People Before Privilege – Spreading Labour’s Message

Minda Burgos-Lukes, Islington North delegate, reports on the highlights of the 2019 Conference

 

I felt somewhat nervous about attending Labour Party Conference. In Islington North we tend to work well together, sharing the socialist values our party was built on and realising the benefits of socialist leadership, yet our party as a whole is often portrayed in a more negative light. The media consistently reports on internal divisions and tensions, magnifying the polarisation of our party through daily news stories of discontent, concern and upset, branding our brilliant local MP and party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as unfit to lead. But I am delighted to report that conference floor painted a very different picture from the media spin by showing overwhelming support for a Corbyn-led Labour Party and government. Conference was in fact a five-day festival full of proud, committed socialist revellers, sharing the hope and belief that our party can win and that our Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely the right person to lead us into an election and towards a positive future, with social justice at the heart of it.

Speech after speech, from start to finish, bold and progressive commitments to social justice rang positively through my ears. There was a confidence and conviction in every success and aim shared that made delegates proud to be part of the many historical moments. Our party stood firmly for its values, definitively united in our ambitions and determined to make change for the many not the few. It was a brilliant breath of fresh air, followed by a huge sigh of relief.

Admittedly, the days were long and there are definitely some improvements to be made. Content was sometimes difficult to follow, speeches on motions weren’t followed by votes with some voting happening in different sessions, which was confusing. We often felt rushed and unsure on what we were voting. There are only 16 creche places provided, a huge barrier to participation for parents and carers. Conference business often ran over, leaving little to no time to attend fringes and The World Transformed. Compositing was far too long and probably shouldn’t happen at conference. Having spent nearly 15 years working for the National Union of Students, we could learn quite a lot from the way their democratic events are organised, which surprised me! And we need to make sure motions and speeches have better diverse and intersectional representation to reflect how issues can impact people differently, depending on identities, circumstances and backgrounds.

All of the above considered, we must take into consideration the huge undertaking that Labour Party Conference is. With over 13,000 people in attendance, of which over 3,000 are voting delegates who represent hundreds of thousands of party and union members, getting to the end of such a massive event is an achievement in itself! And I am grateful to the staff, volunteers, committees, organisers and MPs that make such a huge contribution to the smooth running of the event. Improvements would make it better for them too, helping them to deliver our democracy as best they can.

My top 6 social justice highlights from Labour Party Conference 2019:

  1. EQUALITY: The launch of the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme earlier this year saw 40 BAME Labour Party activists graduate from the programme. Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, confirmed at the conference that the programme will run a second cohort.

Other highlights from Dawn’s  speech included: The need for there to be a greater understanding of empire, colonialism and imperial migration through an Emancipation Education Trust, which will provide an education programme to create a greater understanding of British history through the context of these topics; our urgent need to stand up against the far right, with Dawn reminding us that “they may not wear pointy hats anymore, but they are still among us” followed by a commitment from a Labour Government to launch an independent review into the spread of  hard right extremism.  Dawn said: “If you are in social housing, if you are LGBT+, if you are straight, if you are a traveller, if you struggle to pay rent, if you wear a hijab, turban, a cross, if you are black, white, Asian, if you are disabled, if you don’t have a trust fund, if you didn’t go to Oxbridge, if you are working class, if you are under 18, if you are aspirational, if you work, if you are a carer, if you feel you won’t live beyond 25, if you have ever ticked the other box – you have a future and you are worthy, worthy of equality dignity and respect. And a Labour government will value you, just be your true authentic self.”

