What an amazing Labour Party Conference it was this year! And what an inspiring if exhausting time for those local members who were able to take part as delegates and visitors.
It was a week in which the party united behind leader Jeremy Corbyn and the direction in which he has been leading us, proving dire predictions by the mainstream media completely wrong. And our delegates deserve enormous gratitude and respect for being a part of that. As Sally Sweeney writes: “The spirit of unity and solidarity was truly inspiring. Two of our delegates were part of the group who, with Sir Keir Starmer, worked until midnight to produce a motion on Brexit – determined to reach consensus by producing a motion which respected those who voted leave but also took account of more than one hundred motions submitted, asking for a deal which provides a customs union and no hard border in Ireland, protects the economy, jobs, the environment, employment and consumer rights, and puts the possibility of a public vote on the table.”
Conference also saw success in a number of important policy areas where our local constituency party (CLP) has been calling for change.
A motion to bring academies back under local authority control was proposed by one of our neighbouring parties (Truro and Falmouth CLP) and supported in the debate by our delegate Sally Sweeney, who gave a moving speech about the effects of academisation on local pupils. The motion was passed by conference; and following this overwhelming call for an end to the disastrous marketisation of our schools; the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Raynor, used her speech to promise: “We’ll start by immediately ending the Tories’ academy and free schools programmes… we’ll allow academies to return to local authority control. We’ll end the scandal of individuals and companies profiting from schools they are involved in, stopping fat cat pay for bosses and restoring fair pay for staff. And we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.”
There was great news about our campaign for a fair deal for the Cornish inshore fishing fleet. Labour’s new Environmental Policy, launched at conference, commits the party to: “Reconfigure funds for farming and fishing to support sustainable practices, smaller traders, local economies and community benefits… Review the allocation of UK fishing quota to promote the most sustainable fishing practices, in a way that benefits coastal communities and the small-scale fishing fleet”
Conference once again demonstrated its ongoing support for council housing; a subject on which South-East Cornwall has repeatedly called for action. A motion was passed committing the party to go further in its promise of the biggest council-house building programme in a generation, with concrete commitments on the number of homes, and a definition of housing affordability that takes into account those on the lowest incomes. Shadow Minister for Housing John Healey announced that Labour would tax second homes, one of the specific things Cornwall Labour has been asking for. And very importantly, conference ‘referenced back’ (rejected) the policy proposal on housing presented to it by the National Policy Forum, because it failed to take into account the motion passed by conference last year. This is a clear sign that the grassroots membership is growing in confidence and starting to use its collective voice to call for change.
Finally, although there is more that needs to be done, there were some positive steps forward in the campaign to renew and reinvigorate our democratic structures, supported by local parties up and down the country, including ours in South-East Cornwall. The abolition of the one year delay for rule changes proposed by CLPs, the removal of “contemporary” criteria for motions, plus improvements to members’ rights and local, regional and equalities structures have all been welcomed by democracy campaigners. CLPs’ powers to hold their MPs to account have been strengthened. Crucially, we will now have standing orders for Labour Party Conference, one of the things our CLP called for in the Democracy Review, to make the decision making process as democratic and inclusive as possible.