On Thursday, as we were finalising Issue 4 of Critical Mass, we received a text message asking if we would be interested in a personal diary of a first time delegate to Labour Party Conference. Of course we would be but what was also said probably says much more about the current Labour Party than anything contained in Starmer’s snooze-fest of a speech. “But absolutely must be anonymous. I’m no good to anyone if I get kicked out.” Young Labour Party members are so frightened of the consequences of being critical of the Labour leadership that they dare not put their name to a diary of their own experiences. Amazingly, those same members – intimidated, frightened, ignored, vilified – will continue to fight to make the Party a place they might feel comfortable in.Editor’s note
Imagine, how exciting, waking up very early calling a taxi and texting friends, meeting at the train station and taking photos on the long long journey to beautiful Brighton for my first Labour party conference.
Booking into a cute little B&B, sharing a room with a good friend from my CLP and turning on our heels to make it to conference in time for our briefing and the opening speeches.
We had our welcome packs and wore our lanyards proudly, the embroidered ribbon with one word repeated all around them-USDAW.
Chatting excitedly we looked out for any familiar faces along the way towards the seafront following the Google map and giggling every time the GPS signal was lost. “What is USDAW?” I asked.” A huge Union” came the reply. I thought they must be lovely, sponsoring our conference- yeesh I was about to learn otherwise wasn’t I!
When we arrived at the conference centre we were initially a little confused. We’d expected to see red flags standing proud or at least red posters, but there were none.
Instead, huge flagpoles and decor around the conference centre itself was pinky purple and blue. The flags definitely said Labour party but they didn’t exactly ‘say’ Labour party.
This was my first taste of Starmer’s New vision for Labour. He was going for a rebrand.
Goodness knows who he had hired but at this point I was thinking Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen would definitely have done a better job.
Who is going to vote for the pastel pinky-purple party?
As we entered the turnstile to conference there were no welcoming smiles nor anyone there to welcome us at all. We’d come so far, maybe everyone was busy setting up too but… Where were the MPs?
We saw none.
We had our passes scanned, we were wanded down like football hooligans, our bags went through x-ray scanners.
There were police and security guards everywhere. It felt like overkill. It felt like an airport. It felt weird after having been through police background checks etc in order to even be allowed to attend at all!
We started to wonder if there had been some kind of threats made that we hadn’t heard about and maybe that was the reason for so much security?
But we hadn’t heard of anything of the like. Neither in the media or via the rumour mill.
We did not have time to get a warm drink, we had not managed to get any breakfast and so we went straight into the briefing hall for our region and received our voting cards and papers for the day hoping maybe there would be some food. There wasn’t. Just some rank coffee.
We were told that any latecomers would still be able to pick up their voting cards and that their seats would be held for them as everyone had a numbered seat corresponding with their ID card. Remember these two points for later…
When we moved into the conference hall the session had already started. The delegate with me is a disabled person but they had been allocated seating up several flights of steps and on the far side of a row of seats.
They struggled along and were too shy to ask for help – I didn’t know what to do and at that point could not see any of the access stewards that we’d been told we could look out for in the hall. There was a phone number to call on the booklet we’d been given but the signal in there was so bad we’d have had to leave the hall to call anyone.
Keeping up with what was happening was tricky for us noobs. Desperately trying to read through NEC and CAC reports and digest what they said, whilst listening to speakers and taking in the instructions of the chair of the session. I distinctly remember everyone was told that they must speak to each other respectfully and the words ‘be kind’ were repeated on several occasions.
We realised that we were supposed to vote on whether we agreed with these reports that we had just been handed. We looked around to see what other people were saying or doing to try and get some guidance.
Several people were calling for a point of order but the chair was not allowing them. Now even though we were conference newbies we are not so wet behind the ears that we didn’t know that the constitution dictates that people have a right to make a point of order and that the chair must hear it… But the chair really did not want to hear it.
After a while it became apparent that the chair had somehow decided, without taking any vote at all, that conference accepted the reports of the NEC and the CAC on that day.
