There aren’t many people in Bude who attend party political conferences. It is, after all, the stuff of TV news, generally at quite a distance from here, geographically. Many people also don’t feel that strongly about politics. However, Ray Shemilt did exactly that, having his first party conference adventure, so here is his abridged report. Though Ray attended the Labour Party conference, Bude & Beyond is happy to share anyone’s experiences whatever their politics, so get writing! Over to Ray:
Back in June 2015, I re-joined the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for leadership after having resigned in 2003 following Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq.
As soon as I re-joined I was full of optimism and, using social media, supported Jeremy Corbyn in every way I could until at last the buds of socialism started to appear in Cornwall. We achieved our goal and Jeremy Corbyn became our leader on 12 September 2015.
It was a huge step for me to put myself forward to be a delegate for the conference. As some of you are aware, as well as my physical disabilities, I suffer from depression and social anxiety which can become phobic at times. However, I felt supported and able to accept the nomination, despite my heart beating ready to burst from what I was going to put myself through.
I have never been to a Labour Conference before and had no idea what to expect, but as soon as I stepped foot onto the site I felt welcome and in a safe place. Everyone I spoke to was polite, friendly and supportive.
From day one the atmosphere was electric; everywhere we went there was a buzz in the air and we were home with our fellow members and delegates in Liverpool. Never having been to Liverpool before I was taken aback by the wonderful, friendly people. They achieved the impossible by taking me out of myself, finding for the first time in ages an ability to talk to strangers, thanks to my colleagues who were always with me.
At first, I found Conference and its procedures somewhat confusing but soon got into the swing of things, even biting the bullet and raising my hand to speak; unlucky this time but maybe next. The current method of choosing speakers needs to be revised as the Chair was obviously having difficulty in seeing raised hands on my side of the hall due to the lighting. Note to self: at next conference register to have a steward to raise a hand on my behalf as physically it hurts me to keep my own up for any length of time; you live and learn.
Day 1. Saturday 22nd Sept
We left Cornwall at 1 am arriving in Liverpool just before 8 am. As we could not get into our accommodation until 10.30 we found somewhere overlooking the Mersey, for a cooked breakfast. Later, we gathered near the stage with our Cornwall banner, followed by the South West reception where we got ourselves noticed by wearing our Cornish tartan scarves; we certainly got ourselves firmly on the map.
Day 2. Sunday 23rd Sept
Arrived before 9 am to attend the South West Briefing where we had explained to us the procedures and collected our card vote booklets. One disappointing thing was that during the Conference there were not enough printed copies of the reports for all; we did receive an email version but it is easier to have sight of a printed copy we can only hope that the complaints have been noted for next year’s Conference.
In the evening, the Cornish posse went to the fabulous Stand Up for Labour event. I can never get out of my head the act, Teresa Cabaret, a burlesque version of our PM. And once again to talk to Peter Stefanovic (journalist) with whom I had a chat with earlier in the day, with of course the obligatory photo. We look forward to him coming to Cornwall to talk to us next year, having accepted our invitation.
Day 3 Monday 24rd September
Another great day in conference with speeches from:
Carwyn Jones (Wales)
Richard Leonard (Scotland)
Richard Corbett MEP (Europe) and Angela Raynor (Education). All of the speeches are available on YouTube.
I think am turning into a Labour geek, as at last, I am getting my head around such things as to what Compositing of motions is (compositing is the process of combining several motions into one composite motion). I must congratulate those delegates from Cornwall who were busy until midnight today helping to get agreement on the Brexit motions, eventually presenting a motion on Day 3 that was carried unanimously. Both Sally Sweeney and Tyler Bennetts were chosen to speak today, while Holly tried hard to be called to speak; she was dying to talk about education.
We all decided to go for a collective curry. Our first choice was full but we were directed to one around the corner. On the way, we collected a few from other areas including Raj from London. I do think it was the most expensive curry house in the NW but we had a great time. On our way back to the car we witnessed our first crime in Liverpool, a burning litter bin soon put out by a young lady with a jug of water
Day 4 Tuesday 25th September
This stuff is addictive. I cannot wait to get to Conference Hall for today’s hit, looking forward to hearing from Kier Starmer, Rebecca Long Baily on Brexit and the economy; as usual, a fantastic selection of speakers from the floor. Got so involved in chatting to people on theDisability Labour, LBGT and BAME stands that I was late back to my seat, disappointed to have missed the start of Lord Alf Dubs’ speech. This was followed by speeches by Emily Thornberry and Diana Abbott, and of course Len McCluskey of UNITE. His speech on composite 2, An Economy for the Many, was inspiring; also, I was pleased to meet him and proud that he was only too happy to be photographed with me and Paul Farmer wearing the Cornish tartan.
This evening I experienced my first bomb threat evacuation since the 80s. Along with Sally Carter, I intended watching the premiere of the Lynching of Jackie (Walker) put on by JVL (Jewish Voice for Labour) but a phone call was made to the venue saying two devices had been placed there, so we had to evacuate. Rather than hang around, I decided to go and join Joy, Debs and others at the Rally Towards A Socialist Labour Government and, oh boy, was I glad I went. An incredible speech by Richard Burgon had some in tears. I have followed him for some time. He is definitely one of our star MPs, who treated us to an impression of Dennis Skinner as he could not make it. We also heard from John McDonnell, Diana Abbot, Rebecca Long-Baily, Chris Williamson and others. Of particular note was a speaker from The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) the largest socialist organization in the United States. They believe that working people should run both the economy and society democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few. They are a political and activist organisation, not a party; through campus and community-based chapters, DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight for reforms that empower working people.
Day 5 Wednesday 26th September Last Day
Some of you will be wondering what happened to our motion. Well, due to the mysterious ways the Labour party works, it will be discussed next year. The party needs to speed up its processes if it wants to keep everyone on board. For a new member as well as us who have been around for a couple of years the processes appear archaic; members want action now, not in two years’ time. The young members need to be engaged fully, in today’s connected world they expect action now.
Cannot believe it is the last day of Conference as there is so much I would like to have done. The speeches were by:
Surprise star turn today was the legendary Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, who was not on the Agenda but put his hand up to speak; he was, of course, called up and told us how the NHS had saved him.
Thank you, North Cornwall CLP, for allowing me to represent you at Conference this year. Hopefully, by next year’s Conference we will be celebrating our first few months in government. The passion of those who spoke from the stage from all groups, Young Members, Disabled Members, LBGT Members, BAME Members, The Unions, our MPs, was amazing. I am proud to be a member of this party.