On the train up to Liverpool, I began to read Progress’s Purple Book which contains policy ideas for the future. I was quickly distracted by a group of five men who got on at Northampton and were on their way to see Liverpool football team play at home.
‘So you’re a politician?’ they said, when they heard of my destination. ‘Not quite,’ I smiled, but it didn’t stop their questions. I put aside the Purple Book and instead embarked on an alternative policy research exercise: listening to their very real concerns – the effect of immigration on their jobs, the lack of opportunities and their feeling that they don’t have a voice.
When I arrived in Liverpool, I found that lack of voice was a theme that continued into the conference itself. The first event, before the main conference began, was the second ever annual women’s conference. Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper led panel discussions on what women want – for themselves, the party and for achieving equality in society at large.
‘The coalition isn’t listening to women,’ said Fiona Mactaggart, who has piloted a listening exercise in her Slough CLP, which has revealed some illuminating results; for example, that women are worried about their personal safety on public transport. ‘This is opportunity for Labour.’
A canvass of the audience’s views showed that some of main issues that women are concerned about are adequate, accessible and affordable childcare, flexible and family-friendly working, violence against women, gender inequality in parliament and the coalition’s cuts to local services that disproportionately affect women.
Indeed, the coalition forgot women, said Angela Eagle, who listed a string of faults and areas of neglect. The coalition’s emergency budget was missing a crucial gender assessment, the cuts hit women three times as much as men and senior Tory politicians have treated their female colleagues, both in and out of their own party, with contempt.
‘We will make women’s voices heard,’ said Angela Eagle. And Ed Miliband, who joined the conference towards the end, agreed. ‘There is some deep change needed,’ he said. ‘I won’t rest until we have 50:50 gender representation in parliament.’
In an upbeat tone and style that he continued to use throughout the evening receptions, Ed Miliband also acknowledged that a problem with politics is a ‘total disconnection with society’. He pledged, strongly and confidently, that the conference will be addressing this. I felt there was a new forcefulness about Ed – I saw a certainty and determination. He’s all set to drive change and take the party with him.
Later, Peter Hain, who wrote the document called Refounding Labour that is designed to be the basis of change of the party from within, told me that this is just the start. ‘We need a huge cultural change,’ he said. And these views and ideas have been echoed in the conference hall, and in fringe events and training workshops, focusing on grassroots campaigning and a strategy to win. The challenge will be to ensure that this innovative thinking is a consistent and coordinated force throughout the whole party with clear goals, policies and direction.
Above all, we must address the issues of the people, and to do that we need to understand them. This is Labour’s chance. The forgotten voices are starting to be heard. We must be the party that listens and reaches out to those who are being ignored by the coalition. And we must do something.
Laura Nelson is from Ealing North CLP and writes the Delilah blog. Follow her on Twitter @Delilah_mj
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