The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015



A momentous day. Which began with a speech by Stella Creasy. I had a coffee and a pain au chocolat on the go but if I hadn’t I would have been applauding her enthusiastically. She was, after all, my first choice for deputy leader, and in her speech proved how good she would’ve been (and how good she is anyway).  Her speech was lively, upbeat, energetic about what we can DO in opposition, such as develop a  credit union. And then she made everyone in the hall feel incredibly old by saying that she felt old. Honestly. I don’t mean to be Sid the Sexist here but she was probably the youngest-looking person in the entire hall (and I reluctantly include myself in that). She can’t possibly be approaching middle age except from a very great distance.

Diana Holland, reporting from a policy commission (I shall look up the details later) on policies that we should have. Rail transport should be more accessible to people with disabilities (huge applause from me). A re-regulated (my notes) bus system (I think better regulated is what she said). Freeze energy bills (unless they’re getting cheaper). Improve energy efficiency in rented housing (something I’ve been banging on about for years – landlords have NO incentive to improve insulation). Prioritise rural energy, transport and broadband. And save the badgers.

Lisa Nandy – shadow environment and energy – gave a very good speech, I thought. Labour has led the world in fighting climate change thanks to the work of Prescott and Miliband at past conferences (Prescott banging heads together). But now we are relegated to the margins at the Paris conference thanks to Cameron. Tories sending a worrying signal to world by cancelling investment in clean energies. Local government has had successes, notably Nottingham, green energy can be democratised, produced by local communities.

Then it was time for words from delegates/the floor. The UN has warned that food banks are here to stay in the UK. Tories are poverty deniers on a crusade against the poor. Why are they closing steel works when steel will be needed for HS2? A delegate from the rail union was overjoyed that Labour now has a policy of rail nationalisation. Cock-a-hoop. Labour is not just anti-austerity but anti-neo-liberalism. And no to fracking. (Never mind the science, the economics of fracking doesn’t add up). And there was a charming speech from a proud bus driver.

And there was Tosh McDonald, Aslef’s answer to Rick Wakeman. His intervention...  was not, IMHO, a good look for the party, and his hectoring, triumphalist speech not a great message to send out. I could only imagine the Conservative party membership counter dial spinning with every second he was on stage.

And he’d already been on stage before. Shouldn’t there be some sort of rule about each delegate only getting one chance to speak to the conference? Seems unfair on all the people who didn’t get a chance to speak if one person (and he wasn’t the only one) gets to speak twice.

Kerry McCarthy was next, with a good speech, she came across well with a self-deprecating sense of humour. No to fracking, no to fox hunting, no to the unscientific badger cull (stop killing unscientific badgers!). She is a Vegan but she still eats food. Labour stands for economically viable, environmentally sustainable energy. Clear air. This Tory government is no friend of rural areas. We must tackling food poverty, food waste and food fraud (i.e. horse meat).

Lillian Greenwood, transport. Memorable mainly for her enormous purple brooch which kind of messed with my sense of scale. Transport privatisation has been a failure, resulting in expensive fares, worsening services and greater subsidies. Public ownership is the answer – and will lead to affordable fares for all. She is pro-HS2 if it is owned and run in the public sector. We shall fight the privatisation of Network Rail every step of the way.

The next speech... well, I thought all the speeches were great so far. But Jonathan Ashworth kind of let me down. His speech was on Taking The Fight To The Tories so I had big hopes that’s what it would be about. Instead it was about how awful the Tories are; I’ve already heard quite a lot about that and, to be honest, it’s very easy to write a speech about. He also said how awful the Lib-Dems were (but not the SNP or UKIP, who are also awful). And then, after a speech which, I’m afraid, didn’t even begin to address the topic of Taking The Fight To The Tories, he said ‘Let’s get to it’ and strode off.

I must confess, I may have involuntarily rolled my eyes a little. And then CLICK CLICK CLICK oh god there was a telephoto lens in my face as a journalist had sniffed out dissent. SMILE JONNY SMILE. I immediately tried to look happy, which isn’t easy because I have what is known as a Resting Miserable Bastard Face. But that was a warning for me. I resolved to be a shining example of enthusiasm from then on (and I was).

But it wasn’t my fault. If Jonathan Ashworth had taken the opportunity to make a speech on taking the fight to the Tories...  never mind.

Next was Jim McMahon from the local government... thing. We are pro-devolution because Labour is about giving power to the people but it should not become about local councils taking the blame for central government cuts. We must “change the country from the ground up”. And our duty is to represent all of it, even if it means we are in the front line and the ones making the cuts – because the alternative is that it’ll be the Tories making the cuts and they wouldn’t give a fig.

Alice Perry on Stronger Safer Communities gave the example of fans being given a say in the running of their favourite football club as a way that workers could be given a say in the running of their companies. Just make it like Lego is what I say. Lego are the model company. Quite literally in fact.

