A few days of conference was good and bad in turns, and highlighted to me a few things. There are still plenty of people in the party who are fighting for Labour values and all the good things. However, it also highlighted that we are still a divided party, but what worries me most is not the left/right divide, but the inward looking and outward looking divide that is not coming to a conclusion.
It is possible to make conference exactly what you want, and this year I did exactly that. Normally I make a rule of visiting a wide range of fringes, from CLPD to Progress to get a range of view and ideas. But this year I didn’t. Notwithstanding I had a fair bit of work to do, I only went to those events I was really interested in. This year I didn’t get a balcony pass either, but watched it on the TV, either in the hall itself, or whilst I was working.
Of the fringe events I went to, I really liked those based around Digital. Darren Jones MP has launched a really good initiative to look at how we can serve people better in local and national government through better use of Digital services, therefore using data better and seeing it as a true enable, rather than just a cost saving measure. I think this for me was the highlight because it gave a really good bit of potential policy that can deliver something.
I obviously liked the defence and technology events too, and it was really good to see a strong position being delivered on our defence standpoint, and commitments to the future evolution of work.
On the whole I found the conference hall embarrassing. We spent more time inward looking and trying so hard to make sure the rule book fits the current ideology, than doing anything useful. Some of the good speeches were crow-bared in, such as Keir Starmers intervention on EU peoples vote, and many others who I wanted to hear from didn’t get a look-in. Instead, the time, and news coverage was on deselection, Palestine, anti-semitism and ensuring that we didn’t get a second female deputy leader (in case it weakened Jeremy’s position). All this just served to show that we are more about inward looking stuff that the average resident doesn’t care about.
On the plus side, I did catch up with a lot of friends, which was fab and heartwarming to see people standing up for the right things. Despite a lot of people leaving the party, and a lot of discussion and rumour of a split, there did seem to be a consistent message of “stay” and try to make things work.
But it was still only half a conference. With the momentum conference going on at the same time, and even being advertised by the main Labour Party then I felt that the fringes were not as rich as they could be. The Labour party really profits in intellectual thought when we have the broad range of views, and because a good chunk of the party were at “the world transformed”, then we (again) missed one of the values of conference. As I have said previously, I have no problem with TWT conference, but if the leadership are serious about bringing the party together, then deconflicting the two would be a great idea.
So, overall, quite disappointing. We need to be outward looking, developing new manifestos and forward-looking policy ideas. But we are more focused on developing a new rule book. It was also the first conference I felt such a heavy police presence, and also the first time I engaged with the police about behaviour outside the conference itself.
On the plus side, Liverpool was fantastic and I got an opportunity to stay on a boat in the Albert Dock. Very good value for money and thoroughly recommended.