EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou visits London

Labour Party

Visiting London last week, EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou praised the Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign. Mrs Vassiliou told the Standard: “In Europe we have a big problem with one in five 15 year olds reading at a very low level. Literacy is not just about reading, it is the foundation for life…..The Evening Standard campaign is unique in that it is the only newspaper-led literacy initiative in Europe.”

My report on early school leaving, recently agreed by the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee, is obviously relevant to the Standard’s campaign. Lack of literacy skills make leaving school without qualifications much more likely and then hinder the young person’s job prospects. We all need to be able to read and write. Since many years ago I volunteered for the On the Move adult literacy campaign, I have a special interest in this.

As part of her visit to London, Mrs Vassiliou spoke at WorldSkills 2011, the largest gathering of trainees and apprentices in the world, held this year at the Excel Centre in Newham. Mrs Vassiliou spoke not only about the importance of vocational training but also pointed out the mismatch between educational outcomes and employers’ expectations.   

I was privileged to join her on the platform for the discussion panel and to back up the Commissioner in her call for improved language teaching in Britain. Another panel member, rugby player Simon Hunt, supported us and told the audience that living in France for three years had widened his perspective as well as providing a valuable skill. 

 Posts about the appalling level of foreign language learning and the inability of most Britons to speak anything other than English have regularly appeared on this blog. Having the major international language as your mother tongue is no excuse. Native English speakers who master other languages open up a whole range of employment options for themselves as well as gaining insights into another country and culture. Our monolingualism sells us short. Let’s make a big effort to do better.

Let’s Hold Our Party Conference in London, the Green Alternative

Labour Party
Excel Centre East London

Possible Venue for a London Labour Party Conference

 I have had a good week at Brighton – a guest house that has been a delight with attentive service from the owners, wonderful sunny weather, a chance to meet friends old and new, plus time for constructive work.

Labour Party  Conference at Brighton always has the best attendance from London, partly because a lot of Labour Party members can come down by car or train for just a day or two.  I met day trippers from Hounslow, Newham and Southwark during this week.  Conversely next year in Manchester attendance from London will not be quite so good, whereas Scottish representation will be higher. That’s, of course, the advantage of taking Conference around the country.

Yet this rotation does not include all the potential venues, places with enough hotel accommodation and high level conference facilities.   There is an obvious city that is discriminated against: London.    I don’t just say that because I represent the greatest city in the world.  Holding Labour Party Conference in London, probably at the Excel centre in East London, would have many benefits.

London wins hands down on environmental grounds, a matter of concern to the Labour Party on which the Labour Government has taken positive action.  

London is the nation’s transport hub so it could be accessed far more easily than any of the current venues.  It is within commuting distance for more than half the population of the country.  Since London has the best transport links of any UK town or city, far fewer people would travel by car or plane.  Also as the national media is based in London, there would be no need for them to travel, no extra payments for employees staying away from home, fewer hotel bills.

London’s transport system is often criticised, yet it has superb infrastructure and would cope easily with the influx of people arriving for Labour Party Conference – fewer than go to a match at Arsenal each week.

We’d still be a fair way away from having a carbon neutral Conference, but having it in London would be a big step in the right direction.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, London would be cheaper for many delegates.  London, South East, and East Anglian delegates could commute on a daily basis. Many people from the Midlands and some from Wales and even as far away as Yorkshire could commute. A weekly season ticket would be cheaper than five nights’ accommodation in the vast majority of cases.

For women the ability to commute and still be able to be home in the evening for childcare, would be another valuable option and would help increase attendance.

There’s another plus though. Many, many more people have friends or family in or around London they could stay with.  Few of us have family near Bournemouth for example.  Probably half the population of the country know somebody they could stay with in London.  London also has far more  hotels than Labour’s traditional venues, so people would be spared the need to commute in as they did this week from Eastbourne, Seaford, Crawley and elsewhere.

 We would also be in a better position to encourage extra visitors to attend the Conference. Many visitors, whether they be from charities, embassies or industry, come for only one day and try to pack in lots of meetings. Given that many organisations in both the public and private sectors have their headquarters in London, the Labour Party Conference may well receive more visitors. It would also be a lot easier for members of the public to come to the Conference should they so wish.

I must of course declare an interest.  I am all in favour of holding Conference where I can pop there in half an hour on the Central Line. There are those who oppose more events in London. I ask them to argue why once every three or four years Labour should not have its annual conference in the city with the best green credentials – London.