Thursday, 26 September 2013

Reflections of a Conference virgin

I have attended many conferences in a long business career but never before a political one so had no clear idea of what to expect of the Labour Party Conference 2013, which my wife and I attended as non-delegates. Helped by the leftwards tendency of the Leader's speech and some other policy announcements very much in tune with @uckfieldlabour's thinking, we came away thoroughly inspired - though with some ideas too on things that still need pressing.

First of all, it was a surprise to me after years of halls full of men-in-suits, just how big a part women played as leaders, speakers, candidates. Labour really has got it as far as this issue is concerned.

Secondly, as reported briefly earlier, it was so serious! Every fringe session (apart from the excellent "Stand Up for Labour" evenings) was a working session, aimed at informing the party or sharing expertise. No posing or posturing, no competing for importance or status; not even about how to stuff the other parties in 2015; just genuine focus on issues which could make lives better for people in this country.

The restatement by Ed M of policy being based on values was music to my (and thousands of others') ears. The care worker's plea for time to exercise her skill was inspiring - a no-brainer for anyone who actually cares what happens to needy people. Andy Burnham's passionate advocacy of a public sector integrating care and health services. The plan to build 1m homes for ordinary people. A move towards pay which would reflect workers' skills whilst allowing them to live a decent life with self-respect. These were highlights but the shared, positive energy for seeing through the values of fairness and mutuality into workable policies and services was the overriding memory.

There is more to do: to remove the benefits cap, which is so arbitrary and such nonsense when it applies equally to Kirkwall and Kensington; to prove the efficacy and practicality of the Living Wage so that it can become universal; to take back vital services into social ownership.

Yes, there is voter apathy. Yes, young people feel that politics is irrelevant. But surely these issues will only be countered if people's real life concerns are the agenda, rather than how big a multi-national's dividend pay-out is [aka by Tories "the economy"].

Labour's problem now is that the Press, including the BBC, signally failed to report all of this, choosing only the story about Big Energy. One vehicle yet to be effectively used by Labour, which could be very effective in spreading messages, is social networking. It would be great to be in touch online with like-minded Members, across the country; to share stories and ideas; to find out what works and what does not; and above all to communicate in the way most younger voters do, and recruit more thereby. Bring on a national Labour Network, open, set up but not controlled by the Party.

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