It was hard to ascertain as to how the chair had reached this decision given that they had neither asked for a show of hands nor accepted any of the points of order and there were several that had requested a show of hands. Nor had they instructed us to card vote.
Eventually the chair emphasised their view that there had been a murmur of support for the aforementioned reports.
Delegate after delegate approached the stage to say that they had never experienced a meeting where a murmur was an indication of support or objection.
Every single person had their comments brushed to one side. This was our first experience of how conference was set to continue; thousands of us sat there in that hall gaslighted by the mic controller. Informed that we had voted when there’d been no vote at all.
And there was nothing anybody could do about it!
I can’t recall if it was morning or afternoon but one time that a delegate attempted to make a point of order for a vote to be held, the chair snapped “I was about to hold a minute’s silence for Sabrina Nessa, do you think your point of order is more important than THAT?!”
GASPS all around the hall.
Did she really just quash a request for a democratic vote using the death of a young teacher?
Yes I’m incredibly saddened to say she did and I’m deeply sorry to anyone who is upset reading that. Believe me we are very very upset by it too.
The chair must’ve forgotten her own “be kind” instructions, maybe they just didn’t apply to her.
The same day there was to be a vote for the General Secretary of the Labour party the question put to the delegation was to vote for or against David Evans. It was to be a card ballot vote.
Some who were still arriving to conference hall, including trade unionists and trade union leaders such as Ian Hodson and Sarah Woolley of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) were directed to a foyer adjacent to the hall to collect their ballot cards.
As they were collecting their cards the vote for Gen Sec began. Ballot boxes held by stewards were passed around the hall.
Someone walked in and called out to the conference that those in the foyer were being told that they would not be able to vote in the GS ballot- even though it was the other side of a doorway of the conference hall and even though they’d been specifically directed to that location to receive their ballot papers and even though all they needed to do was walk through the doorway to vote.
People were turning to each other in confusion- “Where are they?” Someone asked. “They’re in that foyer, there’s loads of them!”
Just that second, Ian Hodson walked in, ballot papers in hand.
He asked the chair and some other officials why they were not being allowed to vote, it was very confusing, as simultaneously the ballot boxes themselves were being swiftly removed from the hall.
Some of the people who had just come in from the foyer walked out again trying to put their vote in the the disappearing ballot boxes, but to no avail as officials shook their heads and pulled the boxes away.
“Does this mean that the Union has not been able to vote in the general secretary ballot?” I was asked, but could only shrug in reply.
Please note that other card ballots held throughout conference were much less rushed and at least one ballot box was kept in the room til the end of each session for people to put their cards in. It’s only the Gen Sec vote that that didn’t happen for.
So that was day one, more or less similar things in repeat.
Early starts and late finishes
We felt unwelcome from the offset, we felt under suspicion of some kind of wrongdoing or threat, we experienced being gaslighted and we witnessed people being prevented from voting despite having only gone where they’d been directed to go.
It came as no surprise to anyone after all the shenanigans, when we learned that David Evans had been voted in.
If I was him I’d have asked for a fresh ballot. Who could accept a victory from such a shonky situation?
It turns out that David Evans can.
The days continued… Each morning trundling along over 20 minutes to half an hour on foot to be frisked whisked and brisked.
Early starts, late finishes and throughout conference it felt increasingly like anything raised by CLPs alone stood no chance of being voted through.
There were some great motions on a variety of policies from unions including but not only, Unite, CWU and the FBU that we were proud to support but I think it’s good advice to anyone hoping to get something through next year’s conference, to do so through their Union because anything that was grassroots member led got voted down or talked down by both the panels of MPs at the sessions and some of the union delegates. Most notably UNISON, USDAW and GMB seemed to habitually vote down CLP-led ideas, even simple reference backs that would have improved the Union motions. Voted down in what appeared to be a spiteful way in all honesty. I binned that shitty USDAW lanyard after their behaviour I can tell you.
Another strange occurrence each day, was that MPs seemed to be able to talk unendingly during sessions. They used up debate time for delegates, whereas delegates were strictly restricted to 4 minutes to present a motion 2 minutes to second a motion and 1 minute to make a contribution.
