Labour Party National Conference 2018
Report by Barbara Pezzini, Europe Officer
Maidstone Weald CLP
It was my pride, pleasure and privilege, after being a member of the Labour Party for six years, to represent Maidstone and the Weald CLP as delegate for the 2018 Party Conference together with my fellow Labour Party member, friend and comrade Jessica Leschnikoff.
Being at Conference is a wonderful experience but it is also hard work: delegates are expected to be present in the main conference hall, listening to motions and debates, and taking part in voting; there is not much time for partying, training or attending fringe events. I was delighted to be selected to speak and truly honoured to bring to the conference podium the voice of Maidstone and the Weald’s CLP.
As I presented the motion for Brexit at the CLP, a motion that was chosen to be debated at conference by the CAC, and I am the CLP’s coordinator for Europe, I took it as my principal conference task to follow the events and debates on Brexit. This in addition, of course, to being present and voting on the motions presented in the main conference hall and listening to the main speeches of the Shadow Cabinet. Therefore, this report will be focused on Brexit rather than being a list of the main speeches/conference events.
The Brexit Room...
Shhhh! - the Media are listening just out of shot on the right!
Saturday: John McDonnell and Brexit Briefing
On Saturday morning I headed to the World Transformed with Jo Burns and Dan Wilkinson to hear the Shadow chancellor’s John McDonnell speech on the importance of political education. This was a full event with many engaging speakers, where we had the chance to reflect and contribute as a group, discussing with the other people sitting at a table with us on how to implement a political education programme. As a historian and heritage professional, political education is a subject very near my heart, and this event reaffirmed my commitment to it and made me full of enthusiasm to bring it to renewed life within our CLP.
I attended a very long briefing on “compositing” When Maidstone and the Weald CLP unanimously carried the motion on Brexit, it did not do so in isolation: over 150 CLPs had presented similar motions. Therefore, our motion had to go through a complex editing process called compositing, which means taking out portions of texts from all the motions to create one composite motion that would make everyone happy. This was not going to be easy. Even if the motions were mainly in agreement - over 85% called for a people’s vote and over 75% were strongly in favour to remain in the EU – there were also some conspicuous variations and difference amongst them. For instance, we all broadly agree on a public vote against Tory Brexit, but what we would be voting for exactly - for or against Brexit, for the terms of Brexit or, more radically, to stop Brexit?
Sunday: Democracy Review and Compositing
After a great opening speech by Jenny Formby, the new General Secretary, the Party had to vote following the democracy review. It was quite a heated day, when CLP members expressed disagreement against trade union-backed reforms to proposals for reforming MP selections and leadership contests. Although I, like 99% of the CLP delegates, had supported a stronger approach to Democracy Review and Open Selection, I recognise that change sometimes must come in smaller increments. I welcome the new rule changes and look forward to more assertive transformations in the near future.
Jessica and I prepared for a long night with two hours of afternoon napping, and at 6.30 we entered Room 3A of the Conference Centre, which was going to be our home for the next few hours. Jessica and I were sitting on the second row, very near Keir Starmer, his team of Policy Advisors, and a Chairwoman who was going to oversee the procedures and ensure a fair meeting.
The Chair explained us how compositing worked and we began with Keir Starmer presenting his counter motion on which he and his team had worked for the past week. During briefing we were told that usually the counter motion presented by the leadership gets torn in pieces and thrown away by the room within minutes and, to us, this motion seemed a huge fudge as it did not commit to a public vote and it was about delivering Brexit rather than clearly stopping it as we wished.
However, to our surprise, it appealed to a large part of the room. Even those CLPs who had presented a radically anti-Brexit motion suddenly seemed to be happy with the leadership motion. I do not understand why that was, probably at the end of one long conference day people wanted to go home soon, or they were not able to read the motion properly because of its strange format, or maybe they presented their own motion without thinking… or goodness knows what! I was so grateful that we had briefing, but also that my job as an editor prepares me to look at a text and see through the bells and whistles to go straight to the meaning.
It was very clear to us from the start that, even if over 130 CLPs were in favour of the public vote and against Brexit, that the delegates present in the room did not reflect the statistical composition of the motions and that there were a few but very, very vocal Lexiteers, as well as a few people that would have just followed anything Keir Starmer was going to say just because he is a leader.
Very soon we reached a deadlock position, but we were united in our support of Jeremy Corbyn, our priority of a General Election and, especially, to get out of the room with ONE motion and ONE united party.
Some miracle magic had to be performed.
