Conference Report

This was my first Labour Conference. I attended as one of four delegates from Wallasey CLP.

Victory for PR

The undoubted highlight of conference for me was the vote on PR.

The Friday before Conference, Wallasey CLP passed a motion in support of PR. It said in part that “Labour is already committed to extending democracy, from strengthening devolution to Lords reform. But our democratic system will remain vulnerable until we replace FPTP with a form of Proportional Representation.”

These words were included in the composite motion which committed Labour to including PR in its election manifesto and changing the voting system during its first term of office. The motion was carried on show of hands by a large majority.

This was a historic moment, a first for the Labour Party. That evening, I went to a victory rally. Such a privilege to be there, to see the outpouring of joy and raw emotion. This has been one of the best organised and most effective campaigns in Labour history. In the last two years the focus has been relentless on winning this vote. The campaign won support from all factions, putting aside political differences, putting aside arcane arguments about voting systems, winning over 370 CLPs like Wallasey one at a time, persuading previously sceptical unions to embrace the movement for change. The campaign doesn’t end here: as many of you will be aware, Starmer doesn’t want this to become Labour policy. At the rally though there was an absolute belief that the conference vote would be a milestone, that the momentum which had built up within CLPs and trade unions was unstoppable, and that fundamental change under a Labour government is only a matter of time.

You may be thinking that Labour has bigger priorities, at a time when the economy is in crisis and the number one concern for millions of people is putting food on the table. Of course it’s right that we should be focused on the immediate issues affecting people’s lives. But electoral reform can’t be seen as an optional extra. It can help Labour come to power by convincing people that Labour is a progressive reforming party (a recent poll shows it to be a vote winner in Red Wall seats), and it can prevent Tory governments voted for by a minority of the population from undoing the achievements of future Labour Governments.

Organisation of conference

Motions are grouped into various subject areas by the Conference Arrangements Committee, or CAC. The Priorities Ballot, in which the subject areas to be discussed are determined, took place on Sunday. CLPs and Affiliates each get to choose 6 of the 30 or so subject areas – so a great number of motions, including I’m afraid Wallasey’s, didn’t come up for discussion at all. Conference closed early on Sunday to allow time for compositing of motions. Delegates whose motions fell within the chosen subject areas were invited to compositing sessions at which all the motions in one subject area would be amalgamated into one composite motion for discussion.

We didn’t get to see the text of the motions that we were going to be voting on, and other important information relating to the day’s agenda, until the CAC reports were released (by email at 8am each morning, and by hard copy on the conference floor). The limited time available to read and digest this information meant that delegates were heavily reliant on briefings from the main factions directing them on how to vote.

Other than a few card votes on Sunday, most votes were by show of hands. This is fine when decisions are near-unanimous, but isn’t very satisfactory for closely contested votes, and there was at least one controversial moment when the chair denied a card vote on a reference back over Palestine. Surely it’s time that the party looked at using the conference mobile phone app for things like voting. I know that not everyone will have access, but alternative provisions can doubtless be made.

Within the conference hall, North West delegates were seated in the only area without overhead lighting, which wasn’t great for my eyesight, and which led to some delegates complaining that hands raised weren’t visible to the chair.

God Save The King

Conference began with Starmer’s tribute to Queen Elizabeth and the singing of the National Anthem, and ended in the traditional way with the Red Flag and Jerusalem. My personal wish would be that the National Anthem isn’t sung, or the Union Jack adopted as emblem, at future Conferences; but frankly there are many more important things to talk about.

On Tuesday the Ukrainian National Anthem was sung, and on Wednesday Conference welcomed Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. It was good to see these displays of solidarity; however most delegates seemed oblivious to the fact that the same solidarity wasn’t extended to struggles closer to home. Just down the river, dockers were on strike at the Port of Liverpool. On Monday a few MPs travelled over to join them on the picket line. The Mirror and BBC Politics both ran features afterwards quoting dockers who were disillusioned with the Labour Party, feeling that it didn’t speak for them or represent them, and demanding to know why Keir Starmer hadn’t attended the picket line himself.

There are a thousand different ways in which Conference could have shown its solidarity to workers in dispute. The simplest and most elementary of these would have been to invite a couple of strikers to address conference, and to do bucket collections outside of the conference hall.

