This was my first-time attending Labour Party Conference, and to be starting as a delegate at what promised to be the most important Conference for years did bring its fair share of nerves. Fortunately, we were a large contingent of eight, reflective of Manchester Gorton’s massive membership, and with the support of some experienced hands and a lot of frenetic reading in the run-up, I set off at least semi-confident that I was going to get through.
And frenetic certainly was the word for it. Arriving on the Saturday meant a lot of rushing around prior to the official start of conference in the early afternoon. Dropping off bags, picking up keys and, in my case, going through security clearance for my conference pass with Greater Manchester’s finest, certainly got the blood rushing for what turned out to be a jammed-packed afternoon of speeches and voting.
After characteristically stirring speeches from Ian Lavery and Dawn Butler, and a few routine votes on constitutional rule changes, we moved onto the main business for the day- the priorities ballot of topics to be debated at Conference 2019. With so many excellent motions submitted it felt a shame we couldn’t vote for more, but we duly put our cross next to the Green New Deal (as directed by the CLP), followed by nine motions which we knew would have the CLP’s support- detention centres, public services, schools, immigration, employment rights, Kashmir, housing, the NHS and food poverty.
As ever, some brilliant motions did not make the cut, but we were glad to see several of our priorities make it to conference floor. Not least our lead Green New Deal motion, which had resulted in the longest compositing meeting in Conference history. 18 motions, covering areas such as mental health, immigration and industrial strategy, passed unanimously with a large degree of consensus, and it was a truly invigorating experience being part of our movement as we tackled some of the biggest issues of the day. But, like all good families and all good democracies, there were bones of contention, and these became clear when we moved onto discussions around Brexit and the Green New Deal.
What struck me most about these debates was how robust they were, whilst maintaining that spirit of comradeliness which we have all grown to love about our movement. We all have our differences on policy, and nothing gets the brain cells vexed like Brexit, but in the end we were able to come together to agree upon the most radical environmental policy anywhere in the world, with that iconic 2030 date for net zero carbon emissions, and to concentrate on securing a Labour deal from the European Union before examining it against the option to remain. These were critically important questions for the future of our country, and I came away with the firm impression that everyone had performed their duties in good faith and to the best of their ability.
Though not the official end to Conference, due to the wonderful news coming out of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Jeremy’s speech nonetheless seemed to provide a fitting conclusion to the week’s deliberations. There is going to be a General Election, and we have an enormous fight on our hands. But whilst the Tories have their money and their vested interests, we have something they never will. Hundreds of thousands of passionate activists committed to radically transforming this country for the many not the few. Conference ended with a simple message for Boris Johnson. Bring it on.
By Rhys Owens, Levenshulme Branch Secretary, Gorton CLP Delegate to conference