Manuel Cortes of ‘Another Europe is Possible’ and the TSSA union then took out the compromise motion of an alternative motion that some had drafted earlier on – it was still quite fudgy and wishy washy but a few steps nearer to what we wanted, and to the will expressed in the majority of the CLP’s motions, than Keir Starmer’s version.
Then we discussed, and discussed, and discussed, and discussed.
Take a CLP meeting, multiply it by 10,000 and you are still nowhere near to the verbosity of compositing. It is totally, utterly exhausting. And totally, utterly brilliant. It has a strange beauty, that performative power of speech, people using data, others sentiment, appealing to personal experience or what they see on their doorstep. People motivated by fear, hope, desire, but all of them deeply caring to reach a solution that would make people better. Strangely self-fuelled and yet self-effacing.
So, whilst our mobiles were buzzing with suggestions from our friends in the room and outside the room we reached an agreement that Keir and Manuel (by that stage we were all on first name terms) would meet together to make a composite of a composite of Motion 1 (leadership composite) and Motion 2 (TSSA composite).
In the meanwhile, the press was sitting outside, listening eagerly to any shouts from the room and the usual suspects on social media (AKA the armpit of intelligence) were attempting to tear the Party into pieces in various forms, especially portraying us as a divided movement.
But, contrary to what the press was saying, the process was leaving me with a huge admiration for the Party: yes, we disagreed and yes, we discussed and debated but the discourse was always respectful, eloquent and articulate, and everyone spoke in good faith and deeply motivated by long-held socialist beliefs.
After one hour, Manuel and Keir emerged bleary eyed, the motion was copied and we had a working common ground. Editing it to everyone’s (sort of) satisfaction took another couple of hours. By then, we were nearing midnight and some people really, really wanted to go home. Not us! We were riding the verbal wave like seasoned surfers fuelled by tea and dry crackers (nobody said that front line politics was going to be easy).
So, in conclusion, at midnight we agreed on a motion that sets out an ambitious agenda, maintains some really important points such as full participation in the Single Market, meeting Labour’s Six Tests, support of immigration, solidarity with socialist forces, first step in Europe wide struggle for levelling up of living standards, rights and services and democratisation of European institutions.
It concludes stating that Labour will “form a radical government, taxing the rich to fund better public services, expanding common ownership, abolishing anti-union laws and engaging in massive public investment”.
It was hard negotiation and a very nuanced motion had emerged from the meeting - some may call it a “fudge” - but I firmly believe that its nuance reflects the fact that the situation is difficult. One cannot explain nuclear fission with simple additions and one cannot explain Jacques Derrida’s philosophy with three letter words: equally one cannot resolve this Brexit complexity with easy soundbites and slogans. The motion reflects the complexity of the situation and the complexity of the party.
Monday: Lammy, McDonnell and Writing a Speech
In the morning I went to a breakfast meeting with many speakers, including David Lammy (my former MP from Tottenham), who brought further evidence on how disastrous Brexit is going to be for the British people, culture and economy. Lammy made an insightful comment on a public vote on Brexit: you cannot top democracy with more democracy.
I also heard John Mc Donnell’s speech and attended yet another briefing by the public vote pressure group, during which we all decided that we were going to try to speak in favour of our motion, so I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking what could I say.
I decided that, instead of speaking as an EU citizen, I would describe the situation how I see it at our CLP and in Kent.
I wrote this short speech, thinking that probably it was just going to be a writing exercise for myself and that nobody except me and Jessica was going to hear it:
“Conference – my name is Barbara Pezzini, I am a delegate for Maidstone and The Weald CLP and member of the NUJ. I am here to ask you to support the motion on Brexit.
My CLP, which is sited in a Leave area and in the past two years has been, not just sitting on the fence but glued to it, in this whole Brexit debate, gave me an almost unanimous mandate to support a public vote.
Conference, you will know the statistics that 86% of members of the Labour Party now supports a public vote. This reflects the wishes of the electorate. In fact, according to the latest YouGov polling Labour would gain 1.5 million voters and 60 new seats if it supported a public vote.
In Maidstone and the Weald, where 74% voted to leave the EU – we have observed a similar mood swing in the local press and on the doorstep.
Maidstone voters supported Brexit as an ideal and protest, but now we are experiencing that the reality of this disastrous Tory Brexit is very different – we are living a poorer and more precarious life. We want a say on this, and this say should not exclude preserving the our relationship with the European Union and an option to remain in the EU.
Conference, Maidstone plays it safe.
