children.
• The next Labour government will end privatisation, will end PFI, we will repeal the Health
and Social Care Act and bring forward reinstatement legislation as we begin the process of
renationalising our National Health Service.
• And we’ll block transfers of hospital staff to subsidiary companies
• We will fully fund child and adolescent mental health services, invest in eating disorder
services and end the injustice of children treated on adult wards or sent miles from home.
As we finally deliver true parity of esteem for mental health services.
The last session ended with a speech by Diane Butler (Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary) which gets my vote for best speech of the conference.
• A labour government will put equality centre stage.
• Develop and deliver a national equalities strategy
• Lead on reducing discrimination and inequality
• Ensure this is enforced through all machinery of government.
• Implement up to 10 days paid leave for those suffering from domestic abuse
• Change the law so that people can bring forward cases on multiple grounds of discrimination
• Strengthen the Equality and Human Rights Commission
• Integrate the UN Convention on rights for people with disabilities
• Ensure British sign language is given full legal status
• Re-establish a women’s national commission
• Launch the emancipation educational trust
• Supply free sanitary products in schools, colleges and homeless shelters to end period
Conference then adjourned to prepare for the Leaders Speech. The atmosphere was electric. A local choir sang You’ll never walk alone and ‘He’s not Heavy He’s my Brother’ or as the singer sang the last line ‘She’s not heavy She’s my Sister’
Jeremy spoke for almost an hour interspersed with a number of standing ovations. Addressing Unity, anti-racism, equality, the mixed economy, peace, Brexit and announced that Labour
• Will make 30 hours a week of free childcare available to all two, three and four year olds
and we will provide additional subsidised hours of childcare on top of the free 30-hour
allowance, free for those on the lowest incomes and capped at £4 an hour for the rest.
• Also announced a programme of investment and transformation to achieve a 60% reduction in
emissions by 2030 will create over 400,000 skilled jobs. Good jobs based here and on union
rates bringing skills and security to communities held back for too long.
• And we will go further, with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle
of the century.
We ended by singing the Red Flag and Jerusalem. Everybody left the conference buzzing accompanied by (you won’t fool the)Children of the Revolution by T REX .
It has taken me a few days to come back down to terra firma.
Policy refer backs
The conference agreed to refer a number of specific elements of published in the National Policy Reform back to the policy forum because they were not detailed enough or did not reflect previous Conference decisions.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Climate Change, Renewables and Low Carbon Energy
Electoral and Constitutional Reform
Health and Social care.
The Education policy was referred back to include the agreed policy of abolishing Academies and Grammar Schools.
To ensure that conference did not pass contradictory rules. Sunday’s changes were grouped into 8 areas, if the first change in an area was passed the other changes would not be discussed. These rule changes had been voted on at the 2017 conference and needed ratification in 2018.
1. Individual Members’ Rights
2. Local Structures: CLPs (CLP and Branch structure)
3. Regional Structures
4. National Structures: NEC
5. National Structures: National Conferences
6. National Structures: Leadership Elections
7. National Constitutional Committee
8. Westminster Selections
All changes were passed except the vote on Westminster selections discussed earlier.
On Tuesday we discussed new constitutional amendments put forward by CLP’s.
Originally there were 18 of these but many were withdrawn leaving 5 to be voted on by card vote. The only 2 carried were on Annual Conference Standing Orders
And Constitutional Amendments, (If you want further details on these please contact me and I can sent you the relevant reports) Changes to the number and method of selecting a Deputy leader were withdrawn or voted against as were changes to the timing for parliamentary selections.
My Final Observations.
Although the speeches by the Shadow Cabinet grab the headlines they were just bookends for the main event was the participation of delegates. Conference is now centred on the delegates. This is something that the mainstream do not or will not understand. During one afternoons debates I needed a coffee break from the poignant stories being told by delegates. Outside of the Conference hall I found most of the media (inc, John Snow, John Pienaar, Nick Robinson, John Craig etc.) wandering around chatting to each other doing there pieces to camera before the day’s business had finished. They were not interested in what was actually happening in the Conference Hall. Pienaar to sit in the hall two rows in front of me, but as delegates took no notice of him because they were more interested in what was happening on the podium, he left after a couple of minutes. Therefore the interviews and coverage on the TV and radio bore no comparison with the actual events.
The conference was totally united in supporting Corbyn and working for a Corbyn led Labour Government as soon as possible.
We are ready, we are prepared, and we will win.