My first party conference

As I write this blog it has been a week, almost to the hour since I stood on the platform at the Labour Party conference. I was so nervous and said to myself as long as you don’t fall over or be sick you will be fine! I had decided to talk about ASBOs, something that I am very passionate about. You can view a video of my speech by clicking here.

This was my first conference I was a little bit apprehensive as what to expect. When I arrived on Sunday I checked into my hotel at Salford Quays (sadly it overlooked Old Trafford, but we can’t have everything!) and got the tram into the centre. My first task was to vote on the contempory issues ballot – this sounded very confusing. However, I quickly picked up what it meant and placed my X next to the ones that I agreed with.

Monday morning 9am start. You could feel the buzz outside whilst walking passed various different cameras trying not to be caught by their lens! Outside the main doors I saw John Prescott. I saw Prezza earlier this year at a rally in Manchester – I think he is such a great speaker! Then I had my photo taken with Harriet Harman who is the current Deputy Leader of the Party. We then went to a fringe event at the Radisson that BBC Radio 5 live was holding. This included Alistair Darling, Diane Abbott, a trade union representative and some Tory journalist called Fraser from The Spectator. It was fun and I really wish I had seen Diane Abbott more prior to the leadership voting.

On the Tuesday I gave my speech – I didn’t think that there were that many people in hall. After leaving the stage, Chris from Regional office asked me if I would like to sit behind Ed Miliband whilst he gave his first speech as Leader. This was brilliant! Although my hands have not hurt so much from clapping. On my way out that day everyone was being stopped by people with what looked to be mobile phones interviewing them, they stopped me and I didn’t think anything of it. I logged onto the Labour Party website and there I am. That night I went to the CWU fringe event, where a random man came up to me addressing me as “the lady who did the speech on ASBOs”, he said that he thought I was brilliant and would love a picture. I was shocked!! This continued over the next few days.

Wednesday morning I went it to the main hall, another 9am start and received a text saying that I was on the front page of the Independent. I shot out to get a look and there I was! I then got another text to say that I was in the Lancashire Telegraph (thank you Tom!). In the afternoon I got my picture taken with Ed Balls and one of our councillors asked him if I could have a kiss – he kissed me on the cheek! That night I attended the Unite event – brilliant night! I got to dance with Ed Balls, who I must compliment and say he is a very good mover.

To anyone who is thinking about joining the Labour Party, do it! I love that I am part of a team that has values. I have only been a member for less than a year (I don’t think that I am supposed to admit that!) but I feel that I have achieved so much. Join the party and get involved!

To view my pictures please click here.

The luxury of hindsight

The last time we chose a new Leader was in 2007.

Gordon Brown was elected unopposed.

There were vocal complaints that there had not been a proper contest.

There can’t be that complaint on this occasion. We had a contest and a half.

Five candidates. Four months. Scores of hustings.

The candidates were dropping by the end. The result a cliff-hanger.

An exhaustive ‘alternative vote’ system meant that it went five rounds – and suddenly the younger Milliband, Ed, had won. A gasp went round the hall.

I gave my first preference to the elder Milliband, David; my next vote to the North-West’s own Andy Burnham, former Health Secretary, and MP for Leigh.

But four of the five candidates were each capable of doing the job; and any doubts I might have had about the winner, Ed Milliband, were lifted by the speech which he made to Labour’s Conference in Manchester on Tuesday afternoon.

Whatever the party, the post of Leader of the Opposition is the worst in British politics.

You have huge responsibilities – above all to lead your party to victory – and none of the power and authority which naturally comes with government.

The Leader’s speech at a party conference is the most difficult he or she will make in any year.

At least in normal times the Leader has the summer to work on it.

Ed Milliband had three days. In my view he pulled it off.

Critically he confronted three demons the party has to face. First was the deficit. He was right to say that in Government Labour would have had to make uncomfortable cuts in spending; that we wouldn’t oppose all cuts – but we did oppose the scale and the pace of the cuts now being planned by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

He was right to spell out that he would oppose ‘overblown rhetoric’ and ‘irresponsible strikes’.

And he was right above all to say that it was not the fault of the British people, but of Labour that we had lost five million voters since those heady days of the 1997 General Election.

Unsurprisingly I do not share Ed’s view about Iraq.

He said – and I believe him – that he was making no criticism of those who made the decision.