Trans rights

For me personally, Conference represented an opportunity to speak up for trans members in the Party. While I’ve always felt supported within Wallasey CLP, many trans Labour members say that they don’t feel that the Party is a safe space for them, and a significant number have left the Party in the last 2 years, most recently NEC candidate Katherine Foy. The biggest concern is Labour’s failure to stand up to transphobia within the Party.

A key demand is that Labour adopt a code of conduct for transphobia. LGBT+ Labour now have a petition on this issue which I urge you to sign – At a packed LGBT+ Labour fringe meeting on banning conversion therapy, Angela Eagle said in response to a question that bringing in a code of conduct for transphobia was high up on the NEC’s list of priorities, and that she fully expected it to happen.

A newly formed group, Labour for Trans Rights, have formulated a set of three demands of which this is the first. They organised a rally outside Conference on Monday afternoon, which I attended.

My thanks go to those Shadow Ministers who were kind enough to give me a couple of minutes of their time to speak to them about trans issues.

Labour and racism

The Forde Enquiry found evidence of racism and sexism among senior Labour Party staff, and raised concerns that a “hierarchy of racism” was operating within the Party. Racism within the Party was also put under the spotlight in the third episode of The Labour Files, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera during Conference.

This week, Nadia Jama completed her term as an NEC member and became the latest in a series of prominent black women to resign from the Party. She says “I have no confidence that the recommendations from Forde will be implemented properly.”

There are other equalities concerns. Disability Labour issued a statement during Conference saying that “The Labour Party has made no efforts to engage with Disability Labour since the 2021 conference in Brighton.” And the right under the rulebook of Labour women to hold a standalone Women’s Conference in the spring is currently under threat.

On the Conference floor, there was little to dispel the impression that this was a very positive Conference from an equalities point of view. There were plenty of black speakers called from the CLP delegations including councillors and parliamentary candidates. Anneliese Dodds apologised for the racism found by Forde, pledged to continue the work already under way to change the party, promised a new Race Equality Act implementing all the Lammy Review recommendations, promised “specialist rape units in every police force area, minimum sentences for rape and stalking, and making misogyny a hate crime”.

All this is welcome. But the racism exposed by Forde and Al Jazeera has left scars which it will take more than a few Conference speeches to heal. Labour has to show that it’s really listening to the voices of party members complaining about discrimination and abuse. In my view the absence of any Conference sessions or fringe workshops on the Forde Report, racism, or the complaints process, was a real missed opportunity.

In his Leader’s speech, Keir Starmer committed to “control immigration using a points-based system”. Such a system would not only put paid to any freedom of movement, it would disadvantage people from the Global South – thus indirectly discriminating on the basis of race. Is this the kind of immigration system that we want ?

Leader’s speech

This was a speech stronger on substance than his previous speeches since becoming leader. There are unanswered questions about the Great British Energy company – and that’s ok for now. It’s something to work towards. The way in which Starmer spoke about how Labour would green the economy was really aspirational and un-Starmer like. Zero Carbon by 2030, a huge investment in renewables, insulating 19 million homes, over a million new jobs, and more.

Starmer also listed many aspects of the Labour promise that would make a material difference to people’s lives : for example tackling low pay, recruiting extra NHS staff, investing in childcare, mental health support, and skills training.

All these are reasons to be excited about the prospect of a Labour Government, a prospect that today seems more real than it has done for a long time. I have concerns and reservations though. Here are a few of them.

Fiscal responsibility is Starmer and Reeves new “golden rule”. I understand that Labour needs to be trusted on the economy in order to get elected. I fear however that this will act as a brake on Labour’s ambition when in office, giving an easy excuse for pledges to be abandoned or scaled back.

Where it mattered most, Starmer was weak: he had nothing particular to say about the cost of living emergency, no new offer to the nation, no stories to share about people living on the breadline, no emotive connection to the crisis facing British people. 

At one point Starmer says “Country first, party second”. I resent the implication that some in the party are pursuing policies that go against the interests of the people. We’re all fighting for what we believe is right. There’s nothing wrong with conviction politics: over-reliance on focus groups is one reason why so many people distrust politicians. Starmer’s speech would have been immensely stronger if he’d said that PR for parliamentary elections will be in the next Labour manifesto, because it would have shown political courage.

