Party conference season has finished for another year so it seems like a good time to offer my thoughts, as a first timer on Liberal Democrat and Labour Conferences.
I went up to Liverpool for a fringe event – ‘Political Reform: the Dragon’s Den’ – the brief was to find ways in which we should change our politics to make it more representative of wider society. Suggestions included moving Parliament away from Westminster, 2 MPs on a job share basis for each constituency, one of each gender, making parliament more family friendly, having an elected Lords, providing some sort of financial support for PPCs during the campaign and opening up the House of Commons to the Lords. The overall winner was the job share option which seemed the most practical – coincidentally this is something that conference did debate. Whilst Lib Dem activists were being creative and thinking outside the box, main conference voted against positive action to ensure diversity within the party. This coming from the party which doesn’t have a single BAME MP – I was disappointed to say the least.
The next stop was Manchester, for Labour conference, travelling up with an OBV shadow and countless other Labour figures the mood was one filled with anticipation after a 4 month long leadership campaign everyone wanted to know who was going to succeed Brown.
Monday night was Diversity Nite, the party’s annual celebration of all things cultural, all the leadership contenders had been invited along with BAME MPs old and new. Harriet Harman was first on, who reiterated the party’s commitment to diversity, saying that Labour are strengthened by it and despite Labour having a record number of BAME MPs and Councillors, there is still a need to do more. The evening continued with short speeches from Labour’s BAME MPs interspersed with a Chinese dragon dance, belly dancers (Ben Bradshaw belly dancing is something I’ll probably never forget!)
We all noticed the lack of women in this year’s general election campaign, so going along to a fringe about the lack of women, where all the panellists but on were women was bound to be interesting and I wasn’t disappointed. There was talk about what lesson we can learn from Australia, why Labour doesn’t appeal to women – only 1/3 of members are women, Diane Abbott’s leadership campaign and whether women have a role to play in making sure that their issues are on the agenda. Talk of Diane’s leadership campaign led to a mixed reaction from the audience, I was sat in amongst women who instantly started shouting ‘we don’t agree with her politics’. Whilst others questioned the narrative around her campaign being centred on the fact that she was an ethnic minority woman. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to listen to the panel’s response; I had to rush off to the ERS fringe.
Over all I found both conferences frantic but fascinating experience – someone asked me as I was leaving if it was my first conference and went on to explain how she wanted to leave the party after hers – I said that I’m quite looking forward to doing it again next year!