North West Labour Conference – Blackpool, November 2017

What better way to spend the last weekend of the illuminations than at North West Labour Party Conference in Blackpool?

As usual, North West conference is a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones; a chance to exchange best practice and develop exciting new ideas and an important opportunity to report back on developments in Europe to North West members.

Conference was opened by the outgoing Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee, Peter Wheeler, who introduced the agenda for the day.

On Saturday, we heard keynote speeches from Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry and Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. The big topic of conversation, as you can imagine, was Brexit. Emily outlined the foreign policy implications of Brexit, while also making the fundamental promise that a Labour government would “protect the human rights of everyone, not just when it was easy or expedient”.

I was asked to speak at the Unions Together lunchtime fringe, chaired by UNISON’s Lynne Morris, where I spoke about the need to protect workers in Britain from the damaging impacts of Brexit. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP and Paul Nowak from the TUC also made valuable contributions.

The Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, addressed conference on the challenges facing a future Labour government in tackling domestic extremism, with calls to re-examine our strategy and find a new way of ensuring social harmony.

Other speeches, discussions and interventions were made throughout the day by North West MPs Mike Amesbury, Afzhal Khan, Angela Raynor, Debbie Abrahams, Peter Dowd and James Frith and Councillors Simon Blackburn, Jo Harding and Richard Beacham.

After conference had closed for the day, I opened the discussion at the Labour Means Business fringe, arguing that leaving the European Union without a trade deal would be disastrous, not only because of the imposition of tariffs on British companies, but because of the significant knock-on effects of the damage to our economy that Brexit will cause. I was joined on the panel by Rebecca Long-Bailey and MEPs Wajid Khan and Julie Ward.

It was great to catch up with many friends and colleagues at the Co-op Party’s delegates’ reception in the evening!

On Sunday, conference was chaired by Sue Pugh, the outgoing Chair of the North West Regional Board. Sue has done a wonderful job on regional board over the past few years and will no doubt continue to serve our party well in her other capacities.

After a number of other debates, I presented the European report to conference, before taking questions along with my colleagues, Julie Ward and newly elected Wajid Khan. I reminded delegates of how well we had done as a region during the General Election in June and thanked them for their campaigning – losing no parliamentary seats and gaining four for Labour: Weaver Vale, Bury North, Warrington South and Crewe and Nantwich.

I then spoke about how Brexit negotiations were progressing, or rather, how they are not, with Boris Johnson offending everyone over his recent comments about Sirte; with Michael Gove making “a pig’s ear” of himself over trade issues and with David Davis deciding to open trade negotiations with Czechoslovakia (despite it not having existed for over 25 years). Tory Brexit negotiations are a shambles.

I concluded with the European Parliamentary Labour Party’s priorities in the European Parliament: protecting workers’ rights, fighting poverty, environmental protections, tackling tax fraud and improving the quality of life of the many, not just the few, in solidarity with socialists across Europe.

Cat Smith MP held a panel on youth engagement, along with young people from across the region. And who could forget the keynote speech by Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke passionately about the sort of society we can build for the future, based on the principles of fairness and equality, where prosperity is shared, not squandered.

The final panel of the day was about local government and featured Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, Cllrs Sam Dixon and Azhar Ali, Jim McMahon MP, chaired by North West Association of Labour Councillors Rep, Cllr Amy Cross.

In addition to all of the debates in the main chamber, there were numerous stalls and fringe events, featuring many of my friends and colleagues from across the trades union and campaigning movement. There were stalls from Unite, Unison, USDAW, CWU, Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, the Association of Labour Councillors, Unite Against Fascism, anti-fracking groups, News from Nowhere bookshop and many more.

Blackpool conference was lively and enjoyable, and I can’t wait to be part of it all again in 2018!