Joyce Still reports on Labour’s South East Regional Conference, 10-12th February.
A Delegates’ Welcome Reception on Friday night was attended by Ed Miliband. He spoke about the need to get young people back to work and the Government’s cuts, which he said were too far and too deep and too fast. He also stressed the important role that the South East plays and how it is crucial that we recover those seats that we lost in 2010.
Conference started on Saturday morning with Harriet Yeo, Chair of the Regional Board. Harriet announced that she would be stepping down as Chair, and intended to put herself forward for the role of Kent Police Commissioner. Harriet also stressed the need to win back seats we have lost in the South East, noting that the region has some of the most marginal seats in the country. She said that we must begin to clear the ground so that Labour retakes those seats, as they make the difference between a Labour Government and the mayhem of the Tories (with the aid of their Liberal Democrat bedfellows).
“All in this together?” asked Harriet with a smile on her face: “I think not!” Cameron does not understand who we are, let alone being “in it” with us! He certainly isn’t “in it” with those who have lost their jobs. Let’s face it, old Etonians, whose school fees cost more than the average wage, are unlikely to be “in it” with any of us! An active trade unionist herself, Harriet stressed the importance of maintaining the link between the Party and the unions.
Harriet then introduced Harriet Harman. She also emphasised the link between the Party and the trade unions, saying “what is the difference between a millionaire giving a million pounds or a million people giving one pound each?”
A number of Labour MPs attended, including Caroline Flint, who is now the Shadow Minister for the south east. She promised that if we wanted MPs to come down and help with campaigns, she would make the arrangements. Stella Creasy MP (Shadow Minister for Crime Prevention) spoke about police cuts and rising crime. John Denham MP gave a speech which included support for the Southampton City Council workers. John has announced his intention to stand down at the next General Election and will be missed.
Peter Skinner MEP highlighted the UK’s loss of credibility in Europe due to the Government’s actions. Iain McNicoll addressed conference saying that we have had 7,000 new members and that he is conducting a reorganisation of Victoria Street (and I don’t remember him asking for money!). Alastair Campbell attended to sign his new book and made a short address to Conference before being driven away in a chauffeur-driven car with blacked out windows, just like a show biz icon.
Throughout the two days there were workshops including Refounding Labour and Effective Canvassing. The best attended workshop was run by SERTUC with the title “Cuts are not the cure – a trade union response to the economic situation”.
While I feel that this was the best Conference that I have attended in recent years, there was not enough time for debate and more emphasis should have been on policy. However, conference did finish on a high note – with the singing of the Red Flag!