LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE 2019: Just in Case You Missed It
By Dawn M. Sanders
“The cause of Labour is the hope of the world.” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell
As I discovered last year at my first Labour Party Conference, it is a hot bed of passion, opinions (often clashing) and over all a beacon of hope in the dark times we live in.
So, as conference was taking place in my old hometown of Brighton, where my son was born, pagan and political seeds were sewn, I jumped at the chance to attend this year despite financial constraints.
My assistant and I checked into a cosy, friendly Airbnb and got a local train straight to The World Transformed (TWT) HQ which was a tent that had been erected in Brighton’s Old Stein Gardens. We arrived to find a crowd anticipating the opening speech by a young woman who had experienced the gig economy in the form of poor pay, stressful long hours and poor working conditions, yet with fierce campaigning her situation improved. Her speech crediting the Labour party of its stance on zero hours contracts was followed by a speech delivered at breakneck speed by Jeremy Corbyn and the whole place was buzzing.
Despite the external festival-like vibe, internal conflict had arisen within the Labour party during a motion passed by Momentum’s John Lansman, on the eve of conference. The motion sought to oust the post of Deputy Leader Tom Watson as his position as staunchly remain which was felt to potentially threaten the careful positioning on Brexit by Jeremy Corbyn and senior shadow cabinet members. After 2 votes the motion fell, seemingly achieving little apart from a storm of media sensationalism.
Fringe events at the conference are always the meat and muscle of the programme, as workshops are thought-provoking, generate healthy debate and inform members and supporters on policy. There are always simply too many things going on at once to see it all.
There was a workshop on special education, a ‘what to expect’ exclusive for first-time conference goers, an abundance of workshops on climate change (including what was scheduled from the main hall on Labour’s Green New Deal) – likewise as one would expect, with Brexit and its many debates. I attended a complex workshop on the issue of left-wing parties throughout Europe and whether they did or did not align. The meeting on transport, long distance and local, was an opportunity to engage and share ideas as we were put into groups. David Lammy MP led an educated perspective on the legalisation of cannabis and how Labour would take a measured and regulated approach.
One of the best highlights for me was seeing the previewed showing of ‘Sorry, We Missed You’ a Ken Loach produced, page out of every day life and one family’s struggle with the casualization of work and its cruel exploitation.
There were rallies, key motions voted upon (such as the plight of migrant women as addressed at the Labour Women’s conference in February) manifesting in emotional mini-speeches from the floor. There were ambitious key speeches, such as John McDonnell, setting out a clear agenda for a Labour government and reiterating Labour’s stance on Brexit. McDonnell ended his speech with the Socialist sentiment: “The cause of Labour is the hope of the world.”
Like any politically-charged atmosphere, the conference was laden with tension and opposing opinions. Walking along the crowded pavement outside the Brighton Centre, was some times argumentative, ‘Don’t point in my face’ someone said. Another day walking past and a young man shouted, ‘the EU is scum!’ For the most part though, people seemingly kept their cool.
By Tuesday, when the anticipated news broke that the Prime Minister acted unlawfully by proroguing parliament, as handed down by the supreme court – reaction was swift, with Jeremy Corbyn moving his final speech forward to that afternoon as parliament would reconvene the next day.
With such a big development announced during the last full day of Labour party conference, ensuing energies heightened and everyone was possibly reminded why we were there and what we stood for.
One week on from the conference and events are moving by the hour. As the Tories FINISH their conference in Manchester – the strongest remain vote in the north, the nation must brace itself for the inevitable – whatever that might be.