Labour member, Elise Marie Lally, shares her experience of the recent Labour Conference held in Brighton…
I didn’t know what to expect when I was elected this year to attend the Labour Party Annual Conference as a delegate from Liverpool Walton CLP.
In the weeks leading up to Conference, I began to dread telling people where I was going. My friends, family and colleagues would look at me like I had ten heads and ask “why are you still in the party? What’s the point?”
The leadership’s kid-gloves opposition to the Tories- along with broken promises to its own members- had already caused most of them to turn their back on Labour. I’d be lying if I said my response wasn’t “I know, yeah, but it’ll be good to get away for a bevvy” almost every time I was asked. However, the real reason I stay is for Liverpool. It’s for Walton.
I’d barely got to my seat on that first Saturday morning before the chair, Margaret Beckett, had interrupted a delegate halfway through his point of order, by telling him “It’s time for you to disappear”. I was shocked, but not surprised. This set the tone for the rest of the conference, and sadly, it was only downhill from there.
Before long, Beckett had ignored several cries for points of order from the floor, and even refused a delegate the opportunity to approach the stage by asking “I was about to talk about Sabina Nessa, do you think what you have to say is more important?” Silencing the individual by using the recent death of a young woman to water down their concerns didn’t seem right at all.
Soon after, I was making enemies too. Lads in full suits. Imagine Reservoir Dogs, but instead of Mr White, we had Mr Blairite. I learned early that we didn’t align politically. Intolerant of any criticism of the leadership, these men couldn’t fathom why I felt it necessary to speak out against the clear injustice unfolding before us. They were quick to interpret my frustration as aggression, deeming my behaviour inappropriate from the off, proceeding to ‘shush’ at me for the entire conference.
There was one moment when a delegate was asked to leave the stage before he had finished his speech, as the chair considered it irrelevant to the issue we were debating. There were calls across the floor for him to finish what he’d started and chants of “Brian, Brian, Brian!” ensued. It was the first bit of banter we’d had all week; a glimmer of unity as we shared in collective laughter across the hall. Yet the men in suits, never far away, began to shake their heads and scold us to stop the fun.
Perhaps I’m privileged to belong to a Constituency Labour Party where no one is left behind and every voice matters. The atmosphere at Labour’s national conference was a stark contrast to what we’re used to in Liverpool Walton. The disdain shown towards delegates from the North West was a display of unequivocal bias towards the right wing of the party.
When we peacefully chanted “Justice for the 97” to protest the S*n newspaper – infamous for its lies about the victims of the Hillsborough disaster – having a presence at Conference, we were again silenced. The footage is nowhere to be seen despite cameras being focused on us for five days.
We consistently voted in support of workers’ rights, democratic public ownership, Palestinian human rights, and an end to violence against women and girls. As allies of Trans people, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the LGBTQ+ community, we were hissed at and snarled for standing to applaud brave comrades’ contributions. We signalled to the chair for an opportunity to speak and were repeatedly ignored. Even when a nearby accessibility steward gestured that a delegate in a wheelchair wanted to speak, there was no response.
By Tuesday morning, the tide had turned, and we were ready to have our voices heard. Michael Hardy, our youth delegate and a devout socialist, moved a Motion for The Right to Food to be enshrined in UK law. The audience hung on to his every word. It was a passionate and articulate speech about the urgent requirement for systemic change and an insight into what can and has already been achieved from the grassroots up.
A campaign born out of Liverpool Walton, it was a testament to the hard work of Ian Byrne, the team at Sports Fans Supporting Foodbanks and the members of Liverpool West Derby and Liverpool Walton CLP’s. You could have heard a pin drop in the hall when the time to vote came. The motion passed unanimously, with not one single vote against. I could’ve predicted much earlier that no one would disagree with our Michael.
After several written complaints from our delegation to the Conference Arrangements Committee, the chair exclaimed she had been advised to start taking contributions from the North West. It was fortunate timing for me that I was able to speak in support of the motion to End Fire and Rehire and Protect Worker’s Rights.
As a proud trade unionist, I wanted to hammer home the importance of a £15 minimum wage. This felt especially pertinent after the news that Andy McDonald had resigned from his position as Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections for refusing to argue against the above only a day earlier. It was clear to me that this was no longer the party of opposition. It was the party of compliance.
Finally, after hearing from a range of diverse speakers, we were able to properly debate the subject, and when the motion was passed, it felt like a win for me, a triumph for Trade Unions, and a victory for Liverpool.
Conference had (almost) ended on a high for us, although I remain sceptical of what the PLP will do, if anything, on the back of all the successful motions passed this year. My worries were confirmed when Lisa Nandy claimed she couldn’t support Young Labour’s pro Palestine motion almost immediately after it was carried.
Labour Conference 2021 was different, and at times difficult to endure. It was long and it was tiresome and there’s a real uncertainty around what actually happens next. Something the Leader’s speech failed to clarify, even after 90 minutes.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. A big highlight for me was seeing Zarah Sultana DJing at the CWU party. Some honourable mentions must go to the Tribune and Socialist Campaign Group Rallies too. My favourite part of conference, however, was making mates with delegates from the surrounding areas of Southport, Sefton, Wallasey, Bootle, and Riverside.
I’m grateful to have shared this experience with them, and my heart is full knowing our delegation remained resolute in our socialist principles. We voted together, laughed together, clapped together and cried together as we watched on, at times in horror, others with pride, but always in solidarity.