And when a town that had been represented in Parliament by arch-conservatives such as Benjamin Disraeli and Anne Widdecombe as their MPS, a town that has always been a cautious player within Labour party politics, when Maidstone CLP mandates nearly unanimously in support for a public vote it definitely means that the mood in the country is changing.
Let’s stop sitting on the fence. Please, conference, support the motion on Brexit.”
Tuesday: Keir, the Brexit Debate and My speech
Keir Starmer’s speech on Brexit was stirring and he gained a standing ovation when he stated that “nobody is ruling out remain as an option”. I tried to be selected to speak and, to my amazement, thanks to a very eye-catching red scarf, I was chosen.
After a moving speech by Diane Abbott, the debate on Brexit was continued amongst the debate on Brexit and Palestine and Jessica was chosen to speak too, given a stirring speech. If I had appealed to speak to reason, giving facts and figures, evidence and statistics (I like numbers and percentages), Jessica spoke right at the heart of people, quoting David Lammy and appealing to the fact that there can never be too many votes and too much democracy.
Dr Barbara Pezzini
Slightly terrified, but massively elated at being selected to speak on the Conference Podium in the Main Hall!
She opened her speech with a moving salute of Shalom to the Palestinian cause. I am proud of my friend Jessica every day but on that occasion I was super proud.And finally – voting. What an emotional moment when the Brexit motion was carried unanimously!
I felt elated and terrified but was glad to have been able to do my speech without stumbling, and to some applause. My speech was name-checked by both the Times, (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/labour-brexit-divisions-laid-bare-after-starmer-speech-52x06jxcr), the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2018/sep/25/labour-conference-brexit-debate-starmer-increasingly-likely-to-vote-down-mays-brexit-deal-starmer-says-politics-live?page=with:block-5baa1c12e4b0a71b5946c34b) and even Die Presse, an Austrian newspaper (https://www.pressreader.com/austria/die-presse/20180926/281595241456465).
Quite a change from the geeky academic publications, read by five people at a push, where my work is normally published.
Wednesday: Jeremy's speech and more briefings
I had already seen Jeremy Corbyn speaking at Labour live so I knew what to expect and he did not disappoint – it was a great speech. My only issue (and more below) that his vision or future Britain was based on necessities: justice, housing, foreign policy, families. I missed some vision for the cultural industries and the arts.
After singing the Red Flag and Jerusalem and shedding some emotional tears conference was officially over.
But it’s not over until it’s over and at 2pm Jessica and I had more hours of post-conference anti-Tory Brexit briefing, what to do next, how to be active in our CLPs after conference, how to bring the campaign forward and go to the People’s Vote march on October 20. Onwards and Upwards, Comrades!
Suggestion No.1: Make it Clearer
Conference is big and very unclear for newbies. But there are some things that one MUST do such as going to local briefings (the South East briefing was not even printed out in the conference guide! I missed the party on the first evening which would have been kind of important to go to because I did not know where it was and nobody had mentioned it to me) and collect voting cards. I suggest each new delegate would be given a list of “must do” and “must go” activities and given a couple of paragraphs on how conference works. It’s not difficult to figure out but with a little guidance delegates would achieve much more.
Suggestion No.2: More Financial Support for Delegates
Conference not only is hard work, it is also expensive. Even if the CLP pays for the conference entrance and one’s train ticket, and I was lucky enough to have a small grant from the CLP for which I am very grateful, accommodation and sustenance expenses soon add up and make it difficult for people who are not in work to attend the conference. I strongly feel that, as the biggest party in Europe, Labour should offer more help to its less affluent members to attend Conference. Things could be done more creatively: block booking of hotels and other accommodation for members, creating a grant/scholarship system to support delegates, offer suggestions to CLP on how to fundraise for conference.
My Desiderata List After Conference
I Want to Develop and Grow in the Labour Party By…
1. Continuing to campaign for a public vote on Brexit: the passing of the motion at conference was an important first step but more work needs to be done.
2. Developing my skills to shape party policy – writing motions and shaping policy is what I have enjoyed the most at conference and an area where I believe I can give a true contribution.
3. Getting more involved in political education initiatives; historical analysis is something that I have been doing for a long time and I’d like to use these skills to create events locally for the CLP and nationally for the socialist society of which I am part (the Fabians).
4. Getting even more involved and hands on with my CLP, campaigning and taking on more tasks/roles.
5. Starting to lobby for a more sophisticated manifesto for the arts, and possibly creating a campaign for Labour and the Arts. The manifesto is good as far as the arts are concerned and makes all the right noises but it is vague and not really innovative, I feel it could be bolder and have a clearer and more daring and creative vision. This is an ambitious, long term goal so watch this space.
