First of all, I would like to thank delegates from the BFAWU’s Annual Conference for electing me to attend the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Although I was happy to be elected at the time, when Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader on 12th September, I was ecstatic about representing our Union at the conference. The BFAWU was the first Union to publicly support Jeremy’s candidacy and in my opinion, his successful election signals a new era for the Labour Party.
I knew before I arrived in Brighton that this Conference was going to be different to the ones I had attended in the past, where the focus then appeared to be nothing much more than appealing to the centre. This year, the mood was different; you could sense an atmosphere of hope and genuine excitement at Labour’s fresh direction. There was no doubt that change was in the air. Taking a left-wing socialist stance didn’t leave you feeling marginalised, or on the fringes of the party as it had in the past. For once, we were no longer a minority. It was a genuine surprise to discover just how many people were of the same mind-set. Unsurprisingly, there are a few who aren’t happy with the direction that the party is going in, but the membership has spoken and Corbyn is the leader. People on all sides have to be mature enough to accept that it’s impossible to please all of the people, all of the time. However, for the good of the party and indeed, if Labour wants to stand a chance in 2020, it’s vital that all factions put aside petty personal differences, take part in debates in a constructive fashion and respect democracy. Any subversion or undermining of Jeremy’s leadership will play into the hands of the Tories and we can forget about winning in five years time.
For me as a delegate, there were four highlights of what was a great Conference. First of all, was shadow chancellor, John McDonnell’s speech on the Monday. I’ve seen John speak on numerous occasions at our Union’s Annual Conference, and he is both engaging and truthful in terms of how he approaches and discusses issues. I was initially concerned that he might have been forced to change his style in order to broaden his appeal within the party. However, those concerns were put to bed when he delivered his speech; it was classic John, just on a bigger stage. Finally, we had a shadow chancellor’s speech that I agreed wholeheartedly with rather than one that left me feeling dismayed. He talked about how Labour would live within its means and how the deficit can be reduced without the need for austerity. He argued that the Tories’ approach on the economy was ideologically driven and highlighted the irony of Tories criticising Jeremy’s idea of rail renationalisation whilst George Osbourne was prostituting himself to the Chinese, selling off just about every remaining British asset to the Chinese state bank.
The second highlight for me was the LRC (Labour Representation Committee) meeting, which I was honoured to be asked to speak at, alongside our National President and many other great speakers from the Labour Movement. This meeting is always my favourite to attend, as it’s full of like-minded people and of course, is chaired by John McDonnell. What surprised me this year was how many people were there. Normally, there’s just enough to fill the room but this year, it was packed with an overspill of people outside! I won’t lie, I was very nervous and that wasn’t made any easier when John appeared just before I was due to speak, which left me with the task of speaking after him which was pretty daunting! My nerves did get the better of me once or twice, but the people there were so lovely and encouraging, which was reassuring! I talked about our fast food campaign and why it’s important for young people to know about Trade Unions and engage with politics. I also spoke about how Jeremy has, and will regain the trust of a whole generation of young voters that the Lib Dems took for granted at the 2010 general election and then tried to exploit throughout their coalition with the Tories. Basically, my point was that if young people see you speaking up for them and putting their issues forward i.e. zero hour contracts and differentials in the minimum wage, then you will regain their trust not to mention, their votes come 2020.
Obviously, one of the main highlights of Conference had to be the leader’s speech. I was like a child at Christmas when Jeremy was elected and I knew that being a delegate; I would be guaranteed a seat in that hall for his first Conference speech as Labour leader. Contrary to mainstream media reports, he certainly didn’t disappoint. He talked about how disgraceful the media can be and his admiration at how Ed Miliband handled endless media attacks, particularly the Daily Mail’s disgusting story about his deceased father. Jeremy went on to discuss his opposition to the renewal of trident, austerity, kinder politics and the refugee crisis, along with how the Saudis have sentenced a young man to crucifixion as punishment for a protest he took part in whilst a teenager. However, one thing that stuck with me was the issue of mental health. I cannot tell you how great it is to see senior political figures taking this issue seriously. It is estimated that one in four people will have mental health issues at some point in their lives, and I’m not afraid of admitting that I’m one of those people. The more this subject is talked about, the more chance we have of helping people who are suffering and finally getting rid of unhelpful stigmas. Just because you can’t physically see it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
Predictably, the right wing media had a field day over both of the main Conference speeches. One of the criticisms was that he didn’t have enough policy. Corbyn’s only been the leader for a few weeks as I write this; give the man a chance! Another theme of the Tory press was that he was going to take us all back to the dark days of the 1970s. I can’t comment personally on that period, as I wasn’t yet born, but seen as 3.1 million families are set to lose £1000 per year and with over one million people visiting food banks in 2014-2015, this current decade seems to resemble something from Victorian times. Maybe a return to the 70s would represent some progress! The final highlight of the week was when our own Pauline McCarthy was elected to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. This is the first time that a BFAWU member has represented the Union on either the Labour Party or TUC National Committees, so it’s quite an achievement and a little bit of history in the making. This could also be further evidence that the party is taking a significant step to the left and socialism is taking over at long last. Congratulations Pauline, I’m sure you’ll do well!
Rachel Mullen (BFAWU Branch 529; Substitute Young EC Member)