Here are links to Dawn’s Speech, video and transcript: Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29z5w_ZNsmc

Transcript: https://labour.org.uk/press/dawn-butler-speaking-labour-party-conference/

And here is an article from Jeremy Corbyn for Black History Month, focusing on the importance of the programme and the Labour Party’s commitments to recognising and celebrating BAME communities and leaders:

GET INVOLVED – Participate and/or encourage others to participate in the Labour Party Race and Faith Consultation the Labour Party to inform the party’s Race and Faith Manifesto: https://labour.org.uk/race-and-faith-consultation/

  1. JUSTICE: There was a clear connection drawn between social justice and criminal justice, prioritising the former and putting our most vulnerable people’s needs at the heart of the justice system. Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor, gave a sobering yet tenacious speech highlighting the need to: reinstate legal aid because everyone should have access to legal support as and when needed; legislate to end ineffective short-sentencing and invest in schemes to reduce reoffending; and, when referring to the growing prison industrial complex in the UK which has seen the privatisation of prisons (and we must not forget this extends to detention centres) prioritising profit over people, exacerbating conditions for workers and prisoners, he made his thoughts on this clear stating “it is morally wrong to incarcerate human beings for profit.”

Richard also paid tribute to the outsourced Ministry of Justice cleaners and security staff striking for a living wage and shared the stark reality that “rape conviction rates are now so low that women’s organisations warn it’s effectively decriminalised.” A Labour Government won’t allow this and, with Shami Chakrabati as Attorney General and Diane Abbott as Justice Secretary, they will launch a fully independent review into how our justice system is handling rape: “Women must be able to have confidence in our justice system.”

Here are links to Richard’s speech, video and transcript:

Transcript: https://labour.org.uk/press/richard-burgon-speaking-labour-party-conference/

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU7Zppqi44A

GET INVOLVED: Support the actions of the outsourced MOJ staff and others striking for a living wage, check out United Voices of the World

Richard also spoke about the experiences of women in prison, so check out Women in Prisons for more information on their work and campaigns’

  1. ENVIRONMENT: The Climate Crisis has rightly been a leading issue for the last year. In the Global South, people are already dying, losing their homes and being displaced as a consequence of our planet not being cared for, instead putting first world countries’ need to thrive and prosper above the survival of global humanity. And now, as this issue is rapidly starting to hit us closer to home, we are in a race against time to undo the wrongdoings, reduce our carbon footprints and finally commit to humanitarian solutions to running more efficient energy and travel industries. Workers within these industries have also suffered from a precarious and long-hours work culture, with unhealthy conditions and insecure futures, whilst the owners of these industries continue to gain profit for personal benefit, without a care for the for the world, refusing to take responsibility for their actions. The need for renationalisation of many of our industries has never been clearer and more necessary.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, gave a powerful and inspiring speech that spoke to everyone: Those of us whose families and indigenous people in the global south have already been affected by climate change and whose communities have been stripped of vital resources for too many years; environmental justice campaigners who have taken to the streets and campaigned long and hard for change; Workers who in energy and travel industries who deserve to work in healthier and safer environments with better conditions and with the assurance of job security through a just transition. We all felt that the Green Industrial Revolution – the seeds of a Green New Deal – is achievable under a Labour Government.

Rebecca paid tribute to the climate youth strikers, who opened this section of conference, climate activists and trade unions for “coming together to make politicians listen.”  She also reminded us that “We share a powerful belief, passed on through our movement from generation to generation. That every financial and political decision made by government and by industry should be underpinned by one fundamental and immovable socialist principle: To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution that may be possible upon the basis of common ownership. It might not be on the back of our membership cards anymore, but it’s in here (points to heart).”

Whilst negotiations between Labour for a Green New Deal and some trade unions had been difficult, the arguably more progressive and specific composited motion on a Green New Deal,  was backed by an impassioned speech from Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union who have consistently supported and backed a progressive Green New Deal, showing solidarity with Firefighters and rescue services globally, often risking their lives responding to climate crisis-related emergencies.