Of course one minute was not anywhere near enough time for each person to make a contribution and so many people overran, which meant sessions overran and if a session went over time we still had to begin at the scheduled time for the afternoon meaning lay members unable to afford conference food prices were not able to go out to get some cheap lunch and ended spending the afternoon sessions tired hungry and thirsty.
You probably will have seen Angela Rayner’s speech where she talked about her green paper. Somebody in our CLP had managed to locate a PDF of it on the party website but it was not available for us to read at the conference itself. As I said earlier the signal in there was non-existent too, so we all sat nodding along hardly knowing what she was referring to.
You probably saw some of Rachel Reeves’ speech too. I’m not a huge Rachel Reeves fan but I can appreciate a well written speech when I hear one even if I don’t agree with it all. The question I was left with at the end of her speech was: “Who on earth wrote that speech?” Because they did, to be fair, make her sound and look good.
There were some lovely videos from Labour leaders in sister parties abroad during conference. One thing though, MPs in UK Labour as well as these MPs in Labour parties abroad all seem to have dropped the word Comrade and instead opting to use the word friend.
I don’t know about you, I’ve got a lot of friends and I’ve got a lot of acquaintances but they’re not my Comrades.
My friends wouldn’t stand with me on a picket line defending striking workers or benefit claimants, but my Comrades would.
My friends wouldn’t trample through wind, rain and snow with blue fingers in the dark stuffing MP leaflets through your letter boxes not knowing whether there’s a yappy dog on the other side… But my Comrades would.
And so on. You get my point.
Highlights of the conference itself were most definitely interventions such as the one from a woman who called out the articles in the S*N and asked why their horrible journos were allowed at conference. Also those from members of Labour For A Green New Deal, young activists speaking passionately with eyes full of rage and determination as they put focus on time running out with such certainty and stark warnings.
And even Ed Miliband taking a fair number of people by surprise as he too spoke with a tone and with such courage that I wondered who had at last managed to put a rocket on him because he was on fire ! Is he tough enough? uh huh!
There was no denying it, we did comment that we wished he’d acted like this when he was Labour Leader. People seated near us agreed- better late than never hey Ed.
There was also some great speeches from disabled members talking about problems with accessibility at conference, problems getting from floor to floor, issues with where meetings that were supposed to be for disabled members were held and the lack of subtitles for the live speakers had left hard-of-hearing comrades struggling too.
Stop rambling I know the juicy gossip that you want and I’m going to give it to you the day of Starmer speech…
The big day
We arrived at conference in a not at all excited way, feeling deflated after seeing so many CLP motions ideas and references being voted down, poo-pooed or not even being allowed to vote on some things at all whilst being told simultaneously that we had been voting on them.
The Gaslights were on the members and the Spotlight was on Starmer.
Anyway so this time our passes were scanned and our bags were looked into, not just scanned, some coats had to be taken off and they were checked and scanned
Then our passes were checked and again at another checkpoint and then into the conference centre we went.
There were a few MPs milling around the conference centre, there was Ed Miliband, Wes Streeting, Angela Ego, there were also people like Tom Harwood and reporters from the S*n newspaper and GB News along with BBC etc.
There was still no sign of Keir Starmer or any of his best buddies.
There were police sniffer dogs and there were armed police officers and there were plain clothed police officers and there were more security officers than usual as well as plain clothed security officers.
Inside the conference Hall areas of the hall were being roped off.
We were also told to be in our seats by about 11:15 am otherwise our seats would be given to other people as apparently the conference was being opened up for anyone to sit in.
Given the stringent and extra security measures in place this simply didn’t add up.
What appeared to happen next was that all the shadow cabinet MPs appeared as if by magic. Along with a smartly dressed suited and booted rentacrowd, who strode confidently into the conference hall and began taking up seats particularly around the front and centre of the audience seating.
Who had run background checks on them all? Were they all displaying lanyards?
They were not.
Strangers in the hall
A full row in front of us was taken up with complete strangers that we’d not laid eyes on all week.
I tried to tell them that I was pretty sure the chair in front of me was taken by a young member as his bag was still there but I got looked up and down like a piece of s*** and sat back down not quite knowing how to respond.
