Another excellent South East Labour Party regional conference, which makes me realise that I have been blogging for over a year now and had not noticed the anniversary. Top marks to Regional Director Malcolm Powers and his team for securing the Reading Hilton as the venue with extremely advantageous room rates. Family and work commitments meant I only attended the second half of the Conference. Fellow East Kent delegates Anne Belworthy from Thanet North and Wendy Mitchell from Folkestone and Hythe who attended for the whole weekend were most impressed with the attentiveness and thoughtfulness of the Hilton staff. The Reading Hilton is just one building in this area of Reading where there has been regeneration. Just off Junction 11 of the M4 close to the single windmill and the Madjeski stadium. They demonstrate how Labour has rebuilt this part of the country after the years of Thatcher’s destruction.
Delegate numbers were down for the very good reason that many who would normally attend had decided that campaigning in their constituencies was a greater priority. My Thanet colleagues were out campaigning and it is great to welcome Nigel Singh to South Thanet as our new campaign organiser. Nigel's friendly enthusiasm has already been an instant hit.
John Prescott at the Conference dinner inspired everybody. When many people leave senior office they sometimes are seen infrequently on the front line. John’s been the exact opposite. I have seen him in my day job commuting on the Eurostar to Strasbourg where he leads Labour’s Council of Europe delegation. More frequently he is at Labour Party campaigning and fundraising events. Here he gave a keynote speech and the conference dinner speech bringing the house down on several occasions. He then did something that is not so regular. He did not shoot off back to relatively close London. Instead he went round very table, talking to everybody present, stayed for as many photos as delegates wanted, and he was back at breakfast inspiring people to GoFourth and campaign. Read his latest blog here
First thing Sunday morning before appearing on Adam Boulton on Sky News, Harriet Harman warned of how the Tories plan for early cuts threaten a double dip recession. She stressed how important it is to rebut the Tory lie that Gordon Brown created the recession. As she said, if that was the case, how did he create the recession in America, France, Germany Spain, Greece etc? It is clearly nonsense, and a sign of how desperate the Conservativees are that they have to resort to this repeated misrepresentation rather than outline a clear policy agenda.
At the end of her speech, Harriet present several awards. Oxford East was constituency of the year. The award was received by Labour national Executive Chair Ann Black. Ann is one of the constituency representatives on Labour’s governing body. Many of the delegates present told me of how much time she spent garnering their views, and feeding back national party strategy. Ann said that although Oxford was only a short distance away, the vast majority of the Labour Party had chosen not to come and receive the ward, but were as she spoke knocking on doors in the rain.
Janet Sully (seen addressing Conference) received the Year round campaigning award on behalf of Crawley Labour Party. Laura Moffat MP has the smallest majority in the country, but Janet promised that will not be the case after the next election
Margaret Rose of Maidstone and the Weald Labour Party who only joined the Labour Party two years ago after a lifetime of being a Labour voter, won virtual campaigner of the year. She is heading towards a thousand voter contacts on the phones assisting Paul Clark MP in Gillingham and Rainham. During the weekend there were canvassing sessions in both Reading seats and telephone canvassing by delegates.
Peter Skinner MEP conducted the fundraising on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning explained why David Cameron is so keen to keep quiet about his extreme Conservative MEPs and their appalling friends in their new ECR political grouping. He explained how this had lead to decent ant-fascist Conservatives like Edward McMillan-Scott being forced out in favour of Michael Kaminski from Poland. Delegates welcomed his frankness about the unseating of many hard working County Councillors across the South East in local government elections last year; lost as he put it in a sea of expenses. Peter called for work from now to win those seats back in 2013.
Peter took plenty of questions, but modestly omitted to mention the excellent revamp of his website, well worth a look, click here.
At the end I attended one of the workshop sessions on the manifesto. Ably chaired by Martin Phillips of Guildford, a delegate to Labour’s policy making body the National Policy Forum. Activists welcomed the opportunity to discuss policy with Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP for Portsmouth North and a junior Treasury minister. Sarah provided an insight of government thinking.
There's no doubt Labour's "fightback" campaign is coming together with the polls closing again this weekend down to a 6% gap. The one consistent voice I heard from those present I talked to was that things were far better than 6 months ago. People were still ready on the doorsteps to listen to Labour and come out and vote. Change was not enough for the Tories, change to what? On that nobody seems to have an answer. In my view Labour could do worse than consider using a theme like Walter Mondale's "where's the beef?" question, to see if there are real worked out Conservative policies that can be debated between the parties.