It’s great to be back from a genuinely energising, inspiring and certainly very busy week in Brighton at Labour Party Conference. The first one for two years because of the pandemic, the week was obviously a little different from normal, with mask, vaccine passport and sanitiser added to the essential items list, but it was none the less brilliant to connect with people from across the movement face to face, to meet lots of fantastic organisations doing brilliant work, and to bump into plenty of past and present constituents.
For me, I can’t lie, being able to deliver a speech from the platform as Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, setting out my vision for a social security system offering real hope and security for all, was a dream come true. In my view, this agenda is at the heart of who Labour are – as I described in my speech, my life has shown me why we in Labour need to make that real difference. From seeing the devastating effects of unemployment growing up in Sunderland, to caring for my disabled son as an adult. You can watch me deliver the speech in full here, or read the text here.
There may always be some bones of contention within the Labour movement, but the message from this conference was united and clear: Labour says cancel the cut to Universal Credit. I sorely hope Sunak and Johnson were listening. With just a few days to go before the £20/week hit takes effect, the Government has begun clutching at straws, floating for the example the idea of a winter hardship fund which resembles peanuts compared to what is about to be removed from low earner’s pockets year round. We will not be fooled. Temporary and inadequate sticking plasters are no substitute for a proper social security system that offers security to families in hard times. The government must learn the lessons of the pandemic, cancel their cut to Universal Credit and use our recovery to better prepare this country for the challenges of the future.
The rest of my Party Conference was too hectic to report back on everything, but some highlights were welcoming Labour Leader Keir Starmer to the Conference church service on Sunday morning (you can watch it on the Christians on the Left Facebook page); learning about Royal Mail going green with a pilot of electric postal vans; talking to the Fabian Society about securing fair pensions in an aging society; toasting my friends at Labour Friends of Bangladesh; and an important meeting with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority on what we need from levelling up, including integrated transport for areas like Tameside.
Elsewhere in conference there were other key moments. My good friend Rachel Reeves laid out her ambition to be the first green Chancellor, and, in key news for areas like ours, her plans to scrap Business Rates for a fairer system. Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green announced that Labour would scrap tax breaks for private schools and pump the revenue into much needed revenue for state schools. And former MP Ruth Smeeth told anti-Semites “you failed” in a moving speech in favour of rule changes to improve Labour’s complaints system which I was pleased to vote for as a member of our National Executive Committee.
The main event was of course the first speech to Party Conference by Labour Leader Keir Starmer. From telling us about his background with his toolmaker dad and nurse mum, to labelling “work, care, equality, security” as the tools of his own trade, Keir laid out a rich vision of Labour as a radical, patriotic party that is serious and ready to lead. He also blew the lid off the Tory incompetence, which is derailing the country, not least through the fuel delivery crisis: “Levelling up? We can’t even fill up!”. You can watch it in full here, or read the text here. It was an honour to sit on the front row with fellow Shadow Cabinet Members, and we all left Brighton feeling motivated, enthused and equipped to take on this reckless Conservative Government with renewed vigour.