Brighton Conference Round Up

Labour Party

The Labour Party Women’s Conference held on Saturday was probably the best attended I have experienced in over thirty years. With over 1000 women it was well-informed and lively. It was really heart-warming to see so many Labour women coming together, and goes to show that feminism is alive and well.

Key speakers Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper told the audience that Labour is the Party for women. The Tories don’t care and the Lib-Dems can’t deliver. In my own contribution from the floor I made sure delegates knew about UKIP’s sexist and racist attitudes plus the fact that they do not have one single woman MEP.

In the afternoon we had an amazing session with Melissa Benn and the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez chaired by all-time favourite Bonnie Greer. Melissa, whose book on bringing up daughters has just been published, is well known to Labour women while Caroline Criado-Perez spoke eloquently about the online abuse she received following her campaign to get women onto British banknotes.

On Saturday evening I was at the London Labour reception catching up with many old friends including Gareth Thomas, Martin and Sara Linton and Parvez Ahmed

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On Sunday afternoon we had the first official photos of our Labour MEP team for the 2014 elections. Here’s a behind the scenes shot as we prepared with Ivana Bartoletti, Claude Moraes, Kamaljeet Jandu, Sanchia Alasia, Seb Dance, and Lucy Anderson.

On Sunday evening I held my usual dinner for London Conference delegates, which is becoming quite a tradition. We very lucky this time to have as our guest speaker Bob Mulholland from California, a Democrat campaign strategist and a super delegate voting for Hillary Clinton. Bob gave a great speech, very up front and very entertaining. Politics is certainly different in the USA.



Bob’s key message is that you have to win in order to have any power to bring about change. That’s a message we have to hang on to for the European and local elections on 22 May next year. We must win both these elections so that Labour can take the concrete action this country so desperately needs. These elections are also the last time people go to the polls before the 2015 general election. A strong result on May 22 will therefore have a big impact on getting Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, I was pleased to see J.K. Rowling criticise the stigma attached to single mothers. Best-selling author Rowling, who drafted the first Harry Potter book as a lone parent struggling to find work, describes her “slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem”. “Assumptions [are] made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child,” she says.

Before coming into politics I managed Gingerbread – the single parent support charity of which Rowling is now President. I have seen firsthand how difficult and isolating raising a child alone can be – and how it changes the way you are perceived and treated.

One of the most pernicious consequences of austerity is an increase in this kind of stigmatisation. Words like ‘chav’ or ‘scrounger’ have become commonplace, as have stereotypes about single mums. The Conservatives – with their attacks on benefits claimants and attempts to promote marriage through the tax system – wilfully play into this. As a result mothers are now more likely than ever to be “defined” by their single parent status. To help break this cycle it is vital that Rowling and other success stories continue to speak out.

Sadly not a lot seems to have changed since I was Chief Executive of Gingerbread in the early 1990s.       


British Council Language Cuts U-Turn

Labour Party

Four weeks ago I blogged against the Coalition government´s proposal to cut the British Council Assistantship scheme in which young Britons travel abroad to undertake teaching in a foreign school.

With radically improved language skills, a taste of foreign culture, and the chance to try teaching all on offer, it is not hard to see why thousands seek a place on the programme each year.

I´m delighted to read in today´s Independent that this decision has been overturned. It shows how important it is to campaign against, and protest about the government´s unthinking ideologically driven cuts. As the Independent lists there´s a talented list of graduates….

“The programme’s alumni include the Harry Potter author JK Rowling, and the broadcasters Fiona Bruce and Angus Deayton. The BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti , writer Stephen Clarke and impressionist Rory Bremner also taught in foreign classrooms, while Aston Villa manager Gérard Houllier worked as foreign language assistant in England.”

Encourage Reading and keep our Libraries

Labour Party

I was pleased to see this article by Lisa Jardine on the BBC website today.

Lisa, who incidentally is a neighbour of mine, living in the same Bloomsbury mansion block, hits the nail on the head.

It’s the content – what the book is about, what it says, how it says it and how the reader reacts – rather than its cover and binding which really matter. 

It was interesting to see that Lisa is reading Tony Blair’s much vaunted biography A Journey in e-book form. I have bought the hardback and am about to start my own particular journey through its 690 pages.  Faced with the prospect of carrying it to St Pancras International and then on the Eurostar, then from Brussels Midi station to the European Parliament and finally back to my flat in Brussels, I am seriously beginning to wish I had bought something which would allow me to read it electronically.  May be this will be the incentive I need.

The huge sales of Blair’s biog is just the latest in a line of best-selling books which truly demonstrate that reading is not in decline.  Lisa Jardine mentions the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter books and the way Oprah Winfrey built up her book club.  I would perhaps add Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and Labour Party supporter Ken Follett as two further authors who prove the art of reading is still very much alive and well.

However, I have to concede that the public library is not what it was.  Nevertheless, libraries still provide a valuable resource for adults, and particularly children, to explore the written word and become the readers of the future.

As the Coalition Government seeks to make massive cuts in public spending, let’s hope there are those in their midst who understand the importance of the arts in general and reading in particular.  The cultural industries generate considerable wealth for the UK.  They should be supported and encouraged.