Party conference season is, I always think, a bit like freshers’ week at university. A new term (Parliamentary), lectures (talks in the conference hall), tutorials (fringe events) and a vibrant social life with silly drinking games (of course the latter doesn’t happen at Conference and the hotel bars are a bit more expensive than the Student Union bar). As well as an opportunity to enthuse Party members and introduce new policies, it offers charities and other policy wonks the chance to mix more freely with the political classes.
This year Mothers’ Union is attending all three party conferences, and the Labour Party kicked off the season this year.
In the build up to the next election, Labour introduced a number of new policies. On Sunday, Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, announced Labour plans to revive SureStart, increase free childcare to 25 hours per week for 3 and 4 year olds of working parents, introduce childcare support at schools from 8am to 6pm, and require all teachers to be qualified. In her speech on equalities, Gloria De Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, announced that the Labour Party would ensure the public sector monitored the race, gender, disability and socio-economic status of their staff in an effort to tackle discrimination and disadvantage.
On Monday, Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary for International Development, announced that Labour would put human rights at the heart of international development, provide funding for the International Labour Organisation, help prevent migrant workers from being exploited in Qatar in the build up to the World Cup 2022 and put universal health coverage at the heart of the world’s development ambitions.
And today, Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, announced that a Labour Government would bring in a new law on violence against women and girls, which would provide new powers to tackle female genital mutilation, tackle economic and labour exploitation across the world, introduce compulsory sex and relationship education into schools, and bring in new laws and a commissioner on domestic and sexual abuse, and fund a national network of refuges.
I had a couple of useful meetings during the week. I met with Sharon Hodgson MP to talk about our upcoming participation in 16 Days of Activism Against Gender violence and our concerns about the need for greater prevention work; the difficult funding and commissioning environment facing services that support victims and survivors of gender-based violence; and the need for resourcing perpetrator programmes. I also met with Jack Palmer from the Church of England and Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to discuss the policy priorities of Mothers’ Union, and the Church.
Fringe events proved stimulating and thought provoking. LabourList hosted ‘Dads’ Army’, along with the Royal College of Midwives, Barnardo’s and Working With Men, where the panel spoke about the importance of treating dads as dads in their own right, not just partners of a mother after having given birth; the impact of fatherlessness on children’s lives; and the importance of giving fathers decent paternity leave and pay. Women’s Aid hosted a fantastic event on ‘Can survivors of domestic violence count on Labour?’ We heard from a survivor about her experience; from Polly Neate of Women’s Aid about the challenges the women’s sector is facing in terms of funding cuts and the need for coercive control to be better understood and criminalised; and from Vera Baird QC, who is drafting th Bill for the Labour Party on violence against women and girls.
In all, this year’s Labour Party Conference has been far more instructive than those following their defeat in the 2010 General Election. The moto throughout the conference was “When we win the General Election in 2015…” and this is perhaps is what has given impetus for some more clearly articulated policies.