By Helen Hill.
This weekend saw the return of the annual Labour Party North West Regional Conference to Blackpool and it pulled in the biggest attendance in it’s history, so much so that it completely sold out for the first time ever.
The conference was held at the Hilton Hotel, situated on Blackpool seafront and saw many regional MP’s and MEP’s joined by shadow cabinet members such as Angela Rayner, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and the man himself – Mr Corbyn – take the the stage to make speeches.
As a regular attendee of regional conference and someone elected to the North West CAC it was amazing to see so many of our front benchers wanting to come and address the North West delegation and talk about regional issues that affect us, but what was even more wonderful was the incredible atmosphere!
There was a real sense of unity amongst the delegates, union officials, affiliate members and visitors.
There was passion, positivity, satisfaction and excitement but upon reflection it is unsurprising.
The North West had incredible results during the General Election this year, where not only did we hold every single Labour seat and increased our majorities within them but we also won four strongly contested marginal seats and reduced the Tory majority by up to 70% in the few seats they hold in our region.
To say the region cleaned up at the election would be an understatement and as Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in his wonderful speech, the North West has the highest portion of the Labour vote in the entire country!
The mood of conference was simply a reflection of our success and for the first time in a number of years, the unsettled atmosphere of a party struggling with infighting and uncertainty was replaced with stability and confidence.
I was nominated for election at conference and although this is now the third consecutive year for me, it never gets any less scary. I have held a seat on the North West CAC for the last two years and was nominated to stand again to retain it. I was really honoured to be put on the Momentum slate as a candidate that they were backing and was inundated with support from Labour members, local CLP’s, Unite and Momentum members, so despite being nervous and having the usual self doubt, I felt supported and honoured that so many people had faith in me and thankfully I was re-elected for a third term!
It turned out that I was uncontested so I did not need to go to ballot like I have in previous years and it meant that I could relax and enjoy the conference instead of biting my nails and waiting for a result.
The Momentum backed candidates literally cleaned up in terms of the elections, with the Regional Board and the CAC both seeing a shift in terms far more of their elected representatives being from the Momentum slate, which is good news for Jeremy Corbyn who really needs the backing of internal panels such as these.
What I always enjoy about regional conference is the opportunity it gives me to meet so many like minded people and to catch up with others from across the region who I have met and maybe worked alongside before but live miles away from and rarely see.
It also gives you the opportunity to meet the MP’s and have a good chat with them. I would say that regional conference is a must for anyone who wants to network and progress within the party and it is surprising over the past few years how many people I have got to know, from every level of the party.
The speeches were varied and very relevant, focusing on everything from Brexit and how it will affect the region, to the economy education and the terrorist threat and what Labour can do to counter it. I thought that this was a really important issue to address after the horrendous Manchester Arena bombing because terrorism is an issue that is coming to the fore as a concern here in our region, some people view Labour as a soft touch on issues such as immigration and homeland security.
Diane Abbott addressed these misconceptions and gave the reassurance that many in the region were looking for, pointing out that actually the Tory austerity policies and police cuts are what have left the UK struggling to handle the terrorist threat and that Labour would not only ensure that there were 10,000 more police officers on the streets to keep us safe but also 5,000 additional boarder officers who would be able to have a much better grip on immigration.
She quite rightly explained that despite the Tories attempts, it had been proven that Britain cannot be kept safe on the cheap and that actually, it is the Tories that are a threat to our national security thanks to their under funding and cuts!
I also attended a Momentum fringe event which focused on young voters and the importance of the role they played in our election success this year, the issue of votes at 16 again coming to the fore with young Labour members on the panel quite rightly stating the fact that the 1.5 million 16 and 17 year olds who were so rudely shunned in Parliament just this week will not forget it in a hurry who screwed them over and that these are future voters that we need to engage now and continue to lobby for – because they also will not forget who stood with them and will vote accordingly when the time comes.
Jeremy Corbyn gave a really strong speech and talked about the success in the General Election and how we must continue to build upon it because we simply do not know when the next election will be.
He addressed the current disparity between investment in the North and South of the country and how he will ensure equality across all regions, the sexual harrassment scandal that has emerged in Westminster and what Labour will be doing to tackle that both in Parliament and the wider party and also how successful we have been in turning the Tories around and forcing them to scrap their entire manifesto.
I left conference with many new ideas, hopes and goals and that is the best thing about attending conferences, you come away feeling enthused and ready to fight on, more motivated than ever.
Watch out Tories, Labour in the North West is united, strong and dare I say it…. stable.