Labour’s conference took place against the backdrop of the worst cost of living crisis in living memory, with unions launching pay ballots announcing strike dates through the conference.
The day before delegates gathered in Liverpool, new Tory Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng delivered his disastrous mini-budget, and added insult to the injury of falling real pay, pensions and social security for millions, by handing a massive tax cut to the top 1% and offering city bankers the right to unlimited bonuses.
As I travelled home from conference on Wednesday, the pound fell to a new low against the dollar as the IMF, the Bank of England and others expressed real concerns about the mini-budget. If the Bank of England hadn’t taken action to bail out our absent Prime Minister, there were reports that pension funds could have liquidated by Wednesday afternoon.
Labour delegates at the conference made clear they are up for the fight with this Conservative Government about falling incomes, and they expect MPs and the Party leadership to take that fight to the Tories.
Motions passed included
- Unite the Union’s motion which said, ‘workers must not be made to pay for an economic crisis fuelled by profiteering’.
- Unison’s motion which recommitted to a £15 National Minimum Wage.
- CWU’s motion which said, ‘conference gives its unequivocal support to all UK workers taking strike action for higher pay and in defence of their jobs, terms and conditions’.
- An ASLEF motion also said, ‘that a good way of showing solidarity with workers taking strike action is to visit them on picket lines’.
- A motion on public ownership which called for ‘taking back control of essential services and utilities through new models of democratic and efficient public ownership’ and called for rail and mail to be restored to the public sector
- There was also support for universal free school meals for all pupils in primary and secondary schools.
- Finally, conference also agreed that, ‘Labour must make a commitment to introduce Proportional Representation for general elections in the next manifesto. During its first term in office the next Labour government must change the voting system for general elections to a form of PR.’
Lots of positive, progressive motions were passed and these were reflected in a number of frontbench commitments – including from Keir Starmer – on incomes and on public ownership. Every one of these commitments proves the merits of campaigning and demanding change.
The demands from delegates for policy pledges on pay, public ownership and proportional representation were reflected by the frontbench.
Rachel Reeves made clear that as Chancellor, she would require ‘a minimum wage will be set at a level that reflects the real cost of living.‘ Ed Miliband committed to making ‘Britain the first major country in the world to set and achieve the target of zero-carbon power by 2030’, which, alongside, ‘£60bn over a decade to insulate 19 million cold, draughty homes’ would save £1,000 off bills.
Keir Starmer announced that Labour in Government will establish a publicly owned energy company, Great British Energy. He also repeated Reeves’s earlier announcement of a National Wealth Fund which would deliver public investment, ensuring that the British people will own a share of that wealth, and benefit from the returns on those investments.
On public provision, Louise Haigh confirmed support declared for publicly-owned rail and Bridget Phillipson announced breakfast clubs for every child in every primary school in England.
On the Fringe
Around the main conference, I attended and spoke at a number of meetings.
On Sunday, I attended a meeting on Universal Basic Income alongside Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham, North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll and Basic Income Campaigner Cleo Goodman. I took the chance to champion the Welsh Government’s Basic Income pilot and set out my thoughts about the cost-of-living crisis and the solutions required.
I also spoke at CND’s meeting on the threat of nuclear war, alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Labour NEC member Jess Barnard, PCS Union’s Sam Mason and Scientists for Global Responsibility’s Stuart Parkinson.
On Monday I addressed the PCS Union’s gathering alongside General Secretary Mark Serwotka, as they launched their civil service strike ballot. Later in the day I attended Compass’ event in support of proportional representation, which took place just minutes after the conference voted for PR to be included in the next General Election manifesto!
It was lovely to say hello to Cynon Councillors Andrew Morgan and Ann Crimmings at a reception hosted by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust!
On Tuesday, I addressed the Labour and Palestine fringe meeting, on the need to defend the Palestinians, alongside the Palestinian ambassador Husam Zomlot and colleagues including John McDonnell MP and Mick Whelan of ASLEF. On Tuesday, I joined a fringe meeting at The World Transformed to discuss the need for a ‘democratic revolution’.
Finally, on Tuesday evening, I addressed the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs rally with around 500 in the audience!
Perhaps the stand-out moment for me though, was to leave the conference centre and visit the Peel Ports site on Liverpool Docks with my colleagues Ian Byrne MP and Ian Lavery MP and to meet dockers taking strike action for better pay. The numbers present and the mood on the picket line demonstrated people have had enough of low pay under this Conservative government and are taking action themselves to win a better award.
I was proud to join them and give them my support. Solidarity with the dockers.