SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER:
I arrived into Liverpool on Saturday afternoon and I was instantly impressed with the city. I was also pleasantly surprised with my accommodation; a spacious penthouse apartment with a balcony overlooking the docks and Conference venue. I spent the afternoon having drinks with my good friends and fellow Leicester Councillors Neil Clayton and Patrick Kitterick, as well as exploring the impressive Conference venue. Neil and I briefly gate-crashed the London reception, partly because there wasn’t really much else going on in the Conference venue, and partly because we wanted to hear Ken Livingstone speak. Just as we were leaving Harriet Harman entered the room and headed our way. We had a quick chat and I reminded her of her recent visit to the East Midlands Regional Conference, which I proudly explained had been held in Beaumont Leys, the very ward I represent on the Leicester City Council. We later headed over to the All Delegates reception where we were met by friends and colleagues from the East Midlands Labour Party regional office. It was great to meet up with fellow delegates and also spend some time getting to know our excellent East Midlands Labour team. We ended the night with more drinks and a bit of sightseeing around Liverpool. All-in-all a very warm and friendly welcome to Liverpool with a relaxed start to Conference 2011.
SUNDAY 25 SEPTEMBER:
Sunday was the first full day at Conference. For me the day began at 12pm with the East Midlands delegates briefing lunch. We received a useful overview of processes and procedures, together with detailed information on the various votes that were due to take place. We also had a good talk from Vernon Coaker, Shadow Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. The 2pm opening plenary session included a welcome from Liverpool City Council and various other speakers. A recommendation was made to Conference that the Refounding Labour report be accepted. Four CLPs spoke against it, on the basis that they wanted more time to consider it, but it was clear that the vast majority of CLPs were in favour. Both the outgoing General Secretary Ray Collins and the incoming General Secretary Ian McNicol gave excellent speeches. After the London Report, a vote on accepting the Refounding Labour report vote took place, which I’m proud to say that I supported on behalf of Leicester West CLP. After Conference was adjourned I headed over to the Progress Rally at 6pm. Douglas Alexander was a brilliant speaker and so was our own Leicester West MP Liz Kendall. Rachel Reeves was very impressive and clearly on top of her pensions brief. Ivan Lewis was a good speaker as well and gave a passionate rousing speech. Tessa Jowell also gave a lengthy speech in which she called herself a ‘veteran moderniser’. After the Progress Rally I headed over to the Movement for Change fringe event, which was extremely popular and very well attended with Stella Creasy, Chukka Umuna and David Miliband making up the panel. David was extraordinary. He was saying things that others still hadn’t said yet and his observations were insightful and accurate. David got a well deserved and lengthy standing ovation when the event ended. I later attended the East Midlands reception along with friends and colleagues from across the region. A few of us in the Leicester delegation ended the day with dinner in Liverpool’s famous Chinatown, which luckily for me, was just a short walk away from where I was staying.
MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER:
I arrived at the main Conference venue and was briefed on attending a ‘compositing meeting’ that was due to take place later that morning. Essentially various motions had been submitted by CLPs around the country, and the most popular motions that had been chosen by the delegates, had to be amalgamated. Leicester West CLP was one such successful CLP and our motion on public sector pensions had to be amalgamated with those of several other CLPs with similar motions. After successfully compositing the Leicester West motion, and voting for Kevin Hepworth and Rose Burley for the National Constitutional Committee, I spent some time visiting the various exhibition stands. I spoke with a number of different organisations, including a representative from Women’s Aid, with whom I discussed domestic violence issues in and around Leicester. I made it in to Conference hall to watch Ed Balls deliver his speech, before traipsing up to the Novotel hotel for a fringe event on police and crime commissioners, organised by Policy Exchange. Hazel Blears and Vernon Coaker were on the panel and the event was standing room only. I asked questions on diversity and timetables, to which the panel made clear they thought there wouldn’t be many women or BAME police and crime commissioners, but that we did need to move fast in order to start selecting solid Labour candidates. I headed back to Conference venue for the prosperity and work debate and I was pleased to see that the Leicester West composited motion on pensions was accepted by Conference. I later visited Hill Dickinson LLP for The Law Society reception. I met up with a number of good friends, including Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the next President of The Law Society, Carol Storer, Director of the Legal Aid Practioners Group, and Lord Willy Bach, Shadow Legal Aid Minister. I had a number of very useful discussions about legal aid cuts. Heading back to Conference venue I struck up a conversation with a diplomat from the US Embassy. We discussed British and American politics, foreign policy, and Labour Party politics, and she also kindly invited me to visit the US Embassy in the future. I later attended a law and order fringe hosted by the New Statesman, where Mehdi Hassan interviewed Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper. To end the evening a group of us headed over to the Diversity Nite dinner, hosted by Leicester’s own Keith Vaz, where hundreds of guests were entertained by an array of interesting speakers.
