Workers' Liberty #58


of a Labour Party conference delegate

The Blair Stitch-up Project

Our South West train to Bournemouth - where we are going for the Labour Party Conference - has friendly staff, prompt service and up-to-date upholstery. I realise why when the Prime Minister disembarks, to the delight of several baby Blairites.

At the union's hotel I meet up with several of our delegation. We agree that current union policy on the earnings link criterion for pensions means that our union cannot support the policy document on welfare. We also decide to support some of the CLP constitutional amendments on keeping an open reselection procedure for MPs and increasing the number of contemporary resolutions on the agenda.

Delegation meeting. Risk the wrath of the General Secretary, but the only thing we win is support for a CLP constitutional amendment on MPs' reselection. A long discussion on the welfare document finishes in a close vote. Those who vote for the document say we cannot be seen to reject such a central plank of New Labour policy. Precisely why we wanted to vote against! We have no choice on contemporary motions: the General Secretary will cut a deal at the joint union stitch-up (the block vote is not dead: the unions can determine the outcome of this ballot).

Conference opens with the formalities: merit awards, General Secretary's address. There are two attempts to refer back the Conference Arrangements Report, one on the question of ruling out of order the contemporary motions on pensions, and one on the principle of being able to refer back parts of long policy documents. Both are important democratic points, but most delegates have little idea of the procedures or the significance of the report, and vote to accept it.

21st Century Party, an ultra-modernising report on abolishing General Committees, first appeared to delegates today - on our conference hall seats! We still manage to have a mini-debate on it, with several speeches for!

At the women's reception, speculation about which contemporary motions will be on the agenda. If all the unions stick to the line we'll discuss two motions which will annoy the Blairites: the Post Office and the Working Time Directive. The other three are sycophantic plants to highlight Government policy initiatives.

Included in the debate on Monday morning is a report on women's issues. It's a minor item and evidence of the Blairites' fear of demands for a stronger women's organisation.

At lunchtime I have a speech to write, having moved fast and proposed myself to speak at the delegation meeting. Back in the hall, I stick my hand up, to no avail. Too many people on the platform know me by sight. At the end of the afternoon session, votes are taken on the Democracy and Citizenship and Economy reports. A delegate moves to refer back the section on PFI. The Chair won't accept the reference back, so the delegate - a Claire Wadly, from Brighton - challenges his ruling. In the confusion, most delegates abstain and the vote is won. The Chair says we need to vote again tomorrow morning after he consults the Standing Orders. Keep voting until you get it right!

At the fringe meetings that night Claire is the toast of the conference. The Labour Left Briefing meeting is very well attended -100 to 150 people. Speakers include Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone, Liz Davies and Christine Shawcroft. We cover everything from East Timor to internal Labour Party (non-)democracy.

To the Education and Employment policy session, where people ask questions on the range of education issues, including when will we get rid of tuition fees and bring back student grants. The issues of casualised workers and access to parental leave are brought up by union speakers. The chances of getting called to speak in the sessions is roughly 2:1 as opposed to about 50:1 in the conference.

Tuesday afternoon - the leader's speech. The biggest cheers came for the mention of Stephen Lawrence, the reintegration of dental services into the NHS and other "Old Labour" crowd pleasers. Blair tries to convince us that because he is an egalitarian - "each individual is of equal worth" - he is following in a socialist tradition. The delegates want to believe it. Still, a quarter of our delegation refuse to join in the obligatory standing ovation.

That night at the Tribune rally, the issue of London Mayor is hotting up. Livingstone wants a Government bonds issue to finance the London Underground. Tony Benn declares that, if the class war is over, New Labour should also issue statements saying Darwin was wrong, that Galileo made a mistake and the world really does revolve around Millbank!

Prescott's speech. A tactical dilemma - do I clap the man set to privatise the Tube, to prove he's more popular than the man who'd privatise everything that moves?

Some of us from the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti Union Laws leaflet delegates attending the Industry, Culture and Agriculture policy session. Stephen Byers refuses to accept that Britain should conform to ILO standards on the right to strike and the right to take solidarity action. His criterion is what's best for Britain. Fewer rights, more exploitation and cheap labour! Best for Britain!

Wednesday afternoon, and some basic trade union speeches on the Working Time Directive and Poverty. Bill Morris gets the silver star for mentioning shorter hours at work, but Rodney Bickerstaffe gets the gold star for getting in £5 minimum wage, earnings link to state pension and the need for jam today in his speech on poverty.

At 6.30 pm, outside the official conference, there is a question and answer session with Government ministers in the DfEE. I arrive to find it is sponsored by British Aerospace (the company that makes Indonesia's Hawk jets.)

In the café, I overhear a party worker complaining to her friends that she has spent all week writing speeches for delegates, but only some of them have been called! A good use of our membership fees?

It really is a long week. We are on to Health now. At lunchtime there is free Havana Club rum at the Cuba Solidarity meeting. But it's not a good idea to indulge - difficult to stay awake all afternoon.

The Socialist Campaign Group Supporters' Network meeting is an opportunity for delegates to discuss the need to fight 21st Century Party and make the NPF more representative of the views of Party members.

It would be nice to take the Blairite lid off, and let the socialism in the Party out.

A bit of razzmatazz and the Red Flag, then home at last.

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