Happy Corner: My Top Conference Moments
(in no particular order) 😁
1. Trying to find my way in Liverpool with my nose buried in google maps and bumping in full frontal against Len McCluskey.
2. Having a picture taken with the other anti Brexiters and being photobombed by a guy on a stag night dressed as a penis.
3. Bumping in and spending time in Liverpool from friends from Kent, most importantly Dan Wilkinson and Jo Burns.
4. Realising when I was speaking on the podium that Jeremy Corbyn was sitting right next to me and that I had just told him to stop sitting on the fence - that’s you told Jezza.
5. Making friends with Rea Giner Sorolla from Canterbury CLP and Mike from Enfield at foreigner’s corner.
6. Standing in the cold waiting for a taxi at midnight with our Brexit compositing paper in hand and feeling somehow part of history in the making.
7. Having an Indian takeaway with Jessica sitting on the floor of our hotel room on the last evening and realising that we had done it!
A BIG THANK YOU
TO ALL MEMBERS OF
MAIDSTONE & WEALD CLP
FOR ALLOWING US
TO BE YOUR DELEGATES!
Press Briefing: 2018 Conference Delegates Chosen!
Dr Barbara Pezzini
I am an EU citizen, living in Britain since 1996 and member of the Labour Party since 2012, and am a museum professional, university lecturer and art writer.
I have been active in politics since I was a university student in Italy, fighting against the privatisation of the Italian universities in the 1990s. I strongly believe that politics has a transformative power on our lives and communities. As Officer for Europe my aim is to realise the international potential of the Labour Party in Maidstone and the Weald CLP, reaching out to other European citizens in the borough and maintaining the historical, professional and cultural connections that the county has with Europe.
At the moment my most pressing task is to fight Tory Brexit. I support the Labour Party's policy on Brexit, as voted by the 2018 Labour Party conference, which I also helped to shape (read below for how this happens at Conference).
I am active in cross-party internationalist organisations such as Open Britain, Another Europe is Possible and Labour for a People’s Vote to make sure that the progressive people’s voice, as well as the European citizens in Maidstone and the Weald, is heard and supported in these difficult circumstances.
If you are a EU citizen in Maidstone and the Weald and are concerned about Brexit and wonder how the local Labour Party can help you please get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org
IT & Website Officer
I have been a Jewish Labour member since 2016, but politically active since my late teens when I campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, where many of my family still live.
My priority, apart from supporting my Conference buddy Barbara on Brexit, is to help develop a technology strategy for our local Labour Party. From canvassing, event organisation, policy development and community collaboration, the role of technology is vast and potentially enabling and revolutionary. It is my determination that Labour must eradicate Digital Poverty amongst its own members, while taking a leading role in doing the same across UK society. I am very excited to be heading up this project with the help of the Executive Committee and other Officers and members, and I welcome any suggestions or help offered: come to the next meeting and put your hat in the ring!
Professionally, I am a trained opera singer and concert pianist, having worked since childhood with some of the best musicians in the world. Like lots of people of my generation, I had a parallel life in technology, and as night follows day, I am sure I will be able to pull together tech, music and Labour at some point!
2017 Conference Briefing
Delegates Chosen for National Women's Conference
Maureen works in the community with Primary and Secondary Mental Health clients, supporting them to become more independent and helping them to understand and deal with their benefit, health or housing issues. As a Union Branch Officer, she represents and supports members of her Union Branch.
For many years Maureen was an "army wife" both in the UK and in Germany. One of her sons is a veteran, disabled by injuries sustained in overseas conflict. She is an active member of the Labour Friends of The Forces organisation.
Jane has largely split her working life between teaching and the probation service. She has worked in mainstream schools and more latterly with children with behavioural, emotional and learning difficulties. She has worked with children with autistic spectrum disorders for nearly 15 years.
Whilst a Probation Officer, Jane worked in the Courts Team at Croydon, in Maidstone Prison with Life Sentenced prisoners, and in the Youth Offending Team.
It will come as no surprise that Jane and Maureen have issues that affect the well being of the individual very close to their hearts. They have said that they want to examine and to see enacted, the policies which the Labour Party have outlined in their Manifesto - policies which will address inequality in society, crises in public services, reclaim the NHS from privatisation and provide homes which are affordable "for the many, not the few".
They look forward to their annual conference with "expectation and the hope of a better future."