Right, my dears, I’m recovered from conference now and have spent the last few days preparing my novella Seven Days for a competition. It’s the first thing I ever wrote so if it wins it’ll be appropriate for it to be the first major thing that gets published.
So, Labour conference. What can I say? It was absolutely fan-bloody-tastic. Amazing. Wonderful. United, uplifting, powerful. Let me elucidate.
The first day wasn’t so good. I started off tired and got tireder as after a very pleasant and productive women’s conference we went back to our hotel room. The hotel in itself was a terrific surprise: first opened in 1914 it is vast and sumptuous with huge rooms decorated in splendid style. It oozes faded grandeur and is the perfect antidote to antiseptic, anonymous, have-a-nice-day boxes that you usually get. I don’t want to have a nice day, thank you very much. When I do I’ll let you know. Anyway, this was our hotel room:
and here’s the hotel website (apparently it was the subject of a TV documentary last year):
The first night I only got four hours’ sleep as not only was I totally wired but the city was unbelievably noisy! The hotel is slap-bang in the centre of Liverpool and the aftermath of a football match conspired with karaoke bars and general merriment to create a racket which went on till about 4 am. After that the sirens and street cleaners started up, so I lay awake until about 6.30 when I dozed for about 5 minutes before having to get up. So the day wasn’t brilliant, but we got through it and arrived at an understanding of what was needed in order to follow the debates and vote as delegates. It was good having two of us there as we could bounce ideas off and support each other.
On that first day I saw Eddie Izzard (sans make-up and in a suit) and Ed Milliband. There were debates on the Women’s Conference motion (‘Women and the Economy’) and a ‘democracy review’ which involved some rule changes. My main worry, apart from getting my head around everything, was that there would be major dissent or even acrimony – but apart from a moment at the beginning when someone moved that we reject the Conference Arrangements Committee report (which would have meant disrupting the whole day’s business) there was a remarkable spirit of unity. This did not mean unanimity but a willingness to work together and a sense that issues are too important to argue about minor things. This spirit of unity pervaded the whole conference and I have to say I was proud of us: the Tories can do conformity but they rarely manage genuine unity.
A tremendous amount of work goes into organising a democratic conference as decisions taken on one day have to be incorporated into the next day’s business and compositing meetings and the Conference arrangements committee were up until midnight each day producing reports for the next morning. I salute their efforts.
There’s so much to say about the rest that I think I’ll leave it for another post, but I came away with the impression that an awful lot of work has been done in a whole spread of policy areas. Policies are not just a wish-list; they are solidly worked-out and based on wide consultations with a huge variety of people and groups. Again, there is much I could say on this and I’ll perhaps come back to it. I wanted to speak at conference but it was difficult to be chosen (the one beef I had was that the system for choosing speakers from the floor was inadequate) and if chosen I wanted to say that never before have I felt that my values as a Quaker so overlapped those of the political party I support.
The one issue which threatened to cast a pall over proceedings was that of anti-semitism. It did come up but I’m happy to say it didn’t disrupt anything (apart from a hoax bomb call which scuppered a play and a couple of fringe meetings.)
There were attempts going on to cast Corbyn as anti-semitic but he lanced the boil in his speech by saying this:
There were also these orthodox Jews outside the conference:
image removed on request
If anyone still questions the extent of the problem, I would refer you to this recent research:
which is cited in a letter to the Guardian signed by a large number of distinguished academics:
There were speeches from many members of the shadow cabinet including Emily Thornberry, John McDonald, Angela Raynor, Jon Ashworth and Kier Starmer. We now have a range of policies across the board which all stem from a simple philosophy: of valuing people, investing in communities and taxing the rich (especially global companies like Amazon) to pay for it. But of course Corbyn’s speech was the highlight of the conference and he didn’t disappoint: in fact I can’t think of a single thing he said that I disliked or a single thing he omitted to say that I’d have liked to hear:
I arrived at conference wondering if we were ready for government. I left knowing we are.