Deputy Leader’s speech

Angela Rayner provided some of the spark missing from Starmer’s speech. In a speech full of good anti-Tory material, she asked Liz Truss “Whose side are you on” before telling us that “A Labour government was on my side when I didn’t have a home – let alone enough money to heat it.” She vowed to defend the right to strike, and to repeal “all the anti-worker and anti- trade union laws this Conservative Government has enacted” (but what of laws enacted by previous Conservative Governments ?). The biggest applause that she got was when she said this –

“Conference, the Tories have become too dependent on handing away our public services on the cheap, and now we are paying the price. We will oversee the biggest wave of insourcing for a generation. Today I can announce that before any service is contracted out, public bodies must show that work could not be better done in-house.”

It was a good speech, but what I think was most notable about it is how comfortable she was in embracing a pro-union agenda. This is a dimension to Starmer’s Labour that has hitherto been reluctant to show itself.


Composites 1-5, and composite 14, all proposed by trade unions and comfortably carried, laid out the basis of an economic and industrial policy well to the left of anything that we heard from the Labour front bench.

A few highlights. Composite 1 from Unite put the case for “Taking back control of essential services and utilities through new models of democratic and efficient public ownership”. Composite 2 from Usdaw called for “A requirement for employers to consult with workers on new workplace technologies, as well as usage of existing technology”. Composite 3 from Aslef declared that “Conference also stands in solidarity with workers taking industrial action over the cost of living crisis” and encouraged all MPs to attend picket lines. Composite 4 from CWU committed the next Labour Government to “Bring Royal Mail back into public ownership”. Composite 5 from Unison supported a £15 an hour living wage and “Pay increases at least in line with inflation”. Composite 14 from Unison committed Labour to properly fund local government services, and also to “Combat further privatisation, academisation and outsourcing, and work to bring public services back in-house.”

As with the vote on PR, there’s considerable doubt as to how much of this will find its way into Labour’s next manifesto. But the fact that these motions were on the agenda and carried by conference matters. The unions remain a powerful force within the Party, of which any Labour leader will have to take account.

I abstained on composite 13. While I fully support the condemnation of Putin’s illegal invasion and the call for aid and solidarity with the Ukrainian people, I don’t believe that a big increase in defence spending is the correct approach when our country is in the throes of a cost of living crisis.

Rule changes

While none of the rule change proposals was hugely significant in themselves, we saw being played out a fight between those who wanted to allow the NEC to exercise greater control, and those (mainly on the left) who wanted greater powers for CLPs and members. I voted against the NEC rule changes and for the Women’s Conference and CLP rule changes, but Conference voted to adopt the NEC and WC rule changes only.

A rule change proposed by Islington North and other CLPs, designed to make it possible for Islington North to select the former leader as its candidate, provoked lively debate; but the outcome was never in serious doubt, and confirmed what we already knew: Jeremy Corbyn won’t be a Labour candidate at the next General Election.

As Women’s Branch Secretary, I particularly welcome the rule change giving all Women’s Branch Secretaries access to party systems to email women members.

Final reflections

The mood at Conference was one of confidence and optimism that Labour was ready to win the next General Election.

Despite winning four CLP seats on the new NEC (currently reduced to three by the suspension of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi), the left was reduced to a minority of CLP Conference delegates for the first time in a few years. This year there were no big set piece left/right battles, no protests to speak of inside the conference hall. Starmer got an easy ride.

The party may not be quite as united as it’s being described in the media, but indisputably this is Starmer’s party now. What does this mean though ? At Conference we learned quite a lot, and the picture that’s emerging is different in a few ways from what I expected to find.

The stream of policy announcements by Shadow Ministers wasn’t plucked out of the blue. Much of the detail, including for example the proposed Hillsborough Law, is trailed in the Stronger Together document, which is the end product of Labour’s Policy Forum process. I’m pleased about this. It shows that the Policy Forum works, that it generates strong, sensible policies, and that Labour is happy for a large part of its policy offer to be developed through a democratic process. This also demonstrates the importance of the Policy Forum elections.

The other thing that’s surprised me is that there’s been no push back from the leadership against predominantly left wing affiliated trade unions seeking to commit Labour to a more explicitly pro-working class agenda.

Yes, this is Starmer’s party. But if you doubt that it will change anything, read the documents “Stronger Together for a green and digital future” and “Stronger Together for better jobs and better work”. There’s much in here that is worth defending. The big prize remains committing the party to electoral reform, and we’re one step nearer to achieving this.


Stronger Together policy documents

Conference Reports (including the CAC reports which contain details of all motions and rule changes voted on)

Press Page (including full text of all keynote conference speeches)

All the successful rule changes

Training resources from Conference 22

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