Labour Party Conference Visit by Zak Ficken
Having travelled up during the day of Saturday and dropping off bags at the apartment, we headed over to the pre-conference rally. An evening to set the tone for the rest of the conference. Having been approached with many leaflets, and seeing many amazing union banners, the whole place had a buzz to it which you would only ever feel at a socialist rally in a city like Liverpool. Fantastic speeches with fantastic music; especially with ‘Liar Liar’ by Captain SKA and amazing speeches from Corbyn and McDonnell.
As the first day came and I went across to the conference hall with and extraordinary number of leaflets as well as also picking up a ‘Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit’ t-shirt and tote bag. After the pre-conference briefing I went with Ann and Dominic (other two delegates) into the main conference hall. We were asked to vote on the Conference Arrangement Committee Report (I think) which we weren’t given any time to read. I, as well as almost all of the delegates from all different Labour Parties voted against it due to the lack of time to read it enough to make a full decision. The union delegates voted in favour of accepting the report to the sound of booing from some delegates, however talking to one of the union delegates, they were not given a free vote. After the openings, I bumped into Charlie Mower who is the South-East Youth Rep. I went with Charlie along with other youth members from Canterbury to the youth gathering with an address from our new General Secretary Jennie Formby. I then went on to explore the stands around the conference, especially having fantastic conversations with Care 4 Calais on the horrors of the refugee crisis as well as potential volunteer opportunities, Anti-Academies and telling them first-hand about academies, and the Orgreave Truth & Justice, specifically to LGSM (a gay and lesbian group who fundraised for the miners during the miners’ strike in the 1980s) about their inspiring story. After an interesting afternoon debates there was the votes. After conference adjourned, I made my way to the youth rally, and not before bumping into Ed Miliband. The youth rally had many inspirational speakers and great people. I met a youth member from N.Wales where he told me about the struggles of not having the anti-government vote and fighting off Plaid Cymru.
For the second day, I started by going to an international policy seminar at which included Emily Thornberry (Shadow Foreign Secretary), Kate Osamor (Shadow International Development Secretary) and Nia Griffith (Shadow Defence Secretary). Many discussions including on Palestine. At 09:55, there was Carwyn Jones’s last speech as First Minister of Wales, a powerful speech of one of (to me) the most important people in this party. There was then a speech from Rokhsana Fiaz, first female Mayor of Newham. At 10:10, we saw the speech from John Healy (Shadow Housing Secretary) who told us that there are 120,000 homeless youth and talked about the hidden homeless population of those in temporary accommodation. At 12:15, it was John McDonnell’s speech which was marvellous from one of the most inspirational people in the shadow cabinet. At 14:15, there was the Scotland Report. The day ended with a fantastic speech from Angela Rayner about our education system and what is to come with the creation of the NES (National Education Service – one of Labour’s main policies). Afterwards Ann, Stuart (Head of Campaigning) and I went to a talk by the authors of ‘Refugee Tales’ who told us inspiring story about a refugee. I then headed over to the Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East. Which included a short address from the main man himself Jeremy Corbyn as well as Emily Thornberry and her recent trip to Palestine, specifically to the Occupied West Bank. There was also native food from Palestine. On the way home, I spoke to a homeless man who on his placard had a truly heart-breaking story of his misfortune as a truly prevalent reminder that there is so much work to make this society equal and why a Labour Government is needed asap.
On the third day, when heading to grab some breakfast, I met another homeless man who I had a lovely conversation with on the atrocity that in the 21st Century, homelessness still exists. The main focus of the morning was Brexit. With a speech from Keir Starmer, for the first time for me, I felt I fully understood Labour’s Brexit policy: if the deal (or no-deal as it’s ever increasing likely) that does not fit our 6 tests, we will call for another general election to get these Brexit negotiations done in the interests of the UK, not the interests of the Tory’s rich friends. If we can not get a general election, then we will keep all options on the table, including a People’s Vote. There was also a debate on Government Contracts, with reference made to the recent collapse of Carillion and the stalled construction of the new hospital in Liverpool. During the break, I went to a SERA (a group within the Labour Party that campaigns for a Greener Britain) fringe event where the future of transport in London was discussed. The afternoon was kicked off with a speech from Lord Alf Dubs, who should be seen as one of our greatest assets and someone who has always stood up for what is right. There was then debates on Justice for the Windrush Generation and Palestine. During the Palestine debate, a spontaneous array of Palestinian flags was flown as well as chants of ‘Free Palestine’. For the evening, I went to LGBT Labour meeting, which means a lot to me, I met some amazing people from a group which has always been so welcoming and no different this time. I then went to the fringe meeting on the Islamic Relief on Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.
On the final day, it started with the debate Tackling Inequalities, including speeches from Jon Ashworth (Shadow Health Secretary) and the awe-inspiring Dennis Skinner as well as Dawn Butler. The conference concluded with Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. It was simply everything you would ask for Labour leader’s speech with the current political climate. It did also include our new Brexit policy, which I did fear he would shy away from (and I would not have blamed him for doing so). To end the conference, a final video and the song of ‘you’ll never walk alone’. There was also spontaneous singing of the ‘Internationale’, which was truly enchanting before ‘The Red Flag’ and ‘Jerusalem’.
By Zak Ficken