John Healey was next, on the housing we so desperately need. It is now a Top Priority for the Labour party. I’ve written the figure 360,000 down, either that’s how many houses down we are or how many we need to build (or both). He gave a good speech, I think, on the “cost of housing crisis”. We will oppose the extension of Right to Buy to Housing Associations. We have to think bigger, be bolder, change must be radical and credible (another of this conference’s slogans!) His council house building deal of 100,000 homes a year is good for tenants and taxpayers too, will make money. He mentioned the great stuff Labour did in its last year in office.

Next were the composite motion proposals. Housing in Oxford, we learned, is out of control, with closed bids for rents.

Jane Perry of Bectu not only said we should save the BBC from the Tories but from the venture capitalists at the BBC. The government has cut 20% of the BBC Budget (that’s nearly an armful). Services will close.

John Smith of the Musician’s Union said, but did not sing, that I second that a-motion. Made the point that BBC radio does not duplicate any commercial services. 75% of the tracks played on the BBC are not played on commercial services.

The next delegate was Martin Rees, prospective mayor of Bristol. As a West Country boy he has my support, and he gave a strong speech even if he did keep on going so long that people were preparing to throw stuff at him to get him off the stage. His main point was that we need a national commitment to devolution.

John Trickett, shadow secretary of communities made the point that we don’t want to go back to the 80s’, that’s what the Tories want to do! (You’d have to be mad to want to go back to the 80s, I lived through it and at no point was it anything like ‘Pride’).

After the morning’s conferences hall duties were over, I went off to another fringe meeting, wandering the hotel trying to work out why, after three days, no-one had yet blu-tacked any signs to the walls saying where the different function rooms are. But in the spirit of inclusivity and out of an appetite for change I thought I’d check out the CLASS meeting; they’re some sort left-wing think-tank. The meeting was chaired by that journalist who looks like Paul Morley.

Angela Rayner MP is convinced that winning the next election is “not a massive challenge” and now we have an opportunity to create the space to ask what sort of society do we want and what sort of economy do we want? (I didn’t know we had a choice so actually this is quite a fresh, exciting idea). She hoped that Jeremy’s speech would be about health, education and housing – council housing not “affordable” housing – and would include good policies on better social care.

Frances Ryan followed her saying that we have spent far too long being scared of rejecting Tory values, and then Tim Roach made the powerful point that without the right to strike we are all slaves. He lamented the fact that the past Labour government didn’t support striking workers but is delighted now that Jeremy Corbyn does. He explained how had tried to get a proposal for free parking spaces at hospitals added to our 2015 manifesto but had had it blocked by Ed Miliband’s special advisers. And then he proudly, bellicosely, stated that the Trade Unions had never abandoned Labour although Labour had abandoned them, and “Now it is our day!”

This wasn’t quite the spirit of inclusivity I had been looking for. I’m afraid, whenever someone over the past few days has said “At last, we’ve got our Labour party back”, my thought has been to reply “Thanks for the lend! Let us know next time you want to win an election.”

Roswyn Turner followed him by saying we need a clear plan on how we are going to win – people don’t need Labour’s sympathy, they need a Labour government, we need to hear a plan on how we are going to win over voters and people who didn’t vote. I COMPLETELY AGREED WITH HER.

Paul Morley summarised the meeting by saying that Labour had to start appealing to the self-employed, i.e. plumbers and plasterers  and that they had lots of ideas for winning the election in 2020. To be honest, from what I’d heard it sounded like their ideas would’ve been more applicable to the election in 2010. And I think maybe that’s the problem with Labour right now – our policies are not about winning over floating voters, or looking to the future, but us indulging ourselves with policies that we’d like to have had in the 2015, 2010 or even 1997 general elections. But we’ve got 4 years to come up with policies for 2020, and in the meantime we might as well have policies that are designed to gain support and enthuse existing support.

I returned to the main hall – they didn’t check my bag or my ticket, so much for security – and took my seat, CF6, close to the middle but slightly to the left to match my politics, 6 rows back. I saw myself on the big screen quite often, I don’t know if I turned up on telly. My mum says she saw me. Anyway, the hall I returned to was hubbubing with activity. Lots of important people talking on their phones. I checked my phone and there was no reception. Balconies filling up. People taking ‘selfies’. The atmosphere, I think, was calm. It wasn’t a knife-edge of excitement but I think everyone was feeling fairly cool that things would be okay. TV cameras were scanning the crowds, so I tried to express my inner happiness outwardly. The balconies were filling, stewards were slotting and shoving people into gaps. Some badly distorted music was playing, I recognised ‘You can get it if you really want’. Lots of people were wearing colourful clothes, Songs of Praise-style, to stand out on telly. I was wearing black in order to look less fat.

