Party Conferences can seem dull affairs when viewed on TV. But behind the facades, there are hundreds of fringe meetings covering almost every conceivable aspect of policy, and exhibition stands for organisations, charities, trade unions and commercial firms promoting what they do or lobbying for a particular policy.
It’s useful to catch up with friends and colleagues from around the country, but for MPs it’s very much a working affair with fringe meetings and round tables to address, and around 20 meetings to attend, keeping me busy from 8am to 10pm.
I was asked to speak at a Fringe Meeting on a Fabian Society report ‘Growing up in the 2020’s’ which sets out the challenges for when there is substantially more child poverty and less money invested in education.
I also spoke on the Poverty Premium – the extra charges for things like electricity meters, paying insurance monthly, and the high cost of credit demanded from people who can afford it least. The All-Party Group on Poverty, of which I’m a member, is investigating these charges which add up to an average £490 a year and campaigning for them to end.
I also contributed to round-table discussions on social care, on policing, policies for the High Street and on Business policy with the Institute of Directors.
The latter lacked enthusiasm for Labour’s policy announcement that afternoon of 1% a year up to 10% of shares in our large companies going to employees, and to a third of seats on company boards being reserved for staff. But we’ve seen large companies making short-term decisions to favour shareholders over longer-term investment in their staff, so wages have been shrinking for 10 years whilst the stock market grows. It’s only fair that the workers who create the profits share in them, and employees tend to prefer long-term company investment and growth, benefiting us all in the long run.
Labour’s policy announcements of support for High Streets and investment in high quality childcare were welcomed across the political spectrum. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech set out a fair and practical alternative to increased poverty and running down our public services – investing in businesses, in our infrastructure and services via fairer taxation on large companies and the wealthiest individuals.
Bringing privatised utilities like energy and water back into public control and investing profits that currently go to shareholders into reducing bills and creating better services makes sense to the vast majority of people.
The next few months will be interesting ones in politics. We don’t know whether there will be another general election, but if there is then Labour have a pragmatic alternative to austerity, and for many people that can’t come soon enough.