My first Labour Party Conference

Alexis Chase, Bexley and Crayford CLP delegate, describes her experiences of Manchester.

I always voted Labour, even when it was New Labour, but I joined the Party for the first time last year. I was complaining about the loss of Labour values and the Party’s lack of dynamism in challenging the Coalition. A Party member told me to stop criticising and join if I wanted to make a difference. I started to attend local CLP meetings.

Bexley and Crayford CLP is not well attended but there are people who have been party members for decades and remain loyal. I ended up as the conference delegate because no one else wanted to attend.

The first thing that struck me about the conference was that G4S was responsible for security. I thought this was in very bad taste, given the fiasco over security for London 2012 and the fact they are employers of cleaners and premises managers in schools, replacing what used to be council staff. Then there are the allegations made against them about the treatment of asylum seekers following the death of Jimmy Mubenga. G4S has a well deserved, appalling reputation.

The second thing was the awfulness of the conference venue – dark, uncomfortable and unwelcoming. The food was atrocious and overpriced. What surprised me most was how ‘corporate’ it felt, with people dressed in suits, some women striding about in skyscraper heels. Senior party members did not interact with ordinary members. I felt like I’d stumbled into a private school’s open day!

I received my delegate’s pack quite late and was overwhelmed by the amount I had to read before voting for the different sections of the National Policy Forum Report. I missed a couple of ballots because I was listening to what was going on – it would have been helpful to have reminders.

The thing I enjoyed most was the policy seminars. Delegates had opportunities to speak to senior members about issues of concern raised from constituencies. The best one I attended was on Health and Social Care. Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott really seemed to listen to what we had to say. For me that is what the annual conference should be about – delegates from constituencies genuinely debating what should be party policy. Without the policy seminars, it is hard to see how that would have happened in any form.

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