Rebecca’s speech brought us to our feet on many occasions and is definitely one to read/watch/hear! Here are links to the transcript and video:

Transcript and Video

GET INVOLVED – I would recommend watching this video animation, narrated by Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, which can help us to visualise and realise what a Green New Deal with a just transition could look like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9uTH0iprVQ

  1. PROSPERITY: John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, set out an ambitious and critical strategy for how the public purse, if led by a Labour Government, could better serve and support our communities and put an end to the brutal and inhumane consequences of austerity measures. There were so many more takes from John’s speech, I honestly couldn’t keep up! They included:

– Committing to end in-work poverty by introducing a real living wage, ending the “barbaric rollout of universal credit” and making homes affordable through rent caps and building a million new homes

– Creating a better work/life balance by introducing a 32-hour week within the next decade without loss of pay, banning zero hour contracts by ensuring every employee has a guaranteed number of hours a week

– Launching a document on Universal Basic Services, outlining the Labour Party’s belief that everyone has a right to a good life, which is the responsibility of the state, by providing free public services at the point of use “people have the right to education, health, a home in a decent safe environment and, yes, access to culture and recreation” because cost should never be a barrier to accessing basic services

– Guaranteeing that a Labour Government would create a National Care Service that would introduce personal care free at the point of use in England, taking a lead from Scotland and Wales where this has already been introduced, and bringing these services back into public ownership and control, which, like the NHS, would be funded through a fair taxation system

– Promising to put in whatever resources are necessary to meet our climate justice policy, which is where we saw socialist internationalism really start to come to life on conference floor as he pledged to make some reparations for the UK’s colonial past by providing free or cheap access to the green technologies developed to the citizens of the Global South and working with other countries and social movements across the globe to reform the major international bodies to enable them to coordinate the global response to climate change.

John finished his speech with inspiring words of camaraderie and a rebel-rousing call to action:

“When they ask you some time in the future: ‘Where were you when people were left to sleep on our streets?  When families queued at food banks to survive? When the Tories tried to sell out our country to Trump? When climate change threatened our planet and our very existence?’ I want you all to be able to say ‘I built the homes and public services our people needed. ‘I made sure everyone was fed and cared for. With nobody forced to endure poverty. I saved the planet by tackling climate change. I helped lay the foundations of a new society, foundations so deeply rooted that the Tories can never break them up.’ And when they ask’Hhow did you do that?’ You can tell them: ‘I supported Labour, I joined Labour, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn. That’s how.’ Solidarity.”

John’s speech, in transcript and video, can be found here:

Transcript

Video

GET INVOLVED – Things you can do: Make sure you encourage your friends and family to join the Labour Party: https://join.labour.org.uk/ . And if they need convincing, send them John’s speech to show them how a much fairer and more equitable strategy on how our financial contributions are spent could really make a difference to ourselves and everyone around us.

  1. PUBLIC SERVICES AND INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY: Unfortunately, I missed the speeches from Angela Rayner, Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry due to work commitments. I was updated by our delegation on the pledges from our fantastic shadow cabinet and made sure I was present to vote on the progressive and uplifting policies that were passed on Education, Freedom of Movement and Foreign Policy, which provided passionate and lively debates:

Education: Abolishing private education to make way for a fairer education system; having better and inclusive sex education in our schools that includes LGBT+; scrapping Ofsted in favour of a peer review system led by experts in our schools; capping uniform costs to make sure no child is outpriced of school; free nursery for 2-4 year olds – a vital resource for working families and child development; renewing the much-needed Sure Start Programme by introducing Sure Start Plus andoffering much-needed support to parents of early years children, aged 0 to 4.

Freedom of Movement: Ending detention of torture survivors and closing all detention centres because nobody deserves to be locked up indefinitely simply for seeking asylum; Labour will continue to negotiate for a better deal whilst exploring options to put a vote on Brexit to the people again through a general election; committing to maintaining and extending free movement and ending No Recourse to Public Funds, which is currently making people destitute, even forcing families to separate and break down.

Foreign Policy: Our commitment to ending human rights violations saw us extend solidarity and support to the people of Yemen, Palestine and Kashmir; Foreign Nationals living in the UK will have the right to vote in a general election under a Labour Government and we continue to look at ways in which we can work more collaboratively and collectively with our brothers, sisters and siblings across the world.