TUESDAY 27 SEPTEMBER:
The third full day of Conference essentially revolved around the Leader’s speech. Prior to that however, I attended the sustainable communities debate in the Conference hall, where Tom Watson and Chris Bryant both spoke brilliantly in relation to phone hacking. There were major queues to get in to the Conference hall for Ed Miliband’s speech, although the queues did add a certain air of excitement to the whole thing. Ed Miliband spoke extremely well and got a very lengthy standing ovation. His key message of a ‘new bargain’ ought to resonate well with the British public if they get to hear about it. Throughout the week I did find myself in a ‘Conference bubble’, relying primarily on Twitter for up-to-date information, and the BBC News mobile website. Watching television or reading newspapers felt quite slow and laborious in comparison to the fast non-stop pace of Conference. After the Leader’s speech I drafted my own speech on the issue of policing cuts. Colleagues from Regional Office had convinced me to give it a go and to see if I could get called to speak at the following day’s crime and justice debate. I also managed to catch up my good friend Neena Gill, former West Midlands MEP, who was around for the day before having to catch a flight the following morning. In the evening a few of us headed over to the Liberty fringe event chaired by Shami Chakrabarti. It was great to see Leicester’s Keith Vaz on the panel and he spoke brilliantly on the issue of legal aid cuts; he clearly knew the subject area very well. Shadow Solicitor General Catherine McKinnel was also very clued up and spoke brilliantly. I spoke with her briefly afterwards and invited her along to address the Junior Lawyers Division at some point in the future. After dinner with my good friends Vijay Riyait and Anne Glover, I attended the Co-operative Party reception. It was good to see so many Leicester friends, including Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth and fellow Leicester Councillor Rory Palmer. I spent the best part of the night partying with friends and it ended with another late 3am finish.
WEDNESDAY 28 SEPTEMBER:
Wednesday was by far my favourite day of Conference as I had the most extraordinary honour and high privilege of being called to address delegates. I delivered my speech on policing cuts during the crime and justice debate in the morning session. I was called to speak by Angela Eagle, after I managed to catch her attention on my third attempt, using a blue flashing lighter that had been given to me by a constituent. It went down well and I felt that I managed to do my bit to contribute to the debate and underline the importance of the policing cuts issue. I subsequently received numerous calls from media outlets and agreed to do several interviews. Paul McKeever, Chair of the Police Federation also addressed Conference, giving an excellent speech for which he received a standing ovation. I managed to catch up with Paul afterwards and I had a fruitful discussion with him about how passionately the Labour Party is on board with this incredibly important issue, and how we recognise its significance for our country, and for all our police officers. After lunch I sat in on the health and education debates, and I really enjoyed listening to excellent speeches from one Liverpool head teacher in particular, and the head of Norwegian Labour Youth movement. Both speakers received standing ovations as did John Healey and Andy Burnham. Afterwards I attended the Electoral Reform Society fringe with friends, where John Denham for Labour, Andrew Boff for the Tories and Chris Huhne for the Liberal Democrats debated electoral reform. We later headed over to the #Lab11Tweetup organised by our very own Twitter queen Kerry McCarthy. It was brilliant to see so many friends and fellow tweeters and it was a really great event. Coupled with a relaxed dinner this was really a perfect end to a perfect day.
THURSDAY 29 SEPTEMBER:
I had a very early start to my final day at Conference waking up at 7.30am after less than 4 hours sleep. I was really struggling to get my voice back following after the previous few days. Luckily I managed to find my voice in time for a BBC Leicester radio interview just after 8am. It was a tough interview but I felt that I managed to make clear that the previous day’s speeches on policing cuts were about highlighting an important issue that the public have a right to know, and that the loss of 16,000 police officers across the country may well impact on crime in the future. I finished packing and arrived at the Conference hall in time for some excellent speeches by Caroline Flint, Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman. After singing The Red Flag and Jerusalem, Labour Conference 2011 officially came to an end. We made our way back to Leicester feeling positive and optimistic, inspired to carry on fighting for Labour values, and for the values that matter to the British people.