Friday 2 October 2015

Labour Conference .............. people?

This will be my last specific report from the conference .......... well it did end 2 days ago. I have commented on only a fraction of the issues raised in the main conference hall, barely touched on fringe meetings that I attended and said nothing at all about the plethora of exhibitors stands. I started to write this post last night under a different title, "who now is in control of the party", based purely on a fringe question and answer session hosted by the Progress Group on Tuesday evening. The question asked by one chap in the gallery was, "why did the right lose control of the party." My notes may be slightly inaccurate here as a small voice in my head keeps whispering that instead of the "right" the questioner may have said "centre". I know one person who attended that meeting whose memory most probably works better than mine so if I have it wrong then please correct me.

I was shocked that such a question could be asked without causing the panel even a glimmer of discomfort. As a rank and file member I feel patronised by such a question. The answer of course is wrapped up within the question .......... Labour foot soldiers and camp followers had run out of patience with the centre right of the party that felt that they were entitled to "control" the party so voted overwhelmingly for what seems to be the democratic and inclusive alternative. Time will tell if dragging the centre of gravity to the left will result in a fairer and more equal society. I already feel more comfortable in this party but I cannot rid myself of a doubt about our electability. We failed from a centrist position in 2010 .......... we failed again in 2015 when our positioning was that of a mugwump (a mugwump sits on the fence - mug on one side - wump on the other - reference the USA election of 1884). My instinct is that more of the Labour torso will be on the left side of the fence come 2020 but just how much will be determined by how well we sell ourselves to the electorate at parish, borough, county, capital and devolved national elections in the next 2 years.

I may have changed the post headline but I still gave you a precis of the associated article. I apologise but I had to get it out of my system.

Back to people

I had many varied and interesting discussions at the conference, not just with the Labour faithful but also with many in pubs, hotel bars, shops, buses and .......... well you get the point. I did not delude myself that they were attracted by my good looks and youthful demeanour (my prize possession is my OAP bus pass). No, what made me interesting was the delegate pass that hung around my neck. People would lean in towards me to see if I was part of the travelling circus that had hit town.

Two lads in a pub

I think of the two lads who spoke with me in a pub as I waited for the Progress meeting to start (the one mentioned above). One wanted to know about Jeremy whilst the other initially came out with the usual, "they are all the same". Eventually, the innate intelligence of the "they are all the same" guy shone through and the three of us shared an interesting few minutes. Their question to me was very to the point ........ why do you bother? I told them of my life, the ease with which I found work as a youngster, the night school opportunities fanned by the WEA, eventually winning a place at university where tuition was free and I was given a full grant, then starting a family, being allocated a council house, being paid a decent enough wage in a career that made it easy to eventually buy our own house ............. in short I grew up and prospered in a world that gave me ample opportunities to succeed, a world that was so much better and inclusive than the society within which these two lads were having to make their way. I wanted the current generation, those lads, my grandchildren to have the same chances in life as I have enjoyed and that's why I bothered, that's why I was in the Labour Party.

Moderate Labour MP

Conor McGinn
Just a few yards from the pub was the Wagner meeting hall, the venue for the Progress event. As I entered I was surprised to be greeted by name by a cheery chap, outstretched hand and beaming smile. Conor McGinn, newly elected MP for St Helens North; already appointed as a party whip and a member of the Defense Committee. I had spoken briefly with him earlier in the conference and noted him to be to the centre of the party so I was very interested in how he fared at the question and answer session. I was deeply impressed by his determination when he stated, "just because I am a moderate does not mean that I do not have passion, that I do not care." Conor, if by any chance you stumble across BelperStuff and read this reference to yourself, please forgive any inaccuracies as I often struggle to take verbatim notes, often forced to paraphrase because I cannot keep up with the speaker. Conor is part of the new intake here is the link to reference him on Wikipedia and I am impressed to discover that, since being elected in May he has asked 16 questions about a range of issues. 

Cat Smith
The Progress invited panel consisted of a Times journalist who specialises in making a living from rehashing sparse dregs of  ideas from a cup from which he had first drunk some years ago. His weariness was astonishing so I will not be tempted to give any money to Murdoch to breach the Times paywall. Beside the journalist sat Cat Smith MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood link to her Wikipedia page. Cat had a far more leftist perspective but, despite being a Corbynista did not seem that enthused by his speech. Cat is a contributor to Labourlist so I get the impression that she is more comfortable in print. Completing the panel was Jacqui Smith, former Home secretary and long time Labour stalwart (her Wikipedia entry mentions her support for Blair). To be honest, though she sat at the opposite end of the table to the Times journalist I could not detect any gap between them.

I am looking inside myself with trepidation ........... can it be true that of the few elected members with which I spoke it was Conor who made me feel more confident about Labour's future. He stated that there should be a mechanism for MP accountability (careful choice of words), JC still needs to secure a public mandate (how true) ......... but the one sentence that I keep returning to, "is labour on the side of history". That for me encapsulates the position of Labour in the next four and a half years. Conor, wise words ........... now please, use that intellect of yours to make sure that we are on the side of history. We desperately need an effective front bench who speak with passion about their Labour values. Forget left and right, make our party once again a point of hope for all.

There were many others

Yes many others ........... the lady with two teenage daughters forced to live in two rooms in a conference hotel because of a fire in her housing association home. So far it's been three months and there is no immediate hope of rehousing and they have lost everything.

The policeman patrolling the seafront opposite the conference hall, part of a depleted force stretched thin by Tory cuts. He dutifully could not comment but nodded his head in agreement with the Labour analysis.

The three delegates from Easington in the North East, two charming ladies in charge of a smiling man, led by Heather Wood, who described to me in some detail the problem they face on the Durham & Northumberland coast from "underground coal gassification", which seems to be a horrible cousin of fracking. This is one to watch as it carries with it real risks of massive explosions and the ruination of vast areas of coastal land and the sea bed. Next stop could be the moribund coal seams in Derbyshire.

Then there is the elderly lady who spoke to me as I bunked off early from the conference on Wednesday morning. She asked me if she could use my pass to get into the hall so that she could once again sing the Red Flag surrounded by comrades. Unfortunately, it was impossible to help her as she in no way bore any resemblance to the photo on my delegate's pass.

............ and Marcelo who manages a well known shop on Brighton station. He told me of moving from southern Italy to the UK in 1995 ........ now he has a family, a home, a career and his 14 year old daughter attends a good school. Brighton has been good to him and his family and he in turn is an asset to our society.

Finally, on the train, I spoke to a carriage cleaner who earns £6.63 an hour, working a 44 hour week with no enhanced rates for night shifts or overtime. Can you imagine working through the night for £6.63 an hour. This is how the Tories make privatisation pay for their profit taking cronies ...... on the backs of low paid workers. Under British Railways, cleaners  were not exactly rich but they had enhanced rates for unsocial hours, sick pay proper paid holidays, a pension scheme and many other entitlements including free travel concessions for them and their families. All that was lost to privatisation. Renationalising our railways must include all contracted out services if it is to be socially relevant.

I could go on ........... the Vegans on their exhibition stand who are aware of the potential environmental and societal impact of Veganism, (I am sorry that I cause you distress when I mentioned what I had eaten for breakfast .............. the HS2 campaigners (please contact me) ............ the Trident campaigners ............. the retired quantity surveyor on the train who spoke of his disquiet about Osborne ............. not to forget, the tramp (I still use that most descriptive of words) who slept in the shop doorway, wrapped up in a dirty and disheveled coat, his face red from the cycle of night time cold and exposure to the sun. Hundreds were walking past him but he slept on. There is no dignity in poverty but  ............. but ............ words at last fail me.

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