A conference for the many, not the few. By Sarah Henney

By Sarah Henney

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I only decided to go to Brighton at short notice after realising with about ten days to go that there was no way I couldn’t be there. As anyone with young children knows, five days away from home to ‘do politics’ can feel a little self-indulgent and unfair to other family members – and it was on these grounds I’d initially ruled it out. But as Conference grew closer l realised I couldn’t miss it – and that that my growing involvement in politics stems at least in part from a strong desire to secure a safer, fairer and better future for my child. Justification for attending if I needed it surely.

Socialism showed itself before I even arrived in Brighton when a friend from Twitter gifted me the use of their sofa-bed in the flat they’d rented for the week in Brighton. I was lucky to secure one of the last remaining 4-day tickets for the brilliant The World Transformed festival & a Balcony pass for the main Labour Party Conference. Sorted.

I had a fun trip down to Brighton on the Saturday with my friend Steve Walker, the brains behind the fabulous Skwawkbox blog and from Saturday to Wednesday I met some great people. 

I heard from many different voices across the party and the Left generally. The World Transformed (TWT) provided a programme of events and speakers worthy of the trip to Brighton alone. My own highlights included Paul Mason and Clive Lewis discussing “The End of Neoliberalism” and Alex Nunns, author of The Candidate, Maya Goodfellow and Richard Seymour discussing ‘Corbynism’ – what it is, where it came from and where it’s headed.

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Authors Sarah Henney and Alex Nunns

Newly-elected Labour MP Laura Pidcock MP made her ‘The World Transformed’ debut this year and to be honest, listening to her really did transform my (political) world. She impressed me greatly with her utter conviction that the outdated and misplaced pomp and ceremony of Parliament and its archaic language & customs  serve deliberately to remind working class people that they do not belong there and that this place is not ‘theirs’ or ‘for them’. Meanwhile, as Laura gently pointed out, so assured of his right to govern and to have a seat in Parliament is Jacob Rees Mogg that he literally stretches his legs out on the Benches and falls asleep in the House. Laura is truly inspirational. Her authenticity as both a member of this movement and a Member of Parliament is clear as it is refreshing, as is her refusal to allow herself to become stereotyped or labelled as a particular type of MP by the media.

Meanwhile over in the main Labour Party Conference, Dennis Skinner giving his fantastic speech to Conference and receiving that incredible ovation reduced me to tears; seeing him receive a response truly worthy of his decades-long commitment to Socialism and to the Labour movement was a genuine honour and one I felt proud to witness – both for myself and for my Dad, who is sadly no longer with us but who I know would have been delighted to see Dennis honoured in this way.

I was also deeply impressed by our newly-elected CAC member Seema Chandwani, who I heard speak a few times. Anyone who voted for Seema in the recent CAC elections can rest assured their vote is in good hands.

I’m not able to comment on every session I attended or conversation I had, but here are some takeaway thoughts and observations from my time in Brighton:

  • Laura Pidcock is the rising star of the new movement and must be protected from haters by all of us. They will fear her because she is the real deal and they know it.
  • Chris Williamson is utterly fearless & one of the most honest politicians you could  wish for.
  • Emily Thornberry, Dawn Butler, Angela Rayner and Becky Long-Bailey have become fantastic ambassadors for the party and great role models for all future female Labour MPs.
  • The democratisation of Labour is now under way but still has a way to go. We must keep pushing for a wide range of members’ voices to be heard & represented across all party structures and at Conference itself.
  • Labour’s new left wing policy platform is very very popular and does not only appeal to a cult. Honest.
  • You can’t put a price on how valuable an opportunity it is to come together as a movement to meet, share a space, stories and experiences. 
  • If you can get to your Constituency Labour Party (CLP), local branch or Momentum meetings, please do make the effort to go. If you can’t for any reason, please inform the meeting organiser/chair/secretary to see if they can help you access the meetings in future.
  • If you aren’t yet a Labour member but support Corbyn’s politics, please take the next step, join Labour and get involved.
  • Not enough northern female grassroots voices from the movement are currently being heard. The voices mainly speaking about and for Corbyn in the media are currently limited to a small number of (excellent) people residing in and around London and the South. We need to break beyond this and ensure the movement’s voices are fully representative & inclusive of the whole country and the issues that matter to them.
  • Despite the hype around younger voters, the movement is also packed full of voters aged 40-plus and we need to ensure these people remain included, feel welcomed and do not become marginalised.
  • Brighton’s conference and TWT venues need more powerful air-conditioning units.
  • Lefties have more fun…

Conference was without doubt a lot of fun for the left this year; spirits are high right now and there is a feeling that anything is possible. It is certainly right that we take time to enjoy this moment after a tumultuous time over the last two years. However, I was also very relieved to sense right across Conference that no one is going to allow themselves to become complacent or assume that a Labour Govt is assured. There is a genuine determination to take all of the lessons learned and shared at Conference, plus the energy and optimism found at Conference, back out into our local communities and to continue to convert more voters to Labour by addressing concerns and issues at a local level.

Cementing in real life a number of political friendships forged in flames on Twitter was a key theme for me in Brighton and bears testament to the growing impact of the social media community in politics. While commentators call it an Echo Chamber, I now just call them mates.

To the very special lady and her team who did something amazing for me and others this week (they know who they are), from the bottom of my heart, thank you, I’ll never forget it. And to the wonderful Labour family I’ve been lucky enough to share this crazy journey with so far (they too know who they are), we know better than most the truth of these words: Though  cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.

Sarah was also interviewed by BBC Radio Merseyside on her way home from Conference about her experience there. Here’s her interview:

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8 responses to “A conference for the many, not the few. By Sarah Henney

  1. Excellent and enthusiastic piece Sarah. I’m glad you enjoyed the conference so much, I had expected to be there, but that’s another story.
    Don’t be too concerned about we oldies though, I for one am happy to let the younger members do the work in shaping the future direction of the party. You’re all doing good.

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  4. Thanks for this inspiring piece.im 70 and a member.love momentum. And can assure Tories of my acquaintance HATE and are terrified by it.keep up grt work I am inspired to do more.love from kev machan

  5. Hey lovely lady, a wonderful piece about a wonderful conference. It was great to see you there, but didn’t get to spend anywhere near long enough with you! Send my solidarity to all comrades protesting in Manchester today. I really wish I could be there with you!

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