Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Monday @ Conference

The long queues at security this morning reflected the excitement over how David Miliband would react to his leadership loss. He was also speaking about internationalism (billed as Britain’s place in the world, not foreign policy) along with Douglas Alexander (former Secretary of State for International Development) and Bob Ainsworth (former Defence Secretary). The proceedings and what they said can be read elsewhere. What I’d like to highlight here is the real motivational speeches of the conferences, which were delivered by Waihnin Pwint Thon, the daughter of a political prisoner in Burma, and Alan Ritchie and Gerry Doherty, General Secretaries of CATT and TSSA, respectively.

A brilliant film by Amnesty International preceeded Thon’s personal account of her father’s own imprisonment. This speech really brought to focus what the standing ovations should be for. They should not be reserved for failed leadership attempts or speeches of self-flattery, but brave campaigning around politically dangerous issues, and it was a sharp reminder that we should always be grateful (and not take for granted) our right of free speech.

One way we should use our free speech is to uncover the undemocratic structures within conference proceedings that limits the number of composites discussed on the conference floor. As described by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, "in the Priorities Ballot, CLPs are allowed to pick four priority issues for debate, and the Trade Unions also pick four. To maximise the number of important subjects that are debated the four subjects the CLPs choose should be different to the four subjects the trade unions choose. The trade unions’ four priority issues will automatically get on to the agenda, so CLPs should not waste their votes on the same topics, but vote for four different issues. That will ensure that at least some of the topics CLPs consider important will be discussed."

Unfortunately, this is not widely known, and as a result there were only five of the potential eight priority issues discussed at conference today. Even when someone asked a Labour official what issues the unions were voting for, a straight answer was not given.

Politicians were also not giving straight answers to questions put forward by union delegates about strikes around low-pay and T&C changes to public sector contracts. Our Labour MPs looked like they were on a daytime chat show, sat on red sofas, and skirting around questions.

Don't get me wrong, there are some great things about conference. They just tend to happen outside of the “security island” where normal people are talking sense. If this honest politics was televised, there would be much more engagement with the Labour Party from normal people. But as usual, the revolution will not be televised.

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