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The birth of ‘One Nation Labour’

6 November 2012

This year’s Labour Party conference – set against a backdrop of an increasingly shambolic Tory-led government and a consistent lead for Labour in the polls – saw a party much more at ease with itself and with the unions.

Labour backdrop

Gone was much of the factionalism and leadership speculation and, so we were told, gone too would be the attitude of treating the unions like some kind of embarrassing uncle who’d crashed the party.

Whilst many crucial questions remain unanswered and will remain so until nearer the next election, this year’s conference saw Labour start to flesh out the vision of a definitively post-New Labour party where ‘reform’ no longer has to mean privatisation and using state intervention to force private enterprises to behave reasonably is seen as obvious, not taboo.

Within this, TSSA had a successful conference, including the passing of our emergency motion condemning the £150 million not passed on to passengers by TOCs from the compensation paid to them by Network Rail. However there are still remnants of the old control freakery around, with our motion having to ‘come back from the dead’ after initially being ruled out of order. In the end sense prevailed and the motion was re-instated, but party bosses must have been kicking themselves that our text on the West Coast franchise had also been ruled out, as it was during the conference that the whole franchising process collapsed.

In moving TSSA’s motion, Chris Clark of Underground HQ branch told conference ‘the only way to stop this happening again is to take the profit motive out of Britain’s railways for good’. He also highlighted broader issues including the vital role of station staff during the Olympics, the threat to ticket offices from the McNulty Report and concluded his speech – to much applause – by telling conference, ‘it’s time to send the gravy train into the sidings’.

Labour Chris Clark

Speaking to the Journal, Chris said ‘As well as the motion on the refunds dodge, I also had the privilege of giving a speech on my experience growing up as a Labour supporter and son of a railway worker in Kent. The speech on the railways had been brewing inside me for 15 years, and I was up writing it till 2am the night before. I’m very proud of the way it came out’. Manjit said, ‘as a first time TSSA delegate it was brilliant to be part of the process with all the delegates, Councillors, MEPs and MPs working together to rebuild Britain. The theme was set by Ed Miiliband, who used the great feel-good experience of the Jubilee and the Olympic Games to celebrate the spirit of collective action in the British people.

‘As well as the transport fringes, I really enjoyed attending debates on stopping the BNP and achieving a free Palestine as well as the celebration which honoured the pioneering efforts of Paul Boateng, Diane Abbot, Keith Vaz and Bernie Grant over the last 25 years.’

At the conclusion of conference, TSSA’s president Harriet Yeo was elected to also serve as the chairperson of Labour’s National Executive for the next year. This vital role lets a TSSA member literally set the agenda for Labour’s ruling body over the next 12 months, underlining the benefits of the renewed Labour-union link.

Labour Harriet

TSSA's president - and now Labour NEC chair - Harriet Yeo chairing Labour Party Conference

Ed Miliband’s speech draws praise

The Leader’s speech is always the highlight of the party conference, with Ed Miliband’s assured performance – speaking for 65 minutes without notes – drawing praise from even some of those usually hostile to Labour. He launched the idea of ‘One Nation Labour’, contrasting the Tory-led government’s ‘one rule for those at the top and another for everyone else’ with a refreshed Labour Party that would govern in the interests of all.

Ed Miliband developed the theme that irresponsible ‘predator’ capitalism at the top – be that from banks, train companies or utility firms – must end. Banks were told to get their houses in order by the next election, otherwise one of the first acts of a Labour government would be to break off their ‘casino’ investment arms from their high street operations.

Despite it being necessary for Ed to achieve much of his ‘one nation’ agenda, it remains to be seen whether Labour will decisively break from ever-harsher austerity. Narrowing the gap between rich and poor or the north and south can’t be fulfilled by continuing to cut from those currently most reliant on the state but just a little less far and a little less fast. Under Labour as much as the Tories, there would need to be a massive programme of public investment to revitalise the economy. The consistent poll lead now enjoyed by Labour may hopefully encourage a bolder approach in the coming months.

Ed Miliband’s speech described his direction of travel, rather than laying out many specific policies. Yet the tone was very welcome, with its focus on the lives of ordinary people rather than trying to please the Murdoch press. Ed’s talk of ‘the forgotten 50 per cent’ who don’t go to university, would never be prioritised by the Tories. His speech started to set out the policies to flesh out these ideas, like a new ‘gold standard’ Technical Baccalaureate to be taken at 18 and a requirement that only those large companies that train apprentices will be able to win government contracts.

The speech was warmly received by the TSSA delegation. Manjit Gill told the Journal, ‘It was a brilliant speech by Ed Milliband, concluding that we as One Nation can work together and collectively achieve a better quality of life for the whole of the UK.’

Trevor Ollis was pleasantly surprised: ‘Two years ago I was somewhat disappointed (as a ‘Blairite’) that my choice of leader had been rejected in favour of his brother. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised in not only the style, but the charisma that he showed, which was clearly from the heart. At this moment in time he would be elected Prime Minister – let’s hope he keeps the momentum.’
 

Transport

Labour Manuel

Labour Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle’s speech condemned the government for accepting TOCs requests for ticket office closures, re-iterated Labour’s pledge to legislate so that fare increase caps would apply to every ticket and slammed the compensation dodge highlighted in TSSA’s emergency motion whereby TOCs keep most of the funds paid to them as compensation for delays.

There was also a refreshing honesty that Labour didn’t get a grip on rail fares during its time in office: ‘Let’s be honest – this Government has made things worse, but transport costs were already too high. Because there are fundamental, long term problems with our transport system. And only real reform will deliver a better deal on rail.’ She set out an aspiration to ‘end the era of above inflation fare rises, while still delivering vital investment’ – something that goes beyond Labour’s current demand of RPI+1 per cent caps, correctly identifying that ‘the real waste comes from the costs of fragmentation’.

Maria Eagle’s comments on public ownership are reported on page 13, made whilst speaking alongside Manuel Cortes at the Action for Rail fringe meeting. Manuel also shared a platform with junior shadow transport minister Lilian Greenwood at the Labour Transport Group fringe, chaired by TSSA member Mike Parker.

 

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