Whether it’s the stifling debate from the Conference hall, the fact that opposition requires a new radicalism or simply the price of sandwiches in the main hall, the conference fringe is certainly the best place from where to guage what’s really going on.
First stop, our colleagues at ASLEF, who chose to tag their debate on the recent McNulty report into the future of Rail; Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription. Standing room only to hear Maria Eagle regret Labour’s lack of action while in charge of a creaking and full-to-capacity rail network. Of course what delagates really hoped to hear was a committment to renationalise the railways. We didn’t get it. For a Labour leaderhsip desperately casting about for a populist policy that would make a real difference this seems a no-brainer. Instead we are committed to subsidising a the network at sixteen times the annual cost of the former British Rail. Still the Hot Pot went down well though I’d like to know what’s wrong with a hearty helping of Scouse instead?
Despite frequest visits to this wonderful host city I still found myself unable to locate the Metro and gratefully accepted a lift from a fellow visit to the the quite marvellous and not-for-profit Contemporary Urban Centre. Only as we accelerated away from the curb did my good Samaritan introduce himself as a Pastor from the Happy-Clappy Church of God, which had been holding a service in the same venue. When I explained I was a visiting journalist and member of the Labour party I was immediately offered ‘double prayers’. Certainly the leadership could do with some divine intervention if conference is not to be blown off course by a right-wing media and unhappy talk regarding the party links with the Trade Unions, which must be retained. Then of course there is the shadow of the ‘other brother’. Ed himself made a fleeting appearanc at Usdaw’s reception yesterday, where he was welcomed as only disgruntled Labour party members can welcome a leader. No sooner had he left the building than Big Brother David turned up whereupon he was greeted like a film-star. Of course if USDAW wanted David in the first place they should have done a better job at mobilising their members during the leadership election. A paltry few bothered to vote at all. No good complaining now.
The Arab Spring has made us believe anything is possible. Imagine how much more exciting the possiblities must seem if you have been excluded at best, deliberately disenfranchised at worst. If in short you are an Arab woman.
Ensuring that women are able to play their full part in emerging Arab democracies was the subject of Amnesty International’s fringe this lunchtime.
After Kate Allen stressed the need for ‘good governance’ that will allow women to ‘participate without fear of repression or retaliation’ it was fascinating to hear from an Arab woman herself. Amal Abdelhadi Abouhalika El Derwee is a political activist from the New Women Foundation, Egypt, and took part in the occupation of Tahrir Square. Women’s rights are under threat in Egypt (and elsewhere0 she warned, partly as a result of a backlash against any cause supported by the corrupt wife of former dictator Hosni Mubarak. Hard won freedoms for women are under attack as never before she warned, and stressed the need for the UK government to align itself with women’s groups in countries which have recently undergone massive upheavals. Rushanara Ali, shadow minister for International Develeopment added the support of herself and the Labour party, which must she said, ‘remain a progressive International Party’. She recalled the ‘women in Sari’s with guns’ who played their part in her homeland Bangladesh’s successful fight for independence 40 years ago. A remarkable story, and definitely one to watch.