The newspaper pundits have used the words “lacklustre” and “dull” about the Labour Party Conference. Well I was there and I did not find it like that. Workmanlike is the word I would have used.
I am not sure what makes a conference exciting. MPs defecting or being caught in minor sex scandals? If that is what you want go to the Tory Party Conference. Extravagant promises which cannot be met? Then see Messrs Farage, Salmond and Clegg. If you want people falling out, then see Doctor Who for Labour Party Conferences thirty years ago. It does not happen now.
I have been to several Labour Party Conferences in my time. I can remember Neil Kinnock’s oratory, which inspired me, but did not win elections because we hadn’t really done the policy homework. I can remember the 1996 Conference when we all knew the Tories were exhausted and about to collapse, so everyone was excited even though we hadn’t really put forward many new ideas. Everyone simply wanted a change.
This time there really are policies which have been thought about in some depth. I did not go into the main hall very much (I was a visitor, not a delegate) so I am not going to comment here on the quality or otherwise of the platform speeches.
What I do know was that some very intense and serious debates went on in what we call the “fringe” meetings, which are less formal gatherings about particular topics.
The subject I am most interested in is health, and the debate there has been very thorough. The Labour Party is putting forward clear policies to secure the NHS and ensure it continues in the future. Most members know that more funding will be needed – it cannot all be found from efficiency savings, since the NHS had four years of them already.
But at least the party has admitted that more money will be needed and started thinking about how to raise it. This contrasts with the Tories’ ideas which seem to think privatisation is the answer, but what they probably hope is more people will accept lower standards and pay to go privately. The result will be a residual NHS for the poor. There is a political saying that a service for the poor is usually a poor service.
I know that I said the Conference was workmanlike, and it was, but that does not mean there was not passion and excitement. I found it where I least expected.
I wear a pin which says “Proud of the NHS” – many people involved with the NHS do. When I was in a restaurant a Spanish waitress noticed it and asked me what it meant. So I explained that I wanted to support the NHS and make sure it survived. She then told me I had to, because I must not let it go the way of the Spanish Health Service which is being privatised because of economic cuts. If fact she got quite exercised about it and forgot what I had ordered. I gave her the pin – I have another one.
Going to a conference means an intense diet of ideas and discussions. It really makes you think. The penny drops in various unexpected ways. To counter the effects of the conference entertainment I went for my morning jog at Salford Quays, where the hotel was.
I realised then how important town planning is for health. Salford Quays has many car-free areas where you can jog, ride a bike or walk the dog without worrying about traffic. This simply shows how everything we do affects health. When we build new estates we have to make sure it is possible to walk, jog or ride a bike safely. Then perhaps more people will do it. Health is about encouraging healthy living, not just curing illness.
So I came away enthused. I am not bothered whether the commentators were bored or not. It is clear to me that the Labour Party has clear ideas how to rebuild a fairer Britain and the will to do it. What it must do now is convince the electorate.
- David Taylor-Gooby is a freelance writer