Conference Season 2019: The Lowdown


In the midst of the political turmoil our country faces, The Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservative parties held their annual conferences. With Brexit still dominating British politics, we take a look at each party conference and how each outlined their vision for the UK going forward, summarising each of their polices with a focus on BAME issues.

Liberal Democrats

The Autumn Conference for the Liberal Democrats was held from the 14th to 17th of September in Bournemouth. It saw a Lib Dem party that seemed rejuvenated and unafraid to take a strong stance on key topics.

The Lib Dem party has held firm in their anti-Brexit stance. The new party leader Jo Swinson continued to be highly critical of both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn for what she sees as their erroneous mismanagement of the Brexit situation. In her Saturday keynote speech, she called the actions of Boris Johnson “sickening” and went on to state that “Jeremy Corbyn is Brexit by nature.” The most controversial and remarkable portion of the conference was Swinson’s claim that if her party won in the event of a snap election, they would immediately seek to revoke Brexit without a second referendum. This claim did not go without contest from a few party members who claimed that this alignment would create a hard line for voters which could be risky for the party.

Shifting membership was another significant topic for this 2019 conference. It saw the emergence of Jo Swinson at the helm of the party with many hopeful that she will be able to lead the party out of its former slump. She is the party’s youngest as well as first female leader. This was former leader Sir Vince Cable’s last conference as he will not contest his Twickenham seat in the next election. It was also the first joint appearance of the six MPs who have defected to the Lib Dems, including BAME MP Sam Gyimah. This brings the number of Lib Dem MPs to 18 up from 12 at the 2017 election.

Policy-wise, the conference did not see much of a focus on specifically BAME issues. However, members did vote in favour of a motion to remove the home secretary’s unilateral right to deprive people of their UK citizenship. Far-reaching tax reform and education reform was also on the agenda. Importantly, the members debated the importance of lessening gender discrimination especially for women of BAME and other disadvantaged groups. They also pledged to reduce the overrepresentation of BAME people in the criminal justice system in their motion for prison reform.

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The 2019 conference occurred last week from the 22nd to the 25th September in Brighton. It was quite eventful on all fronts, starting with party in-fighting and having the Supreme Court ruling on the unlawfulness of prorogation on the 24th in that week. The conference opened with an attempt to oust deputy political leader Tom Watson for his opposing views on Brexit. Due to the Supreme Court ruling, party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s keynote address was pushed up by a day. The conference brought many heavy-hitting policies from the NHS to climate change, and of course, the all-consuming Brexit.

On health and social care, the party unfolded a wealth of new policies meant to curb inequality and ease access in the sector. They committed to bringing privately run services back to the NHS. They also aim to scrap prescription charges in the UK and increase the number of GPs. Jeremy Corbyn announced big plans to provide compulsory licensing which would secure generic versions of expensive medicines with a state-owned drug company to manufacture these generics. This would significantly reduce the cost of medications for those with chronic illness who find it hard to afford patented medicines. They also promised a four day work week as well as free care to those over 65.

Climate change is a top issue for the next election. Labour has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 with their ‘Green New Deal’ coupled with a “Green Industrial Revolution” investing in renewable energy sources and providing large amounts of jobs in these green industries.

As we know, BAME people are overrepresented in the justice system. Importantly, Labour has pledged to reverse the cuts to legal aid as well as introducing “Early Legal Help”. This policy would give legal support prior to court proceedings and will help with employment, debt, immigration and mental health cases.

Finally, no autumn party conference could pass without significant discussion on the party’s stance with Brexit in the face of a looming general election. The party solidified its opposition to a no-deal Brexit. However, this did not mean that the party will back Remain in all circumstances. The delegates backed a motion to negotiate a new Brexit deal and hold a second referendum within six months alongside the option to remain. With the Supreme Court ruling, a Labour government is closer than ever to implementing these changes.

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The Conservative party conference rounded out the conference season with their Manchester gathering at the end of September until the 2nd of October. The conference was met with protests from Manchester residents who were unhappy with the Tory presence in their city. Again, the NHS was a major topic of discussion.

The party’s bounce back from the 24th of September supreme court ruling against prorogation will be interesting to see. Against callings for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stand down, the prime minister offered support for a suggestion by attorney general Geoffrey Cox that in future justices may need to undergo a US-style vetting by politicians due to their pronouncement on such highly political questions.

In his first speech as Prime Minister at a Conservative Conference, Boris Johnson used humour as his launching point. The speech was not heavy on policy, but took many jabs at the opposition leader. The PM reiterated his mission to “Get Brexit done”. The conference served as a backdrop for Johnson’s delivery of the new Brexit plan which is currently being discussed in the Commons and significantly opposed by EU officials.

Protesters gathered around the conference venue to make a statement to the party. They chanted anti-Brexit slogans and held quite provocative signs opposing the pm and the Tory party. This kind of demonstration is expected in the Labour stronghold and did not seem to deter the delegates.

The NHS battle formed a huge part of the Conservatives’ aims for the next general election. The party has pledged to inject £13 billion into creating 40 “new” hospitals along with the extra £33.9 billion the government has committed to the NHS per year by 2023. This reform plan includes increased funding to mental health care with £2.3bn a year by 2023-4 to improve general mental health care and £975m of funding to provide community mental health provision.

Ministers have promised investment in the transport system, digital infrastructure, in an attempt to stimulate economic growth. This includes improvements to road networks and bus route networks. The chancellor said there would be £432m in additional funds for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to tackle climate issues as well as significant injections into education. The party also pledges to raise the minimum wage to £10.50 by 2024 to tackle inequality although this is coupled with higher national insurance.

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These major conferences have given us a foundation for the parties’ stances going forward. They came at a crucial time when many are considering the possibility of a general election and were also important for party leaders to solidify their views on issues such as Brexit, especially in the case of the Liberal Democratic and Labour parties. However, there is a clear focus on Brexit to the detriment of BAME policies and so, it will be interesting to see how the BAME population is incorporated going forward, specifically in the event of a general election.

Thais Thomas