BY MARIA FYFE, FORMER MP FOR GLASGOW MARYHILL
and NPF member representing Scotland
To put things in perspective, I will begin with a brief account of Warwick 2. In 2008, for the first time, the CLPs had the right to submit amendments to the policy documents. There were numerous side meetings to discuss outstanding amendments where no consensus had been agreed, that went on to nearly 6am. In the final plenary no fewer than 32 outstanding amendments were voted on. If any one of them received 41 votes or more (25%) it would go forward to Annual Conference as a Minority Position. In the event only 3 were endorsed, and 2 with 41 votes gained Minority Position. Many of the others had very low votes.
Compare and contrast with Milton Keynes. I was not at Warwick, but I read CLPD’s account of it (Peter Willsman, The Saga of Warwick 2, Campaign Briefing, Edition 7I 2008) and kept hearing throughout the weekend how horrendous Warwick had been. I can only speak for my experiences of the meetings I attended at Milton Keynes, but I found the relevant shadow ministers willing to find common ground, and not reject something just because they hadn’t thought of it first. On workplace rights, for example, Chuka Umunna accepted my suggestions for strengthening the document.
On Trident they offered additional paragraphs that the entire Scottish delegation supported, but we found that they did not find favour with the others who had put down similar amendments to our own. But in the end we were all able to agree compromise wording, which will be enormously beneficial for our efforts to defeat nationalism in the coming referendum.
The best thing to come out of it all was the large number of improvements delivered by CLP and Regional Reps. In every policy document you will find several such amendments that won endorsement. Many of them cost little or no money to implement. Yet they form an appealing list of policies that are well worth the effort put in to secure them – and nobody was up all night trying to achieve it.
So, clearly a huge improvement on Warwick 2. It seems probable to me that Ed Miliband had requested his shadow team to be receptive as far as possible, because his argument is that when we have a Labour government it can create many progressive advances while continuing a cuts programme until the debt is paid.
That in itself provided the sole subject that went to “final debate” and vote on the Sunday morning. I put “debate” in inverted commas because the sole speaker for the amendment (George McManus) got one minute, as did Ed Balls speaking against. George was pushing for an emergency budget in our first year of government, Ed B was arguing we couldn’t open ourselves up to Tory accusations of spendthrift policies. Only 14 of us agreed with George, so a Minority Position debate will not take place at Conference.
I have remaining concerns about continuing to have a Conference that is reduced to a showcase for candidates and an extended rally. Why would CLPs raise funds to send a delegate to Conference just to nod through documents already agreed? We need to show attending Conference is worthwhile, and admit that all these conversations on stage, on the sofa, are less interesting than watching paint dry.