Saturday 19 September 2015

At the Labour Leadership Special Conference

Jeremy Corbyn crushed all-comers and took Labour's leadership with ease. In short, this is nothing short of historic. 100 years from now academics and labour movement geeks will still be analysing and debating what happened. I already pity our descendants who'll be scouring rusty Twitter servers for contemporary comments on Corbynmania. As someone who appreciates labour saving wherever possible, I reproduce below the report made to Stoke Central CLP by our constituency secretary, Pat Evemy. This was Pat's third leadership conference, having been on hand in 1992 and 2010.

Despite having working in Westminster I still get a buzz walking across Westminster Bridge and through Parliament Square, there was quite a crowd outside Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, and I was showered with leaflets as I made my way though, including one almost unreadable effort from Labour Party Marxists that heaped vitriol on all in the Party, including Jeremy. Socialist Labour first edition was a bit better, with shorter articles, some written by very new party members keen to show their CLP credentials. Entering the conference centre there were a number of young men in suits, ties, and fashionable haircuts striding around looking important. The rest of us resembled any Labour Party meeting, some hovered by the door waiting for their candidates to arrive, while the rest milled around being sociable and keeping out of the way of the young men in suits.

Being on my own I was able to find a single seat near the front next to Bonnie Greer, which was a bonus. Some friends were in the front row having won two tickets to special conference in a raffle. The atmosphere was serious and business-like as we settled down to listen to Iain McNichol reassure us the elections were free and fair and remind us that the party is bigger than a single person, even though the leader is an important role. He then went on and welcomed new members and encouraged them to get out and campaign.

He was followed by newly-selected London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan who spoke on the need to win to make the kind of society we want to see. Chair of the NEC Jim Kennedy then moved on to the results announcement. On the third round of voting Tom Watson was elected Deputy Leader woth 50.7% of the vote, with Stella Creasy coming second on 26.4%. Tom then gave a speech on unity, the need to back the new leader, and remaining in touch with the electorate. He also talked about how we are the last line of defence against the Tories, and how Labour needs to be pro-business and pro-worker. After Jim returned to the lectern, voices around me were trying to work out from the deputy results if it was possible that Jeremy had not won on the first round would it be possible for him to be beaten? As we know, he won with 59.5% of the vote with Andy Burnham coming second on 19%.

Jeremy's speech started with a long and gracious list of thank yous, and had a sharp dig at press intrusion into the lives of members of his family. He then welcomed new and returning members and gave an overview of the elections and campaigns coming up over the next year. He got the biggest cheer when talking about the London elections and the social cleansing of the capital by the Tories, promising that houses for Londoners would be a priority. He then went onto the Tories' legislative agenda and their policy towards refugees. Ending by reminding us we are now bigger, stronger, and more determined, things can and things will change.

Standing in the lobbies afterwards, it was possible to hear the strident voices of the hard left and the sneers of the right, but much less than what you would have heard in the 1980s. Hopefully we are not going back to a time where every party meeting was preceded by pre-meetings to ensure you were on message and prepared to toe the line, or where attacking other parts of the Labour Party were more important than defeating the Tories. Party unity isn't going to be easy, and it doesn't mean haranguing everyone until they agree with you, but listening and respecting others with different views. There is enough in what Jeremy says for everyone to find something they can campaign on. If there is an elected shadow cabinet then MP's will be able to elect a team they can work with. If not, then who Jeremy appoints to shadow chancellor, defence, and foreign secretary are going to be key roles to counter the perceived weaknesses in these areas. As I left Angela Eagle was rumoured to be shadow chancellor, and it would be great to have a woman there as it wasn't a good day for women's representation in politics.

If we are to win in 2020 we have a hard road ahead where we are going to need to persuade colleagues, family, friends, and neighbours to vote Labour. The Tories are soon to gerrymander parliamentary boundaries based on the electoral register, not the populations who live there. If we are relying on the young and non-voters to vote Labour then we need to start our voter registration campaign now to ensure we stand a chance of winning.

Yet, despite all that, as one non-Labour friend said to me today: at least we now know what you stand for.

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