I did catch the incredibly moving and thoughtful speech from Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, where he shared his own and others’ experiences of the NHS, reminding us how important and crucial the multitude of health services offered to us are and why we must fight tooth and nail to protect, defend and extend our National Health Service.

Highlights from Jonathan’s speech included a Labour Government being committed to: Improved mental health services with every child being able to access the mental health care they need, plans to launch a greener National Health Service through rebuilding hospitals and health centres with investment in the best modern equipment and technology, solidarity with all NHS workers from the UK and beyond and abolishing all prescription charges.

And the announcement from Sue Hayman, MP for Worthington and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that a Labour Government will halve food bank usage within its first year in office through a Fair Food Act, urgently addressing the need to end increasing food poverty and provide a healthy living for all. Info on this here: https://labour.org.uk/press/right-food-labour-will-halve-food-bank-usage-within-year/

Their speeches can be found here:

Angela Rayner, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne and Shadow Secretary of State for Education

transcript and video,

Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Shadow Home Secretary:-

Transcript

Video

Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Shadow Foreign Secretary:-

Transcript

Video

Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South and Shadow Secretary of State for Health:-

Transcript

Video

GET INVOLVED – Things you can do: Be active in our community and support others to do the same – get involved in local campaigns, groups and forums that are changing the landscape and shaping our Party’s policies and manifesto, go to your ward meetings and encourage others to do the same.

  1. LEADERSHIP: I urge us all to openly and positively get behind Jeremy Corbyn as our leader and support him to get our Labour Party into number 10. To put into context my reasons why, here is the end of Jeremy’s address to conference (delivered seamlessly despite being brought forward a day early after prorogation was deemed illegal – another huge cheer from conference floor!):

“I have what might be considered a different view of leadership from the one people are used to. I do believe leaders should have strong principles that people can trust. But leaders must also listen and trust others to play their part. Because there are leaders in every community driving change. Many of them would never dream of calling themselves leaders, but they are.

“I’m thinking of the mother who campaigns on behalf of the residents in her block to get the damp removed, and the fast food worker organising their colleagues to demand a living wage. It’s those leaders Labour is now working with and supporting. Because our philosophy is to trust the people and give them the power to make change in every community and workplace, not hand more power to politicians.

“And that’s why, if the British people elect a Labour government in the coming election I will be proud to be your Prime Minister. Because I will be a different kind of Prime Minister. Not there from a sense of born-to-rule entitlement. Certainly not there for some personal power trip. There because I want to put government on your side. To put power and wealth into your hands.There because I believe government should work for you.

“And together, we can go beyond defending the gains made by previous generations. It’s time we started building a country fit for the next generation. Where young people don’t fear the future but look forward with confidence and hope.

“The tide is turning. The years of retreat and defeat are coming to an end. Together, we’ll take on the privileged, and put the people in power. Thank you.”

I could see myself and all the people around me in this speech, as I could in the many other galvanizing and brilliant speeches from MPs, Trade Unionists, delegates and other speakers at the conference. These refreshing, liberating and defining moments just kept coming.

The brave, credible, community-inspired leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, the shadow cabinet and everyone who has contributed towards putting the Labour Party back into the hands of the people and back on the map champions authentic community leaders, making us more visible, trusted and respected than ever. And through this fine example of responsible and accountable leadership, we were able to submit and pass such significantly groundbreaking, representative and people-centred policy at the conference that really does speak truth to power and will move us towards a much fairer, kinder, prosperous and equitable society.

It is both exciting and a comfort to be part of a movement that shares such a compelling vision for a socialist government that puts people first and provides hope, solidarity and possibility through solid commitments to rebuild better, free, accessible, well-funded and top quality public services for all.

GET INVOLVED – Things you can do:

Vote – Encourage everyone you know to register to vote and make sure their vote counts by voting Labour: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Volunteer – Get on the doorstep, stuff envelopes, support the phone banks, talk positively about our policies and manifesto, share great things about the Labour Party, and help us to deliver a Labour Government: https://action.labour.org.uk/page/content/volunteering/

This is an edited version of Minda’s report back to her CLP from Party Conference