I spend a lot of time talking, thinking and writing about politics. I follow it the way others follow football, X-Factor or Great British Bake Off. So it is no understatement to say the Women’s Conference last week was one of my best days of 2015. It was a real privilege to meet so many inspirational, like-minded women. A week has passed and my post-conference buzz has just about worn off. So here is what I learnt the day on the day my Twitter feed came to life:
1) No Name Calling
For some party members coming face-to-face with a Corbyn voter must feel like bumping into an ex: stressful, painful and incredibly awkward. Equally for others, those that voted Kendall represent Labour betraying their roots. These tensions have been bubbling all Summer and came to ahead with the election of Jeremy Corbyn earlier this month. Whilst Mr Corbyn himself doesn’t do personal attacks, some of his supporters most definitely do. Twitter is littered with insults and abusive messages being flung back and forth. I was worried how this would manifest at a whole party event. Would the Corbynites be pelting Kendall’s 4.5% with cake? Would Cooper supporters heckle Burnham voters in the open mic session?
It is with a huge amount of relief that I can report that there was no evidence of tension at the Women’s Conference. If anything, it was a hugely supportive and respectful environment which was particularly welcome of newcomers. In her address to the conference, Harriet Harman called for mutual respect and support between new members and longstanding members. This very much set the tone for the rest of the day and all of my encounters were very positve. Paloma Faith’s “Never Tear Us Apart” was pretty much played on a loop all day in case any of use were unsure of the key message.
2) We need to get politics into schools
I wish I could remember the person that first raised this issue in the open mic session because it really resonated with me. How do we engage young people in politics? How do we convince them that it is not about men in grey suits shouting things at one another but about them and their lives? Obviously this isn’t ALL teenagers. With the work of Abby Tomlinson, Stella Creasy, the rise of Corbyn and role of social media in politics, more young people have been inspired to get involved. But we need to do more. We need to get politics into schools. I’ve been thinking this might be something I want to work on in the next few years: stepping out of teaching and creating a program that takes politics into Primary schools.
I ran a mock election with my Year 3 class last year – they had to create their own manifestos that addressed: immigration, tax, education, health and justice. These children were 7 years old but they understood these concepts and their ideas blew me away (although I’m not suggesting the government introduced an “I’m Sorry” tax for criminals like one group of children suggested.) I hear too many people say they “don’t know enough” to get involved with politics. I want the next generation to know that by having job, paying tax, using the NHS or going to school they absolutely DO know enough to have an opinion on how the country should be run.
3) That the women in our party are amazing
The conference confirmed something I already know: there are some incredible women in politics at the moment and the conference was a fantastic opportunity to meet women working at both a local and nation level (can I post my selfie with Yvette Cooper yet?) Labour has more female MPs than the other main parties put together but there is still more work to do. Stella Creasy raised the issue of the lack of woman in some CLPs and asked the party to consider how they will address this. I joined the Labour Women’s Network on the day – they provide training and support for women running for public office which is fantastic but I only found out about it last week and I consider myself far more engaged in politics than the average person.
4) Men allowed
A few people have asked my why there is a Women’s Conference and it’s a very good question. Some members of the Conservative Party (well, mainly Louise Mensch) have used the Women’s Conference to accuse Labour of segregation and sexism. I found out on the day that men ARE invited to attend the conference and it’s called the Women’s Conference because it deals with issues that affect women not because only women can attend. Obviously women’s issues are dealt with in the main conference too but I do wonder if in time the two will just merge.
5) Our party is amazing
Jess Phillips described the feeling as “warm and fuzzy” and that’s exactly how I felt as I took the long train diverted train journey back to London on Sunday. For better or worse our party is entering a new era and it is essential that we stay united. The Labour Party aren’t perfect but I feel so proud of everything we have achieved to date: introduction of the minimum wage, paid maternity leave, the NHS, the welfare state and so many things that we now take for granted. All of these things were fought for at one point and it was our party that fought for them. That is reason to feel very proud.