It was horrendously difficult. The problem with decisions is that you never have the luxury of hindsight.

I set out in my evidence to the Iraq Inquiry why I believed that we made the right judgement at the time.

Ed also made me sit up when he said that when the new Justice Secretary says we should look at short sentences in prison because of high re-offending “I’m not going to say he’s soft on crime”.

I’m open to look at any issue.

But re-offending by short term prisoners is high not because prison is a failure, but because these offenders have been tried time and again on probation or other community punishments – and have still gone on to commit more crimes.

96 per cent have seven or more convictions – often for scores of offences.

But overall I’ll give it eight out of ten. For me – it was my last platform speech. For Ed, the start of a long journey.

I wish him luck.

Why I have decided to support David Miliband for Leader

As you will be aware, I did make a nomination for Leader of the Party. That was for Diane Abbott, because like other colleagues in the Parliamentary Party I wanted to see the widest possible debate and choice for Leader, not that I had made up my mind before the contest started who I thought was best for the Party.

The Leadership campaign has now been going for nearly three months. The five candidates have published their own manifestos, attended scores of hustings and other events around the country, and taken part in countless appearances on radio and television. If the contest has not dominated the headlines in the way that some leadership contests have in past (for all three parties), that is a tribute to the civilised way in which all five candidates have conducted themselves.

I have during this period been reflecting on who in my opinion is best placed to lead the party through the next nearly five years of this Conservative/LibDem government (and it will in my view be five years), and then lead us to victory at the 2015 General Election.

All the candidates have strengths. In my view, however, there is one outstanding candidate with the qualities necessary both to be Leader of the Opposition, and then Prime Minister. And don’t forget, the post of Opposition Leader is probably the most difficult and exposed of any in British politics. The Conservatives got through three Opposition Leaders before they elected one who could achieve even half a victory. Only three Labour leaders (Attlee, Wilson, Blair) in our post-war period have won elections.

In my judgement it is David Miliband who without doubt should be our next Leader. He will get my vote. Here’s why:

  1. He has the strength and the depth to stand up to David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions week after week, and he can stand up for the people who will be most badly hit in our communities by the policies of this Con/LibDem government.
  2. He an excellent communicator. Those of us who attended Blackburn CLP’s Sunday organisation meeting during the election had the privilege of seeing and hearing how well he came across. Indeed the Blackburn CLP has since endorsed David’s candidacy.
  3. He knows that we won’t get anywhere if we stand on our heads and start undermining what we achieved in government. Our record was overall a terrific one. Look at what we did. We can see it in Blackburn – with exam results at GCSE more than twice as good as they were in 1997; with a brand new hospital and dramatic improvements in health care; with the best record of any post-war government on crime and anti-social behaviour – balanced by the greatest advances in civil liberties of any post-war government, through the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, Equality Act, legislation to outlaw discrimination on grounds of race, religion, gender or sexuality; on overseas aid, and in many areas of foreign policy. And we can now see that the measures taken once the world financial crisis was upon us have worked to keep unemployment from rising anywhere near as much as predicted.
  4. At the same time as standing up for our achievements, David has not been afraid to learn from the mistakes which, inevitably, all governments do make – not least in the style of leadership that did not give sufficient prominence to the Party, or to Parliament.
  5. However, in my view David recognises more acutely than any the fact that elections are about change, the future. We have to defend what we did, of course. Without that, we will damage our own credibility. But we have to set out above all a clear vision and set of policies for the future. David has spoken passionately about the need to invest in industry to provide the sustainable jobs we need, in both the new green technologies, and in more traditional manufacturing; about strengthening our engineering base, of how we should close the gap in educational achievement.
  6. Yes David is very bright, and went to Oxford. But his secondary education was at a large inner London comprehensive, similar to the one my children attended.
  7. David is tough. He won’t pick fights – in my experience he always works very hard for a consensus. But sometimes as a Leader you have to tell folk – including within the Party – what they don’t want to hear. David won’t flinch from doing this if he thinks it is necessary.

Every party member and eligible member of an affiliated trade union will be able to vote in this election.

Ballots begin to drop on 1 September and new members can still join the Party and vote right up to the 8 September (so tell any Labour supporters you know who aren’t members to join by this date).

I hope very much you will carefully consider voting for David.

Best wishes

JACK STRAW