And then Jeremy came on and did his speech. It was on the telly, you don’t need me to tell you all about it. I don’t really think there was anything in it any Labour member could disagree with. I was kind of pleased that Jeremy was honest about Trident and also honest that he had kicked that issue into the long grass, never to be heard of again. I was surprised and delighted that he was wearing a tie (his only capitulation to the media commetariat!). I was delighted that he mentioned the self-employed after the work and pensions guy had forgotten us. And I was pleased that he didn’t apologise for Iraq because, whether or not you agree that he should apologise, or even has the right to, I don’t think it was the time or the place. I clapped pretty much everything he said, apart from the Iraq thing, because my conscience just won’t let me pretend that getting rid of a genocidal maniac like Saddam Hussein was a mistake. Jeremy mentioned that he had campaigned against Saddam. He was right to do so.

But on the whole I was happy to applaud Jeremy, out of respect to him and his achievement and the party and my fellow members. And because I didn’t want to appear on the telly as the only one not clapping! It was funny, though – or I found it funny – that at three or four times during his speech there were moments were there was applause, and one or two people stood up and looked around as though to say ‘Well, I thought that deserved a standing ovation, but I seem to be on my own here, maybe I should sit down?’ And then one or two more people stood up, and other people went ‘Well, if they’re standing up, I’m going to stand up too!’ And then other people went, ‘Well, now the people in front of me are standing up, I can’t see Jeremy, so I suppose I’d better stand up too’ and so on until the whole audience had, after a substantial interval of time, roused themselves to a standing ovation. So I’m sorry. We all stood at the beginning and at the end. But there were no whoops, there were no whistles, there were no moments when we all leaped to our feet as one. It was, like his speech, patient, polite, respectful. Not exciting, but it went well. He didn’t let us down, and we didn’t let him down, and at the moment that counts as a win.

In fact, we were incredibly well-behaved, loyal and united. Which I think proves one thing. In Labour, the moderates are not the trouble-makers. Supporters of Chuka, Liz and Tristram are just not the sort of people who are going to heckle someone in front of 1000 other Labour members. We just don’t have that lack of a sense of personal embarrassment. Moderates don’t do extreme things. And the people who used to heckle... well, now some of them are giving speeches.

Additional note: I was pleasantly surprised how relaxed and funny Jeremy was at the opening of his speech. He made a few stumbles but I think his dad-giving-a-speech-at-his-daughter's-wedding quality is part of his appeal, that he hasn't had his rough edges knocked off and doesn't talk as though he's already said the same words a hundred times.

After that it took me longer to get out of the hall than it had taken to get in. Several journalists were unsuccessfully badgering the crowd for anyone who hadn’t liked his speech. But, even as a total Tony-Blair-is-the-best-Prime-Minister-we’ve-ever-had believer, there wasn’t really anything in it that I was against. There were a few bits where I thought ‘That would be nice, I can’t see it happening, but it would be nice’ but nothing that I disagreed with (with the exception of the Iraq thing).

My next meeting was an hour on the future of internet campaigning. I won’t go into detail here but I took extensive notes (which is why I don’t want to write it up). Let’s just say – hampsterdance is the next big thing. You heard it here first.

My final meeting of the day was on 2020s Britain. Like every meeting I’ve been to during the conference it was packed out, people lining the walls, sitting on the floors. A quick run-down:

Stephen Kinnock – our 3 main challenges are purpose, patriotism and resilience.

Emma Reynolds – we need to take a fresh look at the role of the state, in places of work, what it should look like (my handwriting is very illegible here, she may not have said this).

Ivan Lewis – the mainstream majority of voters share our values, so if we’re clear about our values they will support us. But there is a problem with a negative perception of Labour. Middle class people think we are a threat to their financial security and economic prosperity. Working class people think we don’t stand up for them. Scottish people think we are part of the Westminster elite. They look at us and think it is “no time for novices”. We can only succeed by facing up to the tough problems our country will face, such as the fact that there will soon be more people in retirement than there are in work.

Lisa Nandy  - The people Labour was founded to represent  - mill workers etc - no longer exist. They no longer existed in 1979, never mind now. We have to represent the people of the UK as it is now. Tribal loyalties in terms of class and work have gone. Our position has been far away from the public’s view on immigration, welfare and the economy.

Most excitingly (for me, because this is something I feel strongly about) she said we should reach out to politicians from other parties and work together. Particularly the Greens, as there is significant policy overlap (IMHO in terms of policies Jeremy Corbyn is probably closer to Caroline Lucas than Natalie Bennett!). We should also reach out to the left-wing of the Lib Dems (not Nick Clegg, the nice ones). Unfortunately Lisa is not in favour of formal pacts, I should make it clear, she only advocates working together with individual politicians, not parties. But it’s a step in the right direction & one of the good things about Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader (I nearly typed 'a silver lining') is that it will hopefully make co-operation with the Green party more likely.

And then Ivan Lewis and Lisa Nandy brought the discussion to a close with a rather silly disagreement where they were talking at crossed purposes about the definition of ‘social mobility’. I think Lisa had a point, that it shouldn’t be about picking one or two poor people out of the crowd and saying ‘You can go to a better school’ while all the other kids are scrapheaped, but IMHO I think if you get social equality then social mobility will inevitably follow.

And that was Tuesday. 

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