“Our activism matters, debate and discussion matter. Downgrading Annual Conference by stealth, cynicism, or indifference undermines Party democracy and engagement with our members”
By Billy Hayes
Our Annual Conference is increasingly under attack and our time together is being eroded by those who think that Conference is no more than a massive photo shoot, or material for a slick video peppered with sound bites.
It wasn’t always so
For some 70 years…
- Conference consisted entirely of policy debates; now much time is given over to ‘special’ speakers, videos, and platform ‘events’ – anything to sideline Conference from having genuine debates.
- Conference lasted until lunchtime on Friday; now it’s over by Wednesday lunchtime.
- All delegates and CLPs were sent 400-page verbatim reports of every second of Conference; now nothing.
Important policy developments
This may appeal to cynics, but the evidence shows that Conference is when and where some of our most successful policies have been developed and have changed the national political terrain. The National Living Wage started out as a minority position but eventually, through Annual Conference, became a manifesto comment. Nowadays recognised as a transformative policy for the UK, The Green New Deal is now highly relevant to our times in a similar manner. Using focus groups to simply play back popular prejudice is the stuff of jaundiced slide-rule apparatchiks.
We need to discuss with each other the lived experience of our members and affiliated organisations, whether with those engaged with their local communities, with our trade unions defending their members against the rich-created ‘cost of living’ crisis, or regarding the issues highlighted in the many fringe meetings now crammed into the restricted time available.
Engaging with fellow activists
Aside from the formal processes, Conference is also the time to catch up with friends and fellow activists from across the UK. Face-to- face remains important to building solidarity between different parts of our divided nation.
Labour is still the biggest social democrat party in Europe. Our activism matters, debate and discussion matter. Downgrading Annual Conference by stealth, cynicism, or indifference undermines Party democracy and engagement with our members, and will create an energy crisis among our activists.
- Billy Hayes is a member of the Conference Arrangements Committee (writing in a personal capacity).
- Originally published in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’s Campaign Briefing 2022. Further information is available here.