Glove wearing police officers checked under everybody seats and in everybody’s bags.
Waggy tailed sniffer dogs were making circuits with their handlers.
It was a very strange seat check by the way because they didn’t have those long mirrors on sticks or anything, they were just looking about in the kind of muddled fashion that people have when they don’t really know what they’re doing.
It was more like their presence was an exercise in intimidation than an actual check.
There were photographers throughout the hall. Some with movie cameras and some with still cameras but they didn’t all point at the stage and they weren’t all wearing ID either. Someone said they were taking pictures of people who weren’t clapping. Were they just being paranoid? I really don’t know.
On top of the rent a crowd, the haphazard police under seat checks and and now with these unidentifiable photographers it just felt more and more surreal.
Doreen Lawrence gave Starmer an introduction. She, of course, got a lot of support with claps and cheers.
Then, some strange music that I can only describe as repetitive Euro disco started blaring out.
A montage of photos of Starmers face, his big red face (the only red thing about him) photos of random members of the public, photos of screen grabs from Google Earth and short video clips… some slow, some fast, were all spliced together and played to the by now quite literally captive audience.
An embarrassingly cheap looking slideshow/bathroom suite advert.
Clapping and cheering
Out on to the stage he came.
These people who we’d not laid eyes on all week jumped to their feet and cheered and clapped joyously as if any problems they’d had ever had in their lives were instantly over, as if they felt they would never know sadness again.
Who the hell were they all?
“Where have they all come from?” I pondered, “In the middle of the week to this Brighton seafront to watch a man make a 1 hour long speech without even being certain that they’d even get a seat… Really?”
It was well suss.
What was even sussier was how they clapped and cheered at the exact same points along his speech. Even at points that it didn’t seem to make any sense to applaud. Watch it back and listen.
Like when Starmer announced that we were all patriots, the new faces gave a standing ovation, cheered out loud, but a few minutes later when he talked about our armed forces veterans those same people remained in their seats and were quiet. It was so utterly bewildering. All of it. Several hundred so-called patriots that couldn’t even raise a wink or nod for war veterans? Very odd indeed. I’m no patriot, but I don’t think they were very patriotic people either ya know.
Unsurprisingly but predictably Starmer’s emphasis was on working men, women and on working families. All very normal for a working class Party but he said the word ‘work’ so many times that I actually think he’s beat Rihanna’s record for saying “work work work work work.”
He didn’t mention £15 an hour wage and he barely mentioned Disabled people or Disabled children at all, particularly those who are unable to work. I’m pretty sure that they do exist but shamefully there was no mention of those people at all.
We had all been given a little song sheet with Jerusalem on one side and the Red flag on the other side. We were initially under the impression that he was going to sing with everybody, but it turned out that when he’d finished his speech about how his father was a tool maker that he was just going to leave. He walked away with his wife, out of the conference leaving the song sheets untouched.
Two very nice smiley women came onto the stage and lead the singing, which was was delightful if a bit slow. Weirdly slow.
We of course then realised that we had been given the song sheets in order to give our dear leader time to leave conference without having to interact with any of his members.
There’s lots more I could’ve touched on but I won’t ramble on, suffice to say Trans women deserve our support after the way they’ve been treated during Labour Conference, solidarity with our Trans members.
If you want to take one thing and one thing only from this diary entry it is that the only wall being put up between Keir Starmer and his membership is the wall that he designed and built himself.
He’s guarded it with police, sniffer dogs and right wing journalists whilst he reads from a pile of what appear to be Tony Blair’s old speeches put through a mangle.
But, sorry not sorry mister Keith I’m staying in this party.
If it’s good enough for Sultana, Corbyn, McDonnell, Long-Bailey, Burgon, Butler, Abbott, Begum (and many more) then it’s good enough for me and it’s good enough to fight for.
The socialist campaign group of MPs currently stands at 36, they only need 4 more for a leadership challenge.
We can win it back and we will.
The wooden man won’t last for long, just watch out for splinters in uncomfortable places.
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