The portents were not good a few weeks ago – the conference was expected to expose a giant chasm and split the party; Ian McNichol was for the chop; they were struggling to find a new security company and the conference might have to be abandoned; the exhibition area was predicted to be down to a few stalls selling mugs and TShirts and delegates would be flitting down to another gig down the road. None of this happened of course.
Peace broke out and the plea by the Leader to ‘end the trench warfare’ did not fall on deaf ears. There is some way to go and no doubt there will irksome veering off message notablt with stupid things said on social media. But it was good to speak to ex-shadow team members prepared to comeback, roll their sleeves up and get stuck back in.
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was relaxed, well crafted, measured and polished – lasting 60 minutes with some excellent policies – which will have to be fleshed out – but the promise to scrap the Trade Union Act and zero hours contracts, the fight against Grammer schools and John McDonnell’s proposal to introduce sectoral collective bargaining and develop an interventionist industrial and manufacturing strategy were music to my ears.
The party now has some fast rising stars: Angie Rayner at Education and MP for Ashton Under Lyne – she was born and bred in Stockport, had a tough upbringing but speaks like an ordinary person – she will be a major asset to the party. Becky Long Bailey, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and another Northern MP, born in Old Trafford she represents Salford and Eccles and like Angie speaks like an ordinary person and will be a real asset to the in the media. Clive Lewis has mastered his defense brief and not just in his speech from the podium but also an the International policy seminar where he impressed me with answers on a range of defence issues: Successor subs, procurement, accountable defense spending, helicopters and ship building. Being ex-military he will be more than a match for Tory defense spokesperson’s on the telly.
Sadiq Kahn is another major asset to the party – he over egged the pudding a little in his speech but there can be no doubting he is at the centre of the a shift of power to the regions. Andy Burnham put on a great display (miles better than his run at the leadership) and looks another prime asset when he becomes Manchester Metro Mayor as will Steve Rotherham in Merseyside.
Burnham made it clear they will hold the Tories to their promises on the Northern Powerhouse (I thought it was a complete Tory gimmick) in a effort to bring prosperity to the North after years of de-indstrialisation and service, go no where, zero hours jobs.
Ian Lavery’s ‘Workplace 2020’ will also be a winner – hitting the road, meeting ordinary workers across the country to talk about jobs, workplace rights and peoples expectations in the workplace.
Brexit will be the major issue for the next few years and there was a clear understanding of the urgent need to get a firm Labour line on key issues such as a tariff free single market, article 50, employment rights, access to skills, investment etc. The policy seminars on International and the EU I attended reflected these arguments – with Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner leading well on Brexit but they need a bigger team to ‘man for man’ mark the Three Stooges haplessly running the Brexit negotiations – on this we can take them apart. Perhaps some of the returning ‘big hitters’ would fit the bill.
Hardest workers to get people to fringe meetings? Gibraltar team – including Unite members – pressing their case on Brexit lead by First Minister Fabian Picardo.
Best delegation? Unite the Union. Disciplined, good speakers (we hardly ever over run speaking time) plus a barnstorming speech by Len McCluskey putting Industrial Strategy at the heart of the Labour programme.