Part of my report on Labour North regional conference (to which I was Newcastle Central CLP’s delegate), which will be considered by Labour members at the next GC.
After lunch the Regional Policy Forum was held. Despite there being only an hour allocated for what was the only part of the day at which delegates could discuss policy, the first 30 minutes was taken up with contributions/speeches from the various shadow ministers who were leading the round-table discussions. There was no prior indication of which tables would be discussing which policy documents. I ended up on the ‘Stability and Prosperity’ table. There were far too many delegates at the table (perhaps 20 around a table designed for 12) so some contributors went unnoticed or unheard. Nevertheless there were some interesting contributions about the need to challenge the fundamentals of the banking system; and specifically to create a ‘national’ bank either owned by the state or communities. Other contributions included a suggestion about the need to ban ‘payday’ lenders, or at least legislate to limit interest charges. Louise Baldock (PPC, Stockton South) did make the point that, for some, ‘payday’ lenders fulfil a necessary function – to which I suggested we ought to create policies that would ensure the apparent need for such loans was eradicated. Finally, I raised my concerns that we aren’t going far enough on ‘zero hours’ contracts and that they ought to be banned. Catherine McKinnell (MP, Newcastle North) engaged really well on this but was concerned that a ban could have unintended consequences. We continued the discussion after, and agreed that both of us could bring some useful ideas to the table.
I am afraid I did not stay for the final session (speeches from the European candidates). Conference was already over-running, and trains from the venue were only hourly. I shall end on a personal perspective. Over the day I heard from 11 platform speakers, but only had two 15-minute Q&A sessions, and only 30 minutes in the whole day discussing policy. I have been a member long enough to not have huge expectations of a regional conference being able to facilitating debate and discussion on policy and politics, but this was a real disappointment. Of course, speeches from our front bench are interesting, useful and motivating; but 11 in four and a half hours is too much (and, for those who stayed for the last 45 minutes they would have sat through 13 or 14!). That said, I would like to thank the CLP for sending me as delegate, despite the lack of policy discussion and engagement with members, gatherings of the Labour faithful are always interesting. I particularly enjoyed meeting comrades from across the region with their own unique perspectives and experiences (did I commit a major faux pas by having lunch at a table of Sunderland councillors?).