Thea Fawcett-Walsh reflects on her experience as a first time Labour Conference delegate
Last Saturday morning, I set off for Brighton for the Labour Party Annual Conference 2021. I was feeling anxious – firstly, because the recent spate of auto-exclusions and suspensions made me (rightly) think those of us on the left of the Party would be met with hostility, and secondly, because I was a first-time delegate and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
I was lucky enough to attend my first conference with a young, friendly delegation of first timers. Ballot choices were harmonious, and we had no major disagreements. I understand this is not always the case.
The first afternoon included a lot of tedious ‘business’ and not much political debate. Margaret Beckett was chairing this part of the meeting and it was clear early on that she was intentionally antagonising the left. Her lowest point was attempting to gaslight Conference, refusing to take points of order and using examples of violence against women to avoid discussion on her questionable waving through of the NEC report. Using the suffering of women in the crusade against the Labour left is not, and never will be, acceptable.
After a tedious afternoon of speeches and reports from various MPs, the first batch of rule changes was put to Conference. The sheer length of rule changes was overwhelming and I’m sure that almost all delegates must have relied heavily on groups like Momentum or Labour to Win to keep on top of what was going on. I was surprised that the NEC gave recommendations for rule changes, and that they had the right of reply when the members section of the debate was over. It was ironic, though, given that many of the rule changes were aimed at taking power and voice away from members.
I was frustrated and, quite frankly, bored by the length of time given to Shadow Cabinet Members to speak. By far the most engaging speakers on Conference floor were delegates speaking mostly in favour of motions supporting radical, socialist policies. It’s a shame that many of the debates were given limited time, to make room for MPs who have an existing platform and an avenue to have their voices heard. It seems to me that Conference should be that vehicle for members. In particular, debate was cut short on international affairs, seemingly to limit debate on the motion on Palestine.
Instead, Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership used Conference to continue waging war against the left, I presume in the hope that we would leave Conference dejected and demoralised. The opposite is true for me. I arrived with a plan to leave the Labour Party, and I came home feeling more determined to fight for the Party than ever.
The leadership might have succeeded in stitching up votes over rule changes, but Conference succeeded in demonstrating how many passionate socialists there are in the Party, ready to fight for a better future.
The fringe events were unmissable. The Socialist Campaign Group rally was the perfect end – a packed tent and hundreds of people standing in the rain to listen to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Zarah Sultana, Richard Burgon and John McDonnell. The high energy and enthusiasm was a far cry from Keir Starmer’s flat and lifeless speech the next afternoon.
How do I feel after my first experience at Labour Party Conference? Angry, exhausted and ready to fight for a competent and socialist Leader of the Opposition. Maybe we should be concentrating on fighting the Tories, but you started it, Keir, and now we have to finish it.
Thea Fawcett-Walsh is a member of Ealing Central and Acton CLP
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