Jane Price from Minehead was the delegate from Bridgwater and West Somerset at the 2015 Labour conference. She came away with the message that a modern left can challenge austerity and present an alternative. These are her impressions of some exciting days in Brighton:
“The first big highlight was John McDonnell’s speech as Shadow Chancellor. His key messages were that we should go forward with growth and prosperity, not austerity. A taxation shift would rebalance the economy. As to criticism of the Labour leadership, the message was what we are seeing is “debate not dissent and democracy, not disunity”. The overall message should be hope. This was convincingly delivered and rapturously received.
This was reinforced at a Fringe meeting ‘Opposing Austerity’ later that day as McDonnell spoke again and was more forceful, radical and resolute; here he urged determination, courage and above all solidarity. My impression was of a very clear coherent message across the different conference and fringe speakers, a chief element of which was solidarity. This was a very exciting meeting, a large room full to bursting, with speakers including Diane Abbott: “ The Labour Party has decided to turn and fight”, , Owen Smith Shadow Work and Pensions, Mark Serwotka who pointed out his Public and Commercial Services Union’s success in securing fair pay at Windsor Castle “ If we can win in the Queen’s gaff we can win anywhere”! and Mark Steel, “We will look back on this (eg withdrawing tax credits from 3rd child etc) and wonder how did we ever let it happen..” My overriding impression throughout the week was of a message that this party can form a broad platform with the unions and other organisations to present opposition and effect change. There was a real sense that this is the moment we have been waiting for.
Turning the tables on Fat Cats
Back at Conference Monday Dave Prentis, Unison, spoke in detail of rebalancing, turning the tables on fat cats and CEOs of big companies with a clear and repeated emphasis all through conference on independents, small businesses and how Labour can support them, also the youngest and women who are taking a disproportionate hit.
Very upbeat, consistently. Support for Redcar steelworkers – an example of where the broad platform of opposition can work.
Tuesday Policy Seminar Health and Social Care: Shadow minister Heidi Alexander standing up for NHS and carers and therefore patients but the big point here was the first appointment of a separate Minister for Mental Health Luciana Berger. These also spoke at Wednesday’s conference; to sum up, the focus on all aspects of mental illness including the young where there is a serious rise, as well as on suicide figures for males felt fresh, responsive and purposeful. Alexander her success in challenging the closure of Lewisham Hospital – again it is about what can be achieved.
Saying things we’d been longing to hear
LEADER’S SPEECH! What can I add that you don’t know? In the hall he really is powerfully convincing. I am not one to be drawn to anything ‘soppy’ but the “kind” politics he cites come over as civility and much more importantly, humanity. He started slowly, with lots of thanks but the sustained emphasis on different kinds of “security” seemed to me to work when thrown back at Cameron’s jibe. The big lines like “How dare he..? and “Well he’s not going to have it” packed a punch. The man is driven by “fierce indignation” and it’s catching. We’ve all seen the detail of ways he says we do not accept the place the Tories dictate for the less advantaged so I will just add that the woman next to me said she had been upset when Corbyn was elected and had not voted for him; at the end of the speech she said, “ I was wrong”. She can’t be the only one. A very strong feeling that he was saying things we’d been longing to hear!
Joining together for activism
Fringe meeting on housing attended by Generation Rent, Defend Council Housing a Disability organisation and the GMB Union. The issue of Right to Buy was aired and I spoke at this (got some applause as well) to highlight the rural dimension, as I felt this was neglected. There was a focus on Wales and the North but I felt that as a whole there was a tendency to be London-centric, partly because Corbyn is gathering around him those he knows. He did email out a rural renewal document however, to which I referred. The good news though was the sense that there are these platforms joining together for activism.
The message overall is of a “Modern Left”. I constantly heard that “Austerity is a choice” (the word ideology was never used) and we must present the alternative. The key words were
The overwhelming feeling was that this must be taken forward by all of us being ‘leaders’ by activism and capitalising on new members.