Report of the Next Generation Fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference
Around 80 people crammed into the first ever Next Generation Labour fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference. Young members from across the country including London, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and South Wales were joined by a large group of trade union activists.
Cat Smith opened the meeting highlighting Labour’s loss of five million votes since 1997, but explained that the Conservatives had only gained one million in the same period. With the Conservatives attacks on the NHS, women and many others underlining in the eyes of many that they are a toxic brand, she explained it was down to Labour to reassess its message and appeal to those who had either transferred support to the Lib Dems or more likely no longer voted in the later years of government. She added that the election of Ed Miliband as leader was a big step forward in doing this.
In contrast with those in the Party who used the conference to argue for concessions to the Conservative agenda in a continuation of the tired old triangulation of New Labour, speaker after speaker reinforced that to win again, this required a progressive agenda that tackled the Tories head on.
Newly elected Councillor Alice Perry, explained how she won in Boris Johnson’s own ward by delivering a positive campaigning message that gave voters a reason to turn out for Labour, and not just through fear of the Tories. With this she took 52% of the vote in what had appeared a three-way marginal seat. A positive message (in the face of a negative Lib Dem campaign), a mix of universal free school meals, a living wage partly funded by cuts in top council salaries and a new Citizens Advice Bureau – as well as protesting Boris Johnson’s cut in police were at the core of a campaign that generated a huge swing to Labour.
To win again nationally, Shadow Cabinet member Jon Trickett MP said that it was necessary to understand why Labour lost votes in government, with 4m lost under Tony Blair, by saying ‘with new Labour, we were under a series of ideas which were from the right’.
But he reinforced that Labour can form the next government and pointed out that under both Thatcher and Major the Tories received 14 million votes in general elections but Cameron had only received 10 million. Given that a recent poll showed around 50% of the public said they would never consider voting for them, but that 70% would consider voting for Labour, he emphasised that the key matter for Labour was to come up with a policy agenda that defended the majority whose living standards were being attacked by the Tory government. He emphasised that to build a winning alliance Labour had to challenge the Tory ideas – and not make concessions to them.
These specific issues facing young people were addressed. GMB National Officer Sharon Holder said young people are facing overwhelming attacks on their future, particularly with the axing of the Future Jobs Fund. The response to the recent riots which focused on cracking down, rather than providing opportunities needed to be challenged. James Mills said the cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance had hit the aspirations of 500,000 young people and Owen Jones welcomed the students campaign the previous year against the government’s trebling of tuition fees, and said we should work with education unions to put the case for a small business tax increase to make higher education free to students.
After such an encouraging meeting, Next Generation Labour will be taking more initiatives, nationally and locally, to put forward together policy ideas and a campaigning message that can see Labour win again.
Thanks to our other speakers, Christine Quigley, Grainne Maguire, Tim Roache and all who attended.